Monday, February 14, 2011


I think there's a reason Valentine's Day and Venereal Disease share the same initials. They're both LAMMEE, at the very least. Valentine's Day was fun when you were in grade school and everyone got candy and cards. If it was still silly with candy and cards for everyone, I'd be down. I actually thought of doing that for my friends this year, but, ya know, bar study. Anyway, grown ass couples should just pretend it isn't happening. Candy and hearts are ridiculous. Going out on Valentine's Day is a waste of money and if anyone ever unironically buys me a stuffed bear that says, "I love you beary much" I reserve the right to break up with them on the spot. I say none of this just because I am single, I'd feel the exact same way if I were part of a couple.

BUT! Amazingly enough, this post is not an indictment of the "holiday", you can find that anywhere else on the internet today. Instead I will retell the story of the most amazing Valentine's Day I ever had. It's a repost from the old blog, edited and amended since then, the writing hopefully sharpened so please reread. Also: hot damn to this day I still ADORE this story/happening in my life. Valentine's Day, even when only tangental to the story, can have good moments. Enjoy!

When I was in high school, I didn't really drink. I dabbled in alcohol like four times the entire four years. When both your parents are police officers, with a sixth sense ability to smell alcohol, you don't really do a whole lot of drinking. (That and I was an L to the forehead loser in high school so the opportunity didn't often present itself.)

This is important to note because when I went off to college (this is partly why I went off to college) for my first semester I sure enjoyed my liquor. I was 1600 miles from home and there were no rules to follow. And only the vaguest hint of alcohol laws exist in Louisiana. I had some amazing adventures. When I came home for break, I had many stories to share, but most of them started, "This one night, we were SO drunk…" My little brother, who had made a bet with my mom and I that he wouldn't drink all through high school, and was thus a teetotaler at the time (those of you that know him try and imagine this; it's almost impossible) said, "Why do all your stories start that way? I bet you can't not drink for two months." I have a hard time backing away from a direct challenge. The bet was for $20, two months, no alcohol. I took him up on it. This also meant I would be stone cold sober for my very first Mardi Gras.

Having gone to New Orleans for a practice run at Halloween, I knew it would be crazy. Halloween is about 1/4 of the people as Mardi Gras and is still insanity. I knew to dress casual and be prepared for the crowds. Mistakes we made at Halloween involved skirts and heels on Bourbon Street. My roommate, Samantha, although from Louisiana was from a small town in the northern part of the state, which is Bible Belt and not Catholic sin, and this was her first big time Mardi Gras as well. We were, I can imagine now, ridiculous, fresh faced coeds.

I had gone to a parade a few weeks before Mardi Gras weekend in the suburb of Mandeville with my dorm mate Tina and her friends. I would find out later this was pretty tame by comparison to the N.O. parades. I found myself early on saying, "I don't get it. Yelling for five cent beads is stupid" to in the next five minutes screaming my head off for the trinkets from the floats. Marching bands, floats, plastic cups, costumes. Mardi Gras, if you haven't gone, is freaking awwwwwesome. (Note: Carnival is a season in Louisiana. It runs from pretty much the middle of January through to actual Fat Tuesday, which obviously changes depending on when Lent is. This particular year it was early, with Mardi Gras in mid February. This year (2011) it is late and Mardi Gras is March 8. The biggest weekend is the one right before fat Tuesday but any weekend leading up to that, there are parades. You can find a fair amount of trouble even in those lead up weekends.)

The start of Mardi Gras weekend, Samantha and I headed to the big deal parade of Endymion (though, ya know what? It might have been Bacchus. Whatever, irrelevant. It was a BIG parade) in New Orleans. Samantha and I met up with Tina and her guy friends and Samantha was ALL about the parade. She was flashing, up on some guy's shoulders, getting fistfuls of beads tossed at her. I wasn't that into the flashing, still not confident enough in my body. Also, a complete pragmatist, even before the rise of Girls Gone Wild, I was afraid the event of flashing my breasts to strangers would come back to haunt me somehow. The stone cold soberness might have been contributing.

Her and I had driven down from Baton Rouge together and when the parade was over and Tina and her friends headed back to their home town, about a half an hour across the Causeway from N.O., Sam and I made plans to head into the thick of the party in the French Quarter, which is much less family friendly than viewing a parade on a side street with N.O. (suburbs) natives. Tina's overly concerned guy friend warned us against this. But we took a "we are big girls, don't tell us what to do!" stance and headed on our way. Some guy I barely knew was NOT gonna tell me what to do. (I'm never this stubborn now. Nope. Never. Doesn't sound at all like me.) We made it safely to the French Quarter, after dropping off our mass of beads at the car, to procure more beads and see what all the fuss was about.

Mardi Gras in the French Quarter is everything you have seen on Cops and Girls Gone Wild and then some. It can be complete and total debauchery. The only things not allowed are peeing in public (only enforced if caught) and fighting. But it's also an incredibly good time. Keep your wits about you, don't put yourself in scary situations, but have some freaking fun. It's not hard to find. You move with the crush of the crowd, a sea of people, up or down Bourbon Street and just take it all in. The fact that I was sober and Sam, to my recollection, was also mostly sober, helped us feel pretty safe. Or we were just young and naive. Probably the latter.

A digression about Samantha: the girl was PERFECT. I always think about Molly Ringwald talking about Carolyn Mumford in 16 Candles when I think about how I describe her; there was no competing. She was 5'2", petite, busty, with bright green eyes and perfect blonde corkscrew curls. She could do sign language fluently, spent her summers working with disabled children and was from a crazy (alcoholic) family, going to college on full scholarships. The freshman 15 had made her more attractive, not less. The freshman 25 I lost made me still nowhere in her vicinity of gorgeousness. She was cheery and perky, always choosing to look at the positive side of everything. She would apologize for things that weren't her fault or she had no control over. She had spent all of her growing up years learning classical dance (this is, I have discovered, common practice for anyone born south of the Mason-Dixon line). Unfailingly optimistic. Next to her I felt like a large, brunette, cynical wall. We were Oscar and Felix. Perfect Strangers. Any "opposites are roommates" story, that's what we were.

I was trying to get past her perfectness and guys' reaction to it and remember I was pretty awesome on my own, but it wasn't always easy. Still isn't. I sat through seemingly endless parties where guys would come up to me and lean in, whispering conspiratorially, "Lisa?" "Yeah?" I'd respond, eager to hear what was coming next. "Samantha? She's perfect!" I would sigh, feel my self esteem crushed a little more, hang my head and respond, "Yeah. I know." After all, I lived with her. They didn't want to date this girl, they wanted to marry her. And funny enough, she was having none of it. (This guy, Craig, once when we were drinking in the boys dorm we hung out in, said to Samantha, "How come Lisa doesn't how awesome she is?" Sam told him to tell me. He never did. She divulged it much later. So I guess I wasn't totally invisible?) And despite my fondest desire to, this girl was impossible to hate. She was genuine in everything she was doing. And honestly, it was a nice juxtaposition to who I was. She, to this day, remains un-hate-able. Has a doctorate in physiology, a physical therapist for people with brain injuries, married, with a brand new baby. And for the kicker: spent a season as a cheerleader for the Houston Texans and Rockets. Yeah. She also remains perfect. Back to the story at hand...

Here's the thing that most people don't understand about Mardi Gras: it's not ALL about flashing. More likely a cute guy is going to ask you to trade beads for a kiss before he asks you to show him your tits. And the perfect girl from the small northern Louisiana town goes nuts. She loves it. She's soaking it up. She is making out with guys every ten feet as we walk down Bourbon Street and accumulating lots of beads. I'm not even exaggerating. Walk ten feet, watch Samantha kiss someone else, walk ten feet, rinse, repeat. I'm smoking cigarettes (hey, I can't drink) and sort of over this whole scene, feeling invisible and insignificant for not the first (and not the last) time in my relationship with Samantha, let alone my life. And I know I'm saying snarky things to her, trying to make her feel bad about her behavior, but honestly, good for her and her good time and bad on me and my snarky soberness.

I'm wearing a long sleeve Henley t-shirt with Navy blue sleeves and a cream body. There is a logo on the left breast that is the symbol "NY" in Yankee's font. Underneath that, it says "Finest". This is pre-9/11 and everyone having a shirt like this, or the similar NYFD. My dad gave me the shirt after his first trip to NY where he hung out with some police officers there (world's largest fraternity, if you didn't know). It's a scrubby shirt but I thought it would keep me warm in the ever so chilly February New Orleans. I'm spending most of my time watching Samantha and paying little attention to any guys that might be interested in me, making sure she doesn't get swooped up in the crowd. Or just being my regular oblivious self.

Out of nowhere this guy stops me and says, "You a Yankees fan?" I'm perplexed and taken aback that someone is talking to me and in a somewhat abrasive tone and say, perplexed, "What?" He says again, "You a Yankees fan?" I finally remember my shirt and say, "Oh. The shirt. Yeah, a little bit, I guess. But this isn't a Yankee's shirt. It's an NYPD shirt." He says, "I bet you can't even name one player." It's February. Pitchers and catchers haven't reported. I've been newly steeped in the myth that is college football, after a life of being deprived of it, with my move to Louisiana, so I haven't spent any time thinking about major league baseball in For-Ever. I ponder for a second and say, "Ummm...Derek Jeter?" "Oh come on, everyone knows Derek Jeter. Name someone else," says abrasive, but cute, stranger. Fuck, really? But I'm a girl who can't pass on a challenge (see above about bet that got me into this sober predicament). I think for a second, Samantha at my side talking to this guy's friend, and then, it comes to me. Like lightning. I have tapped the recesses of my brain, calling up dormant baseball knowledge. I say, "Paul O'Neill. Jorge Posada. Bernie Williams. Chuck Knoblauch." I have now blown this guy's mind. His eyes get big and he probably says something to the effect of "Whooaa." He's impressed. I'm impressed too, he started off asking me a question and not for me to show my tits. It's kinda genius. So genius I didn't even read it as him interested in me for a good ten minutes. I can, as mentioned, be really oblivious.  

We stand there on Bourbon St. talking for…it had to be at least two hours. We talk baseball. We talk ESPN and college sports. We talk about where we grew up. We talk about it being Valentine's Day, which happens to be his birthday. We talk favorite movies. We have tons in common. We are pretty oblivious to the crowds around us. Standing on the sidewalk of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras weekend. Talking. The crowds swirling around us. The roommate of this guy asks my roommate if this happens to me often, having this much in common with a total stranger. She replies honestly, "No. Never." Only when we head to CafĂ© Du Monde does he even ask me to kiss him for beads. A faded pair of green beads that are broken and twisted together. I still have them. In fact, I still have them hanging in my room. Right this second. Sentimental reasons, ya know? 

Samantha, in the mean time, is hitting it off with his friend. Which is fine with me. We sit eating beignets and talking more. They confirm that I am, in fact, stone cold sober. We kiss. We talk and talk and talk. We kiss some more. He even says at one point, "What am I gonna do with you?" I think the right answer was "Sleep with me." But I'm 18 and not thinking that way. I say, "I dunno. Marry me?" And he agrees. It was all said in joking fun. But half joking fun. I might would have done it, had New Orleans been the land of late night wedding chapels and not Las Vegas.

They invite us back to their hotel, the Embassy Suites near the convention center on Julia Street, which is where we watched the parade. (Yes, I remember that detail. Yes, every time I walk past it when I'm in New Orleans I get a goofy little smile on my face.) Samantha and I confer, stand on the sidewalk having the following conversation: Should we? Shouldn't we? We're not supposed to, right? We're supposed to be smart and safe and do the sensible good girl thing, right? But we're having SO much fun, why not? Do you want to? We're in agreement as to that being a yes. We go to their hotel. We make out. We watch Sportscenter. We cuddle. We sleep. It's very PG13.

(I have never ever regretted the decision to go with them. I've done incredibly questionable things in my life, made some poor decisions both drunk and sober. But being told you need to 'behave', that there is some norm of 18 year old, or any age, really, female behavior to be considered 'good' or chaste instead of a trollop, well, it's utter bullshit. This isn't the 1920s. I can see where there are safety issues, I get that. And there are scary people out there. But you also have to trust your gut. And society needs to trust that women can make these choices for themselves. /feminist rant)

We are supposed to meet Tina back in Baton Rouge at 2 p.m. the next day, the 15th, for another trip back to N.O. for more Mardi Gras festivities (in retrospect, this is a retarded plan. 18. Dumb. That's the only excuse I got). We don't make it, as we fall asleep in a hotel room in New Orleans after making out with boys, and are in no rush to get moving in the morning. We have no way of getting in touch with Tina, as this is pre everyone having a cell phone, and I don't even know her dorm room phone number. I usually just walked down the hall and knocked. We kind of don't care, we're on a total high from this. We finally leave their hotel at around noon. They don't ask us to meet them that night, surprisingly enough. (Hmm. Something that has only now occurred to me. They should have.)

Except we make a mistake: First of all, I don't know if my guy cares that I'm leaving, but maybe he's hungover? They didn't appear that drunk. Then I assume Sam gives her guy our number and she assumes the same about me. Neither of us did. Which we figure out in the lobby. (Several years later and the phone number exchange/level of male interest thing remains a complete mystery to me. I start with the basic assumption of disinterest. I don't think this always serves me well.) We call their room voicemail and leave a message but it's so lame, who knows if they got it. Again: 18, dumb. We slink back to Baton Rouge and lay in bed feeling giggly and hopeful, ignoring the rest of Mardi Gras weekend. Oh, and we don't have to be back in class 'til Wednesday. Mardi Gras break, y'all! Tina is PISSED. But she gets over it. And our friendship dies anyway under less than great circumstances, so I don't really care, in retrospect. But, ah, are Samantha and I blissed out teenagers (literally. Wow. I'm old) for a week until we realize that there is only radio silence. Le sigh. We plot ways to find them again, as we know what town they are currently residing in and figure there are only about five bars there, it can't be that hard. But we never do. Life goes on. It fades into a memory.

Despite never hearing from this guy again, I always (obviously) remember that night and would occasionally do Google searches with the info I have. I knew his first name. I knew his last initial was M but I didn't know what. I thought it was Mast-something (Masters, Masterson, Mastion)…but I only saw his NJ driver's license for a second when he was proving to me that February 14th was, in fact, his birthday. He was a West Point alum who played lacrosse when he was there and was stationed in Dothan/Enterprise, Alabama learning to fly Apache helicopters when I met him. Which if you know anything about me, that pretty much sums up my dream guy. But that's it. That's all I knew. And my Google searches never produced anything of value. I mostly wondered if in our current (and continuous) climate of war, he was okay. But I also wondered what might have happened. I mean, I was 18 and he was 22 at the time but it was a great night. Epic, even. Were my memories colored rose by the distance of time? I'm sure not the girl I was that night anymore. Hell, he probably wouldn't even remember me if I did find him. So I just figured, perhaps, I was better off not knowing who he was or where he was, and just hoped he was safe.

One night I was doing one of my random late night internet searches. I was, as usual, having no luck. So I wrote a quick post asking for the fates of the universe to allow me to find him and this one other guy (that's a whole 'nother story). As soon as I did that, I realized I had been using the wrong terms in previous searches. I tweaked one of the phrases in my search string. And lo and behold, there he was. I think. I'm pretty sure. The stats stack up pretty perfectly. Played lacrosse while stationed in Germany, flying Apache helicopters. West Point grad. First name is right, last name starts with an M. He looks different than I remember, but how great is a memory when it was 12 hours ten twelve (!!) years ago and you spent most of that time with your eyes closed kissing? I redo the search with the new info to get more accurate results. There he is on all the social networking sites. Le freaking sigh.

Okay. He's alive. I have my answer. Now what? Do I make contact? "Hey, um, were you at Mardi Gras in 1999?" I debated. Because I am not the skinny girl I was back then. (Phenomenal in retrospect that I was insecure THEN. If only I knew what I know now...) And judging from facebook pic, boy is, predictably, in outstanding shape. And probably married, no? I have the advantage (I guess?) in that I know about him and he doesn't know about me. So I can take as long as I want (until I am a size never) to make contact. But what could happen between now and then?

The post script of course is that I, when slightly tipsy (naturally!), did facebook message him. He didn't respond. And that's totally okay. Life goes on. Filed in the memory banks as one of the top ten nights ever.

And that is how Valentine's Day will be remembered by me, one that wasn't even really about it being Valentine's Day, until someone dares to top it. 

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