Some years ago, in anticipation of yet another Valentine’s Day ‘alone’ I responded to a personal ad in the paper. My goal was basically “conversation” and not much more. As fate would have it, the conversation on that Valentine’s Day was nicer than I had expected. It even resulted in an agreement to meet. We agreed to a time during the day, in a public place. The day was a Sunday. The place was the Milwaukee County Zoo, specifically near the penguins. While other details have become ‘foggy’ over the passing of time, I still remember exactly how he looked that first time I saw him. He had the collar of his leather bomber jacket pulled up, shielding his neck from the wind. He looked cold. The penguins seemed to be comfortable enough. After a polite exchange of introductions and comments on weather suitable for penguins, our conversation made the inevitable leap to the penguins. They were, after all, playing the role of chaperones in this scenario. We began to stroll along through other exhibits, ending up at the polar bears. One was quite active, playing underwater basketball. A crowd began to gather; very few animals were this active in February. When the bear tired of us paparazzi, he returned to his den. The crowd dispersed as well. The chill of February remained, and we agreed to continue our meeting in a warmer locale. We bade our farewells to the penguins. I joined him for pizza at Marty’s. I brought photos of my art as conversation pieces. He brought photos of his grandparents, his parent’s farm, and his niece in an antique Norwegian cradle. I had never met a man who carried pictures of three generations of his family with him. He reacted to my art photos as if he was in the presence of greatness.
Somewhere in these memories is the beginning of ‘us’. He proposed by attaching a poster size 'personal ad' to a tree where I usually ate my lunch in Washington Park. I said yes. Years before the big screen debut of penguins and their chilly courtship rituals we began our own. You can learn a lot from penguins.
Happy Valentine’s Day