Thursday, February 14, 2008

just another day, but don't worry if it worries you.

In elementary school we would decorate paper bags on Valentine's Day and tape them to the sides of our desks. Everyone in the class would have brought in cheap hallmark cards, one for every classmate, and we would walk around and drop them in each bag, all have thirty cards to hold on to. I remember sitting on the floor the night before with a class roster, filling in the TO: section with each name, and the FROM: section with my own. Nothing else - no discrimination from one person to the next.

In high school, one class organization or another would sell candy-grams each year, purchased for a dollar at a table in the cafeteria and delivered to the recipient in class on Valentines Day. I had my high school crushes, and they were deep and unrelenting, but I was far too shy and far too unsure of myself to act upon them.  So when third period was interrupted by a knock at the door and little bags of candy with pink notes were distributed about the room - the balance of which generally landed on one well-packaged girl’s desk - I never had any expectation to receive one. I can’t say I ever had a real interest in participating in such things, but I’m sure it would have blown my mind to have a girl invest a dollar in me, though I’m certain following up on it would have been a daunting task.

By my senior year, I was finding people outside of school to hang out with, going to shows a few times a week, and playing them with my own band. I started meeting girls that looked and interacted with me without a knowledge or interest in my standing in a social hierarchy from eight to three, and I realized that maybe those things which I had felt denied from all this time were actually meant for me, were meant for everyone. I just had to be patient, to find my place, to find people who could see me for what I was worth.

I’ve always maintained that Valentine's Day is just another day, whether in a relationship or not, it shouldn’t be a reason for stress. You should treat someone you’re with as someone special despite what day it is, you shouldn’t try to force love if you’re not in it, and there is no need to throw your money into the pit of a corporate holiday.

I remember one year, though, when I was nineteen.  I didn’t have a girlfriend, had been striking out pretty consistently for a while and my self-confidence was low. I was digging myself in one of those ruts where you begin striving so hard to break your loneliness that when an opportunity comes, when you meet someone, it becomes overwhelming and you can't think of anything else.  Your desire pushes them away.  

On Valentine's Day, in the afternoon, I got a call from my buddy Ash who always booked me on shows he was putting on. This time he had a friend in San Jose who was promoting a midnight movie that evening, Punch Drunk Love, and the band he had scheduled to play in the adjacent coffee shop beforehand had canceled. I confessed that I was free that night and agreed to play, drove up there from Santa Cruz, where I was going to school.  Not surprisingly the turnout for the show wasn’t great. I got a free coffee, set up a mic there in front of a chair, plugged my guitar into the PA, got my levels, then just waited around for folks to show up. When I was told to start my set, there were only a handful in the room, a group of kids a little younger than me, and a woman that seemed a lot older, though she was probably only in her mid-twenties. I played two songs and broke my A string. A few more people had shown up and I played one more tune with that broken string and was told it was time for the movie to start.

Sitting in the theater, watching Adam Sandler portray a completely relatable character, I really felt the effect of the day coming down on me. It was unavoidable, it is engrained in our culture, and I could write it off, but I couldn’t escape it.   I remember a sort of pleasurable loneliness as I thanked the promoter for the show, got handed a couple bucks for playing, and walked out into the dark along the wide and vacant downtown sidewalks and found my car and took that big empty highway up to Oakland where my parents were gone for the weekend, and I fell asleep in that empty house alone.  

The next day I received this email:

Last night… and only three songs! I feel teased. I'm not generally impressed with guys like you who tote their guitars around to cafes and such places. But man, you were great! Such is that soul of yours. If you're ever in the South Bay again, could you send me an email letting me know when and where? I'd definitely make it out to hear more.

It was the from the lone woman who had watched my set, and she signed it, “Happy Day” which always stuck with me as better than “Sincerely” or “Best” or “Take Care” or whatever. In fact that’s what I plugged into the search box in my inbox to find it (since I cant ever delete anything). I never saw her at a show again, but that email made me feel damn good knowing that I had made what was probably a difficult day better for someone else.

Anyway, be it a good one or a bad one...

Happy Day,