Valentine’s Day Story #1: An Eyeball and a Dozen Roses

I was living in Chicago, having a grand old time. Let’s face it, I was wild. I had no interest in a serious relationship. There were a couple of men buzzing around me. One of them (sweet, nice, a guy I saw perform improv numerous times) approached me at a party and, after chatting me up for a while in a very humorous and effortless way, asked me out to dinner.

I said Sure!

It ended up being one of the best dates I have ever been on before IN MY LIFE. Not because there were sizzling romantic sparks between us (there weren’t) but because of where he took me to dinner, the people we met there, and what we ended up doing. We went out to eat at a great old-school Greek restaurant (sadly, the joint is now closed). The coffee they gave us at the end of the meal was so thick our spoons could stand up in it. We stayed there for hours, talking and laughing, and then, after 11 or so, the music started. There was a round dance floor in the middle of the tables (like a nightclub you see in 1940s movies, although dilapidated and decaying), and people started dancing. These people were all Greek. These people were all over the age of 70. They danced in a circle, holding hands, shouting and whooping.

We were the youngest people in the place by two generations. When the dancing started, it involved a bunch of 70-year-old Greek women, caked with makeup, jewels glittering on their ears, their fingers, dancing around in a circle, holding hands, gesturing majestically out to us to join their dance, as their 70-year-old Greek husbands, or lovers, stood on the outskirts, throwing money up into the air, throwing money at their women. The air was filled with floating American currency. White-haired women picked up 20 dollar bills and plastered them onto their sweaty necks and sweaty bejewelled cleavage. The atmosphere was sexually charged, more so than any hip dance club filled with 20-somethings like ourselves. This was experienced sexuality on display. It was midnight, 1 a.m. when we finally joined the geriatric set, who showed no signs of slowing down. We danced with them in their circle, as money swirled through the air. We scuffed through the bills on the floor, laughing at how much fun we were having, how awesome it all was.

But that’s a tangent, and not the story I want to tell which is the story of the Eyeball and the Dozen Roses.

During the great date at the late-night Greek place, for some UNFATHOMABLE reason, I told him that my eye doctor had taken a picture of the back of my eyeball.

He: “Your grey eyes look so lovely. I could drown in their sparkley depths.”

Me: “Oh yeah? I should show you a picture of the BACK of my eyeball, pal.”

I have no idea how the subject came up, but he (bless him) seemed completely fascinated by the idea of having a picture taken of the back of his eyeball. The photo of the back of my eyeball was very weird and I was kind of obsessed with it: It looked like a big burning red ball. It looked like a close-up photo of the red storm circling Jupiter in the cold depths of space.


The back of my eyeball looked like that, basically.

During the date at the Greek place, he already set up the next date. I’m telling you, he had the basics down! “Okay, so Valentine’s Day is next week. And – I know we don’t know each other at all or anything, but I think it would be fun to have a date on Valentine’s Day. Whaddya say?”

I Zorba-ed my way through the carpet of money, plastering 20 dollar bills on my arms, and said, “That sounds like fun!!”

I’m not big on Valentine’s Day, not being a romantic type (as this story will OBVIOUSLY prove), and also: it just seems like a hell of a lot of pressure. When I see couples out on Valentine’s Day, the men look stressed and cowed, and the women look either vicious or triumphant. It’s not my scene, man. But he and I had such an unbelievably fabulous time on that first date, I thought: It’s cool.

And then I came up with what I considered to be an inspired idea.

Instead of getting him a nice Hallmark-y little Valentine’s Day card, I put the photo of the back of my eyeball into a little red envelope, with his name on it. On the margins of the photo I wrote, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

I know it is insane.

I cannot defend it.

I am just reporting the facts of the case, which are: I put a photograph of the back of my eyeball into an envelope to give to a guy I barely knew on Valentine’s Day.

I went over to his apartment for our date. He greeted me at the door, so nice, so sweet. He let me in. He got me a drink. We didn’t really know each other at all, but we had had (no contest) the best date EVER. One for the books. We were kind of proud of ourselves for that.

He went into the kitchen, and came back out, holding a dozen red roses for me. For Valentine’s Day.

The second I saw the roses, I remembered the little red envelope in my purse, and I could feel my face getting as beet-red as the back of my own eyeball.

Oh my God. I am such an asshole. I have given him a photograph of the back of my eyeball. I have given him a Polaroid of the inside of my body. What the hell was going through my mind at the time that made me think that was appropriate??? My head was literally burning with embarrassment about my eyeball.

I suppose I could have chosen to not give him the picture of Jupiter’s eternal red storm. But comedy is important to me, and I knew that what was going down here was freakin’ funny.

I said, “Okay, so this is completely embarrassing, seeing as you gave me a beautiful bouquet of roses … but here’s what I got you.”

He opened up the envelope, looked at the Polaroid, and then BURST into laughter. (Thank God.)

Throughout the night he kept making jokes about it, pretending he was describing his Valentine’s date to friends who didn’t know me. He would do both sides of the conversation.

“Hey, man, did you go out on Valentine’s Day?”
“Oh yeah, dude, I went out with this sweet girl I just met.”
“Really? What does she look like?”
Long long pause.
“Oh …. she’s a circle.”

“Dude, you went out on Valentine’s Day? What did the girl look like?”
“Uhm, sort of like a raging fireball.”

Or, when someone would ask him, “What did your date look like?”, he would take out the photograph of the back of my eyeball and, smiling proudly, hand it over.

He ended up being very kind about the whole thing, turning it into a huge joke, which I appreciated.

So that is the mortifying story of a man who gave me a dozen roses and I gave him, in return, a Polaroid of the back of my eyeball.

A Coda:

We ended up going on something like 4 dates, stretched out over an 8 or 9 week period. Obviously there wasn’t a sense of urgency to it all. We weren’t hot for each other, we weren’t burning like the backs of our own eyeballs to see each other. I don’t even think we kissed. Occasionally we would go to a movie, or out to dinner, whatever, but nothing ever really happened beyond that. There were no games, no weirdness, it just was what it was. I would forget for weeks at a time that he existed, and then he would suddenly call me up and invite me to do something. I was dating other people, I’m sure he was too. Whatever. My 20s were great. I had my head on straight about all this shit.

The whole thing ended when I called him up, after another 3 week “break”, and asked him to go to a movie, or something like that.

He sounded very hesitant. I could tell immediately something was up.

So I said, “What’s up?”

He said, “Well … I guess I’m thinking that we should slow down.”

I sat there, on the other end, filled with blankness. I thought nothing, I felt nothing. I went completely dead. There was nothing to say, but it seemed I was required to respond.

And what finally came out of my mouth, was: “I literally do not know how much slower I can go.”

This was greeted by a deafening silence.

And then what came out of my mouth was: “If I go any slower, I think I will stop.”

An even louder silence from the other end.

I wasn’t being bitchy. But I was, God help me, being truthful, and the entropy was already swirling me into its polar vortex and I could not, conceivably, in any biologically-sound carbon-based universe, go any slower than I was already going, without stopping outright.

Needless to say, we stopped.

And to this day, in my group of friends, “If I go any slower, I think I’ll stop” is a favorite phrase. It works well in a multitude of situations.

I ran into him some years back at a party in Chicago, and we had a hilarious conversation. I said, “To this day, that date at the Greek place is one of the best dates I’ve ever gone on.” He said the same was true for him as well.

We avoided mention of the back of my eyeball, which is probably for the best.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

This entry was posted in Personal and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Valentine’s Day Story #1: An Eyeball and a Dozen Roses

  1. Melissa says:

    I love this story….

  2. sheila says:

    Melissa – thanks. :) Yeah, I think it’s a keeper.

  3. tracey says:

    Sheila — Hahahahahahahahahahaha!! (On SO many levels.)

    Those 2 lines of yours in this piece are among my favorite EVER.

  4. sheila says:

    Tracey – Oh, the levels!!!

    It’s even funnier to remember how DEAFENING the silence was on the other end, in response to my comments. It was like I lobbed a gentle grenade up into his face.

  5. just1beth says:

    I will never tire of reading what you have to say, Sheila. Not all writers are like that, but you certainly have a gift.

  6. I love your candor, and I suspect the people in both your literal and virtual worlds do too. And thanks so much. That was exactly what I needed to read today. It was the highlight of this February 14th. And I mean that in the best possible way. Rock on!

  7. sheila says:

    Donna – thank you so much!! Very glad you enjoyed!

  8. litdreamer says:

    On the other hand, that might be a good way to weed out guys. If they’re mortified, they’re goners. But if they laugh…

    Great story :-)

    And Happy Valentine’s Day, fellow blogger!

  9. Jessie says:

    Ha! Great story. I wish someone would give me a picture of the storm at the back of their eyeballs.

  10. Maureen says:

    Oh, Sheila!! This is so funny-I love it. A picture of the back of your eyeball-the perfect Valentine’s gift for that someone special!

    That Greek restaurant wasn’t called Diana’s was it? I grew up a bit south of Chicago, and we used to go there for special occasions. Sounds very familiar to me :) I remember my 12th birthday, being very impressed when they lit the goat cheese appetizer on fire!

    • sheila says:

      I can’t remember the name of it, actually – I believe it was in Andersonville, does that sound right??

      • sheila says:

        It was either in Andersonville – or on the street that cuts down right in front of the Century Mall. A little bit north of Century mall. It looked like a hole in the wall, and was very large inside, if I recall correctly.

  11. Ann Marie says:

    One of my favorite stories of yours. Also, you used polar vortex before it was an everyday phrase here on local tv!

    Greek restaurant but not in Greektown? Clark is the street that runs past the Century mall, then thru Wrigleyville, Uptown, and then Andersonville where I lived with the infamous “raid”.

    Wish I knew what it was now!!

    • sheila says:

      // with the infamous “raid”. //

      dying laughing …

      I know it’s not funny, but still …

      If I am remembering correctly, it was a couple blocks north of the Century Mall, on that “crooked street”.

  12. Windy City Hick says:

    I’m a long-time lurker who loves classic movies and your blog. I thank you for opening my eyes up to films I might have missed; Ari Folman’s “The Congress” is just one example. Now I delurk because Greek Food and a great date story apparently are the magic combination to draw me out. Re the restaurant, it might have been Diana’s Opaa, which has been replaced by The Athena, or possibly The Parthenon, which is still open. The Diana was renown for its warm, fun atmosphere.

    • sheila says:

      Hi! I love it when long-time lurkers de-lurk in such interesting ways. Yay for The Congress!

      Diana’s Opaa sounds familiar (as well as super fun) – but I looked it up and looks like it was on S. Halsted, which doesn’t feel right. I could be totally wrong though – it was so long ago. In my memory it was on Clark Street, above Diversey – maybe a couple of blocks north? Anything ring a bell?

      Bah, wish I could remember the name of it. The joint was classic.

  13. Dan says:

    Cracks me up every year…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.