Skip admired his seedlings. Soon, soon it would be warm enough to put his cosseted tomato plants out in the garden. He was ready, so ready. This was going to be his year. His tomatoes were going to finally shame that turd Bennie’s.
It was a “friendly” competition between the gardeners of their little retirement community plots where the most prolific crop was tomatoes. Five years ago the homeowners association (headed by that turd Bennie) decided to hold a little harvest festival Labor Day weekend. Since most of the residents were retired it resonated as the official end of summer, rather than an occasionally depressing “back-to-work” signal.
Skip was a newcomer, but he didn’t like what he saw the last two Labor Day weekends. The smug mug of that turd Bennie with manicured hands that sure didn’t look like they pulled weeds regularly. And the widows all over his tomatoes offering to make his gravy on Sunday afternoons. Right. A true tomato man didn’t use the fruit of his vine as a cheap sex lure. Bennie smoked his big stogies and bragged he just ground the ashes and cigar stubs into the soil.
Skip had spent the winter planning his crop rotation, composting religiously, reading about organic pest control, researching the hardiest breeds of seeds. Like an athlete he visualized a successful outcome. He saw himself standing tanned and victorious at the judges’ table over his antioxidant rich red crop. His wife, on the other hand, took no interest in his, Bennie’s or any other tomato entrant’s strategy. She was happily retired and enjoying her trips to A.C. for her nickle winnings and quarterly gossip.
She had heard from her widow posse that Bennie was a bit of a “catch, ” if only because he was still interested in a lady’s companionship and kept up his personal hygiene — cigars withstanding. But this strange compunction of her own husband did not totally surprise her. Skip was a competitor and liked to play the underdog. She nodded sympathetically when he went blathering on about his heirloom seeds and special rabbit-resistant cages. “Yes, dear, ” she’d intone. But deep down she rooted for her husband and his ability to play from the rear of the field. And she wasn’t totally above plying Bennie’s latest conquest for a little bit of garden intel.
Who said living in a “55 and over” community was all canasta and mall walking? The tomato war would ripen into the juiciest event ever in short-term memory.