True romance

Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke about what women really want from the men in their lives. What every woman secretly fantasizes about, the old joke claims, is to be with two men at the same time: one to cook, and one to clean. Finding a man who shares his feelings or puts down the toilet seat is merely icing on the (wedding?) cake.

What women want?

I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s nice to take an annual opportunity to do something special for your loved one(s), but a day devoted to the commercial shilling of hearts, chocolate, and roses always seemed a bit tacky to me. When I lived in an all-women’s dorm during my senior year of college, I was dismayed by the sheer amount of misery one simple day could cause. Girls without boyfriends felt dejected, and girls with boyfriends felt a strange need to flaunt whatever their sweetie had gotten them, leading to a huge competition where Boyfriend A’s chocolates paled alongside Boyfriend B’s long-stemmed roses, which were outdone in turn by Boyfriend C’s diamond earrings. Otherwise demur girls turned downright vindictive, it seemed, knowing that the worth of their relationship would be judged (by a jury of their peers, of course) on the basis of what their boyfriend bought. Heaven help those creative and/or impoverished college guys who tried to get away with writing a poem, painting a picture, or singing a song to express their affection: those non-commercial gifts just couldn’t compete in the annual round of Whose Boyfriend Is the Best.

For my Valentine

Tonight, J and I have nothing special planned for Valentine’s Day. Thursday is my usual night for making the weekly drive from Keene to Newton for the weekend, so Reggie and I will arrive at J’s house later tonight just in time for dinner, just as we always do. Instead of eating out, we’ll eat in, Thursday being soup and salad night: something light and easy as we settle into the downside of another work week. When you have a man who cooks and cleans, there’s no need to go out for wining and dining: at this point, heaven sounds like another Thursday night on J’s couch watching Whatever’s On over a couple glasses of wine.

Early tonight, J emailed to ask when I’d be arriving for what he’s termed my “multi-staged” Valentine’s Day gift, adding that he’d told a female friend what he’d gotten me, and she responded, “While it isn’t your ‘traditional’ gift, it could be fun.” Right about now, a man who cooks, cleans, and dreams up nontraditional gifts sounds just right, those college games of Whose Boyfriend Is the Best notwithstanding.

The box on the left is my gift for J, which isn’t exactly a traditional Valentine’s Day gift, either, although it’s gaily masquerading as one. I’ll let you know what it is tomorrow, after J’s unwrapped it…

A striking likeness

It’s not everyday when someone sneaks around behind your back to orchestrate the perfect present. J initially struggled to figure out what to get me for Christmas, and perhaps my giving him Patriots tickets for his birthday didn’t make matters any easier. But about a month ago, he claimed to have the Perfect Idea. “You’ll never guess” was all he’d say about the gift-in-the-making; all I knew was at several points he surreptitiously mailed envelopes I wasn’t allowed to see.

Smile, Keene

Those envelopes, it turned out, were addressed to artist Bren Bataclan, whose “Smile Boston” project I’d blogged when it took a road trip to Keene, NH after the flood of October, 2005. I didn’t claim the smiley-faced painting I found at the Keene State College student center back in 2005, figuring that someone else needed a smile more than I did. But the first time I visited J’s house, I smiled to see a Bren Bataclan painting in his living room: not one he found, but one he’d bought. On the secret checklist of “good traits” and “bad traits” every woman keeps when she first meets a man, I silently checked one in the “good” column: “Supports local artists.”

I knew Bren Bataclan painted whimsical, brightly colored characters; I didn’t know that he also accepts commissions to paint cartoon-like pet portraits. Now that I’ve seen Reggie’s cartoon alter-ego, I have to say the pairing is perfect. Reggie’s personality has always been goofy, and his orange poofiness is a perfect subject for painted whimsy. Bren perfectly captured the big, silly fluffiness of a dog he’s never met, thanks in large part to the various photographed portraits J took and secretly sent in those envelopes I wasn’t allowed to see.

In my opinion, the Perfect Present is one you never even thought to ask for, something you wouldn’t have bought yourself but you can’t imagine living without once you’ve received it. J’s commission of this portrait perfectly qualifies. “Loves me, loves my pet” is one of those good traits I’ve silently checked on my secret checklist of good and bad traits, and this year’s Christmas present merely highlighted that fact. It’s not everyday that someone transforms your beloved baby into a whimsical work of art.

Thanks to J for photographing Reggie posing alongside his portrait, which is still wrapped in plastic to prevent him from licking his likeness.