tony’s first valentine

Tony’s First Valentine

When I met Tony twenty years ago it was December 1992 right before Christmas, and Valentines Day was just around the corner. We actually met at a nightclub called Gatsby’s that was located in New Jersey just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. It was a Saturday night, about twenty below zero out, and we’d just had a huge snowstorm. It wasn’t a club I would normally have gone to on a Saturday night, but there was some kind of strip show going on at midnight and I didn’t feel like parking somewhere in Philly and walking. Clubs in New Jersey have parking lots. I’m not a huge fan of public transportation. In New Jersey clubs you park and walk right up to the door. So I was only there that night for practical reasons, and because I had nothing better to do.

Little did I know I would wind up meeting the person I’d spend the rest of my life with. Life can be interesting that way. You really never do know what’s next.

In any event, we met, I liked him, and I called him the following week on a Tuesday (Sunday or Monday would have made me look too eager). I think the following week we wound up meeting in New Hope. And then, as our relationship progressed, we would continue to meet up on weekends. The reason we would meet at restaurants or clubs was practical, too. Twenty years ago gay men didn’t bring their dates home to meet mom…even if everyone knew they were gay. But that’s another post.

Because gay people are not allowed to marry legally, there is no official anniversary to celebrate in a traditional sense. So some gay couples celebrate their anniversaries on the day they moved in with each other, or formally committed to each other, or on the day they met. Tony and I choose to celebrate on the day we met in December of 1992. And though I don’t think either of us knew it at the time, our relationship did move forward from that day on, as a couple.

But when you meet a guy in December, that close to Valentine’s Day, it can create complications in the gift department. It’s really too soon to buy expensive jewelry (unless you are unhinged), Tony was never a huge fan of flowers, and two young gay men who work out all the time don’t sit around eating boxes of fattening chocolate. So I had no idea what to get him the Valentine’s Day. All I knew was I wanted to get something different, something that wouldn’t be obnoxious or embarrassing because we’d just met, and something that had a deeper meaning.

And of course I waited until the last minute to get something. We were meeting each other again that first Valentine’s night, in Newtown, PA, and at the time there were no malls or shopping centers of any significance there. I didn’t know the area all that well either and kicked myself for waiting until the last minute. I finally found a card shop in one of those boutique type strip malls. I figured all card shops have gifts and other things. Unfortunately this one didn’t. It was just cards and a huge display of all kinds of trolls at the back of the store. (They didn’t last in business very long either…you need to sell more than just cards and trolls.)

Actually, trolls were big that year. They were popular like angels would become popular a few years after that. The only problem was all the trolls in this store were the same size, all identical in every way, and all of them had a single stem rose that looked about a day or two over the hill. I was already fifteen minutes late meeting Tony. So out of desperation, I bought one, plus a card, and hoped for the best. It wasn’t the kind of gift I would have given him had I planned more in advance. But at least I had something.

I can still remember the look on his face when I gave it to him. Talk about trying to be polite and being confused at the same time. “Oh, a troll. Isn’t that nice.” You have to understand, he’s not into cute and adorable. He probably would have been happier if I’d bought him a bottle of wine. It’s a good thing we had other things on our minds that night. I made it up to him in other ways.

Over the years, this silly little troll that I didn’t even want to buy has followed us from two town homes to the single home where we’ve been living for the past ten years. At the time, I never thought much about it. The next year when I knew we were in a serious relationship, I bought something far more substantial. And, I didn’t wait until the last minute either. I don’t even remember what that was anymore. I know is cost a lot. We probably still have it somewhere.

But it just didn’t follow us around like that troll did, nor did it have the same significance. And he winds up in the most unlikely places sometimes. He spent a long time in Tony’s home office when we moved here. I even put him on a shelf next to Tony’s hospital bed five years ago when we thought Tony was dying from pneumonia. The docs and nurses thought that was a novelty. When I took the photo of him above I had to look around the house, and finally found him in the wine cellar, sitting on a shelf next to some kind of port Tony found in Napa Valley once.

Frankly, we don’t always do the gift thing like we used to do on Valentine’s Day anymore. There were some years when we got together with about six other gay couples at a local restaurant. There were some years when we drove up to P’town. Sometimes we just went out to dinner alone. This year, I’m doing a telephone interview at night with G Philly Magazine and neither one of us feel like going out after that. We also just had new garage doors installed, and these real life expenses often outweigh the trendiness of holidays like Valentine’s Day when you’re a grown up. On top of that, a cousin of mine passed on this week who was only 48 years old and I’m not really in the mood to party. So it’s always different and we don’t always remember each Valentine’s Day in detail. But for some reason that little troll is always there.