Valentine’s Day, like any other consumer-driven holiday, can and should be approached as a competitive sport. Fortunately, unlike gift-based holidays like Christmas, the surest path to a Valentine’s victory doesn’t have to be paved with begrudging magnanimity. All you need for a successful Valentine’s Day is smart time management. Simply plan ahead, line up a few reservations and proceed to bask in the reflected glory of the faces of the wooed.
For your benefit, we have scheduled a theoretical evening of Valentine’s bliss, maximizing the numerical potentiality of a series of brief but effective dates. Your gender-neutral romantic journey begins at Zoe’s Fish House in Hadley. Good luck.
4 p.m. Reserved for only your most distinguished Valentine, the early-bird special at Zoe’s Fish House on Route 9 can provide exactly the sort of brain food that this sort of mentally taxing endeavor will call for. Service here is prompt and plentiful, so go easy on the bread; you have six more dinners ahead of you. Grab a handful of flowers from the centerpiece and make an escape while your date is medicating in the restroom. Head south.
4:45 p.m. Meet your least favorite concubine (male or female) under the dingy golden arches of McDonald’s. They will be more than impressed by the flower you’ve brought them. Do not tarry here; order two Happy Meals and generously give away your toy. If you really want to show off your largesse, give away your fries as well. This is a red-letter day for your date. Note: McDonald’s is indisputably the most Valentine’s-friendly of the various fast food providers, because Ronald McDonald is omnipresent in the restaurant, and clowns are festive.
5:10 p.m. Your third date is waiting at Cinemark. You will only need to sit through the first 20 minutes of “Big Miracle” to satisfy their need for a human presence – John Krasinski’s winning smile will do the rest. When the lights come back on, be sure your date is greeted with an apologetic text message blaming a family emergency or prostate flare-up. Sympathy points!
5:30 p.m. Making your way toward Amherst, you might be tempted pass through Route 9’s family dining “district.” Avoid it. All you’re going to find at Chili’s, Applebee’s or Friendly’s is a drunk dad with custody problems. These chintzy mozzarella factories are Valentine’s danger zones – steer clear. Instead, leave a bicycle parked at the edge of the Cinemark parking lot, hop on and a meet your fourth date on the Norwottuck Rail Trail. If you time it right, the two of you will catch a lovely sunset en route to date No. 5.
5:50 p.m. Run your fourth date off the road and flee to North Pleasant Street. Later, blame a squirrel. Pull up to Fresh Side and lock up the bike, if you are so inclined; from here on out, you won’t need it. Inside, your fifth date will thankfully not be alarmed if you only order tea. Take it easy and let the self-consciously tasteful décor do the talking. When the time is right, make a visit “to the restroom.”
6:05 p.m. Arrive at Amherst Cinema. Date No. 6 will be pensively deliberating by the framed posters. You will not need to purchase a ticket – merely make a few sharply disparaging remarks about each film showing (“…uninspired performances,” “…walkouts at Sundance,” “…Fox Searchlight,” etc.) and you’ll become a golden god in the eyes of your special film buff. Cite an intense bout of ennui and declare your intention to leave and go to sleep early. Somehow, this will seem noble.
6:15 p.m. Discreetly return to Fresh Side. Announce to date No. 5 that you mistakenly entered the tea closet and hurry off once again “to the restroom.”
6:20 p.m. Make it all the way to the glass doors of GoBerry, then realize with a sudden sense of self-revulsion that your seventh date is actually a tightly huddled group of high-schoolers. Back away and try not to think about it.
6:25 p.m. Arrive at the corner of North Pleasant Street and Amity Street. Your eighth date is standing diagonally across from you. You both strain to reach your gloved hands toward the center of the intersection. The longing is palpable. Unable to bear it any longer, you each turn and run in opposite directions. Main Street is now off-limits. There is no accounting for a date gone astray. Cross the street and continue down North Pleasant Street.
6:30 p.m. At Antonio’s, your ninth date will be sitting at the counter next to a disgruntled looking person wearing maroon. Proceed with caution. Though it is still early enough in the evening for an act of drunken violence to be fairly unlikely, one must be equally wary of sober violence. Quietly order a meatless slice of pizza to diffuse any possible hostility. Finish eating and pay without a word. Your date will understand.
6:45 p.m. Return to Fresh Side. If date No. 5 is still at the table, deliver a passionate and unexplained kiss. Say something about the president. Farewell.
7 p.m. Arrive at Judie’s. You’ve agreed to meet your mother for popovers. She will pick up the check. You will both have a very pleasant time, but this does not count as a date – even if you’re into it.
7:30 p.m. Arrive at Bertucci’s. You’ve agreed to meet your father for calzones. He will not pick up the check. If you both finish your calzones, you can go ahead and count this as a date.
8 p.m. Your 10th date is waiting by the sculpted portal on the lawn across from Bertucci’s. You take your date’s hand in yours and walk through the portal to arrive in Narnia. You will have countless adventures with date No. 10, and you will each grow as individuals. By the end of it all, you may feel more inclined to subscribe to organized religion. Emerging from the portal, you will find that the several months you’ve passed in Narnia have only amounted to an hour on Earth.
9 p.m. Tired and confused, you will wander over to the Monkey Bar. Immediately disappointed by the disgusting atmosphere and high drink prices, you will cross the street and . . .
9:15 p.m. Hurry over to the High Horse to meet date No. 11. Buy a round and remark on the edgy décor and refreshing music selection. When you find you have run out of things to talk about, tell your date you would like to play billiards. When you are denied, storm outside and make for Phillips Street.
9:45 p.m. Arrive at Phillips Street. Here you will encounter date No. 12 and on. In order for an interaction to constitute a “date” in this environment, you must successfully and consensually place your mouth on another person’s exposed skin. The arm, for instance – or the midriff. Technically, verbal consent is the only necessary piece of conversation in this primitive variation of the “date.” Continue until you have reached a previously decided upon date cap or can feel.
3 a.m. Return home to your spouse and three children.
Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]