The bitter taste of Valentine’s Day

By WilliamPrentiss

Feb. 14 draws near and Cupid is busy hijacking the cultural Zeitgeist. Now single cynics have to figure out a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day without a card dipped in sickening sentiment. Fortunately, haters are finding their own way to make the season bearable with a pitch of sarcastic and dark humor.

John Ferraro has roses perfect for all those not feeling the love—dead, dirty roses. Dirty Rotten Flowers, which started its online business a year ago, sells pristine flowers aged to perfection through their Web site, which arrive inside their own fancy packaging. Customers can give the box of dead flowers their personal touch with a message to their ex-sweetheart or victim. Ferraro said he got the idea for the roses from a Czech florist, now his business partner, and thought it would be funny.

“I know that Valentine’s Day puts a lot of pressure on people,” Ferraro said. “I have a friend who is single and she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day [only] because she is single. It just reminds her she doesn’t have someone in her life … You feel like you’re supposed to do something about love, and if you don’t have it on that day, it makes you feel bad.”

Ferraro said people buy the diseased flowers to send a damning statement to lovers or a simple joke to those with the right sense of humor. Customers have the option of sending the dead roses with the heads cut off or whole. Ferraro has found from recent orders that whole, dead roses tend to have more vengeful messages while the headless ones are usually more light-hearted.

“There was one recently, and it was an early Valentine’s gift,” Ferraro said. “It sounds like it was from a woman to another woman, and it just said Happy Valentine’s Day. That’s like three weeks ahead of Valentine’s Day … I got the feeling there was something funny going on between them.”

The company also gives live roses to people in the Los Angeles area and would like to expand to other states, but they aren’t yet equipped to send the live flowers outside of their immediate area. Any live rose shipped across state lines would arrive dead.

“That’s a whole nother level of business in terms of companies like FTD [Florists’ Transworld Delivery] getting involved,” Ferraro said. “But we do send the dead stuff anywhere. There’s no problem with it because it doesn’t matter if it arrives wilted.”

Still, Valentine’s Day isn’t just about floral arrangements—dead or alive. It needs candy and, for those alone on Valentine’s Day, any ordinary sweets wouldn’t do. That’s why Despair, Inc. made its very own candy hearts for all the cranks out there.  Instead of the normal saccharine, sweet message written on most candy hearts, their Bittersweets feature more realistic messages like “I’m hot inside,” “P.S. I love me,” or if someone is feeling particularly vindictive, “I got sober.”

Three separate containers are available on Despair, Inc.’s Web site, each with a different theme. The three collections, Dejected, Dysfunctional and Dumped, include up to 37 unique messages. The candy comes in six unique flavors: Banana Chalk, Grape Dust, Nappy-Citric, You-Call-This-Lime?, Pink Sand and

Fossilized Antacid.

Despair, Inc. was founded in 1998 and started selling their candy in 2001. Lawrence Kersten, chief operating

officer, said the inspiration for the Bittersweets came from the candy heart’s iconic place in the Valentine’s Day tradition.

“One of the things that’s true of Valentine’s Day is, despite the fact it’s a day people are celebrating being in love, there are probably more people who are not in love,” Kersten said. “We thought what we need is Valentine’s Day for the rest of us.”

The company gets the most sales for their bitter hearts around the holiday, but they sell satirical motivational posters, T-shirts, calendars and mugs throughout the year. The company started with Kersten and a few others cracking jokes about the motivational brochures they read while working at an Internet Service Provider in Dallas, Texas. Eventually, they started making their own posters and passing them around to their friends.

Kersten said the Bittersweets are the only Valentine’s Day-specific product they sell, but many of their posters make apt gifts for the holiday. He points out one in particular, picturing a lush, red rose front and center with a black border surrounding it. Under the rose, the word “destiny” is written in big, red, capital letters with the message, “You were meant for me. Perhaps as punishment,” written under it.

Another possible gift he mentioned was the company’s “Dysfunction” poster. The picture shows a chain with a broken link in the middle and under the photo, the word Dysfunction is written in green. Under that the words, “The only consistent feature in all of your dissatisfying relationships is you,” are written.

Kersten said he ultimately doesn’t care about Valentine’s Day, and the best way for bitter singles to celebrate the holiday is to just throw a party. His idea includes prominent use of Bittersweets.

“Get together with ten of your lonely friends, each have their own three tins of Bittersweets,” Kersten said. “Then you have a therapy session in which you choose the Bittersweet that you believe each of your friends needs to hear. Then they each give you the Bittersweet they think you need to hear … or if you’re over 21, get a bottle of scotch.”

Columbia students Lana Slaby and Sarah Antonick have similar plans for an anti-Valentine’s Day, albeit with less product and lonely people. Theirs will be a metal theme with black piñata hearts ready for guests to smash and appropriately-themed desserts like black cupcakes for guests to munch on. Antonick said having the party should help temper the expectations people normally build up for the holiday.

“We’re throwing all caution to the wind,” Antonick said. “Just putting the “anti” on it just so there is no pressure of it having to be a good night. You can flourish in that.”

Slaby said her history with the holiday has been spotty at best, but metal should make this a year’s a standout.

“I can’t remember the last time I had a good Valentine’s Day,” Slaby said. “It’s an excuse to have a metal-themed party at my house.”

Slaby said she remembers even when she had a valentine to celebrate with, it is still a little disappointing.

“Even if you do have a boyfriend, they think you want to have so much more,” Slaby said. “I could just watch ‘SpongeBob [SquarePants]’ with you all night and that would be great.”

Slaby may have to do without a date and SpongeBob, but she’ll still have her metal. She said the reason they went with the genre was because most of the songs in it have little to do with love. Celebrating with aggression is the best way to rebel against the holiday focusing on love and capitalism.

“Rage,” Slabey said.

“We want people to have fun without the pressure of having a date,” Antonick added.