Sometimes the pain is hers. Sometimes the pain is his. Sometimes there isn't any pain, but that's comedy, not romance.

The wonder of it all, of course, is that we continue to go on with it, even in this town which thinks little of lightweights and lunacies that can't be legislated. Administrations change, races are lost, but it's still the same old story and here are a few of them. Changes have been made in the names and identifying details of the participants .

"Let me tell you what they can do with Valentine's Day," said Marcie the expert, hosing 7-Up, then Coke, then soda, then water across four mixed drinks. Marcie didn't even look, just hit those plastic buttons and handed the glasses to the waiter with a flourish that implied, somehow, that he had a lot to learn.

I mentioned that to her once, how every time I bought a drink from her she gave me the feeling that I'd missed something along the way, that if brains were dynamite, as the saying goes, I wouldn't have enough to blow my nose.

"Well," she said, "if you don't want to feel stupid, what do you drink for?"

I asked myself the same question a few years later as it happened, but that night, facing Valentine's Day, I liked getting stupid enough to listen to Marcie's wisdom.

"What they should do with Valentine's Day is take it seriously," Marcie said, culling the over-foam off a draft with a tongue depressor acquired in the days when she'd gone out with the medical student.

"Make it like Pearl Harbor Day," I said, getting the idea.

"Exactly," Marcie said. "The admission of disaster. Like, on Valentine's Day we should return everything we took when we walked out, or at least half of it. The Fleetwood Mac records, the dental floss, the Valium, the coleus plant."

"Even though your ex only bought the plant because he killed yours by leaving it on the radiator all weekend?"

"Right," Marcie said."However, never return mood rings, stuffed animals or weird underwear."

"Not me," I said. She was humming now, stunting up and down the duckboards they still had on the floor from the time it was a topless barmaid joint and they wanted them staring you in the eye.

"And on the Sunday following Valentine's Day," Marcie announced, "in honor of the inevitable collapse of all romance, do not eat eggs benedict in a restaurant decorated with shingles and hanging plants."

"What about the Bette Davis double bill at the Biograph?"


"No walks along the C&O Canal?"

Marcie didn't bother to answer, leaning closer for her ultimate counsel."In no case," she said, "should you make love with anyone on a rug."

There was more. It made me feel terrible. Men are the real romantics, after all. Though I couldn't vote against Marcie's plan for a moratorium on snotty remarks about the ex's amatory worth, or for one day in the year you could decide not to clinch with your new one at parties every time your old one came into view.

She lined up seven glasses, three of them gin-and-tonics. She played the mixer dispenser like it was the left side of an accordion at a Rhode Island wedding but she went too far with the limes. It was a 10-inch toss on the last one and she missed.

She sighed. You could see it hurt.

"It's not as easy as it looks," I said.

"You're telling me." CAPTION: Illustration, "William, do you have the courage to love?" Drawing by Koren, Copyright (c) 1977, The New Yorker Magazine Inc.