As usual, Carlisle is out to lunch. The real point of Valentine's
Day, as any sensible bloke knows, is to impress chicks. And,
as any sensible bloke knows, women can't get enough of tragic
love. If the hero is not depressed, deceitful, and before
the story is through dead, you'll end up with the check
and that's all. So guys, if you need a good story of
love ending badly, here are a few of our favorites:
bout two thousand years ago, someone scrawled on a wall in Pompeii,
"Lovers, like bees, lead a honey-sweet life." What a
timeless thought. What a timely thought. It is,
after all, Valentine's Day. Outside, the weather may be damp and
chilly, but today romance is in the air. And aren't we lucky.
Love is like booze at a Methodist wedding: it makes all the difference.
Throughout human history, love has brought joy and meaning to
our lives. It's the glue that binds the social fabric and the
spark that ignites the flames of inspiration. This must be why
so many of our best loved stories from Homer's Odyssey
to James Cameron's Titanic celebrate the tender
passion between a man and a woman. So I've determined, this Valentine's
Day, to celebrate our greatest stories of love and romance. It
never hurts to remind ourselves what makes life worth living.
As far back as the Ancient Greeks, love has played a central
role in the stories we tell ourselves. Back then, even the gods
were romantically inclined. The members of the Greek pantheon
were constantly falling in love with one another, occasionally
a particularly attractive mortal, and even, here and there, with
a swan or a cow. One of the most memorable of these lovers was
Aphrodite, who was herself the goddess of love.
Now, Aphrodite had just as strong a hankering for the boys as any of
them. And she was a stunning beauty, so she wasn't, as a rule,
sitting at home on Saturday night watching Seinfeld reruns. But the
greatest of her many loves was Ares, the dashing god of war.
Oh, they were so in love. And their affair was pretty steamy too. Ares
would slip into Aphrodite's magnificent palace she was a pretty
important goddess and surprise her. They would steal a few kisses
and then slip away and get down to business. When the pair was together,
they knew perfect bliss. The weight of the world seemed to drop from
their shoulders. Isn't love grand?
Yet there was one small problem. Aphrodite was not technically
available. In fact, she was married to Hephaistos, the god of
forge and fire. Now, Aphrodite's wandering eye was understandable,
if not entirely honorable; Hephaistos was no looker. To put it
bluntly; he was a crippled dwarf with the face of a member of
Parliament. He was a "master craftsman," but
that title didn't yet carry the cachet it enjoys today.
As luck would have it, there was a snitch, and Hephaistos found
out about the affair. Hurt and angry, he determined to seek his
revenge. He went down into his workshop and forged some special
chains that were both indestructible and nearly invisible (something
like Kenneth Lay's conscience). He hung the chains over his wife's
bed, and, like a spider casting its web, set out to catch
quite literally the deceitful lovers in the act...
Wait a second. I don't want to finish this story. Love, we're told,
is "the master key which opens the gates of happiness." This
little Greek love triangle, on the other hand, is clearly headed for
disaster. I'm looking for a nice story to honor Valentine's Day. This
one won't do at all. Come to think of it, those Greeks always set a
bad example (just ask Dr. James Dobson). Maybe if we move forward in
time a bit, we can find a more appropriate illustration of love's soothing
I'm going to pass right over the Romans, who were about as romantic
as a meatpacking convention, and head straight into the Christian era.
Now, without Rome, Europe was in a sort of Lord-of-the-Flies anti-paradise.
The whole continent acted as if all the grownups had left. They fought
amongst themselves, practiced atrocious table manners, and forgot all
Fortunately, things did pick up. Eventually. By the twelfth century,
Europe had entered a remarkable period of cultural flowering. This was
the era of the troubadours, who wandered from town to town singing songs
of courtly love and telling stories about knights and ladies and birds
and bees. And the greatest of these, one of the most influential romances
in all of literature, is the story of Tristan and Isolde.
Tristan and Isolde actually fell in love by mistake. As the story
goes, the queen had commissioned a love potion in order to cause
Isolde to fall in love with her betrothed, Tristan's uncle Mark.
The plan failed. Tristan got mixed up and drank the potion himself
whoops! and promptly fell head over heini for Isolde.
Sadly, their love never had a chance. Tristan could no more stop
longing for Isolde than Paul Prudhomme could fit into Michael
Jackson's pants, yet there was no real hope of the two ever actually
getting together. Isolde went ahead and married uncle Mark, and
poor Tristan had to sneak around for the rest of the story, lovesick
and despairing, until he finally died of grief (what else?).
By this time, we're glad to be rid of him.
Wait a minute. If anything, this story is even worse than the
first one. At least Aphrodite and Ares found happiness for a time.
But doormat Isolde and sad-sack Tristan will not inspire a happy
Valentine's Day. We need to find another story. And this time,
we need a good one.
I suppose we might as well head straight for the granddaddy of
them all. Just a few centuries after Tristan died of grief (and
we died of boredom) the greatest writer who ever lived penned
the most famous love story of all time:
Of course, it's Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's celebrated
drama that makes exquisite poetry of young passion. As you know,
in this timeless tale Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet.
These two families hate one another and fight like cats in a Starkist
dumpster (or Arthur Andersen employees at the shredder). But our
star-crossed kids nonetheless fall deeply in love and get married
in a secret ceremony. Oh, it's so beautiful.
|But soft! What light through yonder window
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she
See how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!
But after Romeo misbehaves and gets himself banished from Verona,
it becomes near impossible for the couple to actually see one
another, let alone...you know, enjoy the prerogatives of married
life. So Juliet cooks up a pretty clever scheme to escape her
family. She takes a special potion that will make her appear dead
without actually causing her harm. At first everything seems to
be going as planned. Her distraught parents have a funeral for
her and put her "dead" body in a tomb. But when she
wakes up she finds Romeo dead at her feet and kills herself.
Oh not again. These depressing stories are really starting to
annoy me. And Romeo and Juliet is even less cheery than
the last one. But I've got to maintain faith. Even Barbra Streisand
believes "there is nothing more important in life than love."
And if you can't trust her for reliable life advice, who can you
trust? But I must admit I'm having a hard time keeping my chin
up. Unless the most important things in life are deceit, depression,
and death, romance doesn't seem to have much to offer.
Well, I simply refuse to believe it. If Barbra says it's so,
then it must be so. Love has always been considered the penultimate
human achievement, so there must be at least a few uplifting
love stories out there. Why don't we just move on. After all,
the nineteenth century is coming up, and the Victorians wrote
more love stories than Elvis and the Beatles combined.
Let's see. Madame Bovary drank poison after both of her lovers dumped
her; Heathcliff became sullen, vindictive, and cruel after losing Cathy;
Anna Karenina threw herself under a train when love failed; Tess is
put to death for murdering the lover who ruined her, and...
Oh, hell. This isn't working at all. I'm getting worried that we're
not going to find a single pleasant love story. Surely there must be
at least one. Who were our favorite lovers in the last century? There
must be at least one couple that made a go of it. Well, we can cross
off Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler (divorce), Humphrey Bogart and
Ingrid Bergman (cruel circumstance), Bonnie and Clyde (automatic weapons),
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (too many drunken brawls), Di and
Charles (what were they really doing together in the first place?),
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (you really don't know?), Kate Winslet
and Leonardo DiCaprio (death by Celine Dion)...
It's no use. I'm beginning to realize that I've been duped we've
all been duped. Valentine's Day makes no sense. Why should we exert
so much energy celebrating romantic love when nuclear proliferation
is more benign? It's as if a national holiday and a major Hallmark
market were created to honor the colostomy. I'll bet Kenneth
Lay orchestrated the whole thing.
I'm beginning to understand Lily Tomlin's puzzlement: "If
love is the answer, could you please rephrase the question?"
I'll rephrase it. Do lovers, like bees, really lead a honey-sweet
life? Yeah, right. Remember, a beehive also contains several thousand