GettyBy Tom Chiarella
Long ago, on a Valentine's Day which I forgot until ninety minutes before I was due to meet my date, I called my friend Dorothy - the most mechanically adept, least romantically spontaneous woman in the world - and begged for her help. There were three reasons to call her: 1) She had once told me that she wished "every day was Valentine's Day," so I would have her enthusiasm; 2) she liked to brag that she could fix anything in half an hour or less; and 3) she worked in a movie theater where she was known to sometimes offer her friends private, late-night screenings, which were essentially excuses for sexual congress of one sort or another, while Dorothy looked the other way. I had a vague hope that it might not be too late for option number three.
Now let me say, this woman worked. She was not some college kid drowsily shoveling out upsize popcorn in miniature barrels, nor did she stay busy by staring dimly at some point on a drop ceiling while tearing tickets. She never wore a corporate vest, or a name tag. She was a projectionist, the only female union projectionist in all of Florida, Georgia, or Alabama at the time, which was over twenty years ago. She once told me that they were going to put her on a stamp some day; I pretty much believed her. She worked a problem, or an assembly, like a Swiss watch-maker. Everything in her business had a place and purpose. Every fitting, lever, oil can, and switch mattered, did something and had to be tracked, traced, and respected. She never put anything down, without knowing precisely when she would need it next. She often wore a yellow dress to work, where she promptly changed into coveralls. There was no romance between us. She lived with a friend of mine named Don. And I knew her habits because she often let the two of us in the theater to watch the end of movie while she "cut and canned" movies for shipping at the end of the week. Then she lathered her hands in olive oil, rinsed them, and changed back into the dress right in front of me. I was crazy about that part, though neither she nor Don ever commented or seemed to care. The olive oil was applied to tamp down the waft of chemicals from the film canisters.
I called Dorothy because she was a problem-solver, sure, but also because I knew Don was out of town and she might have only this one thing to offer me - this late-night screening - and since she loved the holiday so damned much, why wouldn't she stick around to throw the switch on a special showing of Flashdance?
What she did instead was give me the best advice I ever got on how to nail Valentine's Day. She said, "Stand up and get out of there."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Are you sitting?" she said. When I said that I was, she said: "Then get off your ass." I laughed. "What's her name?" she asked me. "And where is she right now?" I told her both - name and location, though I remember neither. "Go to the grocery store and put your hands on everything. Touch everything. Examine everything." She told me to look for color, for texture. "Look at everything as a single component. Grab it. You just have to try to grab as much as you can, run to her house, and build a temple of love."
"A temple of love," she said. "A shrine. Get candles."
I repeated that word. "A shrine. Like out of chocolate?"
"You only have two rules: be colorful and be sweet. Buy some candles, candies, bowls of fruit. A bottle of champagne."
I looked at my watch. "It's too late," I said.
"If you want to whine about it, yeah," she said. "But you asked for my help."
"Besides, where would I build it?"
"You build it on her doorstep," she said. "That way she won't know if you're late or early. Stand on a woman's doorstep and it's like you were always there. She'll just find you when she opens the door. But you gotta go now," she said. "You almost have to run."
Couldn't she just let us use the theater later that night?
"That's so boring," she said. "You're so boring. Plainly you're not in love. You're not even trying."
Then she hung up on me.
I didn't do anything that night, except slip out for a bottle of champagne. My date begged out. At the door. I apologized to Dorothy days later. She replied: "Well, sure."
The thing is, you have to move on Valentine's Day. You cannot sit still. It's a holiday of attraction, an occasion of magnetism. You won't find the answer at your desk, shopping on the Internet, nor by calling around for a reservation you should have made weeks ago. You can't do your best from one single spot. Leave your work behind. That's devotional number one.
You don't have to run - there is no race with love, after all - but you must allow yourself to be moved. You should feel pulled, compelled. If you are fearless about the way you move toward love, you may feel a bit empty-handed when you arrive. That's why a box of chocolate worked in the first place, because it is a trifle, nothing more. Same with flowers. There's not much to them; they don't last all that long. It's not about how many you bring, it's a question of presentation, of arrangement. It's a matter of how you lay them down.
Years later, long after I lost track of Dorothy the projectionist, I found myself kneeling in the driveway of the woman I loved, stacking Necco wafers inside corny messages, stringing rows of chocolate kisses into looping curls, building a shrine to love. When finished, I felt inspired, and so I drove back to the store for candles, and ran home for a couple of photographs. Then I started in with the symbols: stopping at a hardware store for a pile of blank keys, for a bag of blue fish-tank gravel, for chalk to write notes in her pavement, to the florist for rose pedals. And so the shrine grew. At some point, as darkness crept up, my woman found me out there, building our shrine. I didn't stop even then. I got what Dorothy meant then. If I committed in that direction, everything - anything - I brought to my love would mean enough for the both of us.DATING ADVICE: 10 Better Ways to Show Your Love
Photo credit: Marcelo Santos/Stone via Getty
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.