Let's Talk About Love

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This Valentine’s Day, some Occidental students will inevitably celebrate with a romantic night out, while others may attend the RiFF RAFF concert at the House of Blues or simply try to ignore the holiday altogether. While they may gush about their plans to friends and significant others, most students are clueless as to the Valentine’s Day plans of other familiar faces on campus. In the spirit of Saint Valentine, the Occidental Weekly spoke with Occidental faculty and staff about dating, Necco Conversation Hearts and their best stories from Feb. 14th.

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Professor Dan Fineman works in the English Department. He has been at Occidental since 1979 and focuses primarily on American literature and literary theory.

Occidental Weekly: What are your Valentine’s Day plans?

Dan Fineman: I will probably take my wife out to dinner, I’ve already purchased her a ring. My wife is a jewelry maven, and I feed her habit. I’m, what do they call it, an enabler! Well, I have two [rings], actually. I buy these in advance so that I’m ready. We’ve been together since 1979, so you get used to what you need to do to preserve your relationship.

OW: What’s the best gift that you’ve given for Valentine’s Day?

DF: My wife has always been fascinated with felines. I made an arrangement with a local facility that supplies semi-wild animals to the movies and I told her we were just taking a drive, and I took her out to a place where they allowed her to hang out with some tigers and tiger cubs. She liked that.

OW: What about the worst gift?

DF: I’ve largely given up on clothing.

OW: You met your wife here in 1979, correct?

DF: Yes, I’ve been a professor here forever and everything used to be manual, the computer basically didn’t exist, so grades were turned in manually. My wife was working in the Registrar’s Office and she came in and was always very nice to me, and I asked her out in May of 1979.

OW: What did you do on your first date?

DF: We went to see a Woody Allen movie, Manhattan, and had some Thai food.

OW: What is your favorite love song?

DF: I don’t have a favorite love song. I often find love songs kind of schmaltzy. Well, the whole soundtrack to Manhattan was “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin, which is nice because it’s some interesting music. That’s the closest we have. We don’t have “a song.”

OW: What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?

DF: Oh God, I wouldn’t tell you. This would be a very long list of mistakes and errors. I’ll tell you one which I think is, oh no, I can’t tell you that one either. Forget it, let’s say I’ve had my fill of unsuccessful dates, decades ago, and now they’re all fading into the darkness.

OW: If you could write a brief phrase to go on a Necco Conversation Heart, what would it be?

DF: “Without you, nothing.” Just getting way too sentimental.

OW: How do you think Occidental has changed since you began teaching here?

DF: In regard to love and romance? I think the whole society has become, with good reason, much more self-conscious about sexual assault, keeping track of people’s space, bad exercises of power. I think the good effect of that is that people have more self-consciousness about those things, although they clearly still do happen. The bad result is that people tend to view each other as legal liabilities, which means that people tend to be a little more standoffish, which is also understandable.

OW: Is there a romantic piece of literature that you think everyone should read?

DF: I’m a big booster for Emily Dickinson. I’d rather say that she’s about intensity and passion not necessarily rendered as romance or sentiment. Her poems always amaze me.

OW: Do you like Valentine’s Day?

DF: No. Most holidays in the United States have become so thoroughly commercialized that it’s very hard to take seriously. Valentine’s Day tends to want to transcribe things into standard sentiment, and as far as I can tell, everyone’s relationship is complex and different and so I think the notion that we can just cut out an iconic heart and get on with our business is not quite right.

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Kathy Lauriha has worked in Dining Services at Occidental for 18 years. Before she came to Occidental, she was a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines (TWA). Lauriha is beloved on this campus for her warm greetings in the Marketplace and for her carefully made sandwiches.

OW: TWA, that’s awesome! Can you tell us a little more about that?

Kathy Lauriha: It was a really good airline in the ‘60s. It was just TWA and Pan Am. We used to laugh at Delta [Airlines] because they served everything in paper cups and we did everything in glasses. It was very nice. When I was in college, you could be a nurse or a teacher and that was about it. You never really saw women doctors or lawyers. The jets came out in 1959 and they needed a lot of people, and it sounded really good, and it was really good.

OW: If you could write a phrase to go on a Necco Conversation Heart, what would it be?

KL: “Be kind.”

OW: Do you have a memory of either a really good or a really bad date in college?

KL: They all went really well! I wish I could give you a bad one, but they were good. Life was different then, it was a little simpler.

OW: What is your favorite love song?

KL: “The Way We Were” from the movie with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford.

OW: What is some advice that you would give to college students now about surviving the dating scene?

KL: I would suggest going out with someone who has a sense of humor, because that always helps. And don’t get too serious too soon, because there’s a whole world ahead of you and you never know who you’re going to run into when you get out of here. And have fun! Talk to a lot of people and just be careful, if you know what I mean.

OW: What is the best gift you’ve ever received, on Valentine’s Day or otherwise?

KL: One time my daughter and I were in Hawaii with a friend, and we were robbed. The robbers watched us park at this deserted beach, and they stole my purse. And the person I was with just opened his wallet and said “take what you need, be it credit cards or anything,” and I just thought that was very sweet.

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Jenny Mendoza has worked in Dining Services at Occidental for 11 years. Known for her sassy Marketplace banter, Mendoza was surprisingly bashful as she sat down to chat with the Weekly.

OW: If you could go on a date with anyone, who would it be?

Jenny Mendoza: A Mexican singer named Saul El Jaguar.

OW: Have you ever done something crazy for love?

JM: Um, yeah. Have you?

OW: Working in the Marketplace, you definitely see a lot that goes on at Occidental. Do you notice things about people who might be dating, or have you hooked anyone up?

JM: Both! Right away you can tell when a guy is checking out a girl, and I’ll say “I saw you!” and they’re always like “Damn, you always catch me!” And I’ve hooked a couple of people up!

OW: What is your favorite love song?

JM: Probably an oldie from Brenton Wood.

OW: What is your dream date?

JM: I guess a romantic dinner somewhere with a pretty view of the city, or the ocean, something beautiful. I guess that’ll be all, but with candles and everything.

OW: Have you ever been on a really bad date?

JM: Yes! He was short, he had bad breath, he wouldn’t stop calling. He was nice, but I don’t know. I ended up going home and texting him instead of my friend saying it was the worst date ever!

OW: Do you have any dating advice for college students?

JM: Trust. And I hate lies. Just be straight up.

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Courtney Stricklin is the Assistant Director for Employer Relations in the Career Development Center. She graduated in 2003 and has worked at Occidental for the last three years. Fortunately, Stricklin was more than happy to take time out of her day for some less-professional chit-chat.

OW: Do you have any plans for Valentine’s Day?

Courtney Stricklin: Yes, it’s a whole weekend! I’m having Valentine’s Day with my husband on Thursday, on Friday I’m going to the Vagina Monologues with all my girlfriends and on Saturday [my husband and I are] going to our cousin’s wedding.

OW: How did you meet your husband?

CS: We actually met when we were eight years old. We have not been together since we were eight years old, but we did get together the day after I graduated from Oxy, dated for eight years and got married a little over three years ago.

OW: What is your favorite love song?

CS: “Stand By Me,” which is the song we danced to at our wedding. That was the only actual everything-I-had-ever-wanted thing planned for my wedding.

OW: As a recent grad, what advice would you give Occidental students pertaining to the dating scene here?

CS: I would say date lots of people and don’t worry about trying to make everything be perfect. Then, when you do find something that you think is perfect, take your time. I thought the eight-year plan was a really good plan; it worked really well for us. Being married is so much fun and so wonderful and I think all the things people say are hard about getting married we just figured out while we were dating instead, which is nice, because it has made marriage lots more fun.

OW: Do you have any fun stories from being a student here?

CS: I definitely got asked out by someone I was trying to convince to participate in a debate on abortion. He said he would do the debate only so we could go to dinner and talk about it, and then he told me he actually wasn’t going to go but wanted to take me out. That one didn’t really work out very well.

OW: If you could write a new phrase to go on a Necco Conversation Heart, what would it be?

CS: Selfishly, it would say “Courtney Rocks,” which is my license plate and on a gold Western belt buckle that I had made for me when I turned 21. It’s my personal mantra. When I was a student I used to try to change everyone’s screensaver to say “Courtney Rocks” when their computer went to sleep.

OW: What is the best Valentine’s Day that you’ve had to date?

CS: My husband and my first Valentine’s Day after we were married. He got me a cat, which was incredibly special because my cat of 17 years had died the week before our wedding, so I, in no uncertain terms, told him that I was going to require another one pretty soon in our life.

OW: Do you like Valentine’s Day?

CS: That’s a very good question, because I know a lot of women who hate it, and I totally understand that it is made up and fake and constructed, but I personally see no reason not to have just another excuse to tell [my husband] that I love him and have a reason to have dinner. Like, let’s be cute and happy and in love. That’s great. You can give me a million fake reasons for that and they can still be special and real. Since we hardly ever celebrate things on actual days, we get to find our own time to celebrate that. It doesn’t feel like it’s being constructed or put upon me. I’m getting to choose. I know a lot of women who have great times whether they’re in relationships or not. It’s just a fun time to tell people you love them and do something nice.

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Despite their diverse opinions on Valentine’s Day (and various levels of discomfort with this interview topic), the interviewees all seemed to agree on what we should always remember, lest we get caught up in the sea of mylar balloons and Ferrero Rocher gift boxes: kindness, originality and honesty matter above all else. So whether students are facing Saturday with cynicism, irreverence or butterflies in their stomachs, remember that there are plenty of other people on campus feeling the same way, and it is not just that kid down the hall who has been playing Sam Smith on full volume for 72 hours. And if all else fails, ask Kathy for some advice.