Updated: May 14, 2021
In which our hero seeks companionship on the most amorous of days.
By Elizabeth Jackson
Knock. Knock knock. Knock knock knock. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
Incensed at being awakened by anything other than the gentle opening strains of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Verily launched himself upright and out of bed. Blearily, he seized his dressing gown from his desk chair and smashed his glasses onto his face.
“What?” Verily hissed, wrenching open his door.
The interrupter of his repose took the shape of an annoyingly bright-eyed twenty-something.
“Um, hi. Happy Valentine’s Day, first of all,” she began.
“Despite being a Casanova beyond compare, I do not deign to celebrate this grossly misunderstood holiday.”
“Well,” said the girl, attired in a magenta scarf so long that it dangled past her knees, “not everyone misunderstands it.”
“Do you presume to tell me that the majority of the population continues to celebrate this holiday while aware of its roots in the Pagan Lupercalia festival? The one in which drunken, naked gentlemen slaughtered goats, then wandered through the streets hitting women with blood-soaked goat flesh to improve their fertility? If so, I am obliged to inform you that either you are wrong or completely insensitive to propriety and feminism.”
“Well—uh—” she stammered.
“Is it an enduring dream of yours,” Verily spluttered, “to be accosted with goat flesh?” Ordinarily, he would assuredly conduct himself with a greater measure of decorum, but really, the fiend had awakened him!
“I was going to inform you that the history of Valentine’s day is disputed. Many believe we celebrate it because of St. Valentine, who performed marriage ceremonies in secret after Emperor Claudius, believing that single men made better soldiers, banned such things.”
Verily glared at her impossibly bright scarf. “Anyway,” he changed course—better to be rid of this shrew. “For what reason have you seen fit to disturb me this morning?”
“Oh, right.” The girl shifted something in her arms—an offering, perhaps? A Lupercalia gift? An early edition of Ovid’s Amores? No, Verily realized, in fact she was holding a preposterously small, quiet cat.
“Let’s start this again,” she said. “My name is Amare Aspera, I’ve just transferred, and I live down the hall. This is my roommate’s cat, Felix. My roommate is spending the day with her boyfriend and sleeping at his apartment downtown. I’m going home to visit my family. She told me you like cats and would watch Felix, no problem.”
Verily pinched the bridge of his nose, abundantly aware that doing so would likely not stave off his impending headache.
“And who is your roommate, pray tell?”
Aurora. The girl who had repeatedly taken Verily’s optimal Contemporary Civilizations seat— the one closest to the professor—only to guffaw loudly at his consternation.
“Aurora is the most barbaric person upon whom I have ever set eyes.”
“She says precisely the same thing about you.”
“Nevertheless,” Verily continued, choosing to ignore the affront. “She is correct. I do enjoy felines.” He pointed to a pristine spot of Persian carpeting beside him, “Deposit the animal on my floor.”
Amare did so, and without so much as an expression of gratitude, she turned around and began her jaunt toward the stairs.
“Try to find some love today!” Amare shouted as the door closed behind her.
Verily was now abundantly irritated. Amare had forced him to reckon with the idea that he had not grasped the full meaning of Valentine’s Day. This was unacceptable. Our hero was not to be outpaced. An idea beginning to form in his mind, he turned abruptly toward Felix, who had taken up residence at the foot of his bed.
“Felix,” Verily announced, gingerly lifting the creature from the bed and placing him on the floor. “Our setup today will be thus: I shall lay out a perfectly acceptable towel for you—nay, two towels, along with a dish of water and the remains of the pickled herring in which I indulged last night. You shall luxuriate on said towels until my return. There shall be no jumping, scratching, or other indignities perpetrated whilst I am absent.”
“And what of myself, you ask, dear Felix? I shall venture into the unknown! In this great city before me I shall labor to discover the validity of that experience so widely termed the ‘meet-cute.’”
With that, Verily quickly donned a suit, prepared Felix’s (two) towels, and sauntered out of the room.
He would start with Café East. Verily had seen Notting Hill, after all, and though the catalyst for that meet-cute had been orange juice, he convinced himself that the actual variety of beverage was but incidental to his ultimate goal.
After acquiring a milk tea sans boba, which he poured into his reusable thermos, Verily scanned the room for his ideal subject. Ah yes, the lady standing near the refrigerator. She apparently took Valentine’s Day fashion quite seriously—boasting a shimmering pink strapless dress beneath her unbuttoned peacoat. Verily made his way stealthily to stand behind her. As she turned away from the fridge he made his move—thrusting his thermos between them so that, as they crashed into each other, the tea sloshed to splatter the entire front of her dress.
Over her gasping, Verily bellowed, “Oh goodness! Madam! Please accept my deepest and most profound apologies. I notice that you are currently wearing a perfectly handsome gown which I have defaced! While I do not have any comparably sparkling articles of clothing, you are more than welcome to accompany me to my chambers, where I may provide you with a serviceable cashmere, or my best merino wool.”
“What are you talking about?” the woman screeched. “It is my sister’s wedding. She’s getting married in an hour! I have to be in pictures looking like this?” She motioned to the stain that had turned the pink to muted grey.
“Ah, yes, well, I did not actually foresee that you would have an obligation in the immediate future, I just viewed your dress as beautiful—”
“UGH,” she yelled in disgust, pushing past Verily and dabbing urgently at her dress with her coat sleeve.
Inwardly cursing Hugh Grant and his maddeningly perfect hair, Verily stalked out of Lerner and inhaled deeply before moving on to his second attempt. In hindsight, he should have known that the spillage method of seduction might not be foolproof.
Aware that his preferred haberdashery was frequented only by the truly tasteful, Verily proceeded to the Columbia bookstore, where the masses tended to shop for clothing. Making his way to the glove stand, Verily waited until a tall lady with a distinctly floral smell extended her arm to examine a pair of blue gloves. He darted his own hand out, clutching the same pair.
“I am so terribly sorry madam, but I must purchase these gloves.”
“Alright, take them,” she said breezily, and relinquished her hold.
“I shall purchase for thee a flagon of mulled wine or a piping hot latte if you can find it within your power to allow me to have these gloves.”
“It’s really fine, I didn’t even want that color actually, I just reached for the wrong pair.”
“I shall even,” Verily barreled on, “provide you with compensation equal to the price of this pair of gloves.”
“Sir, you can really have them. Like I said, I was looking for another color anyway.” The girl turned and walked speedily away, eyes darting over her shoulder as though to verify that Verily was not in hot pursuit.
From external events to false expressions of intent, these unforeseen variables were growing deeply tiresome, thought Verily as he exited.
His next attempts were similarly unfruitful. On the 1 train platform, he studiously awaited a damsel in distress. When one appeared to lean over the tracks, Verily ran headlong into her, knocking her backward and nearly to the ground. She was deeply resistant to his attempts to explain his efforts to save her life (principally because she was unaware that tilting one’s head to observe whether the next train was coming signaled life endangerment).
Verily moved on to Tom’s Diner. He quickly spotted a girl with an empty mug and gamely took up a coffee pot from one of the hot plates at the side of the restaurant. Verily strode confidently toward her table, beginning to pour before he’d even come to a complete stop.
“Your refill, milady, sans charge.”
She looked up at him, bemused. “There was tea in this cup. I don’t drink coffee.”
Verily wondered briefly if one could experience caffeine jitters merely from inhaling the fumes. He was fairly certain his eye had acquired a twitch.
Wearied by the inability of the general public to comply with his meet-cute attempts, Verily decided upon a lower stakes effort.
For three hours, Verily rode up and down the elevator in Pupin Hall, awaiting a headphone-wearer. At last, one entered. Here was his chance! He would alert her to the similarities in their sonic taste and into the sunset they would ride!
The headphone-wearer mercifully increased the volume of her music—Verily could now clearly hear the lyrics of the current song.
“I ALSO ENJOY THE MUSICAL STYLINGS OF MILEY CYRUS,” Verily proclaimed in a register so shrill that the elevator walls rattled.
The girl removed her headphones gingerly, practically rolling her eyes as she turned to him. “That’s great,” she sneered. “This is Dua Lipa.”
Verily exited the elevator at the next floor, vexed indeed.
Proverbial tail between his legs, Verily headed back to his rooms, sniffing irritably at the flower-toting fools and handholding duos in his path. But Verily would not be discouraged! Indeed, if he really thought about it, his efforts had yielded a result: the conclusion that meet-cutes were indeed a farce. Alas, despite this scientific triumph, in the absence of a Valentine companion, Verily found himself unsatisfied. Curse the scarf-wearer for robbing him of a day spent translating Antigone in the park, he thought. It was her fault that he now felt his solitude as some sort of failure!
Verily’s spirits immediately buoyed upon seeing Felix, clever tetrapod that he was, sitting exactly as instructed on his designated towels, a rose in his mouth.
“Felix! Indeed, a companion worthy of my intellectual prowess. Your rose-picking ability astonishes me, and on such a competitive shopping day, no less.”
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
“WHAT?!” Verily roared, picking up Felix as one might a small but deadly weapon. He charged to the door.
Amare stood there, still clad in her ridiculous scarf. Verily gently banged his head against the frame. “Were you not expected to dine with your family tonight?”
“The trains were all delayed, and my brother canceled, so I came back.”
“Anyway, no one should spend Valentine’s Day alone, so I thought—”
“Madam!” Verily interrupted, “I am not alone! Your one kindness to me has been providing me with Felix, who is such an extraordinary creature that he managed to acquire a rose—”
“Oh that, you left your door open, so I just gave—”
“Your attempts to induce me to feel deprived of the full meaning of Valentine’s Day were in vain!”
“I didn’t really attempt—”
“I am not devoid of love, for I have Felix in my life, for however brief a time—”
“I just thought we could be friends—”
“If your aim is to obtain possession of Felix before tomorrow, madam, I declare that you are breaking our oral agreement. With that, I bid you goodnight!”
Verily shut the door with a dramatic flourish, doggedly ignoring Amare’s fading protestations.
“Dear Felix, my condolences on having to cohabitate with her. She has no interest in fellowship,” Verily sighed.
“But, no matter! On with our evening we go.”
With that, in a roguish breach of decorum, Verily seated himself on the floor and settled the animal on his lap. He opened his laptop with anticipation.
“Now, Felix, we shall witness real love,” Verily proclaimed as the opening theme of BBC’s Pride and Prejudice began jauntily to play.