The shiny substance glistening from the brows of the Man Beasts these days is flop sweat, a sure sign that Valentine's Day is once again near.
They usually start getting nervous right after the Super Bowl, when they realize the weekends are now vast wastelands, full of potential household projects and something called "quality time" with loved ones. And with football over, it no longer seems socially appropriate to start drinking at noon.
Then, right when they're still wobbly and adjusting to this horrible new football-free world-bam!-there's a huge landmine right in the middle of February, a month otherwise blissfully family-event-free, unless your clan happens to hold clambakes to honor dead presidents.
It's cliché to whine about Valentine's Day as a "Hallmark holiday," an event made up by corporate America to suck a few more dollars out of wallets. That ship has sailed. All that's left is the cold, cruel reality of V-Day, and it can kick unsuspecting loving couples in the ass a helluva lot harder than Arbor Day.
The men folk have it the worst. Picture the psychic game of Twister facing a dude if he feels like he is in a "relationship," or would like to be in one some day. On one hand, he knows he can't screw it up. If he gives his beloved a gift certificate to Wendy's and she's expecting a diamond, he's toast.
Attempting to discern the appropriate gesture of amore involves a complex calculation using astronomy, Euclidian geometry and a deep understanding of 12th century witchcraft.
It all depends on The State of the Relationship. For a third date, a champagne and lingerie package-the dude's way of saying "tonight's the night"-might suffice, especially if the lady is already making the naked pretzel with the UPS guy.
At three months, things get trickier. Valentine's Day is suddenly transformed into a key measuring stick of the relationship's future. A See's $14.95 sampler and a night watching CSI may be a neon sign to the gal that the relationship is doomed, and, hey, that UPS guy sure looks good in those brown shorts.
For the couple that's been together for a year or more and is still not engaged, Valentine's Day is a dark event, sure to prompt the "Why are we still together?" conversation that all men dread. After two years, most men have used up all their cute ideas for V-Day gifts, and nothing is more pathetic than a dude who forgets that he already gave his main squeeze a teddy bear wearing an "I luv you" sash, readily available at any 7-Eleven for $12.95.
For married men, it's even worse. Technically, they no longer need to pay to get laid, according to the fine print on the marriage certificate. And yet their lovin' brides still expect meaningless but amazingly expensive disposable gifts, even though the kids' college account is already 12 years under-funded.
At the other end of the spectrum, nothing says pussy-whipped like a married man carrying a gigantic Valentine's Day gift basket. This is a sure sign that the hubby is resigned to simply unleashing the credit card each February, making "expression of love" an annual budgeted line item.
Women, of course, recognize this, which means they ratchet up the pressure. A man who gives a gold bracelet one year had better come through with a diamond the next, or he will soon face a shrieking madwoman who is sure the relationship has started to slide.
Unfortunately there are no textbooks to help men on this topic. Women have very specific expectations for the appropriate way to honor St. Valentine's love, and they're not sharing. It's like playing a game of guess-the-number and only women know the number.
Women, truth be told, enjoy this little game. There's something about Valentine's Day that turns even hard-chargin', feminist Career Gals into sobbing romance novel queens. The V-Day chip is deeply embedded in every woman and can't be removed, even by liposuction. She may say she doesn't want anything. "Don't bother," she might say. "Put the money in the bank for next time little Timmy needs a catheter."
Heck, she might even mean it when she says, "Roses are just going to die next week and then I'll have to throw them in the trash." But right below the surface she's turning into a sobbing pile of Jell-o at the thought that her lame-ass man isn't going to get her anything.
This wee dichotomy invariably leads men into a state of latent bitterness, which consumes their souls, even though they try to hide it by expressing joy at yet another trip to Bed Bath & Beyond.
To the penis carriers, it just doesn't make sense. If they bring home roses on Feb. 12 and perform a striptease while dressed like a randy foreman, it won't mean squat if they settle for a cute e-mail greeting card on Feb. 14.
They resent the artificial concept that forces them to get on all fours and bark like a dog once a year. Even worse, they know they have no choice, and that really pisses them off.
If the dude has any doubts about the sad course of his life, he need only attempt the perennially lame, "Dear, I don't believe in this regimented gift-giving crap. I want to give you gifts spontaneously out of the joy and love in my heart."
After he retrieves his teeth from the garbage disposal, he will remember that Valentine's Day is not an occasion to be taken lightly.
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SD citybeat.com.