cads, douchebaggery, drunken tosspots, Flying Tomato, food fight, foolishness, kids today, louts, redemption, revenge, small town cops, Tardsie's True-Ass Tales, the Produce Wars, tosspots, watermelons
There were a lot more kids living in my neighborhood back at the time of the Cross-Lot Food Fight than there are today. In those days the town could support two elementary schools, and there wasn’t anywhere you could go within the city limits and not see a youthful face. This story is about young people, kids and young adults, and the delightfully destructive foolishness in which young people so often find themselves engaged.
It started when a flying tomato nearly knocked my neighbor Jason off his bike. A group of maybe six of us were playing in the street in a way kids rarely do these days, just being kids and not really playing at any one thing. Jason yelped as the crimson meteor sailed across his handlebars and dove into the street with a meaty thud. For a moment there was confusion; none of us had seen it coming.
We saw the volley that came next.
Four tomatoes arced through the empty air above an unused lot adjacent to the street, falling around us and striking the asphalt with heavy splats. Hoots of raucous laughter carried from behind the wooden plank fence at the far end of the lot, where because of the lot’s slope, we could see the head and shoulders of about a dozen people, all of them adults and old enough to know better.
The fog of war is deceiving, and there were some things we didn’t know. We believed that first Jason and then the rest of us had been the intended targets of the tomato barrage. We were not. In truth, when the whole thing kicked off, the gaggle of inebriated twenty-somethings had no idea we were even there. It started when first one of the guests, then a small mob, began raiding the yard’s tidy garden for tomatoes to hurl at a rusted-out jeep somebody had parked on the street side of the lot. The resident of the house, a hard-charging hellion named Brett, agreed that this was a fine idea. It didn’t matter, however, that we were never the intended targets; the opening salvo had been launched and we were now at war. We plucked the partially intact tomatoes from the pavement and from amidst the weeds of the lot and returned fire.
The drunken party-posse was throwing at us in earnest now, and we took some hits, but it kept us stocked in ammunition as we advanced on the fence. The barrage came hard, and by the time we reached the fence they’d run out of fresh tomatoes, and we were assailed by pulpy formless fruit that was sometimes just a bloody mess held together by a flap of skin. They plundered the garden’s treasures, and all manner of green and growing thing came sailing over the wooden divide that separated our two camps. One asshole even threw an entire watermelon over that fence; it sailed over the top of the wood for a few feet like some tie-dye zeppelin before plummeting earthward and spilling its guts into the weeds.
The only hit I took was as I climbed the fence, but it was a good one and left a bruise. As I came overtop the fence I interrupted a guy in the act of throwing a fairly intact and particularly unripe tomato. He walloped me in the side of the head and down I went. To his credit, my assailant was properly mortified that he’d punched a nine-year-old in the side of the head, and leaned over the fence to make sure I was all right. I gave him a face full of tomato scraps for his trouble.
The fight wound down not long after that. Having gained the yard, we didn’t know what to do with it, and anyway the garden was now just a churned and ravaged patch of earth. Also, just then the police showed up. The nasty old lady who lived next to me had called them, claiming an errant tomato had violated the sanctity of her front lawn. Small town cops can sometimes be the biggest dicks, and it didn’t help that the officer initially believed we’d vandalized a neighborhood garden in the most spectacular way imaginable. He was unkind, and one of my friends walked home crying, his wails trailing him all the way up the street. Fortunately, the drunken adults who had precipitated the messy melee came to our defense, and the affair ended rather anticlimactically.
Nobody plays in the empty lot any more. There just aren’t as many kids in town these days as when jobs were more plentiful and homes cheaper. My old elementary closed in the late 90s, and my kids go to the school across town. I haven’t spoken to Jason, the kid who nearly got knocked off his bike, in decades, but every now and then I see him in the front yard of his parents’ home and sometimes I’ll wave. I still talk to the kid who went home crying. He’s done well for himself, first as a political consultant here in the States, and now does PR work for various foreign regimes which need a little help refurbishing their public images. Brett, the drunken tosspot who hosted the garden-destroying party is now, predictably, a very successful and well-respected business owner who is rumored to enjoy spending time with his young grandchildren. Likewise, I can only assume that the rest of the fruit-chucking yahoos are now beloved pillars of the community. The old lady who called the cops is, of course, long-dead.
William Miller said:
“If looks could kill they probably will /
in games without frontiers /
war without tears.”
I remember rotten crab-apple fights in an overgrown garden with my friends next door to my house. Now it’s all fucking X-Box and recycled air.
Shit, I’m old.
Nice job, man
“Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt
Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it”
Thanks, Bill! We didn’t have crab-apples where I lived. I always figured they were invented for the TV show M*A*S*H*.
Regarding “fucking X-Box,” I feel you. Today is my older boys’ birthday, and the majority of their gifts are X-Box related.
That was such a vivid, entertaining tale, Smak! I also liked all the post-scripts, including what happened to the cranky old lady. No doubt your food fight was the highlight of her day and probably provided her with conversation all the way to the grave.
Thanks, V! I hope I provided her with an amusing conversation piece in this instance, ’cause it seems like most times I was giving her the frowns. I had old ladies on either side of me back then, and they couldn’t have been more different. The other neighbor, who died about ten years ago, was a lady named Esther that we all called “Lady.” She was practically the stereotype of the nice old neighbor lady.
Carrie Rubin said:
What a wonderful story, and your writing is beautifully descriptive (surely you’ve got a novel in you). But I can tell I’m getting old, because although the kid in me smiled at how much fun that must have been for you all (well, minus the head clobber), the adult in me thought of all those smashed tomatoes going to waste. Great. I’m officially my grandmother.
Thanks for the kind words, Carrie–that’s praise from Caesar. In fact, I did have a novel in me, it just wasn’t very good.
This was a lot of fun, and the pain of getting hit in the head or being scared by the police pales against the pleasure of a good memory.
Carrie Rubin said:
Definitely a good memory.
Really enjoyed that. And as always, you choose great pictures to accompany the texts. Quite fond of the first one especially.
Thanks, Tom! I try to put some thought into the pictures. The blog format is probably second only to comics (or, “sequential art/graphic novels” for those folks who feel the term comics is beneath their dignity) in its ability to combine words and pictures into a coherent narrative. The pictures can be punch lines or reinforce an idea, but they can also be used to further the narrative or to suggest things not included in the text.
In short, I think they’re neat.
Thanks for reading. Speaking of which, what’s going on with your work (since I can’t just go see for myself any more)? Any new volumes?
I love what you do.
In terms of my writing, not a thing is happening. I’m Stateside, back at uni, looking for a full-time teaching gig and about to start a part-time one.
Too distracted to take up the pen.
Crab apples were put amminitions as well..and an occasional tomatoe. You tell a good tale, Smak. Brought back many memories with your wonderful words. My neighborhood is changing..many young families movingin. When I hear a gaggle of young kids zipping down the street on their bikes, I smile, somethings are still present in life. Like the sound of a baseball card strategically placed on the spokes of the bike’s wheel—
Peter Gabriel was a good choice in the earlier comment. Far, far better than “Those were the days, my friend….”
At times, the kids do play in the streets in my neighborhood. And I cringe, hoping some idiot driver is actually paying attention to the surroundings for once rather than the phone.