By Andy Seifert
“Lookin’ fine!” my buddy Mike once said to me. We were both 10 years old, and he had delivered this message in the form of a card, with a heart drawn around “Lookin’ fine!” And there was a person on the card who was delivering this message for my good buddy Mike: Michael Jordan, circa 1987. At the time, I thought nothing of it (except perhaps, “Dude, it’s MJ!”). Fourteen years later, I wonder, “Did Mike really think I was lookin’ fine?”
Fourth grade is an awkward time in a kid’s life. Back in second grade, “cooties” was still a major biological threat to the boys, a possible epidemic that threatened the fabric of schoolyard codes. If you developed a crush on a girl, you were a goner, man; zombies had more willpower than you. By fifth grade, a mere three years later, the story had completely changed: “Boys, you may have noticed some special changes with your body,” our teachers said, to which most of us thought, “Oh man, finally—superpowers!” And that blended seamlessly into the seventh grade full-blown sex-education course, when a dusty slide show from the early 1970s explained how we would eventually lose our virginity.
But fourth grade just sort of exists; it’s that limbo period between being oblivious to everything and inevitably accepting sexuality. The opposite sex may not be repulsive anymore, but there’s still mystery involved. There’s still a missing link, and until it’s revealed, relationships and romance are weird and undefined. Fourth grade is a void that needs to be filled. So what do we do? We construct goofy boxes and give each other cards.
The other day I found my box. It was called “The Lovecar,” a product of my NASCAR phase, an assembly of poster board and construction paper (that my dad made). The Lovecar features a hood that cleverly opens for maximum Valentine-stuffage, and is endearingly adorn with crudely drawn hearts. It also insinuates that love is sponsored by Citgo.
To my surprise, the Valentine cards that my classmates had tossed in fourteen years ago were still under the hood, a glorious pile of awkwardness, meaninglessness and John Elway references. They were a blast. When I read them, I did so within the context of knowing that a Disney or Hallmark executive had, in a very brilliant yet twisted way, somehow convinced millions of confused youngsters to give each other notes that vaguely announced their romantic intentions to one another. To those that refuse to believe Valentine’s Day isn’t at least partially an artificially construed corporate holiday, consider what my 10-year-old peers were telling me:
1. “Be mine?” told through the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”’ mentor Splinter, who’s inexplicably holding a heart and dreaming of a relationship with April O’Neil. As a “TMNT” fan, this offends me on so many different levels.
2. “You give me a lift!” (Michael Jordan) and “Go for the fun!” (Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly), two of a myriad of sports-themed cards, mostly from boys, who figured they could salvage their masculinity by simultaneously reinforcing their love for athletes. And, also, “Go for the fun!” does not make any semantic sense whatsoever. It’s like having Superman say, “Up, up… and a-fun!”
3. “I’ve fallen for you!” which usually means “I’ve fallen in love with you,” unless, in this case, it’s delivered by the “DuckTales” Launchpad McQuack.
4. “Don’t be shy…be my valentine!” told through Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.” This was given by a girl who I suspect had a little crush on me, so that may actually be an honest message. As I recall, we realized it was beneficial to save the most suggestive cards for the targets of our romantic hunches.
5. “You’ve set my heart soaring, Valentine!” told by the main characters of “Aladdin.” This came from Adam, a kid who I never talked to (and never have since), and who even signed it “love, ADAM.”
6. “Don’t break my heart” told by Batman, who is swinging, feet-first through a huge heart. I suppose the Batman is trying to say, “There’s nothing on this utility belt to mend a wounded heart…I’m really just a sensitive guy.”
In retrospect, it’s difficult to answer why in the world we were forced to say these things to one another. It’s all innocent, of course, and it’s also relatively ambiguous and docile (there’s no such thing as a Valentine’s card of, for example, Dan Marino saying “I wanna sex you up”), but why make a bunch of kids toss around symbols of love and romance at such an early age? It’s mindless, crazy and absurd. Then again, so are at least ninety percent of relationships.
Maybe our teachers knew what was coming.