I am going to hell. When I tell you what I’ve done you will nod and say, “Yep, he’s definitely getting a top-of-the-line condo on the Lake of Fire.”
Truthfully, I’m not sure how it happened. All I know is that a devilish impulse can strike out of nowhere, and it can ruin a man’s soul forever.
I learned this from one of my grade school teachers, Mrs. Michaels. She was a committed Pentecostal woman with a beehive hairdo who smelled like bath powder.
She told us that it was easy to end up in hell. All you had to do was listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd or play Dungeons and Dragons board games. And before you knew it, (snap!) it was everlasting pitchforks.
My downward spiral into depravity happened this afternoon when I was driving past my neighbor’s house. I saw something in his vegetable garden. Something gleaming in the midsummer sun. Bright red fruit, hanging from sacred vines.
I pulled into my neighbor’s vacant driveway. I glanced both directions. The residential street was empty. There were no witnesses.
The first thoughts of sin entered my mind. And an eerie calm settled onto the world, like the stillness before a tornado. I went in for a closer look.
Throughout my life I have met a lot of people who hate tomatoes. I’ve never understood this. My friend Ryan, for instance, wouldn’t touch tomatoes. He was the kind of kid who would only eat spaghetti topped with melted American cheese, which just shows you what kind of guy we were dealing with.
For years we couldn’t convince Ryan to so much as sniff a tomato. Until one day, I still don’t know how we did it, we finally got him to eat some canned tomatoes.
Moments after eating them, we discovered Ryan was deathly allergic to canned tomatoes. His lips began to swell. An ambulance was called. Sirens blaring. The whole neighborhood came out.
Ryan’s mother never let him play board games with us again.
I unlatched my neighbor’s garden gate. I crept through rows of squash, zucchini, and heirlooms. And I took in a deep breath.
I love everything about tomatoes. Even the smell of the plant is its own precious joy. I like the aroma of the stalks, the leaves, and the yellow flowers. There is a slightly spicy fragrance to the tomato plant, and it really rings my bell.
The tomato is an interesting fruit, historically speaking. Ancient tomatoes were mostly poisonous before the Aztecs in Peru and Southern Mexico domesticated them. And they didn’t just use them as food, but as hallucinogenics.
Tomatoes are never mentioned in the works of Shakespeare, or the Bible. But most elderly Pentecostal grade school teachers agree that stealing them is wrong.
I tried knocking on my neighbor’s front door to ask if I could buy a couple tomatoes. But nobody answered. So I went around back and knocked again. Nobody was home.
That’s when the darkness overtook me. I plucked two beefsteak tomatoes from the vine. I casually carried them away in broad daylight. I’m so ashamed.
I tried not to think of what Mrs. Michaels would say. Because I already know. I had broken the seventh commandment and this was the end. Mrs. Michaels was very black-and-white about these things.
She was one of many childhood teachers in my youth who instilled Old Testament fear into me. You have to understand, I was raised Southern Baptist. Fear was a recurring theme with us. Our Sunday school classes were about as fun as being stabbed in the thigh with a BIC pen.
Our Sunday school teachers carried pool cues for classroom pointers. The same favored weapons of barroom brawlers all over the nation.
These were hard women who did not mess around. Take Mrs. Evans. She once told our Sunday school class that the sin of stealing a paperclip was no different in the eyes of God than hotwiring a Camaro.
And I don’t even want to tell you what happened when Mrs. Evans found out you owned “Charlie’s Angels” trading cards.
So I decided to eat my neighbor’s tomato. Because even though my eternity hung in the balance, there are some things a man can’t help.
I opted for the good old-fashioned tomato sandwich.
The tomato sandwich. One of the most cherished rites of humanhood. I can think of nothing more nostalgic than the taste of Duke’s mayonnaise, white Bunny bread, and the tender homegrown fruit of heaven.
Some people add bacon. I don’t. Either way, a tomato sandwich tastes exactly like Elvis singing the national anthem.
I used two pieces of bread. I slathered enough mayo on each slice to wax the steps of Buckingham Palace. I salted the tomatoes. And even though I knew it wouldn’t help my eternal soul, I said grace anyway.
I took a bite. And an entire lifetime came back to me. Everything. All at once. The good, the bad, the ridiculous. It was like being hit by a seismic sea wave.
I remembered the hot summers of a long-gone childhood. And the warm evenings spent among my people. When you eat a tomato sandwich, if you don’t feel something profound you’re doing it wrong.
So I won’t lie to you. It was such a wonderful experience that I could have either cried, tap-danced, or started singing for joy.
Sadly, I won’t be doing any of that where I’m going.