According to the History Channel’s Web site, Valentine’s Day evolved out of the Roman festival Lupercalia, held during the ides of February. The festival began with a celebration in honor of Faunus, the god of agriculture, during which young boys would sacrifice goats and slice the goat skin into strips. They would then frolic along the city streets, flirtatiously slapping the bloody goat hide against the arms of young ladies as a sign of affection. The young ladies were grateful — they believed the goat hide would boost their fertility.
Two thousand years later, we have nauseating Hallmark greeting cards and red and white Yale Bulldog thong underwear in the Campus Customs display window. Not surprisingly, our crop yields on Cross Campus have been sub-par and our women barren.
We’ve gone soft. Do you think the ancient Romans got fat on Fannie Mae and wasted each other’s time sending Blue Mountain Valentine e-greetings? No way.
We have 48 hours to turn this holiday around.
There are a few practical concerns. I’m not certain of the appropriate sacrificial goat-to-student ratio, but we’re probably talking upward of a couple hundred animals. Where are you going to find that many goats in two days? Even if you could somehow circumvent the Yale College Council’s tyrannical grip on campus media and air an announcement on WYBC, the fact is that over the past 100 years Connecticut’s economy has replaced livestock farming with light industry and energy production.
I decided that this project was too big for my shoulders alone. So I went to the people that run Valentine’s Day in this town. I went to Walgreens.
I approached one of the store employees in the stationary aisle and told her that some people were thinking of reinstating the Roman Valentine’s Day tradition of goat hide slapping. I asked her if she thought there’d be a market for that.
“No, I don’t think so,” a clerk named Jen said. “For me, it doesn’t make sense — that wouldn’t make a woman’s fertility get more [fertile]. Maybe in the old days that was a way of thanking [the gods]. Maybe it helped a little, but it doesn’t really make sense.”
Jen must have noticed the disappointed look in my eyes. She smiled and led me toward the seasonal aisle. I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea. Shelves of crimson and pink towered over me on either side — row upon row of heart-shaped Russell Stover boxes, chocolate roses covered in red foil, and heart-shaped helium balloons.
She pointed out one of their big sellers — a whimsical motorized gorilla wearing a pink bow tie, his arms posed over plastic drums, ready to pound to the beat of “Wild Thing.” On the candy racks hung bags of pastel sweetheart candies stamped with hip, flirty messages like “E-mail me” and “Cyber Luv.”
A stout woman with fried-looking hair stood in front of us, tapping the “Try me!” button on the motorized gorillas. When they burst into robotic song, she jumped and started sheepishly rifling through the bags of red and pink M&Ms, as if she had no idea why the entire store now had to listen to a seven-minute stuffed animal serenade.
Jen remarked that Walgreens doesn’t sell only battery-operated drumming gorillas. There are also battery-operated dogs that sing “My Girl” and battery-operated gorillas in cages that sing “Rescue Me.”
I tried to get one of the store managers to talk more about possibilities with the goats, but he told me he needed permission from corporate headquarters to go on the record about things like that.
So I went home and called Walgreens’ corporate headquarters in Deerfield, Ill.
First, I tried to warm up to the media relations representative, Carol Hivly, by asking easy questions, like what’s their best-selling Valentine’s Day item and what’s the story behind all these motorized singing stuffed animals.
Hivly was quiet for a moment and said that Walgreens had concerns about “releasing that kind of information so close to a big holiday.” I pretended to understand the logic there and moved on to my real question.
Despite the obvious fact that I was offering Walgreens the opportunity for an instant monopoly on the goat hide market — if the matter were handled delicately, of course — Hivly was a bit dismissive. Sarcastic, even.
“Sounds real romantic,” she said. “Maybe there’s a place [for the do-it-yourself goat hide kits] in our goat department.”
Given the lack of imagination at our nation’s largest drugstore chain, it is little wonder that no one gets excited about Feb. 14 any more. It is little wonder that dozens of mechanized gorillas are forced to prostitute their musical gifts at the whims of middle-aged women.
All I can think is, what would Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the armies of the north, general of the felix legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius, think about all these indulgent chocolates and cowardly heart-print boxer shorts?
I guess we are doomed to continue exchanging mushy cards and stuffing our cheeks with candy, like weak-willed prisoners too fat and slow to last more than three minutes in the Coliseum.
But just wait till next year. There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized.
Molly Worthen is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her columns appear on alternate Tuesdays.