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I listened to Rory Sutherland expound on London cabbies this morning and how they are like guys on Valentine’s Day. The London taxicab driver is required to be able to decide routes immediately in response to a passenger’s request or traffic conditions, rather than stopping to look at a map, relying on satellite navigation or asking a controller by radio. Consequently, the ‘Knowledge’ is the in-depth study of a number of pre-set London street routes and places of interest that taxicab drivers in that city must complete to obtain a license to operate a black cab. It was initiated in 1865, and has changed little since. This three-year commitment ensures that London taxi drivers are experts on London, and have an intimate knowledge of the city.

So what is “The Knowledge”?

It’s the thing that makes guys go out and buy gifts that they have absolutely no interest in as a commitment device, a mild form of human self-sacrifice, investing in something that a guy has no passion or interest in as a way of saying to a girlfriend, “I’ve invested in this because you love it and know that I have zero interest in it yet I paid a handsome sum for it anyway, because you are worth it and I love you.”

It’s the thing that makes guys take girls out to dinner on the worst night of the year to go out to dinner. So in honor of the notion that guys do things that are not sane in the name of commitment and acquiring “the knowledge”, here are four Valentine’s day commercials, real ones I’ve watched on TV, mostly ESPN, since that’s the guy channel mostly, blends of sweet romance and longing with a dash of guilt swirled into one exquisite marketing blurb conveying what guys must do on Valentine’s Day…or else!

The getting kicked out of bed guilt trip
An actual quote from a real man
“If I don’t come home with that box of chocolate, I’m sleeping in the dog house.” Russell Stover Candies

The hero brings home food
“Our sweet fruit arrangements are sure to make you a Valentine’s Day hero!” Edible Arrangements

Redemptive technology as antidote to procrastination and hair-on-fire flower buying.
“Guys! Don’t stand in line running the risk of disappointing your sweetheart. Go to Proflowers and order online.” Proflowers

For men who have seen The Terminator dozens of times and are still surprised and emotionally moved by the plot nuances
“No girl can resist a big giant hunka love, the 4-½ foot tall teddy bear from Vermont Teddy Bears.”

I married a Title IX girl from New Jersey. Men legislated sports before 1973, since women apparently didn’t possess the “knowledge” of sport that males possessed, and the rules sometimes seemed to reflect the frailty of “the weaker gender”. It was the life-size teddy bear version of rule-making. For instance, how could women ever be considered tough enough, strong enough, enduring enough, to play full court basketball?

Tracie Newcomb is a decorator in our homebuilding business and played high school basketball in Oklahoma. She recalled recently, the unique game of six to a side women’s basketball, played as if there was a force field extending vertically from the half court stripe to the ceiling and the only object that could pass through this curtain of ignorance, was a basketball.

Rules change, and I’m glad this one did. It was a stilted truncated game to watch with half of the effort expended just trying to transfer the ball from the defenders on one end to the offensive players on the other end.

My Grandma Mildred also played some Oklahoma basketball in the 1920’s. I recall one Thanksgiving listening to her sit with Jill Taylor’s Grandma (both ladies were about 95 years old) and reminisce about playing old-style hoops with much more uniform fabric, no digital scoreboards, and jump balls after each made basket.

My wife was All South Jersey in field hockey, a basketball starter four years in high school at Shawnee High in Tabernacle, NJ, and a wonderfully competitive softball player who went on to college at Northeastern Christian Junior College and later to Harding University starring in softball as a pitcher (which she learned after tearing her ACL playing basketball) and lettering in varsity volleyball. She was shocked when I told her that my high school girls teams played a truncated half court game.

And so I’m conflicted with guilt and altruism. I’m aware that it’s right to get her a gift, the television told me so, but nothing seems to fit the classic pattern for her. Maybe I should explore ‘the knowledge’ more. What can I do that makes absolutely no sense, means little to me but everything to her. My son sent chocolate covered strawberries to his girlfriend. He’s in Germany, she in Stillwater, OK. She seemed very pleased that half a world away, he would do that, the one Valentine Day when an ocean and continent removed might grant him liberty to not express “the knowledge” to Liz.

So I keep memorizing the streets around London hoping someday I can pass the test and drive the black cab. It’s an everyday thing, this knowledge.
Karen LT
Karen’s watches what she eats, eating chocolate sparingly, she makes sure I understand that to her, flowers are a waste of our money, she eats fruit but prefers to pick it herself, and chooses to cuddle not with fat life-size teddy bears but rather with our chubby chocolate lab Abby…or her chubby hubby.

Guess I better write something nice to her. For a guy who watches ESPN and doesn’t do all the right Valentiney things, somehow I got the perfect girl. And one day soon, I’ll throw away my GPS and quit listening to commercials about how to make her happy, because it’ll all be in my head, in a neat little area of my brain I’ll call “the knowledge”, reserved not just for Valentine’s Day, but for everyday.

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