It was a bad day to be broke. Then college student Lonnie Anderson didn't possess enough cash to gas up his car and get to work, so he called in sick. He found himself in his garage, staring at the few materials he did have. "A rolled-up green hose, a bag of yellow garbage bags, some duct tape and some old white poster board." It was Valentine’s Day.
The daisies were the first huge project Anderson undertook for V Day so many years ago. Most of Anderson’s past girlfriends recall his large-scale valentines. Every year, he thinks beyond expensive dinners, 12 red roses and three-months salary worth of jewelry. Prizing those dull clichés as symbols of love—that's what advertising has done to us, he says.Anderson should know. His career has been in advertising, and he’s worked all over the country developing ads for big companies such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Nike. In Albuquerque, he works on drunk driving commercials for the state. But that's not how he wants to be remembered. "I believe you have to be as creative in your life as you are in your work," he says. "I don't want to be known as the guy who got the most advertising awards for some faceless corporation—like, I sold the most tennis shoes or the most Pepsi. I'd rather be known creatively for using my talent on my family, my kids, my wife."
That same woman ran the carousel, made the couple corsages and gifted them with a bottle of Champagne. "For nothing," he adds, "I didn't pay them anything to do it."
Prizing those dull clichés as symbols of love—that's what advertising has done to us.
She remembers their first Valentine's Day together. Anderson turned her tiny apartment in the Huning Highlands neighborhood into a giant game board complete with enormous dice. They were still getting to know each other, so to play, they answered questions like, "What are your three favorite desserts?"
Anderson says there were times when he didn't have a valentine and so made one for someone random. "Sometimes it was very cool," he says. "Once this homeless guy looked at me like, Are you crazy? Why are you giving me this? I don't want this."
Most of Anderson's grand-scale valentines invite positive interactions with strangers. "People just come out of the woodwork, and they get behind you and help you if you have an idea." There was the family who showed up to ride the carousel because they thought there was a carnival; the old woman who saw him putting out an "I Love Anne" yard sale sign and struck up a conversation; the man in the monster truck who stopped when Anderson was standing at the intersection to thank him for the V-Day reminder; and on and on.
Bolger-Witherspoon doesn't mind that their private holiday has grown increasingly public, this year ending up in the newspaper. "Lonnie is always about being an inspiration for others," she says. "He gets tickled when someone's like, Hey! This year I did such-and-such."
We've lost our way, says Anderson. Handcrafting a valentine is considered something a little kid does with glitter and Elmer's glue. "That's not what an adult does," he says. "You go buy it, you know? But making one shouldn't be shameful. We should still be making things for Valentine's Day."
See the winning homemade valentines submitted by Alibi readers here.
Anderson wouldn't reveal his plans for 2010 because he didn't want to ruin the surprise. Check in at alibi.com on Monday, Feb. 15, to find out what he did. We'll also have pictures and video of his V-Days past.