To Every Thing There is a Greeting Card

candy hearts

As the Good Book says ‘to every thing there is a season, and a piece of merchandising for every purpose under Heaven.’ This point was really driven home for on this special day of  February 14th, the day when guys all converge at a supermarket’s greeting card-and flower-displays to buy any card at all done in pinks or reds, any hunk of vegetation that could be construed as bouquet-like. I just saw one guy eyeing a bunch of broccoli, no word of a lie. I saw another slap down on the counter a bunch of roses so far past day-old they were brown at their every petal-edge. (“Hey, it’s the thought that counts!” he said to me, seeing me look first at his rusty bouquet, then up at him.)

“The Thought” is the part Americans evidently have trouble conveying – or so it would seem, judging by the sheer size of the greeting card industry.

What did we do before they had greeting cards to oil the social machinery? Can people even write letters anymore? If they could, they wouldn’t have on the shelves not just individual cards but a myriad categories for them, each set off with its own cardboard marker.

I visited four card shops this week. First off, there are categories within categories for birthdays, both the single digit, double digit and triple digit kind; also categories reading “29th,” “Brother-in-Law,” “Step Mom,” and the wonderfully convenient “Blank Inside.” Under the umbrella of cards meant to communicate general fondness, I found “You Are Perfection,” “I Want To Hold You Forever,” and “Suggestive” (sample card: a cartoon pig saying “Talk dirty to me” to another pig.) Also, “Hurry Home Tonight” (related to “Suggestive”) and “Keep Your Childish Wonder”

In a grouping I think of as “Troubled Waters,” you can find see “Let’s Work Things Out,” “I’m Sorry,” and “I Want You Back;” also “We’re Different but I Love You” (You Have a Tail?), “I Want to Know More” (Do You Have, Perhaps, an Udder?) and “Consider the Possibilities.” (The possibilities are clearly limitless.)

Equally, there were whole shelves devoted to Things Beginning: among them categories for cards dealing with “New Baby”,” “New Babies” “New Job,” and “New Venture;” also “New Home,” “Adoption,” “New Grandson,” and “Baby Boy Religious”.

There are categories called “Get Well”, “For Extended Illness” and “For Shaquille O’Neil” (No lie. And under this one was a lone card: “Shaq and I Heard You’re Not Feeling Well…..”) They also had “Extended Voyage,” “Encouragement,” and “Goodbye”; “Thank You”, “Cheer Up” and “Cope”; “Clean Your Room,” “You’re Feeling Yucky?,” and “God Bless Your Daughter”

I read lately of a service you can engage that will pick up your deceased in their van, treat him to a little hair gel and makeup, crate him up, and place him in a budget plot – all for a ‘mere’ $2,000. Pretty soon you’ll be able to avoid seeing the grieving family altogether. They’ll have drive-up windows where you can call up the dead person’s name electronically,  view his casket and be home and in your pjs room in 15 minutes. Even now you can just send a card, and several categories suggest themselves for this purpose. “Goodbye”; “Extended Voyage” and “New Venture” all come to mind.

But the best category for all who think rented words are any substitute for face-to-facing it with another human being? “Blank Inside.” It works on every level.

Cut the Guys Some Slack

Everywhere you went this last week you saw them: desperate guys hoping to stay out of trouble with their ladies. I think of the one I saw a year ago at the supermarket checkout at 9 at night, clutching a bouquet of flowers so wilted it seemed like week-old romaine.

We both looked down at it when he placed it on the belt. “Hey it’s the thought that counts!” he said defensively.

My own man Old Dave is never defensive when he presents such gifts.  He felt GOOD about the can of WD-40 he gave me one year. Ditto the jumper cables I got the next year. When our kids were little, what I did was to make a huge deal of Valentine’s Day, with food coloring even. (Pink milk! Mashed potatoes the color of Strawberry Shortcake’s petticoats!)

What he did was bring us one small square box of fudge.

One year anyway. Oh and one year he bought me a card, though he didn’t bother signing it.

It must have been the following year that I got some ‘marriage revenge’ by washing his underpants with my dark-red sweater. But I had less understanding then. And the world was very different.

I think of the old jokes male stand-up comics used to make, like ”My wife: Can’t live with her, can’t live without her.“ And “My wife: She’s so big that when she sits around the house she sits AROUND the house.” You don’t hear those anymore. Things shifted somewhere along the line and now nobody DARES make fun of women. Rather, we show how evolved we are by making fun of men.

Think about it: All over the media men are now portrayed as louts or goofballs, or well-meaning doofuses, like the Phil Dunphy character on ABC’s Modern Family.

Only that’s not what men are like at all, at least not in my experience.

I say this because in my line of work I get to talk to a lot of strangers. I also receive a lot of e-mails, a surprising amount of them from men.

One man wrote to say that when he moved to his new town and began reading my column in his local paper he thought of me as his first friend in the area. I found that an extremely sensitive and generous thing to say.

Another wrote to tell about a cat he drove past that morning as the poor thing lay by the side of the road, just as his neighbor sped going in the other direction. He stopped his car. He saw the blood.  “I think my neighbor hit her without realizing it,” he wrote in this email that I still have.  “My first thought was to knock frantically on doors, but instead I called Animal Control because the cat was still alive. “I hope I made the right decision,” he added, “but I can’t stop thinking about it.”

And a third man wrote once to describe how kind and sensitive his young sons were when his best friend died. “Joseph is having fun in Heaven,’” one told him. “Someday you’ll make a new friend,” said the other gently.

Men are louts and dopes and goofballs? I don’t think so. Men are our partners in adulthood, our allies, who find themselves living in a culture that paradoxically still feels free to mock signs of tenderness in them.

So what do I care if my man doesn’t ‘deliver’ on this shamelessly commercial shakedown of a day? When for me, secretly, it’s been enough to have a good set of jumper cables, and that fresh can of WD-40 when I need it.

So thanks Dave for all the fun. It was those veiny forearms that caught me but all the fun we’ve had since then that has kept me by you. (Arms so famous they’re on display in the world’s coolest art gallery!  🙂 )

the david hand