Special To The Washington Post
This is a column about tomatoes. Nothing political, nothing about the bitter controversy – Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable? – that has broken up marriages and torn families apart. A tomato is a fruit, since it is the ovary of the plant, but we don’t put tomatoes on ice cream or on our cereal, do we? No, we don’t. We treat it as a vegetable. We know we’re wrong but we don’t care. You don’t like it, go live in New Zealand.
As we rappers would say:
It’s on, it’s on, we’re cuttin it,
Lil sugar, it’s a tomata scene
Eat it red or fry it green
Got the anti-oxidant lycopene
Same God who made us
Also made tomatas
No, this is about the aphrodisiac powers of the tomato, which I have experienced recently, and if you are offended by frank speech and plain descriptions of sensual moments between consenting adults, then read no further. Go soak your head in a tub of wet kale. Go read Jane Austen. Go watch golf on TV.
The Puritans of New England forbade tomatoes (“the love apple”) as stimulating carnal desire and that led to the western movement. “Go west, young man,” said Horace Greeley. “Throw off the old garments of shame and repression. Behold and beget!” – or words to that effect – and people did exactly that. They hightailed it out of Boston and reached the fertile plains and built houses where nobody could see them and planted acres of tomatoes.
I have been eating six fresh tomatoes a day for the past month and women cannot keep their hands off me. It’s gotten to where I must sneak down to the supermarket at 2 a.m. wearing shades and a blond wig and even so women follow me through the produce department, whispering things.
I went out for lunch the other day with two young women who had brought a couple men along – their drivers, I guess, or financial advisers – and I ordered halibut with a side of so-called “heirloom” tomatoes, which were very fresh and tomatoey, they outshone the halibut, which may have been heirloom or might’ve been a common trailer-trash halibut, and I savored them, lightly salted, four tomatoes, three of them red and one yellowish. It was an excellent lunch, me and two lissome, nubile women and two generic men, and at one point, one put her hand on my thigh. Her left hand on my right thigh. She was saying, “People said Bernie couldn’t win but they weren’t there, they didn’t feel the excitement” but what she meant was “You are a hunka hunka burning love and if we were alone right now, you would be at my mercy.”
I felt the other woman’s big toe touch my shoe. She had taken her shoes off. She touched my foot and she didn’t withdraw her toe right away. She said, “Your hands are so big. Big enough to wrap them around a tomato.” I said, “You might be right about that.” Playing her along.
Those two young women grew up on mass-market tomatoes genetically engineered to have a shelf life of two or three months, a juiceless tomato that tasted like old tennis balls and was strip-mined in Texas and California, whereas I grew up in a home with a half-acre garden, tomatoes and sweet corn the top crops, and it was common for us, while hoeing, to reach down and pick a tomato, brush the dust off, and eat it on the spot. As a result, I departed from Calvinism and embraced universalism, whatever that may mean. I put math aside and focused on fiction. In math, you don’t often find a woman’s hand on your thigh. In fiction, it’s almost inevitable.
We did not have the term “heirloom” back in the day but then the mass-market tomato came to prominence, ushered in by a fruit tycoon named Donald J. Tomato, who introduced the Huge Tomato. Big as a breadbox. They were inflated with noxious gases and you took a bite and it went pssssssssssssssssssss.
OK, so I lied about there being no politics. So sue me. I dare you. I have a great deal with this paper and am earning millions because everyone loves me. Latinos, Latin scholars, Latvians, you name it. My numbers are out of this world. I play golf in the 60s, my blood pressure is amazing, my PSA fantastic, and my IQ – you wouldn’t believe it.
© 2016, Garrison Keillor