It was Valentine’s Day 1973 and I had a big problem. What do I get my girlfriend? This was our first V-Day together, so there was certainly an expectation to give her a nice gift.
The second part of the problem involved finances. Since I was in college, I was living like so many other students do – in poverty. I spent each summer working long hours at a steel mill and saving every dime to use on my education. If I managed my money properly, it would get me to December. That’s when my dad would do my taxes. A fast turnaround on my refund check meant I would have enough cash to last ‘til the end of the school year. So February was always a little iffy for me.
Still, I had been dating Carol about six months, and I had to come up with something good. A syrupy card just wasn’t gonna do. And roses were out of the question – the florists had already jacked the price of them so high that I would need a student loan to cover the purchase.
On Feb. 13, I felt the pressure building as I walked through the Woolco store with all the other procrastinating men, each one of us was praying for divine inspiration to pop out from a shelf. I crossed through the pet supply section on my way to the toy department where I would buy her a teddy bear – as cliché as it was. Then I saw the solution to my dilemma right between the dog chews and the kitty litter. It was personal, it was novel and it would remind her of me whenever she looked at it. A goldfish! In a matter of minutes I bought a fish, the bowl, a package of multicolored rocks and a small container of food. A bit of quick prep and I had what was going to be a great Valentine’s Day present.
The next day I gave the gift to Carol. She absolutely loved it!
“You don’t know this, but my favorite character in my favorite movie is Cleo, the little fish in Pinocchio!” she gushed. “I’m going to name it Cleo.”
Then she gave me a hug and a quick kiss and said, “I’m going to take it up to my dorm room.” Then she gave me a wink, and continued, “Pick me up in about an hour, and I’ll give you your gift.”
I basked in the afterglow as I drove back to the apartment. “Yes, indeed,” I thought. “This is going to be a very good Valentine’s Day for the kid.”
I spent the next hour grooming myself properly, even adding an extra splash of Jade East cologne. We would probably go to Taco Bell for supper – after all, it was 19-cent burrito night. Then I would get my present!
I did a quick clean out of my Camaro, which meant I gathered up all the old Taco Bell wrappers and tossed them in the garbage. Next it was off to pick up Carol. I was smirking all the way over to the dorm thinking to myself, “Pinocchio – what a stroke of luck this was.”
Instead, when Carol got in my car, I got a Valentine’s Day surprise that was nothing like I’d hoped for. She shut the door and burst into tears. “You’re not gonna believe what just happened,” she bawled. “I had taken Cleo and put him in the window. Then I called everybody in to see the sweet gift that you gave me. There were about 10 people in my room talking about how cute he was. And that’s when Cleo flipped up and floated to the top of the bowl. At first I thought he was doing a trick. But he never moved again. Cleo‘s dead!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” I said in as a sympathetic tone as I could muster. All the while I’m thinking, ”That stupid goldfish has ruined it for me!”
“What did you do with him?” I asked.
“Well, we had a little memorial service and then I flushed him down the toilet,” she said.
More bad news. There went my chance for a 79-cent refund on a dead goldfish. That would’ve bought four 19-cent burritos.
The mood was somber at Taco Bell. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t cheer her up. Finally, I gave up and took her back to the dorm.
“Happy Valentine’s Day”, she said. Then she kissed me on the cheek and pulled out my gift from her purse. It was a syrupy card.
Guys, take my advice. If it’s Feb. 13 and you’re in Walmart to try to find a last-minute Valentine’s Day gift, keep walking past the pet department until you get to the toys.
You can’t kill a teddy bear.
Joe Hobby is a barbecue-loving comedian from Alabama who wrote for Jay Leno for many years. Find more of Joe’s stories on his blog: https://mylifeasahobby.blogspot.com. Follow him on Facebook at Joe Hobby Comedian-Writer.