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Wednesday, February 12,2014

Loving to hate

Valentine’s Day, the most dissed holiday of all, comes full circle

by Allan I. Ross
Over the last two years, the term “hate-watching” has defined the form of entertainment consumption described as following a TV show you know is bad for the express purpose of enjoying that badness. After years of teasing audiences with guilty-pleasure shows, networks finally realized that people really love to openly, vehemently hate their programming, and brag about how much they hate it in public forums. So they started making well-crafted shows stocked with ridiculous plots, unlikable characters and zero redeeming qualities. “Smash,” “The Newsroom” and “Girls” are poster children of the phenomenon.

If Valentine’s Day were a TV show, it would be the most hate-watched show in history. Think about it: What’s more aggravating than a holiday engineered by The Man that forces us to spend money to reaffirm our love?

It’s even worse for the sad sacks who don’t have anyone to celebrate with, watching as all the “happy” couples go on with their chocolates and flowers and candle-lit lobster dinners.

But now, thanks in part to the rise of hipsterism, a non-movement that’s added so many posts- to post-irony we’ve lost count, Valentine’s Day hating has shifted to the mainstream. Local businesses annually prepare (though at times can’t deliver) for the most morose requests from customers, like chocolate-covered broccoli or dead-flower deliveries. Custom-made, non-romantic decorative cookies? A team of bakers at MSU has you covered. And hey there, Hannibal Wonka, you say you want to create a 3-D chocolate sculpture of your lover’s face?

“We have had that request, but I don’t know if it’s possible,” said Steve Blair, co-owner of longtime Lansing confectionary Fabiano’s Candies, 1427 E. Michigan Ave.

“We don’t have that kind of technology, unless your partner wants to hold their face in warm chocolate.” (Actually, a company in England makes 3-D chocolate printers for about $4,700, so maybe next year you can take a bite out of sweet Caroline.)

Blair said he’s aware of the bad name Valentine’s Day gets, but he hasn’t seen it affect business at all. Fabiano’s, celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, specializes in chocolate boxes for Valentine’s Day, ranging from a four-ounce sampler set to a 7-pound diabetes-inducer. Blair said business has been getting  steadily better each year, rotten economy and Valentine’s backlash be damned.

“There are people who still come every year to stand in line to buy chocolate boxes,” Blair said. “The line sometimes goes out the door.

We’ll get up to 40 people waiting, sometimes for as long as 25 minutes. I tell them they could come in a day or two early and not have to wait. Chocolate doesn’t go bad in two days, but for them it’s tradition.”

Along with the regular requests to hide an engagement ring in the box, he does occasionally get asked if he can stick a piece of chocolate covered broccoli in with the others to play a trick on someone. Just don’t think you’re being original if you try to pull that one off.

“Valentine’s Day has been around a long time,” Blair said. “If it’s been thought of, it’s been done already.” Tricking someone with chocolates is pretty easy; as the simpleton said, you never know what you’re going to get. But with that other V-Day fallback, how can you say, “I loathe you” with flowers?

“Every year I have to tell people, ‘No, we can’t deliver dead flowers to someone,’” said Karen Smith, owner/operator of Smith Floral in Lansing. “But we do have some U of M decorations.”

Smith said that on Valentine’s Day, her single busiest day of the year, she increases the number of drivers in her delivery fleet tenfold; she said a normal busy day would get about 50. Procrastinators beware.

“Inevitably, some poor guy will call on Valentine’s Day to see if he can get a delivery that day,” Smith said. “I have 10 drivers making up to 400 deliveries that have been pre-ordered days or even weeks in advance. It’s just not possible. But I always tell them we do have things available for walk-ins.”

So a stuffed wolverine surrounded by snapdragons will probably trigger someone’s ire in these parts, but still we’ve tiptoed around open derision. Leave it to the college kids to really get into the anti-spirit. 

Cindy Baswell is the manager of the MSU Bakers, a collection of baking aficionados from Michigan State University’s residence halls. She said last year, the bakery, 171 Service Road in East Lansing, started doing something new with its Valentine cookie decorations, back this year by popular demand. 

“One of our decorators had just broken up with her boyfriend,” Baswell said. “She was grumbling about all the Xs and Os and ‘I love yous’ on all the cookies. She wanted to do something (against Valentine’s Day). And it got a good response.” 

So, starting this week, you can buy special heart-shaped cookies from MSU Bakers with one of three decidedly un-romantic phrases: “It’s You Not Me,” “2 Good 4 You” and “I (Heart) Me.” Mmmm, milk and cynicism. They come $15 for a dozen, with $1 of that donated to the American Heart Association. Baswell thinks she’ll sell about 40 dozen of those, with 150 more of the traditional designs going out as well. She said that even though it’s a joke, it helps the creative process.

“Because these are college students, we play around with edgy d'cor, test the waters,” Baswell said. “Sometimes people think a decorated cake needs to be pink and purple, but it’s nice to see these students using flashier colors and using non-traditional designs. We’ll try anything. And we got a very good response (on the anti-Valentine’s cookies) last year, so we’ll probably keep going with it.” 

But still these are mere grumblings — where’s the all-out hostility? Let’s go back to the beginning of all these longing feelings: Adolescence, when an amorous glance could make your life and an unreciprocated crush was the end of the universe. The Haslett branch of the Capital Area District Library holds its third Anti-Valentine’s Day party Thursday targeting the area’s middle schoolers. Youth services librarian Kate Nicholoff said she borrowed the idea from other libraries that hold similar events. 

“We make photocopies of happy couples in ads and let the kids deface them,” she said. “They can color them, write funny captions, whatever they want. We also teach them how to make black roses out of duct tape, have candy heart shooting (contests) and bring in food to make their breath smell bad. The joke is that they’re not going to kiss anyone.” 

Nicholoff said about 30 kids showed up last year, all between the ages of 11 and 13. She said they seemed to have fun, but didn’t get into it as much as she thought they would.

“Most of the stuff goes over their heads — it’s just an excuse to come and eat some food,” she said. “It’s funny. They’re not as jaded as grownups. When they were supposed to be making anti-Valentines cards, most of them made regular Valentines. It was actually very sweet.” 

And so it seems that Valentine’s Day has come full circle, with dead flowers, chocolate broccoli and garlic pretzels failing to fuel the rebellion against a manufactured holiday that — come on, let’s be honest — is just an excuse to have a date night or to finally confess a crush. And bonus, you can support local businesses to boot. Just don’t wait until the last minute. %u2028

So if you’re OK with actually celebrating Valentine’s Day the way it was meant to, here are a whole host of ways to celebrate love, Lansing style.

Happy non-happy endings

By ALLAN I. ROSS


Sometimes the best way to end a story is with an epic parting of ways than with a happily ever after. For these movies, a heaping dash of bittersweetness helps the reality go down.

1. “500 Days of Summer” (2009)
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) spends a little over a year falling in and out of love with Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a spirited heartbreaker. The fractured chronology of the script matches the shattered way you memorialize a painful breakup. Bonus: It has a killer Hall & Oates dance number.


2. “Once” (2006)
Raw, real and majestically symphonic, “Once” captures a perfect storm of creative output and personal connection. When an Irish street busker meets a Czech woman playing the piano in a music store, they embark on a whirlwind recording session that produces some funny, poignant and ultimately transformative songs. Oh, but she has a secret … .


3 “Synecdoche New York” (2008)
An unsung masterpiece by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in a surreal brain scrambler written and directed by Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation”). Hoffman portrays a playwright trying to write an autobiographical play that takes place in real time as he’s actually living the events. His heart is broken repeatedly, first by his lover, then by the woman playing his lover in the play and so on all the way down. Much like love itself, you don’t quite know what’s going on here until it’s over.


4. “The Baxter” (2005)
This farce, from the makers of “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Role Models,” plays fast and loose with the romantic comedy format. It tells the story of a love that conquers all from the perspective of the “other” guy; you know that, that poor schmuck who gets dumped at the altar in the clich' ending. What if he’s actually an all right guy? 

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