The Tomato Episode
He had been, for many years, intrusive, selfish, callous, controlling, petty, and childish, and given to prevarication, forgetfulness, and maddening self justification. An almost intolerable clod of a husband, whose smug egotism made him a good target for his wife’s occasional, unexpected, and thoroughly justified countermeasures. One night, when his wife asked him to slice a tomato for their supper, he took a large, ripe tomato out of the refrigerator, and noticed that there was a half tomato there as well, covered tightly in shrink wrap. He took that out, too. He had sliced this half tomato and was beginning to slice the whole tomato, when his wife asked him why, why he’d sliced the half tomato when she had expressly asked him to slice a tomato, a whole tomato. With the counterfeit, smug patience that often causes brutal assaults and even murders to be committed upon those who pretend its possession, he explained that he’d sliced the half tomato and would now slice half of the whole tomato, so that they could “use up,” was his phrase, the older, so to speak, half tomato, and save half of the newer, so to speak, whole tomato. He indeed employed the phrase, “so to speak,” in itself a maddened attacker’s defensible justification for battery. He quietly noted that if it was her heart’s desire, he would slice the entire whole tomato, should she feel that a tomato and a half would not be too much for supper, considering, no, knowing of the wonderful meal that she was certainly preparing. She asked him why he thought, why in Christ’s name did he think, what gave him the goddamned idea that she wanted him to slice the goddamned half tomato to begin with. Huh? He said, almost bloated with reasonableness, that it seemed a perfectly reasonable “operation to perform,” yes, he said that, that is: to “use up” the half a tomato that had been in the refrigerator since the day before yesterday, losing flavor and juiciness and vitamins and fucking minerals, whatever the hell they have, to eat the thing, made perfect sense to him. Did he ever, ever, ever, she asked, stop to think that maybe she was saving that half a tomato for something, that she had plans for it? Plans?, he said. Plans? Plans? He said that if she indeed had, ah, plans, big plans for the fucking half a fucking tomato, could she not use the half tomato that would be left after he finished slicing the whole tomato? Couldn’t she? She told him that it wasn’t his business to decide for her which half a tomato she wanted to use. To use, he said, to implement your big plans. She said that her decisions were her decisions and that if she wanted to take all the miserable goddamned tomatoes and throw them out the window, it was her business! He said that he hadn’t intended to make decisions for her, God forbid, he simply thought that blah blah and sensible blah, that he thought that it was something that she herself would do, blah. You have no idea, you have no idea, you don’t have any idea what I’d do about it, you have no idea what I’d do about anything, that’s the trouble, that’s always been the trouble, and wasn’t, she added, wasn’t it about time that he seriously started looking for a job?, with his Master’s in sociology? And did it ever occur to him while he watched the ball game that she didn’t feel like eating a stale tomato, a dried out tomato, that she wanted a fresh tomato? Or was the ball game too intellectually demanding? She said that when she asked him to do something she wished that he would, just once, do it, and not do something else and then spend three hours trying to convince her that that’s what he thought she wanted him to do. I ask you to cut a tomato, cut a tomato! At which, with a small, hapless smile, he asked her, whining, whether she wanted him to continue slicing the whole tomato, or just half of it, and what about the sliced half tomato now? He stood, slightly slumped, as if crushed in spirit, unmanned, impotent, a posture which his arrogant sneer belied. She said that he could do what he wanted to do, the king of the kitchen, the reader of minds, the weaver of dreams, he could slice, not slice, stick the tomatoes up his ass slice by slice, send them to the goddamned stupid millionaire bastard Pittsburgh Cubs. As for her, she didn’t want any tomatoes or any supper, for that matter! She washed and dried her hands and walked out of the kitchen. What about the chicken? he asked. What about the chicken? I said, what about the chicken? And the rice? The sliced tomato on the cutting board had the placid look of all blameless objects that have been swiftly carried across time so as to bewilder and confound.
This is a variation on a certain kind of common marital quarrel. The elements are simple and faintly absurd, yet they must be understood as counters that have negligible literal value. The quarrel, that is, is metonymic, as are all inane quarrels. Such quarrels are very much like dreams. You remember dreams.
Elements that might enrich this quarrel are many and diverse, the most interesting being any that have to do with the past, where all resentments and failures and regrets lie in a state of horrible suspended animation, ready, at the slightest nudge, to wake and shamble out of the darkness, unchanged, unchanging, terrible to behold.
“The tomato episode” featured RUTH and HER LOUDMOUTH BELLIGERENT YAHOO HUSBAND. We don’t let anybody get away with anything.
“Now’s the time to fall in love,” Eddie Cantor says. As it was in 1931, so it is now and ever shall be, love without end. Amen.
“It says on this note that I’ve been asked to read,” adds Eddie Cantor, “‘This could, too, be Dolores and her husband, the plumber.’”
Little Casino by Gilbert Sorrentino. Copyright © 2004 by Gilbert Sorrentino. Published by Coffee House Press. Reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.