It has occurred to me that the publication date for this column is the day after Valentine's Day and what a shot for me. I'll say I forgot; just give me one more day. This year it will not only cost me zip, I'll call it work and it will actually make me a few bucks. I'll convince Mr. G., the art director, that this column requires an illustration of Willy Nelson playing pool with a bunch of dogs and a cute little bug, (private pillow talk imagery, no time to explain) scissor out the first couple of paragraphs and bingo! This thing will be too sensitive and thoughtful for words.I've got a few books of poetry and about love to crib from:
Oh twinkly bird of Love!
Caress my tongue with words sublime
To anoint my love, my valentine.
Oh, throbbing manlove of destiny,
Still thy ...
No, no. What is this? I wrote this on the inside flap of Listen to the Warm while I was waiting in line for Rod McKuen to sign it years ago.
Another book, The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis, is a good bet. My Valentine (I will call her, as I often do, "the Bug") is Jewish, and Lewis would not be a major player on her bookshelves (though she has him, I believe). Bug is Jewish like I'm Catholic, which is to say we're not particularly vocal about it, and neither of us practices ceremonially, ritually -- at least, rarely in public.
"We can sometimes point to the very day and hour when we fell in love or began a new friendship. I doubt if we ever catch Affection beginning. To become aware of it is to become aware that it has already been going on for some time.... Affection...is the humblest love. It gives itself no airs." -- The Four Loves
Lewis writes of Love in the forms of Friendship, Affection, Eros, and Charity. The first three are familiar, and the fourth gives pause. What does Charity have to do with the Valentine's Day, candy and flowers kind of love? My Valentine and I, having covered the first three aspects of Love as Lewis describes them, over a period of 23 years, find that Charity has inconspicuously made its way into the relationship. It was she, Bugspray, who introduced, with consistent charity to me and then to absolute strangers, this fourth aspect of love's evolution.
"Charity is a work so difficult that perhaps no fallen man has ever come within sight of doing it perfectly. Yet the law that loves must be transformed is, I suppose, inexorable.... The invitation to turn our natural loves into Charity is never lacking. It is provided by those frictions and frustrations that meet us in all of them; unmistakable evidence that (natural) love is not going to be 'enough' -- unmistakable, unless we are blinded by egotism. When we are, we use them absurdly."
In one sense, I suppose, Lewis is saying that every argument/fight/row is an opportunity. The Chinese have a single word, or character, for crisis and opportunity.
In a bizarre example of this, I can draw a line through Friendship, Affection, and Eros to Charity by citing an incident some ten years ago or so when, after spending a weekend with the Bug at her Bughouse (completely infested, she won't kill anything), we passed a familiar character on the streets of La Jolla. A homeless, schizophrenic transvestite known around the neighborhood had been mugged for his/her wig and My-Valentine-O'-Love suggested I buy her a new one. I did. Bug gave it to him. I have no idea if the poor soul ever wore it (the stolen one might have had personal, totemic significance); but the impulse, I maintain, is a weird form of what Lewis describes. Luckily Lewis is not around to come forward and say, "What are you talking about? What has that got to do with anything?" But I'm leaving it in here.
The Balboa Tennis Club in Morley Field is celebrating Valentine's Day with a poetry reading and casual get-together of as many as 1200 members with a suggested donation of five dollars to help supply "Waterman," or "Motown" David Ross with bottled water to distribute to the homeless in an area (skid row) where there are no water fountains and where dozens upon dozens of diabetic, schizophrenic, undernourished, dehydrated, displaced San Diegans go begging for a drink of water. Ross can no longer find the funds in his Social Security check to finance his rounds and indicated help from local companies like Pure-Flo never materialized. Regional manager Jeff Bickford of that company, for one, has not returned phone calls. Who wants to be "The Water of the Homeless!"? At any rate, Balboa Tennis Club has caught on to the spirit of Valentine's Day in a way C.S. Lewis would give the nod to. I hope they were able to get Ross some damned water, but if nothing else they should have demonstrated that, at least here, Love means something other than no score.
Another definition, however:
I remember, during puberty, seeing Richard Burton on (I believe) the Dick Cavett Show talking about Liz Taylor. Burton provided my first real definition of love, and it has held up better than most; it does right now. "Love," Burton intoned, "is tolerance to an irrational degree."
I do not love Saint Valentine's Day, and I still maintain that Al Capone was closer than anyone to celebrating it in the manner that it begs. But naturally that was wrong.
In closing, I will include those final lines from the young poet I once was, scribbling in a treasured volume on this moving holiday and in the throes of Eros.
How gay my bulging
My yearning need
For you, of thighs supreme
I wandered lonely as a cloud
Until you arrived upon the scene
To lift me from the depths of gloom
Loving only myself in my melancholy room.
Crude, unpolished, yes. But I think the romantic in me was more revealing than talented, and I had a certain something there.
My recommended reading for this year's Valentine's Day enthusiast, especially men, is Ladies' Man, by Richard Price. The author rivals Al Capone here in his grasp of the day's sentiment -- only Price isn't wrong.