February 19th, 2014 (Valentines)

by Steven Townshend

Big Tall City
Big Tall City


My first love was Star Wars. When I was four years old I didn’t know I hadn’t seen it. The images printed on the Topp’s Sugar Free Gum and trading cards and the Kenner action figures were enough to inspire my imagination to dream up stories, and the stories I imagined served well enough. I finally saw it on its second release at a drive-in movie theater around 1979 and became obsessed with its characters, and in my late teen years, its lore. It was the great myth of my generation, our Lord of the Rings and Wizard of Oz, and when the children of the ’70s and ’80s were growing up, it stood in our minds as a pure and beautiful thing.


Elizabeth gave me a board game for my birthday–it’s called Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy, and it’s a game about space exploration, colonization, negotiation, and galactic warfare among various factions. Although I’ve actually only had the opportunity to play it once, the theme and feel of the game stirs that familiar sense of wonder, and as I sort through the components and flip through the rules, I feel the way I did when I was four or five years old, dreaming on the vast starry distances between alien worlds. Maybe one of the things I love about it is that the strange creatures and factions and past events are only briefly summarized, and the details are left to your imagination.

I remember a time when we didn’t know exactly what happened before the Star Wars films were set, but we each had our own idea of the glorious age before the Empire. When we learned all of those details we stopped imagining them, and I think that maybe we lost something for all that.


The long freeze is over for now, it seems, and the massive snowfall is melting, forming ponds at crosswalks and intersections. With the warmth, scents are back in the air–downtown scents of gasoline and chocolate and cooking meat and curry. The sun is high and bright and the gloomy winter doesn’t seem so oppressive as it was. The glint of sunlight on melting snow is a glimpse of far off summer. The winter days still before us feel somehow bearable again.


I picked up Starz’s Spartacus series when it was on sale over Thanksgiving, and I recently I began watching the prequel series, Gods of the Arena. Gods of the Arena was a prequel miniseries made when the star of Spartacus, Andy Whitfield, was undergoing treatment for the cancer that tragically took his life. The sex and violence in the show is, I’m sure, Starz’s very deliberate effort to draw viewers to it–in the same way that the arena and the decadence of the ludus enthralls and captivates the Romans of the period. The actors are our gladiators, the television our arena. 

For all of that, the pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue is actually fantastic. The conflicts engaging. The stakes feel consistently high even though (having seen the first season of the show) we already know how all of this is going to play out. To me that means the show is doing an excellent job telling its story. I can only watch one a night, but that hour of drama is packed with important things happening. I’m hooked.


After 16 years living here, I decided I wanted to see the top of the Hancock building on my birthday. I hadn’t ever felt compelled to go or to see it, but on that day we parked the car in a neighborhood where we could find parking and we took the train downtown. A young woman approached us and said, “Happy Valentines Day,” and she gave us small paper Valentines with lace snowflake designs on one side and in the center, a classical painting of Cupid. On the back, the Valentine was addressed “To: You, From: Me.” She didn’t ask us for anything. There weren’t political or religious messages written on one side or the other–just a simple Valentine given by a complete stranger, riding the train downtown. She had made a few hundred of them and she was passing them along for no other reason that we knew.

It was strange, I remarked later, to receive something completely unexpected and be asked for nothing in return. I couldn’t remember the last time it had happened.