From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR
And here we are again. Desolation.
The morning after…Valentine's Day.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
It might be noted, after that steal from Charles Dickens, that Chuck was unhappily married, according to biographers. If you've ever seen a picture of him, it is probably because of the facial hair.
But that is Chuck's business, and to him and his bad beard I owe a debt of gratitude that can never be, in this lifetime, repaid. "A Christmas Carol" still brings me much joy, both in "A Muppets Christmas Carol" and in "Scrooged." Each stole freely (not counting royalties) from the Dickens original, so I’m not alone in stealing the dickens out of Dickens.
But beyond that, it goes back to 10th grade when Mrs. Mullins said, "Get out your copies of 'Great Expectations.' I nearly pulled a muscle reaching for the heavy novel while the rest of the West Monroe High Class of ’77 let out a moan you could hear all the way to North 7th Street, down to “The Original” Coney Island on Natchitoches and across the Ouachita River to Forsythe Park.
Hatred of Dickens by the Southern teen is not uncommon. It is also very loud.
I loved “Great Expectations.” Not as much as I loved Coney Island, but what 10th grader loves Victorian literature as much as he loves a chili cheese dog? I wasn’t THAT weird.
But speaking of love, it is, as we've established, the day after Valentine's Day. Do you know where your marriage is?
I hope so. Because although Valentine's Day is the most unforgiving and needless “holiday” of them all -- you need a day to remember to tell the one you love that you love them? -- it is still important. By important I mean “a case of life and death.” Please, learn from my mistakes and go with the flow here.
Valentine's Day was dreamed up by the same guy who invented competitive cheerleading, a sport that involves athletic and nimble youngsters whose parents will line up 40-deep in gymnasiums and civic centers around the nation to buy $30 T-shirts until their hands bleed. This guy is a force of nature.
The evil brain behind Valentine’s Day convinced himself he could make a zillion dollars if he could only devise a way to convince innocent men and women that they have to buy a card and flowers once a year – or else. Where’s Oprah and Dr. Phil when you really need them?
Happily and gratefully married to an (obviously) easy-to-please woman, I think back on the times when I was wild and hard to control, when testosterone ruled my life, when my only thought was seeing Her again. Of course I’m talking about fourth grade, and Mrs. Huggins, my original love.
It was over by Valentine’s Day. It could be because I forgot to get her a card. (See Bible: Original Sin.) But it could be because by then, the Grace Kelly of my dreams had ballooned to the size of Lambeau Field. This was thanks in part to Mr. Huggins, which my dad had a hard time explaining to me. Mr. Huggins. Mrs. Huggins. A little Huggins on the way.
And I thought fourth-grade math was hard.
But why wasn’t I good enough? What did Mr. Huggins have that I didn’t have, besides maybe a driver’s license and a job? Well, he had Mrs. Huggins, for starters. And for enders.
And so I learned early, as Pip did in “Great Expectations.” Poor Pip, there on the outside of Estella’s world, bound by fate to always be looking in. And named Pip, too. Dude.
Pip and I know through loving and losing that expectations are a risky deal, and that things just don’t work out sometimes. Nobody’s fault. One minute you’re on the monkey bars, having aced a spelling test 15 minutes ago, and then you go back into class and find out your teacher is sleeping with her husband, and the smiley face on your test paper is nothing more than a smiley face, meaning simply, “I’m glad you finally learned how to spell ‘civics.’ No ‘k.’ Good for you!”
A good book title for a book about Valentine’s Day would be “Mediocre Expectations.” Then we’d have a happy ending.