“He is deformed, crooked, old and sere, Ill-faced, worse bodied, shapeless everywhere; Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind; Stigmatical in making, worse in mind.” ~William Shakespeare (Comedy of Errors, IV, ii)

Some of you have heard this story before, but in honor of the year’s most sappy holiday, I thought it was time for a re-telling of the cheesiest Valentine’s Day ever.  So hunker down with your Havarti, get chummy with some cheddar, and be prepared for a Tillamook tale of Edam proportions.

I dated a few guys during college.  One of them was a geeky pre-med major who, although basically a nice guy, gave new meaning to the word dork.  When he enthusiastically introduced himself to my family for the first time as being “from the thumb of Michigan!” (complete with hand directional display), he gave them fodder for teasing me for years to come.  We dated for about a year before he nonchalantly broke up with me via a MESSAGE ON MY ANSWERING MACHINE.  To protect the identity of the daft, we shall hereafter refer to him in my story as The Cowardly Doofus (or just Doofus, for short).

(I can’t remember why I dated him for so long…ah, wait, he had a very hot older brother who lived with him, rode a motorcycle, had long hair, and wore lots of black leather, it’s all coming back to me now…)

This is the way I understand the story: we’d been dating for probably about 9 months or so when Doofus decided he would call my MOTHER for ideas on what to get me for Valentine’s Day.  Gee that’s romantic.  And incredibly uninspired – he couldn’t think of anything on his own?  I think my mother was just as bewildered when Doofus called her and started asking questions such as “What does Kristi like?”  The problem was (one of many), was that he didn’t tell her this was for a Valentine’s Day present, he just wanted to know what some of my favorite things were.  (We’d been dating for NINE MONTHS, he had no idea what I liked?  What a clod.)

Confused, my poor Mom told me later she just said the first thing that popped into her mind during that weird and cryptic conversation:  “Well, I know Kristi really likes cheese.  She especially likes those fancier kinds like Gouda and Edam I think.”

I don’t blame her (mostly).

About a week later, Valentine’s Day was upon us.  I lived in a big sorority house during college which housed 58 women.  It was a great place to spend my college years, but it left little room for privacy when it came to the details of one’s dating life.  In other words, everyone knew everything about the romantic relationships of everyone who lived in that house.  Unbeknownst to me, I was about to become an infamous urban legend for years to come whenever anyone in that house brought up Valentine’s Day.

I had been at class earlier that morning, and happened to arrive back at the house right at lunchtime – the most crowded time of the day usually (of course).  When I opened the doors and entered the foyer, I saw a large gathering of my housemates in a bunch, all looking at something.  “She’s here!” one of them said and the crowd parted to reveal a very large, gift-wrapped box.  It was about the size of a washing machine and it came up to waist-level.  A gift tag on the outside revealed to everyone that I was the lucky recipient of this enormous mystery and that Doofus was the enigmatic bestow-er.

For a few minutes, I was the envy of every girl in that room.  Other (normal) boyfriends had sent bouquets of pretty flowers, which sat waiting on the bench in the foyer, seemingly small change compared to this giant gift that had piqued everyone’s curiosity.  The air of romance in that room that day was palpable.  If I could only go back in time, I never would have opened that box.  But I did, in front of all those other girls, who would look at me very differently after that day (with pity, mostly).

So with the highest in-person Nielsen rating of any gift-opening in that house ever, I unwrapped and opened the large outer box.  I was just as excited as everyone else, and really had no idea what it could be.  What could be in a box that big?!  Inside was lots of crumpled up newspapers, cushioning another wrapped smaller box about the size of a microwave oven.  “Another box!”   Everyone was all smiles.

I unwrapped that box, inside of which was another wrapped smaller package the size of a shoebox.  By this point, everyone was getting pretty impatient.  Especially when inside the shoebox was one more wrapped package the size of a small brick.  At the sight of that one, all the eyes lit up a little more and everyone moved a little closer, anticipating the big reveal.  Every girl knows that the best gifts come in small boxes right?  And he’d put so much effort into this, it must be something really good!

My heart beat a little faster.  This was a serious relationship, after all (or so I thought).  I imagined a sparkly bracelet, or maybe a really nice watch.  A heart pendant, perhaps. The last thing I could have ever imagined that my boyfriend would give to me for Valentine’s Day – and make me work so hard to reveal IN FRONT OF EVERYONE – was the shrink-wrapped brick of smoked Gouda cheese in a poop-colored brown rind that lay under that last layer of wrapping paper.  (Yes, he went the extra centimeter to get the smoked variety instead of just plain unimaginative Gouda.)

(Source: Cheese.com)

(Source: Cheese.com, Photo Credit: Sulzberger Käserebellen Sennerei GmbH)

All I really remember about the next moments:  a stunned silence; shocked stares; a few sympathetic pats on the shoulder; a kind soul who started rummaging through the newspapers in the bigger boxes, mumbling “There has to be something else in here somewhere…”  I think someone used a few choice curse words, although whether they were aimed at Doofus or at the wasted time and outcome of the whole spectacle, I’m not sure.

I remember staring at the brown brick in my hands and reading the label very intently, hoping my devoted scrutiny of the ingredient list would allow me the time I needed to will my flushing red cheeks back to a normal tint.  Cheese?  He got me cheese?  For Valentine’s Day?  I forced myself to think of alternatives.  This couldn’t be it.  Was it the beginning clue to a romantic scavenger hunt that would lead to the real Valentine’s treasure?  Was there a message under the wrapper saying to bring the cheese to a nice romantic dinner that night at a fancy restaurant, where we’d pair it with strawberries and chocolate?

The answers were yes, yes, yes, no, and no.  After the disappointed crowd quietly faded into the background, I stumbled downstairs to my room and called The Cowardly Doofus, at which point he confirmed that he had proudly shopped for that Gouda himself (OH GOOD FOR YOU), knowing it was one of my favorite things.  He honestly thought it was the greatest gift ever.  I just sat in silent amazement on the other end of the line. 

I guess you could say that was the day I saw the light through the holes in the Swiss cheese.  He left his break-up phone message for me a few short months later.  Now that I reflect back on it, it was probably because I’d been treating him like a plate of stinky Gorgonzola after the V-Day debacle.  He deserved it, of course.  He’d burned a cruel and farcical Valentine’s Day memory on my brain that I can never forget or live down.  On the other hand, he set the bar so unbelievably low, that all Valentine’s gifts I ever got after that seemed like gold-plated gemstones in comparison. 

By the way, my mom wasn’t lying:  I do like cheese.  Not as a romantic Valentine’s Day present (ever), but I probably could live on baguettes and a nice Somerset cheddar for the rest of my life if I had to.  Give me some tangy goat cheese and a sourdough roll and I’ll be your friend forever.  And not one to let a good cheese go to waste, I did enjoy that Gouda that I got that day long ago, with some crackers and grapes if I remember correctly.  By myself in my room of course, so as to avoid the cackles of laughter that would’ve no doubt ensued if I’d shown it in public again.

And if you’re wondering whatever happened to The Cowardly Doofus: well, he is now Dr. Doofus, practicing as an emergency room physician after going to medical school back in Michigan.  Yup, the Gouda giver finally made the long trip home to the thumb motherland.  I guess he couldn’t Camembert it anywhere else.

Here’s wishing you & yours a very UNunhappy Valentine’s Valencay Day everyone!

Valencay cheese from France (Source: Cheese.com)

Valencay cheese from France (Source: Cheese.com, Credit: Creative Commons/DocteurCosmos)

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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