St. Valentine's Day
Saturday, February 10, 2001
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(GK: Garrison Keillor, TR: Tim Russell, SS: Sue Scott, TK: Tom Keith)

(MUSIC)

 

GK: Valentine's Day will soon be here, and with it a lot of painful childhood memories for me. Mrs. Magendanz, my fourth grade teacher, always made a big fuss over valentines and chose six children to decorate the room with lacy hearts and crepe paper and my work was held up for criticism by Karen who was better with scissors----

 

SS (ADENOIDAL CHILD): Mrs. Magendanz, Carson's heart is extremely messy. He didn't do a good job of cutting at all. And where he pasted on the lace, there are big paste smears everywhere. And it doesn't even look like a heart. It looks like a liver.

 

GK: I did the best I could.

 

SS (ADENOIDAL CHILD): I'm afraid that may be true. (BRIDGE)

 

GK: I was hoping to be chosen to be the postman to distribute the valentines but this honor went to other children and I sat at my desk and looked at the little pile of valentines accumulating and my heart sank. I could see that most of them were of poor quality, not purchased individually but the kind that come in bulk, four or five to a sheet, and you have to punch them out and they have those telltale little white bumps all around that say, Cheap Valentine. Other children received expensive cards with plush covers and lace and ribbons and poems in them, and mine had those telltale white bumps around the edge and said, Be my Valentine. That was it. And then Mrs. Magendanz said----

 

SS: What's wrong, Carson? You look devastated.

 

GK: I'm okay, Mrs. Magendenz. I'm enjoying myself.

 

SS: Are you sure? Your little face looks drained, hollow.

 

GK: I'm having a very nice time, thank you.

 

SS: You got a lot of valentines…

 

GK: Yes, and I appreciate them very much, Mrs. Magendanz. I'm sitting and savoring them.

 

SS: Wait a minute. Let me count those….

 

GK: No, really, it's all right. (SHE IS COUNTING RAPIDLY, SLAPPING DOWN CARDS, TO 22)

 

SS: Okay, class. (SHE CLAPS HANDS) Who didn't give Carson a valentine?? Huh? Shame on you. I specifically said, you MUST bring a valentine for every person in the class. Every person, whether you are fond of them or not. Eight of you forgot to give Carson a valentine. How could you be so cruel! Think of how YOU'D feel if YOU had skin problems like Carson has and YOU had to wear thick glasses and you had big warts on YOUR hands like his and YOU didn't get as many valentines as other more attractive members of the class. Just think about that. What if YOU had to come to school in your big brother's old corduroy pants and mended flannel shirt and what if YOUR hair was obviously cut by your dad with one of those home haircut kits they advertise on TV and what if YOUR mother sent you to school with a lunchbag with a couple jelly sandwiches and what if she told YOU that YOU had to fold up the waxed paper and the bag and bring it back so she could use them again tomorrow? And then you come to school and find out that eight of YOUR classmates couldn't even give you a valentine. And look at these cheap valentines that he did get----- look at these ---- Think how depressed you'd be if someone did that to you! Are you listening to me, class? You know, someday they'll invent drugs to make people like Carson happy all the time but it's 1952 right now, kiddoes, and I'm afraid that someone has caused irreparable harm to this boy's self-esteem. Irreparable harm. Irreparable harm. (FADING, REVERB) Irreparable harm. Irreparable harm. Irreparable harm.

 

(DARK CHORDS)

 

GK: So that's why I always feel a little blue around Valentine's Day. I always feel about eight valentines short. I appreciate that people try --- they make a gesture ---- but when you've been hurt so badly in childhood ----- you're sensitive.

 

TK: Here you go, boss--- happy Valentine's Day from all the stage crew at the Fitzgerald.

 

GK: Thanks. A box of candy. That's awfully nice of you. You didn't have to do that.

 

TK: Well, I know that but we wanted to anyway.

 

GK: Is this the sort of chocolate with the soft nougat centers?

 

TK: Yes, it is. Do you not care for that?

 

GK: No, it's not that. It's just that, the price tag is right here on the side. You see that?

 

TK: Oh. Sorry. ---- Guess I didn't see that.

 

GK: I wish I hadn't seen it.

 

TK: You want me to take it back and bring you something more expensive?

 

GK: No, no. It's not the money.

 

TK: It's the idea of the thing.

 

GK: Exactly. I suppose that all ten of you went in on this gift.

 

TK: We did. Yes.

 

GK: It's not that it matters. It's not important, but it comes out to about twenty cents per person.

 

TR: Twenty, twenty-five….

 

GK: I should be able to handle it. It's just that --- what's this? A record?

 

TK: Open it. Just a little token.

 

GK: It's a record.

 

TK: Little token of how we all feel about you.

 

GK: It's Elton John.

 

TK: Hope you enjoy it. (SURFACE NOISE OF 45)

 

RD (SINGING, ON RECORD): And you can tell everybody that this is your---And you can tell everybody that this is your----And you can tell everybody that this is your----And you can tell everybody that this is your----

 

TK: Sorry.

 

GK: Does this Valentine card come with it?

 

TK: Yeah, why? Something wrong?

 

GK: Just this.

 

TK: What?

 

GK: Look at the edge.

 

TK: What's wrong with it?

 

GK: Those. (MUSIC)

 

TR (KISSINGER): So your sense of unworthiness and self-revulsion is triggered by little white bumps?

 

GK: Yes.

 

TR (KISSINGER): Any little white bumps?

 

GK: No, just the kind on the edge of a valentine. Where someone tore along the dotted line.

 

TR (KISSINGER): Little white bumps.

 

GK: Yes, doctor.

 

TR (KISSINGER): How about big white bumps?

 

GK: Not a problem.

 

And it does shine for me. I'm a guy with a positive outlook. I think that if you smile at the world, you get a smile back. My philosophy is:
Grab your coat and grab your hat
Leave your worries on the doorstep
Just direct your feet to the sunny side of the street….
I go in to work at Minnesota Public Radio in the morning I'm always the guy with the friendly word for my co-workers ---- (FOOTSTEPS, STRIDING ALONG HALL) Good morning! (TK GRUNT) Good morning! (SS: Hi.) How you doing there! (TR GRUNT) Top of the morning to you! (TK: Hi.) Good morning! (SS: GRUNT) Good morning, Mr. Beavers.

 

TR: Who are you?

 

GK: I'm Carson Wyler, sir. I'm the host of your award-nominated Home on the Prairie Show----

 

TR: Really. The name doesn't ring a bell.

 

GK: Home on the Prairie?

 

TR: I know the show, but I thought Tim Russell was the brains behind that show.

 

GK: Tim Russell is a fine person in his own right, sir, but I was the founder and I am still the host and writer of the show.

 

TR: Had no idea there was a writer. Certainly doesn't sound like there is. You're the founder of it, Wyler?

 

GK: Yes, sir.

 

TR: I met the founder years ago, he was an old dandruffy guy with rheumy eyes and big tufts of hair in his ears.

 

GK: No, sir! I'm the founder.

 

TR: Have we ever met?

 

GK: Yes. I was MPR's employee of the month in November, 1988, sir. My picture was in the staff bulletin. Remember? My hobbies were refinishing furniture and collecting Nancy Drew mysteries? My favorite food was pizza?

 

TR: Oh well. Anyway, here's a little Valentine's Day present for you.

 

GK: A muffin and a card.

 

TR: Yes. Hope you enjoy it.

 

GK: The card says, "You got VD".

 

TR: Valentine's Day.

 

GK: Of course. I see here that the valentine was not purchased individually in a store, sir.

 

TR: Oh?

 

GK: It must've come as part of a kit.

 

TR: How can you tell?

 

GK: A big kit, probably 50 valentines for about $1.89.

 

TR: What's the problem? (MUSIC)

 

GK: I don't know. Human need. It's silly. We should have outgrown it. We ought to be able to get beyond it. (MUSIC) I was having lunch with Bill Clinton last week and ----- you know, Mr. President, maybe I'm out of line here, but I really wish you and Mrs. Clinton had not left the White House with all that furniture, some of which belonged to the White House, you know what I mean?

 

TR (CLINTON): Man, that was dumb. I've been kicking myself for that ever since. Work so hard to build my legacy and then we walk away with towels in the suitcase.

 

GK: I'm just guessing here, Mr. President, but this walking off with furniture and the whole Monica thing ----- does this have to do with you trying to make up for getting cheap valentines in the fourth grade?

 

TR (CLINTON): How'd you know about that? Who told you?

 

GK: It does, doesn't it.

 

TR (CLINTON): Those cheap punch-out valentines with little white bumps. I can't ever get em out of my mind. I felt such pain. (MUSIC)

 

GK: And then the other day, I was listening to the radio, and who should I hear but my old classmate from the fourth grade, Karen Donna, the one who was good with scissors. She's gone on to make a big name for herself as a fashion designer and I just caught a little bit of the interview but I heard her say....

 

SS (ON RADIO): Anyway, I've been really into post-modernism since I was a little kid and we used to make valentines and I really loved those punch-out valentines, I was crazy about that whole manufacturedness about them, the artificiality, that whole Industrial Age thing, those little white bumps on the edge….

 

TR (ON RADIO): Very postmodern.

 

SS (ON RADIO): That whole sense of those cards having come from something else, you know what I mean? And tearing on the dotted line.

 

TR (ON RADIO): The dotted line is absolutely postmodern. We're talking with fashion designer Karen Donna----(MUSIC)

 

GK: And suddenly everything cleared up. That whole immense emotional sinkhole of Valentine's Day. Those punch-out valentines weren't about me. They were about style. They weren't about me. They said nothing about me or how anyone felt about me. I couldn't wait to tell Larry. (FOOTSTEPS) (CLOSE DOOR) I imagine he's still down here. In the basement. Sitting back by the laundry tubs. Man, I've got to install some lights down here....(STEPS ON STAIRS, CREAKING, THEN CONCRETE, SLOWLY. ECHO.)....I can hardly see the steps. (CLICKS LIGHT SWITCH) darn....that bulb's burnt out too. (PAUSE) Larry? Are you down here? (FOOTSTEPS, SLOW, IN DARK) Larry? It's just me. Where are you?

 

TK: Back here.

 

GK: What are you doing?

 

TK: Same thing I've been doing for years. Thinking about how you ruined my life, you big jerk.

 

GK: Larry, I didn't.

 

TK: You and I were best friends in high school.

 

GK: I know that, Larry.

 

TK: I was the popular one. You used to follow me around. And then one day, I turn around and you smiled a cruel smile and you------

 

GK: Larry---

 

TK: You gave me that valentine.

 

GK: Larry, that was years ago.

 

TK: I'll never forget that valentine.

 

GK: Larry, listen to me.

 

TK: You didn't care enough to even trim the edge.

 

GK: Larry----

 

TK: You couldn't even get out a pair of scissors and trim the edge of that valentine.

 

GK: Larry, I want to tell you something. It's important. I want you to listen. That valentine with the little white bumps ----- it wasn't about you, Larry.

 

TK: It wasn't?

 

GK: No. It wasn't about you. It was about postmodernism.

 

TK: That was a long time ago to be postmodern.

 

GK: It was premature postmodernism.

 

TK: It was?

 

GK: Yes. It wasn't about you. Larry, listen to me. It's not about us. It's about life. It's a good life. But you have to go out and live it. ----
A heart filled with joy and gladness
Can always banish sadness and strife…
So always look for the silver lining
And try to find the sunny side of life.
(BAND CHORD BUTTON)

(c) 2001 by Garrison Keillor

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

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