February 14, 2013
Dear Mr. Mitchel:
In asking me to steal Valentine’s Day, you have set before an old burglar one heck of a temptation. Alas, I regret to tell you that, fun as it might be – or better say, precisely because I know I would find it so much fun, fun of a kind I long ago forswore – I have to decline your offer.
Indeed your proposal isn’t novel. The thought of stealing Valentine’s Day occurred to me many years ago.
Valentine’s Day that year fell on Fat Tuesday. That thrilled me. For it meant, not only that I could get in a glut of larceny immediately before Lent, but that I could have my hard-stolen Valentine’s loot shipped overnight to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I meditated with a profoundly wicked pleasure upon the revels that would surely greet the unexpected arrival of a large shipment from the likes of me, with a note that read:
Happy Valentine’s Day,
P.S. I’ve included the food for kicks, but if I were you I shouldn’t eat it. For I have liberally seasoned it with Arsenic sauce.
For days I sat plotting the glorious burglary, down to the smallest detail. My poor dog Max, who with his well-developed canine empathy had sensed that something was amiss with his master, received confirmation that my heart had indeed been reverting to its former size the day the UPS man delivered a Cupid outfit, three sizes too small for me. With horror, he realized the outfit was for him, and that I was dragging him back into the holiday heist business.
But the plans that had ripened so gloriously in the days preceding Valentine’s Day were to wither before they could come to pass. On the Saturday before the great heist, a local theatre happened to put on a performance of The Man Who Came to Dinner. I politely accepted an invitation to attend — with no clue as to what I was letting myself in for.
It happened in the play’s first scene, when Mr. Whiteside told a story about an Elias P. Crockfield. Having just been released from prison, Crockfield wandered into a church one St Valentine’s Eve, and, with larceny on the brain, proceeded toward the box of alms for the poor. But just as he laid his hands on the coins in the alms box, he was interrupted by a little girl of five, asking “please, Mr. Man, won’t you be my Valentine?”
In that moment, I stood convicted in the shoes of Elias P. Crockfield. I pictured Cindy Lou Who as the five-year-old girl, holding aloft a Valentine and asking me, “Mr. Grinch, will you be my Valentine?” And thus the great Valentine’s Day heist died.
That year I forswore grudge-nursing and larcenous thoughts for Lent. I gave away all my crime novels (still miss the anthology Wodehouse on Crime). I’m happy to say that, God being my help, I’ve been able to stay on the path I set out on that February. To be sure, it hasn’t always been easy. On occasion, I have found myself driving past toy stores that weren’t on the way home. One year, the urge to scratch the old itch got so bad I enrolled in the local Kleptomaniacs Anonymous chapter. The KA leader, and some of the chapter’s members, were less than amused by my attendance; other members were quite diverted, and one, mistaking my face for a mask, patiently tried to pull it off (“you’re gonna be in some kind of pain when you finally get this thing off!” he said).
In short, while I found your request that I steal Valentine’s Day quite flattering, and acknowledge that your arguments are not wholly without merit, I have no desire to take upon myself again the yoke of larceny.
By the time you receive this, the annual flood of pink and red will have subsided. I do hope you weren’t too disappointed that Valentine’s Day went off as scheduled. I hope that just maybe, you did something fun. Or, at least, that you reflected gratefully upon the fact that the day comes but once each year.
Happy Valentine’s Day, and best wishes always,