Ricky contentedly stretched his legs out a little further in front of him in the reclining chair, took another drink of soda pop, and reached with a corn chip for another scoop of dip off the plate on the little table.

“Who would ever have thought our lives would end up looking like this?” he asked, looking across the table to his partner, Roland, in the other reclining chair.

“What do you mean? There isn’t anything wrong with our lives,” Roland replied.

“No, there isn’t anything wrong with our lives-that’s what I mean,” said Ricky as he muted the television commercial. “Here we are, watching the Super Bowl in my own living room. And each of us, we got married, and there’s our wives visiting in the kitchen,” he said motioning through the doorway to the next room. “It’s so domestic, so normal-like.”

“Yeah, who’d have thought you would ever meet your future wife dressed as Santa Claus, and me there with you dressed as a green elf? Who would ever have thought that a preschool teacher would get interested in somebody so all-over-the-place like you?”

“Well, I have to admit, it probably helped that she already knew my sister, Rita.”

“Not to burst the bubble of your contemplation, but have you considered, sitting here watching the football game, that Valentine’s Day is coming up soon, and you need to get your wife something?”

“You bet. This year I’m ahead of the game. I’m finally catching on. The first year, I think I got her some candy, and it was OK. I think it was the second year I forgot all about Valentine’s, and Carol was upset with me. So, I try to make amends, and explain that in my family when I was growing up, we just didn’t get each other gifts, but that didn’t help.”

“No, I can see that it wouldn’t. Just sort of oafish.”

“I asked her, ‘What can I get you, what can I get you that you’ll like in the future?’ And you know what Carol said? She said, ‘Just get something practical so I know you remembered me.’ So I got her a toilet plunger, and she cried.”

“You really aren’t too discerning, are you?”

“Well, I put a red bow on the handle.”

“Naah, that wouldn’t work.”

“No, it didn’t. And it didn’t work either in later years when I got her the ice-cube trays or the electric mixer. I thought they were really practical. She even said the electric drill I got her to install her cabinets was obviously really for me.

“So, the next year I decide to go really big on romantic, but stay really practical too. I went down to a discount store, and got not one, but three 5-pound boxes of the cheapest candy on sale I could find. Ended up tasting like paraffin stuffed with sugar. Carol said quantity wasn’t the issue at Valentine’s, and not to get her candy any more because she was getting too fat.”

“Gosh,” said Roland looking back into the kitchen, “I don’t think she looks fat. Well, maybe she’s a little plumper than when we met her.”

“Anyway, she said I needed to listen to her, meet her needs, take account of how she feels. So, I did. I got her a good gift this year.”

“So, what did you get?”

“Well, I’ve been really paying attention. And, several days ago when they were interviewing people on the television news, getting ready for the Super Bowl here you know, the people were drinking Lone Star beer because of it being from Texas, and Houston being involved in the football game, you see. Then Carol said how her brother drank some of that Lone Star when he was in Texas, too, because so many of the people there drank it. So, I took the hint. I went down to the liquor store, and special ordered her a case of Lone Star-good 6 percent too, not even 3.2.”

“Ricky, Carol doesn’t even drink beer! She isn’t going to like that, and there’s nothing romantic to it.”

“But I figure it must be like getting wine from a special place-and besides, that’s not all I got. Since she’s feeling sensitive about candy and getting fat, I got her a pound of special beef jerky down at the locker plant to go with the beer. This time I’ve listened to her.”

“No you haven’t. You haven’t listened to her at all. I tell you, Ricky, a woman wants you to listen to her with your heart. The ears don’t do well when all that’s between them is your big stretch of head. You have to feel-and if you can’t, you have to get help.

“At Valentine’s, when I need something for Nancy, I go down to the video store to look for a clerk that’s the sweetest young thing-preferably in her early 20s-that I can find. Stay away from the men. They’re just as dumb as you are.

“Ask her what is the most gushy-gushy romantic film they have, usually starring some guy that will make you almost want to throw up looking at him, and a really good looking girl. That’s what you want, their ultimate chick flick.

“The really, really tough thing for you is this: There’s no getting out of it, you have to watch it with her. Put your arm around her, and look at it intently like you actually are absorbed in it. If she looks at you during the movie with tears in her eyes, look back somberly with expression in your eyes like you might get sick or something, and kiss her gently on her hair or forehead. Don’t kiss her lips. This is feelings, no love making.

“Now, when you get the movie, you also go to the florist, and get her one red rose. A bunch of roses is a bouquet, and one rose is elegance. You got that? Then get her the most expensive, exquisite candy they have in the smallest, most beautiful package they have. Practical is investing wisely, not being cheap and stupid.”

“You do all that for Nancy, Roland? I can’t believe it. You sound almost slick.”

“I’m telling you, she likes it all, Ricky. Get the jerky and the beer out for us. I’m the man for that, Carol isn’t.”

Nearly two weeks later, Ricky walked into the video store, looking all around for an available clerk besides the bur-haired man behind the counter. Almost out of nowhere, a young woman, perhaps around 25, appeared in front of him.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Well, yeah, I guess you can. You look like somebody I ought to talk to. I want to rent a real chick flick for Valentine’s Day for my wife to look at-with me, I guess. Yeah, I’d be looking at it too. Something really gushy-gushy, you know.”

The young woman smiled warmly. “That’s so romantic, sir. And I have just the right movie for you. She’ll love it, I know.”

Ricky looked at the movie cover picture, and Roland was right. The man shown was one of those hair-swept-back types with oversized eyes and thin lips set in a thin face, stomach-churning looking, but the woman was a babe. He rented it anyway.

He thought about picking up a cactus at the discount store with the small, round red top grafted to a tall, green bottom-but he caught himself, and made a trip to the florist’s for a nearly black-red rose, long-stemmed and elegant.

At the candy store, he almost couldn’t make the purchase. “The most elegant and decorative piece of candy we have, sir, is this white chocolate bon bon with coconut cream exterior and a cherry-mash almond filling. As you can see, it’s wrapped in laced, gold foil, with curled pink, cotton ribbon top.”

“Good, good, I think. How much is one of those bon bons, or do you sell them by the box?”

“No, sir. We don’t sell them by the box. They’re $9.99 each.”

“Good Lord, 10 bucks. OK, give me one.”

Carol positively gleamed in her smile at him that night when he handed her the rose and the bon bon. The hug and the kiss she gave him were way beyond anything he had received for any previous Valentine’s gift-even the toilet plunger when she had finally kissed him after laughing at him.

He put the movie in the videocassette player, put his arm around his wife, and endured the scenes of skin-crawling, passionate gazes, and ardent embraces with the irksome hero. When he felt himself dozing off in boredom, he bit his lip. And at that exact moment when Carol looked up at him with tears gleaming softly in the corners of her eyes, Ricky bent over, gently kissed her on the forehead, then gazed at her with the most luster that he could muster.

“It worked, Roland,” Ricky told his buddy the next day. “I’ve never seen Carol so happy with me at Valentine’s. I don’t know how you knew what to do, or where you learned so much, but it worked.”

“Good, Ricky. I knew it would work for you. I’m glad now that I told you.”

“I only have one question.”

“You do, huh. Wouldn’t it be better to just accept how to please her at Valentine’s, and forget questioning.”

“No, I really want to know. How did you learn that? How did you know the way to a woman’s heart?”

“Ohhh. I was afraid you’d ask me that. I can’t lie to you again, even for your own good. We’ve known each other too long. Why don’t you forget you asked.”

“No, really, tell me.”

“Well, Nancy and Carol drilled me on what to tell you. They made me memorize everything. I outdid myself with my performance. They said you weren’t ever going to get it on your own. They even had Nancy’s niece at the video store to give you an extra little push to get you started. I’m sorry.”

“No, that’s OK, Roland. I might have suspected you couldn’t be that slick. But, it’s OK. The results were worth it.”

“No, I mean I’m really sorry. You responded so well that Nancy wants me to do the same thing for her next year.”

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