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Romance, schmoance: This is a real gift of caring

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© St. Petersburg Times, published February 2, 2001

I's closing in, guys and gals.

It's time for that annual holiday devoted to expressing romantic love for one another and humiliating the most unpopular kid in the second grade classroom (and, no, I'm not speaking from experience, thank you).

It is also time for the standard offerings: cards, chocolates, flowers, and -- if you've been a real jerk during the past year -- jewelry.

In Citrus County you can go to a special audience-participation play featuring actors from Playhouse 19 at the Elegant Pelican Lounge at 7:30 p.m. on Valentine's Day itself.

But in Pasco County a real gift for the new millennium is being offered, especially for those who may have loved well but not wisely -- free HIV and syphilis testing at the County Health Department.

The free tests (which usually cost $20, although they are available on a sliding scale to anyone with no one being turned away) are offered at the department's office at 10841 Little Road from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 12, and the news release announcing the offer comes complete with sketched hearts and the legend "Show Me That U Care."

I have to admit that I chuckled at first glance at the release.

But sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are no joke, and even if it lacks romantic appeal, there aren't many better gifts for a lover than a copy of negative test results for either of the two conditions featured in the offer -- or several others, which can also be tested for at the health department.

Pasco residents wishing further information on the free tests can call the department's epidemiology office at (727) 869-3900, ext. 179.

Actually, sexually active persons shouldn't wait for any holiday to be tested. It's the only sane thing to do and it is always better to be safe than sorry.

In case you are wondering what reason other than the greed of florists (for definition of greed, check rose prices during the holiday) and greeting card and chocolate manufacturers, I did a little digging.

It can get a little confusing, according to the History Channel's Web site.

Seems the Roman Catholic church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all three of whom were martyred.

According to the History Channel, one legend concerns a third century priest named Valentine who, when the emperor decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives, outlawed marriage for young single men.

Valentine, according to the legend, thought the decree was unjust, and defied the emperor by continuing to perform such marriages in secret.

He supposedly paid for his contribution to romance with his life.

Other stories, according to the Web site, say Valentine may have been killed for helping Christians escape Roman prisons.

"According to one legend," says the entry on the Web site, "Valentine actually sent the first "valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl -- she may have been the jailer's daughter -- who visited him during his confinement."

Before his death, he reportedly sent her a letter signed, "from your Valentine."

And Cupid, wings or not, was no angel.

Ancient Romans believed that Cupid, often depicted with wings, and a bow and a quiver full of arrows, was the son of Venus. Cupid was the god of erotic love while Venus' influence was seen more in the areas of productivity, beauty and romantic love.

Some of my less romantically smitten friends (I just got engaged, so I have to be careful here) have asked me to remind people, especially during this dangerous season, that "Cupid" rhymes with "Stupid."

That may or may not be, but E. Cobham Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable adds a sort of Stephen King-like twist to the yarn.

"According to fable,"' says Brewer's book, "he (Cupid) whets with blood the grindstone on which he sharpens his arrows."

Which makes getting stuck in the arm by a health department nurse even all the more attractive.

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