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February 14th, 2010

Smartmom: Valentine’s Jitters

From this week’s Brooklyn Paper:

In the days before Valentine’s Day, Smartmom was simply trying to decide what to do.

Face it, it’s been years since she and Hepcat went out for romantic dinner. They both know it’s one of the worst restaurant nights of the year as local restaurants are usually overcrowded and chaotic.

Still, it is a symbolic day. A day to exchange cards and gifts. A day to be all lovey-dovey.

But Smartmom and Hepcat are a tad cynical about the whole “holiday,” which seems so pre-determined and un-spontaneous. And sometimes things can go terribly wrong.

Who can forget the year that Hepcat lovingly refers to as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre or when my wife tried to kill me with bed sheets.”

That was when Smartmom bought new white sheets from Ikea, but forgot to wash them before use.

The next morning, Hepcat woke up with hives and could barely breathe. They rushed to Methodist Hospital and spent much of the day waiting for his welts to go down.

Then there are the years that Hepcat forgot to buy Smartmom a gift. Sometimes he has the best of intentions, but he just doesn’t get to the store on time.

The Clay Pot closes at 7 pm — everyone knows that!

Then there was the time he ordered a special watch for Smartmom with her picture on the face.

But somehow (in this case, luckily) it got lost in the mail.

Then there was the year that Smartmom booked a room at the Brooklyn Marriott for some Valentine’s fun and frolic. The plan was to meet at the cocktail lounge and then go upstairs (insert suggestive ellipses here). But the night of marital bliss didn’t happen because Hepcat came down with a nasty cold; given his drippiness, all Smartmom was getting that Valentine’s Day was a rain-check and dozens of dirty Kleenexes. Smartmom held out hope that Hepcat would recuperate in time for the secluded rendezvous — but then she remembered that they had a couple’s therapy appointment that night. Smartmom cancelled the room at the Marriott and headed for her shrink, so that Valentine’s evening, they sat in that cozy brownstone office discussing why they weren’t at the Marriott having sex.

Which isn’t to say that Smartmom and Hepcat haven’t had a few fantastic Valentine’s days.

Smartmom will never forget the night a few years after Teen Spirit was born when Hepcat staged a wonderful surprise. He wouldn’t tell Smartmom where they were going, but when they got to Varick Street near Van Dam Street in Gaphattan, he made her close her eyes. When she opened them, they were in front of the tiny Van Dam Cinema (it’s no longer there). On the marquee, it said, “ ‘L’Atalante’ by Jean Vigo.”

“L’Atalante” happens to be one of Smartmom’s favorite movies (and is considered by many critics to be one of the best films of all time).

Made in 1932, the film is about Jules, the captain of a canal barge, and his new wife, Juliette. The newlyweds embark on a trip from Le Havre and Paris, a makeshift honeymoon that is also a cargo delivery.

Tensions arise in all directions and Juliette runs off in Paris, having grown disenchanted with barge life. Without Juliette, Jules plunges into a deep depression and scours Paris looking for his bride. Eventually, they are reunited.

The film, which is lyrical and poetic, passionate and tortured, is perfect metaphor for the ups and downs of marriage.

That special night, Smartmom and Hepcat were the only ones in the movie theater and Smartmom thought it was the most romantic thing ever for a few reasons:

1. It was ooh la la romantic to watch a poetic French masterpiece on Valentine’s Day.

2. It was fun being the only people in the movie theater.

3. It was thoughtful — and loving — of Hepcat to remember that “L’Atalante” is Smartmom’s favorite movie.

After they film, they browsed in the now-defunct Spring Street Books and later had dinner at the Odeon in Tribeca. Manhattan Granny was watching Baby Teen Spirit and it was, as Smartmom remembers, a perfect Valentine’s Day.

So how to top that?

Smartmom could rent “L’Atalante” at Video Forum and stage a repeat of that night.

Nah. Been there, arthoused that.

Well, she could rent “Touch of Evil” or “The Third Man,” which are two of Hepcat’s favorite movies. And they could watch one or both sitting on the new couch in their redecorated living room.

Smartmom could prepare Hepcat’s favorite dish (she’d have to call Hepcat’s mom for her tamale pie recipe) and eat by candlelight in their dining room.

Smartmom is liking the sounds of that (minus the tamale pie, which Smartmom would gladly replace with one of her own specialties — if she had one).

All in all, it might just be a nice way to celebrate the day of love with the man she loves.

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