IF LOVE HAS A LANGUAGE, I don’t know how to speak it.
Take the gift I gave my wife last fall.
“Got you a present,” I say.
She looks at me quizzically. Why? she wonders. It’s not her birthday, not our anniversary.
“Go ahead,” I say. “Open it.”
She reaches inside the decorative bag; pulls out a box; opens the lid; and, from beneath the tissue paper, pulls out a pair of shoes.
In the language of love, shoes are to women what capital letters are to grammar … or syntax … or something language-y. The point is that women like shoes. So they should like gifts of shoes from their husbands.
Simple. Me Tarzan, you Jane.
She takes a shoe and dangles it at arm’s length as a person might hold a dead rodent.
“Great, huh?” I say.
“I don’t think I can walk in them,” she replies.
“Sure you can,” I assure her. “Try ’em on.”
She slips her feet into them.
“Wow,” I say. “You look incredible.”
“Jim,” she says, wobbling a little, “I can barely stand up.”
“That’s okay, that’s okay,” I say, and remind her of a piece of wisdom her mother imparted to her. “Suffer for fashion.”
“This isn’t suffering.” she says. “This is torture. And it’s not fashion. It’s …”
“I know,” I interrupt, helping her articulate her thought. “Fantastic.”
“I don’t know what you were thinking,” she says.
“I was thinking women like shoes,” I say, uncomprehending, as if I’m trying to remember something about factitive verbs.
“Women do,” she confirms. “But shoes they can wear.”
“You can wear those,” I protest.
She shoots me a look that does the talking for her. I don’t know exactly what it is saying, but it seems to be saying something like “I married an idiot.”
I guess women don’t like backless clear five-inch platform heels. How would I know?
She takes off the shoes.
Women, I think. Chinese is easier to understand.
SO, VALENTINE’S DAY is in the air.
The language of amore (Chinese for “love”) is in the air. Do I grasp the grammar of amore?
Like factitive verbs, I do.
Like backless five-inch platform heels.
So, okay, I can learn.
Flowers. Flow-hers. Flowers.
See? Easy. I go to a florist.
“Hi,” I say, all chipper and ready to master the language. “I’d like some flowers.”
“Very well,” says the slender man with the black-rimmed glasses as he comes out from behind the counter.
“Roses sound good.”
“Red? Yellow? Bridal pink? Long-stemmed?”
I look around and want to reach in my back pocket for a translation book. “Yes. Roses. Roses sound nice. Good. Those … those are nice.”
“The carnations?” he says.
“Yes, they are nice.”
“Carnations? They look like roses.”
“Yes,” he says in a tone that almost successfully hides what he is really saying: This guy is an idiot.
“Um, what about a bouquet?”
“We have many arrangements to choose from. Assorted irises. Very playful. Tulips, perhaps. For something elegant, white dendrobium orchids. Of course, you could get a bouquet of roses. Or, if you prefer, a bouquet of carnations.”
“Let’s, uh, forget the carnations. Okay?”
“As you wish.”
Standing amid the tall, short, elongated, stubby, red, purple, blue, yellow, white flowers, I am as wobbly as my wife is when she’s wearing those platform heels. My senses descend into a hallucination of color and fragrance, and I feel myself swirling around and around, like a guy in a surrealist movie.
It’s all Chinese to me. Or Arabic. Or Swedish. Or, heck, English. The grammar of flowers eludes me.
“I think I’ll think about it.”
The salesman nods. “Surely,” he says.
I leave to the tinkling of a little bell above the door.
She loves chocolates. What woman doesn’t? Apparently, there is even a kind of endorphin pleasure thing that chocolates release in some part of the brain. Great. Yes. Chocolates.
I pop my head into a confectionery a couple of blocks from the florist. In the case is a babble of choices: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, truffles, nougat, chocolate-covered nuts, chocolate-covered fruit, handcrafted artisan chocolate, organic chocolate, chocolate petits fours.
“Can I help you?” the woman behind the counter asks.
“Just looking,” I say.
I wander down the street. Although I am in my neighborhood, a few blocks from the house, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. I can’t find what I want to say.
And then I come across a shoe store. There, in the window, is a pair of strappy things. Stiletto heels. Open-toe.
They speak my language.
She’ll love ’em. I know it.