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Fade to Black: If you get left out in the cold this Valentine's Day, you can always indulge in some black noodles. Yum!

Black Noodle Days

The final, uncommercialized frontier of Valentine's Day is a world where the carbs go to the loveless

By Sarah Phelan

Every year, when the stores blush pink and red with cupids and hearts, I'm reminded of all those torturous Valentine's Days I endured while growing up in London, young and not so easy, under one of the few remaining Dylan Thomasesque apple boughs in town.

How I longed for the postman--and they were all men back then, believe me--to walk up our driveway, pink envelope in hand, or for a solitary red rose to appear on my doorstep as mysteriously as the luminous dew that coated the green, green grass each morning.

Instead, I was left empty-handed and heavy-hearted, which maybe wasn't such a bad thing given that Valentine's Day, as practiced in England back in the day, was less about love and more about lust and malice, beginning with vinegar valentines that people anonymously sent to those they hated. But I was young and innocent and didn't know how much worse it could have been.

Fast-forward two decades, by which time I'm living in California with two kids in elementary school, where, as I soon discover, all first graders are pretty much expected to hand-write cards to every class member, regardless of whether they like all these other kids--thus further bolstering Hallmark's already mighty empire. Yuck.

And it gets worse. I soon discovered from a Korean student named Moon who I was working with at the time that this saccharine version of Valentine's Day has spread to his country like a candy-coated virus, and has already spawned two additional love-fixated days, thus potentially causing more pain, suffering and tooth decay.

As Moon explained in broken English, Feb. 14 in Korea is the day girls give chocolate to the guys--including male co-workers, friends and love interests. In other words, the number of chocolates a man receives reflects his popularity, or lack of it. Ouch.

The guys get their turn a month later on March 14, which is called White Day, because the men are expected to give white gifts of chocolates, candy, marshmallows or cookies to the girls they fancy. Unlike the women, the men do not have to give presents to other women, such as their mothers, in their lives, nor are they required to give gifts to the women whom they're not interested in. Double ouch.

But that's not the end of it; in fact, the ouch factor quickly quadruples, since men are reportedly expected to give gifts of up to four times more than the estimated cost of the chocolate they received.

All of which brings us to the very goth-sounding Black Day, which takes place April 14, when singles who got totally left out of the chocolate-candy-gift-exchange-comparison frenzy get together at a Chinese restaurant to eat "black noodles" (noodles in a black bean sauce) and drink, all the while bitching about how it sucks to be without a mate, not to mention chocolate.

Actually, the way Moon described it, Black Day sounds totally cool, a love-among-the-noodles version of the Nerd's Revenge, a chance to find companionship even among the blackest of beans. And therein lies the charm of this ritual that has yet to be packaged and marketed to death, unlike its hearts and roses counterpart.

My son likes to say that the best chocolate is the unexpected kind, the one you didn't know was still in the box, the one you had no idea was winging itself your way. With so much pressure around Valentine's Day expectations these days, maybe it's time to serve up noodles, instead.

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From the February 11-18, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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