Reposted 2/14/05 -- Happy V Day, lovebirds.

Ah, just as I sit down to write this, I realize that most of you probably won't read it until after Valentine's Day. I'm inclined to say "oh well," but remembering how much I hate the holidays in the days after they pass -- even the ones I look forward to all year -- I guess I'm more inclined to say...nah, it's still "oh well." Happy Valentine's Day, readers! Hope everyone did something romantic for their significant other. I know I did: told the woman that the litter box stunk before announcing that I had to devote a few hours to writing an article about old Valentine's Day cards. I swear, her eyes just about morphed into little pink hearts. I thought the flowers would've gotten me a pass, but I keep hearing her sharpen knives. Odd, because she's not in the kitchen.

Having spent most of my life as a lonely loser, Valentine's Day never meant much to me. Actually, it meant that I should avoid watching television or listening to the radio in early February, because hearing about the "specials for two" at whatever local restaurant or moose bar pretty much made me want to drink poison. These days, I'm generally apathetic: the true sign of a hopeless romantic. I do my part, following in the footsteps of Valentining inspirations like Maxwell Sheffield and Stanley Roper. I know I'm supposed to act all nice and happy, and figure out some method of spending money on the item that seems the least deserving of it. Sixty bucks worth of wilted roses and a heart-shaped box full of chocolates neither of us eat seemed like the right way to go, and as we near the end of this year's spicy champagne glass-shaped hot tub siesta of the deep blue sea, I'm calling the holiday a success.

Still, during the years before it seemed like I either had to have a girlfriend on Valentine's Day or find a way to make a bullet go through my forehead at top speed, I very much liked the holiday. During my elementary school days, Valentine's Day was rarely anything to fear. Everyone was a whole lot nicer than usual, and we typically got to fashion construction paper hearts for Mom in an art session that so blissfully took the place of our usual math routines. I looked at it like this: if they weren't going to let us off from school for a particular holiday, the least they could do was let us waste the day cutting up doilies and gluing them to raw macaroni. Best of all, though, was the "give everyone a Valentine" session.

I'm not saying that these sessions weren't without controversy, mind you. Children can so rarely cope with forced instances of learning and adhering to romantic etiquette, especially when most of the boys were still damning all females as cootie-infested, walking spitball targets from Hell. These previous decrees were lifted for Valentine's Day, but everyone was suspicious that they were either traitors or about to make a complete ass of themselves.

Some of my teachers imposed rules to make things easier for everyone. I've had classes where giving everyone of the opposite sex a Valentine was mandatory, so that everyone would receive equal amounts of love and no tears would be shed. Amazing that the teachers we had only at our youngest and most innocent were the ones who implored us to slut ourselves around like hookers or Dan Fielding.

Other times, they'd be no such laws, and we were charged with deciding on our own Valentine's recipients. Which girls were deserving, which were undeserving? Who'd take getting a Valentine's card the wrong way, and who'd see through our casual gestures to the youthful crushes laying inside? There was a lot on the line, here. Why'd we put up with it? Because there wasn't a kid on the planet who didn't want to buy a package of V-day cards with pictures of their favorite cartoon characters on 'em.

That takes us to today's article. An entirely too stressful holiday for kids with dicks that hadn't even popped out yet, Valentine's Day survived as a strong favorite all because of these lousy, cheap cards. Today, I pay tribute not to the sweat I've shed in fearful anticipation of the big day during my youth, but of the sheer joy I felt as I scribbled my classmates' names on cards that had pictures of Ninja Turtles and R2-D2 on them. The four card sets shown in this article are negotiably from the same timeframe as I went through these tormenting discoveries in hot sexin', and clearly, they were the only thing little kids were really interested in come Valentine's Day. It's all about those cards, chocolate, and maybe a free pink balloon if our parents took us to the mall that day and Macy's was having a promotion.

We've got four cards sets to look at -- two are based on Nintendo games, one has roots with an incredibly popular cartoon show, and the last is tied in with raisins who wore fashion accessories and could sing better than any lounge act. It's just my way of saying: "Happy Valentine's Day. Bet you wish you read this before it was over."

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Our first box of Valentine's cards, based on Nintendo's "Super Mario Bros. 3," was made by the Paper Magic Group in 1989. The game, of course, was beloved by all and still stands up today as one of the most fun ways to pass the time. And some kid beat it in six minutes or something, and everyone cheered. I'd say they're the most inspired cards of the four boxes, but I think I'm just confusing inspiration with the fact that they used lots of really bright colors on the pictures. Then again, rainbows are inspiring.

Sorry, I wrote that last paragraph while a really funny exchange was beaming from the television inside. That damned Jerry Seinfeld. I should also note that the box contains a special card specifically for your teacher, which brings up another wildcard of the Valentine's Days of years past. Did you give the teacher a Valentine, or for the duration of the twenty-minute card swapping fest, did you just pretend they were completely invisible and avoid all eye-contact to kill the issue entirely? With this particular box, the "Teacher Card" features Mario in his raccoon suit, tail-gliding over a killer plant with a caption underneath reading "I'm walking on air for you, Valentine." I'm concerned that the teacher may misinterpret the sentiment and expect a real good'un right up the ass. Good morning Miss Bliss.

You've gotta love the assertion shown by the Koopa Kid, not to mention her dedication of covering every square inch of her body save for the groin area. There's a double meaning to this particular card, and I just wouldn't feel right talking about in on a page so innocent and pink.

Frogsuited Luigi will "go to any depth to be your Valentine," but the look on his face clearly illustrates that he's not really one for those who play hard to get. Or maybe he's just concerned that few desirable females will accept written professions of love from the perennial second player in a weird frog costume. In the third card, Mario calls upon a Warp Tornado ostensibly to spread love, but really because it's fun to fly around in tornadoes when you know they can't injure you. On Valentine's Day in 1989, Mario found his romantic niche.

As shown in the fourth card, Mario passes the non-tornado time by crushing turtle skeletons and writing it off as a gesture of love. Every card says "Made in the U.S.A.," probably because foreign nations would've been pissed if someone considered these lame phrases and oddly chosen pieces of art as their work.

Two more Koopa Kids in this batch, including my personal favorite, "Iggy Koopa." Take particular note of the third card, where Mario is assaulted by a small troop of winged mushroom monsters. They capitalized "buzzing" in the greeting because hey, the pun was just so totally subtle and would've went over our heads otherwise. Also: Mario looks worried like he should, though his acting paints him as being more afraid of getting shit on than of being shrunk down to a tiny-sized version of himself who's a long way off from Fireflower Power. In the fourth card, Mario prepares to suck an old man ghost's dick for a scene in "The Shining" that would be curiously discussed for decades to come.

You've gotta give the Paper Magic Company credit for using so many of the game's characters -- not just the top few who became so sickeningly synonymous with Super Mario and Nintendo in general that they probably had brands of yogurt and children's tennis shoes based on them.

Whomever was writing the captions completely gave up by this batch of cards, forging greetings that had no clever double-meanings and bore absolutely no context with anything having to do with Valentine's Day. Things came back around by the fourth card, though: "I'm aiming to be your Valentine friend." Fittingly, Mario aims in the picture. Actually, Mario throws, but he probably aimed just before that. The Koopa Kid, for his part, leaves an impression by trying to ward off a flying heart weapon by pointing to a spot where it can land without killing him. Even in the otherworldly video game dimension, that never works.

"I'm all shook up over you Valentine." I mean, really, why mince words?

Our second box, based on the California Raisins, came to us from Cleo Incorporated in 1988. As with all of the other boxes, each card is accompanied by a small, nonmailable envelope. Don't tell me you can mail 'em -- the box says no way.

I doubt these were too popular. The Raisins were a hit with kids, but a big part of that had to do with the unusual times that they'd show up on television. You often saw them on commercial breaks during hours when there weren't any cartoons or kiddy shows on. Up against more deserving competition on weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings, the California Raisins were little more than an excuse for a bootlegger in Mexico to make cheap knockoff dolls for carnival game prizes.

All caution is thrown to the wind with regard to grammar and syntax, a fact I can empathize with but find no less annoyance in seeing. Some words are oddly capitalized for no reason at all, while others that should be get cased pretty damned low. Only on the last card is the pun placed in quotations to note it as a punchline. I guess figuring out what "you're a treat" was referring to when written under a drawing of a chef Raisin carrying around a big tray of food was just too difficult for kids to get without any clues. Elsewhere, a California Raisin skateboards through a tidal wave, looks stoned, and nails the kind of romantic greeting that makes you think Cleo Incorporated really let raisins pen their love notes.

Don't skip a "beat!" I get "it!" I think "it's" "pure" "genius." Not because of what's being said, and not even for the charming illustration of howling raisins. I just appreciate how they're letting the mind wander and wonder about what just caught fire to the Raisins' left. My guess? One of their own. At this moment, the California Raisins learned of the pain of having your heart broken on Valentine's Day. I suspect they dreamt of better times. When they were happier. When they were grapes.

(Ninja Turtles and The Legend of Zelda Cards)