Wonderful Tonight: Valentine’s Day at the Moose Lodge.
Being a yogi has given me many wonderful qualities, but good taste isn’t one of them.
Tackiness is my birthright.
You’d think that private schools and trips to Europe may have muted my neon-pink aura. Yes, I do know all the composers of the major operas. I also know that The Love Boat theme song was performed by Jack Jones until Dionne Warwick took it over during the last season. Rodolfo and Mimi’s tragic love in La Boheme gets a few tears out me. However, it’s Gopher’s attraction to his transexual college roommate that really pulls at my heartstrings.
Try as you might, you can’t take the glitter out of the girl.
That’s why my boyfriend and I have spent very little time discussing our Valentine’s Day plans. It’s a holiday that may have been created in earnest. Historically, it may have been a day that people truly celebrated connectivity and romance. If you walk down the seasonal crap aisle of your local pharmacy, this is hard to believe.
I hate Valentine’s Day for all the nauseatingly sentimental fantasies it inspires. For the De Beers diamond commercials and the Meg Ryan movie marathons. We are supposed to take this day seriously—to believe in it.
But I love it because it forces us to buy creepy and highly flammable stuffed mice with hearts for paws. I love the garishness of it. Valentine’s Day forces us to be ridiculous.
Valentine’s Day is the Thomas Kinkade of holidays. There is very little we can do to resist the tackiness. Most long-term couples simply stop trying. Good restaurant reservations are often booked months in advance, but Taco Bell will gladly accommodate you and your partner. Bouquets of roses are expensive, but a single, cellophane-wrapped rose is available for six dollars and some change at your local 7-11. Eventually, even the greatest of lovers find themselves buying an oversized greeting card at the grocery store.
Yes, that’s me in the above picture celebrating this hideous holiday at the Moose Lodge.
Two of my oldest and dearest friends invited me out for the Lodge’s Valentine’s Day party. It’s an invitation a better woman may have turned down. As I’ve already confessed, I’m not a better woman. Two dollar beers, an eight dollar entry fee, and a cover band playing Cat Scratch Fever! There’s no need to beg. I’m there.
Yes, that’s me handing over my cash to the bouncer, an elderly woman with a beehive hairdo and a cigarette dangling from her lips. I settled down at a long table with my friends to drink and people watch, and I wasn’t disappointed. I saw couples of all ages, if all means those who are currently collecting social security and downing blood pressure medication. As you might expect, it was an older crowd. There are few places, at the age of 34, where I feel like a whipper-snapper. I was glad to find myself in such a place.
The Moose doesn’t have micro-brewed beers or bottles of Moet, but it does have the advantage of being able to bring your own bottles of liquor. I saw couples tapping their feet to a cover of Brick House, their faces obscured by massive bottles of Jim Beam and cigarette smoke. Virginia Gentleman, Wild Irish Rose, Aristocrat—the Cristal of the crowd that night.
I partook with abandon, and pretty soon I was on the dance floor, frightening the lodgers with my pogo and shuffle. I don’t know if I was fitting in, but I don’t remember caring. I was surrounded by good friends who—though lovely and sophisticated—danced like a gang of geriatric strippers. We backed it up, we got low, we even flat-footed. I should’ve felt humiliated, but I was having too much fun. I felt, truly and for the first time in ages, sexy.
So sexy that I had to take a break from myself. My friend’s husband Rodney invited me into the back area of the lodge. There was a giant moose head mounted on the wall and rows of pool tables. There was a female bartender wearing a Crazy Bitch t-shirt. I felt like a real V.I.P.
Rodney began to tell me, for the hundred-thousandth time, about how much he loves his wife. This is a fairly common topic of conversation for Rodney. He talks about sports, Van Halen, the splendor of deer jerky and complicated electrical wiring. As a natural-born conversationalist, he can talk about almost anything, actually. His wife, though, is his absolute favorite topic.
“I love that woman,” he said. “I don’t know what I’d do if anything ever happened to her.”
He told me she was the hottest woman ever, the best mother ever, the woman he was lucky, not deserving, to have in his life. He’d had a few drinks, and an observer may have thought his passion was inspired by a bottle of whiskey. I know from years of experience that drunk, sober, dog-tired, wide awake, in sickness and in health, Rodney loves Summer.
I’m talking 17 years of love. This is no new romance, no butterflies in the belly first month. I’ve seen Rodney and Summer suffer poverty, joblessness, the deaths of loved ones, fear for their daughter (she’s a teenager, so this is a common occurrence), and differences of opinion about almost everything. I’ve seen them fight, and I’ve quickly gotten my purse and left when they make up. I’ve witnessed a Russian novel’s worth of life and love in their presence. They are ordinary human beings, with an extraordinary ability to love each other through just about anything.
Romeo and Juliet died before his snoring got on her nerves and there wasn’t enough money to pay the electric bill. Gosling and McAdams stayed together their entire lives in The Notebook, but the story cuts out in the dirty middle, when routine sex happens quietly so as not to awaken the kids. Love stories, are by their very nature, brief. Writers and filmmakers give us the condensed version, but it’s all the details they leave out that interest me. The fluff is just the bread. I want the bloody meat of the whole story.
Summer and Rodney have, unfortunately, had to show me what happens to a couple when things aren’t perfect—which is most of our time here on earth. They have had their day at the beach, wind whipping through their hair, setting sun casting magic on their cheekbones and sunburned lips. Perfection. They’ve also been homeless and afraid and angry and self-righteous. They’ve been human together. Imperfect.
I know a lot of people that can’t handle this kind of humanity.
I’m one of them—a card-carrying spinster with a full schedule of self-improvement seminars. I’m in a relationship now, one that has my full dedication and love. So it’s now, when I feel most challenged and outside my comfort zone, that I understand how tempting it is to leave at that first hint of imperfection. Often, it’s me that’s revealed to be flawed. This has been, for me, too embarrassing and raw to endure. I have actually gone out for a pack of cigarettes and never come back. (It was an internet blind date, and another blog entirely.)
Summer and Rodney started dancing to “Wonderful Tonight” on the Moose Lodge dance floor. Almost all the couples in the room, no matter how old or stiff, were slow dancing to that song. Hours before, I’d predicted that Clapton’s song was an easy score for the cover band. I was certain they’d play it. I grew up in a small town in the south, and I’ve been to more than a few dive bars. “Wonderful Tonight” is the The Notebook of dive bar make-out songs.
I looked at my two old friends. They were looking into each other’s eyes and laughing. They showed off a little, doing turns and spins and singing to each other. I was at the Moose Lodge Valentine’s Day party with friends surrounded by cigarette smoke and cheap whiskey, the smell of Aqua Net and cologne thick as Beijing morning.
I walked over to the photo booth with one of my friends. It was make-shift lattice backdrop with a white sheet and a tinsel heart. An ancient man with a cowboy hat and heart-embroidered Western shirt told me to pose so he could take the picture. My friend stood behind the photographer, iPhone camera at the ready, and the photographer counted three-two-one.
I was just about as happy as I could ever remember being when my friend took that picture. She ran over to me and showed me what she had.
That, she pointed to the picture, is perfect.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel