Search This Blog

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tomato Tales

In preparation for the planting of tomatoes, I spent months carting banana peels and coffee filters out to my compost bin, taking solace when my novels resisted writing, that at least I was making brilliant dirt. 
Come spring, I spooned my homemade compost into planters and then went off in search of a few, needy, inexpensive vegetable plants, to love and to cherish, until death do us part. Thus far, it has been exclusively their deaths. Their depleted corpses sent to the compost, but we both know the plant world will eventually get its turn to feast on my remains.  
Meanwhile I tuck the wee plants in like babies in a crib. I don’t name them, but I watch them grow, each, as is the nature of things, differently. I take pride in this one’s height, in the strength of that one’s young stalks, in the texture of their leaves and their yellow blossoms, as if all are a reflection of their devotion and gratitude, as well as proof of my exemplary worthiness. 
In my benevolent, omnipotent way, I tend to their needs, propping up a branch there, scattering fertilizer, banishing the weeds. 
I neither threaten nor bully. No need to rub their little noses in the precariousness of their fates. If they just peer out of their planters they’ll see the dry yellow grass I’ve abandoned to the drought. They’ll notice cacti and succulents growing where their needier brethren once grew.  Lift their little plant eyes and they’d see the surrounding hillsides have become heaps of kindling, just itching to burst into flames. 
My tomatoes get breakfast in bed, straight from the hose. 
And in exchange, I occasionally pluck their perfect babies from their arms and pop them in my mouth.  Their bodies, sweet, juicy and still warm from the sun, explode between my enormous teeth. 
I hate to think they offer their fruits like desperate villagers sacrificing their choicest virgins, fearing my wrath, and my fickle nature as clearly evidenced by the hard packed dirt where once a green lawn flourished...
And I hate to think they don’t offer them at all, but are simply unable to defend them from my insatiable, hairy, bipedal, heartlessness.
In the end it is hard to know what they think of me. Try as I do to think like a plant and see things from their point of view, it is difficult to know if I got it right. As I wander the yard of a morning, coffee in hand, nodding to my fig tree, saluting the eggplants, do they see Kindly Old Amy bringer of Water? Or do they smirk and make snide comments about my ass?  Do they tremble and quake asking one another if this is the day their young will be wrested from their bosom?
Parallels aplenty. The boss who believes he is beloved, because everyone laughs at his jokes and feigns interest in his grandson’s little league prowess.  Store manager who doesn’t even suspect he has a nick-name, let alone its nature. The principal who believes he is adored by the faculty. The Marine Sergeant who thinks he is respected. The PTA president who is sure that everyone loves her pasta salad with prunes. The politician, the coach... 
It occurs to me as I write these thoughts, that many things are amiss here. For one, as a vegetarian, personifying my garden could lead to starvation. And two, this may mean my fiction writing has expanded past the reasonable boundaries of keyboard and screen, implying time to up my meds. And three, it is possibly my utter powerlessness over my publishing fate that inspires me to lumber as a gristly flesh-eating monster loose and terrifying in the yard. 
Luckily my plants don't seem to hold a grudge. Or they think life at any cost is worth the imperfect trade. This is evidenced by the eager volunteer tomato plants springing up from last years crop as if to say, “I’m back! Let’s do it again! Absolved! 

The edited version of this blog appeared in the L.A. Times 
on Sunday July 15, 2012.  Here's the link:,0,1209653.story