Catching Up With Tomatoes

LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION

I am coming out of the post office, minding my own business, and a lady slaps a bag of tomatoes in my hands, jumps in her car and drives away. I ain’t surprised.

I am in Folsom where my daughter Gumdrop lives. In Folsom, everybody grows vegetables right out of the ground. (I grew up to believe vegetables came from Schwegmann’s. Live and learn.) Problem is, this year everybody in Folsom is overrun with tomatoes.

Now, these are real good-tasting tomatoes – better than anything you buy in a store. So nobody wants to throw them away. They share them. They share them with a vengeance. You would think they’re process servers.

If you leave your car unlocked, they’ll leave a sack of tomatoes in the passenger seat. Dash out to the store and they’ll stick a box of tomatoes on your porch. If you got a picket fence like Gumdrop, they’ll hang plastic bags of tomatoes on it and run away. Gumdrop harvests her fence twice a day.

She has dried tomatoes, puréed tomatoes, roasted tomatoes and barbecued tomatoes; she’s made tomato soup, tomato sauce, tomato aspic and tomato pie. I even caught her Googling a recipe for tomato ice cream. She finally put up a sign on the fence, “No tomatoes, thanks.”

It don’t help. Too polite. She should’ve used threats.

It ain’t like that in New Orleans. Not yet.

But things are changing. Now they got what they call urban gardening.

They also got urban beekeeping and urban chicken raising. Before long, there’ll be urban pig slopping. Maybe there already is; that might explain some of the sights I see in the French Quarter.

I know all about these developments from my sister-in-law, Gloriosa, who’s always cutting the edge of whatever’s in style.

Gloriosa is growing tomatoes in her backyard Uptown, next to her endless lap pool. (The pool is endless, not her lap.) She is also getting ready to throw a Fall Harvest party and she needs me to help out, like usual. There will be a couple of college presidents, a plastic surgeon, assorted rich people and even some neighbor who was once Rex, King of Carnival.

I bring along my gentleman friend, Lust, and since he owns The Sloth Lounge, she puts us in charge of drinks. Lust is a bar owner, not a bartender, but he says he’ll whip up his Slothful Mary – like a Bloody Mary but better. He uses real tomatoes. Gloriosa got a bunch of them from her garden lined up on the window, so he throws them in the blender along with some other secret ingredients, like Tabasco and vodka.

Well, the Slothful Mary turns out to be the hit of the party. His Majesty the Ex-Rex insists we whip up another batch. And then another. And another. Finally we have to go out to the garden with a flashlight and pick every ripe tomato we can find.

By this time, Gloriosa is in her cups – she’s drunk a whole lot of Slothful Marys, and she ain’t making much sense. But we’re making such good use of her tomatoes, I’m sure she’ll thank us in the morning.

And I happen to be back at her house then, because I forgot my cellphone. When I walk in, Gloriosa’s husband, Proteus, is staring into a cup of coffee; the kids are watching TV and slopping up cereal and Gloriosa is still in bed. I tap on the bedroom door and ask her if she wants some dog hair to make her feel better, but she makes a strangled sound and then some worse sounds. I go help Proteus get the kids ready. He will drop them off at school on his way to work. Finally they leave, and Gloriosa emerges with a flowered kimono flapping around her, like a seriously wounded butterfly
“Today I got URGC,” she says.

“Stay in the bathroom,” I say.

“Uptown Regional Garden Competition,” she says. “I’m supposed to enter my best tomatoes – uhh …” and then she really has to go urgc, and I realize we drank her entries last night.

Now any normal person would tell them URGC people she had caught a bug andcouldn’t make it.

Not Gloriosa. Gloriosa has to be better at everything than anybody. She started out as the Gunch family beauty. Now that ain’t saying much, but she’s also more gorgeous than most movie stars and has bigger bosoms. Plus she has a richer husband, smarter kids, a cleaner house and a better-manicured yard than anybody for blocks around. But she’s still a Chalmette girl living Uptown, which shouldn’t make no difference to nobody, but she thinks she has to prove herself. So she throws big parties and joins fancy clubs, and whenever she competes, she wins.

I yell to Gloriosa that I’m going out to get her some Alka-Seltzer. I do, and I also pick up some supermarket tomatoes. They ain’t as red and squishy as Gloriosa’s and I’m pretty sure they won’t taste like much, but I clip a few holes in them with my toenail clippers, so at least they look homegrown.

I slip into the kitchen and start lining them up on the windowsill
Then Gloriosa teeters in. “URGC is next week.”

Then she very sweetly gives me my own tomatoes, holes and all, as a thank-you for helping out.

On the way home, I stop by His Majesty’s house, hang my bag of tomatoes on his wrought-iron picket fence and drive away.

I can share, too. I call it urban sharing. With a vengeance.

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