I greet you today with good news and bad news. If you’re the superstitious type, the bad news is it’s Friday the 13th … all day! On the other hand, if you’re the romantic type, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and you still have time to get your honey a present. Commercials everywhere insist you buy roses, chocolates, lingerie or diamonds. (Or face being celibate until next Valentine’s.)

This year it’s estimated that Americans will spend will spend $17.6 billion on Valentine’s Day, the second highest grossing holiday behind only Christmas. (Unless like me, you’re not in a relationship, in which case welcome to the club.)

But for those who are, just whose wallet is at the mercy of Cupid’s arrow and what are they buying? It seems that among the most popular Valentine’s gifts are teddy bears, some as big as 6 feet tall and costing as much as $200. (What a country!)

In pitching teddy bears the commercials literally say, “Flowers are going to die in a few days, and if you buy chocolates she’ll just say they make her fat.” In the ads, the hot models gaze lovingly at the huge bear as if he’s sexier than George Clooney. (The bear likely has less ego needs than Clooney?)

Call me cynical, but a year from now I can see these giant teddy bears selling for $5, or best offer, in garage sales all across the county.

The Valentine’s teddy bear craze is also trying to capitalize on the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie, which is based on the book that sold 100 million copies. The “limited-edition” bear is being offered by the Vermont Teddy Bear Co., a purveyor of all things cute, cuddly and vaguely ursine. Quoting from the website, Teddy features “smoldering eyes, a suit and satin tie, mask — even mini handcuffs.” (Good grief!)

In these so-called liberated times, it turns out that gender weighs heavily on the price tag of Valentine’s Day. The average male spends $168.74, which is nearly double the $85.76 that the average female spends. Meanwhile, the 25-34 age range spends the most at $176.85, with the 65-plus category spending the least at $79.97.

But who is St. Valentine? One legend contends that he was a priest in 3rd century Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine bravely defied Claudius and performed marriages for young lovers in secret.

When Valentine’s actions were discovered Claudius ordered that he be put to death. (Aw, how romantic.) By theMiddle Ages, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France. And before long the holiday came to America where it became a boon for businesses, apparently including the hawking of teddy bears.

But while Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, today is Friday the 13th. And being such, today we’re supposed to avoid walking under open ladders. (Any ladder tall enough for me to walk under, no matter what the date, is one I generally avoid.) Frankly, given the litigious nature of society, the last open ladder on the sidewalk I remember seeing was in a Three Stooges movie.

Among other things we are supposed to avoid today is tripping over a black cat. (Again, bad for you on any day, not to mention for the cat.) And avoid breaking mirrors because, if you do, prepare for really rotten luck for the next seven years. I guess the trifecta would be tripping over a black cat, careening under an open ladder and breaking a mirror in the process.

Other Friday the 13th no-nos include: “Don’t spill salt” with the proviso that if you do, throw it over your left shoulder; try not to find spiders and don’t have an owl look through your window, though that would seem to be up to the owl; don’t open an umbrella indoors, unlikely during our current heat wave; don’t put new shoes on the table (meaning old shoes are okay? If so, remind me not to eat at your table); avoid walking on cracks in the pavement; don’t let birds in your house; and don’t cut your hair or nails inside (“I’ll be right back, Joe, I’m just going outside to cut my toenails.”) And lastly, if you see a magpie, tell it to fly away.

Frankly, I’m just grateful that not on the list of things to avoid on this day is reading humor in a newspaper, i.e. “Laughing Matters.” Unless, of course, you’re doing so while walking under an open ladder. In that case, this column is intended as a disclaimer and as such relieves me and the Daily Press from any legal liability. And in the holiday spirit, may I just say, “Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!”

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