Piece of Mind: Not in love with Valentine's Day

In case you haven’t already found yourself gagging over the pre-holiday hype, Valentine’s Day is Monday. I just toss this tidbit out for the poor souls reading this who might take flak from their loved ones, should they overlook the big day.

Although in my youth I had an appreciation for hearts and valentines, my enthusiasm for it waned in my early 20s when I worked for a bookstore that among its many offerings also carried Hallmark cards.

I was the stationery and gifts buyer and one of the tasks I was charged with was to decorate the store every time a holiday came around. Understated elegance flew out the doors, replaced by over-the-top kitsch — which might be recognized as a kind of “flair” by fans of the film “Office Space.”

Our agreement with Hallmark called upon us to hang from the ceiling multitudes of that company’s die-cut decorations, usually made of cardboard: hearts or cupids during the Valentine season, shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, Easter eggs in the spring, mortar boards in June, jack-o-lanterns in October and snowflakes in December are some that I recall.

The more linear feet we used to display the holiday-related goods, the more die-cuts we were expected to display overhead. They were attached to elasticized strings (the better to give a kind of bouncy effect when the air conditioning cranked up) and we tacked them into the soft acoustical ceiling tiles using little metal pins.

It won’t surprise anyone to know we had to do this well in advance of whatever holiday was next on the calendar. We had no sooner cleaned up the leftover Christmas merchandise than we had to pull out the Valentine’s Day goods and so on, throughout the year, culminating with New Year’s Eve.

I must admit I had sipped the greeting-cards Kool-aid and, during my earliest days on the job, was going to do whatever it took to sell all the holiday-related items.

I’ve always loved the art of the sale, but I might have been a bit too enthusiastic at first. If Hallmark had sent me a note suggesting I artfully drape one of my grandmas from the ceiling to boost card purchases, I might well have given it serious consideration. And so when they sent me 20 “ceiling kits” for a holiday, I climbed up the ladder over and over again to hang every last piece I found in each one of those kits.

A few years into treading this hamster wheel of holiday merchandising, I jumped off. It was something about the red and hot-pink hearts delivered to us for a particular Valentine’s Day selling season that became too much. While others might have thought them attractive enough, they looked awful to me and I balked at displaying them. This subordination did not go particularly well with those who had more say in the business than I, so we reached a compromise: I could put up just half of the offending decorations.

I did so with my jaws clenched. I wanted nothing more to do with Valentine’s Day. Period.

And I meant it. I remember Gil’s face when we were just weeks from being married and I tossed a heart-shaped box of See’s back at him one Feb. 14. I was indignant that he’d forgotten my disdain for the holiday. Who was this man I was going to spend my life with?

Thankfully, he did not reconsider who I was and the wedding still took place. And, in the years since, if he was inclined to hand flowers or candy or jewelry to me on Valentine’s Day, I have been much more gracious about accepting them. But let no hearts cross my path. Ever. Please.

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