I went this one alone. Factors contributing to the solo mission go as follows: Ralph is soon to be a father and has a laundry list of responsibilities a presidential candidate couldn’t handle at the moment, therefore he had to split right after performing the show; Todd had to be at his cousin’s wedding reception- notice how I said “reception” and not “ceremony”; And Patrick- well, Patrick just had to go be cool elsewhere. Watching him grow into his mid-20’s I’ve noticed his interest sway from the party & bullshit to the finer things in life. Can’t blame’em, Pat’s his own man- and a good one at that. Him and Linden made, and make, a perfect combo for Lazlo Supreme- both music picky, very detailed when it comes to live performance, and natural born introverts.
I don’t know it yet, but this would be the last hurrah for my old running shoes. They wrapped my feet tight enough to maneuver the upcoming apparatus, paired well with my running Nike shorts and overpriced simple tank top. Although the event was dubbed as the Midwest Tomato Fest, the entrance sign read “This Way to the Tomato Fight”. The fight was all the mattered, and I had to come back after performing with The Blend earlier in the day for the full day event to find out. To say the least for the anticipation building toward the Tomato Fight was incomprehensible at the moment. Kamal, a youth I had mentored and taken care of back when I had just graduated high school, now a full grown man and University of St. Thomas graduate had told me the tomatoes being used for the fight were soft as salsa. I would find this to be discreetly untrue in about 60 seconds.
The crowd is clearly drunk. Crushed cans of Grain Belt Nordeast bedded the pavement leading to the fenced tomato fight area. Women shouted obscenities at their male compatriots, perhaps to relieve the excitement or anxiety an outdoor food fight was capable of producing. The tomatoes seemed harmless at a the view of several layers of crowd from the entrance. A drunken woman and her friends began leaning over the entrance fence to blindly launch tomatoes in the air upon the crowd in waiting.
A glimpse of clarity streaked my conscience. The gentlemen to my left were wrapping their belongings in plastic, hiding it away in their shorts or underwear, a visibly drunk couple prepped their protective eyewear (goggles)- Sweet Mother of Breakfast, this fight was going to get downright immoral. SPLAT! Debris from the drunken girls next to the fence hit a foot away from me. Another gentlemen dodged it as well. The clarity ended with a strong voice in my head declaring, “Are you bullshitting me?!? There are 60,000 lbs of tomatoes ahead of you in an empty parking lot soon to be pitched with the furor of Curt Schilling (circa 2004, game 6 vs. NY Yankees) and you’re shuttering at a little bit of tomato paste? Negro, please!”
No prep signal, no moment of silence, no countdown….
VOOOOOM- the fence dropped to the parking lot. The people in front of me baby stepped pushing the crowd ahead of them. Video footage of soccer stadium riots riddled my brain for a split second thinking I’d be trampled to death. Press on, damn you, press forward! These people are unrelenting drunks, you must overpower the pace!
A woman went down hard in the pavement. One of her legs was caught in the crowd, stepped on, soon her skull at this pace. I pause to reach back to her. I couldn’t live with reading the tabloids tomorrow morning “YOUNG WHITE WOMAN SKULLCRUSHED IN TOMATO FIGHT ENTRY”. Dammit lady take my hand! Die during the fight, not before it!... Alas it was not to be- I was too far ahead. She’d become a casualty to the game… or her friends would help her up.
Toppled the first mountain of tomatoes. Kamal’s analysis wrought false- the tomatoes were less the consistency of soft salsa, and more the density of a softball. Before I could let one rip, before I could commit my arm to the destruction of someone else’s face by vegetable- BAM! A tomato disintegrated into my neck. Thrown at the speed of a bank robbery, I turned to the direction I thought it came from- BLAP! Another vegetable straight to the thigh. There was no time to think- adrenaline surged to the point the pain had forced me into a blind rage of melee. I couldn’t feel, see, or hear anything. It was at this exact moment I said one thing, and one thing only. It was the one quintessential phrase that need be uttered at a moment while standing atop a mountain of tomatoes- the sheer embodiment of what needed to be done, what a mercenary with no country to go home to says, the words of a samurai with no living family left declares…
“BRING THE RAAAAAAAAAAAIN”
The phrase exploded from my vocal cords out of its own volition. I quickly grabbed several tomatoes, clutched the lot of them into my left hand, jut my left knee out as if to make a twist to throw a shotput and whipped my right arm around palming but one tomato. It was a swift and deadly shot. I’d directly struck a man in the chest 5 feet in front of me. The blow was merciless, bloodless, and absolutely uncalled for. He looked me in the eye for a moment, speaking with his eyes “What the fuck bro?!? It’s just a tomato fight, chill out!”
There would be no chilling out, I stared back at him, blood pulsing, eyes cold, veins pushing away from my neck and forearm as if I were bench-pressing the world… There would be no chilling out whatsoever. The one sense that came back to me was fleeting, but helpful. My sight. When you’re in the belly of the beast with vegetables flying at over 30 miles per hour, the one thing you’ll notice more than anything is the air and sky before turn to red. To put it bluntly, you can’t see shit. If you have goggles, make sure they are strap-ons, because 2 minutes into the fight, the regular goggles were strewn about the ground
BLAP! “Shit!” Another neck shot, this time straight on to the larynx- BOOM!... … …
My right ear went deaf for a few seconds. This hit had pushed my sunglasses, doubling as goggles, into the bridge of my nose. Blood began to let from my face. The combination of hits was ripping my psyche to shreds. I’d exuded the confidence of an undead monster returned to wreak havoc on a small village, but the larynx shot had rendered me gasping for air while trying to remove my sunglasses to wipe the sauce from my eyes from the earshot. I had to find someway to defend myself. The shots were coming from everywhere.
After a few painstakingly close shots to the family jewels, I cupped my groin with my left hand and scooped tomatoes with my right. I had to protect the groin. These rapscallion sons of bitches were slinging faster than Strasburg before the Tommy-John surgery- if one were to strike me in the groin, I’d have to leave for surely. I didn’t want to leave though. I wanted to make sure everyone that entered the arena knew my pain. So, I made a rough draft of a plan… and committed to it.
I staked out the first mountain I’d encountered and kept close to the crowd. The more open space you find around yourself, the more likely you are to catch a death shot. Average tosses don’t scare. In the red swarm of sauce flying amidst the air directly in front of you, the adrenaline and sheer fun of the fight numbs you to a simple strike. However, should you find yourself near an open space where no on is nearby, then I have no remorse or sympathy for the danger you put yourself in. How it works is the more open space you leave between yourself and the next crowd, results in the more elbow room an on looking participant has to wind up and deliver a game changer straight to your clavicle. I digress, I stayed in close to the crowd, gathered as many tomatoes with my left as I could, stayed low- always stay low! The second you pop your stupid ostrich head up is the second you catch a 50-mile per hour vegetable to the forehead. It’s not fun and games at that point- I looked towards the entrance. Then, with a vengeance I sped a fastball straight to the dome-piece of a newly entered participant.
The goal was to have each of them know they were entering the dragon- for each of them to understand there was no love, mercy, or human compassion on this side of the fence. Recourse, adjudication, accountability would all take a leave of absence until the final vegetable was thrown.
The fastballs I delivered became more deadly and precise as time went on. I made strident effort to pitch them as far back as I could, to take out the onlookers that per chance just wanted to pay witness to the senseless violence taking place. If they were to watch, they would have to pay a tax. The tax was the line of fire. If I could reach’em, they would be touched by the tomato.
As time passed on, the ground became awash with tomato paste. The pavement slowly drowned beneath 3 inches of sauce and water. At this point, all the tomatoes you could actually grasp and let rip had disintegrated to mush. To fight at this juncture in the event was to be a chicken hawk. The company released the hose, sadly only one hose, to wash down the participants looking to leave.
What became an obstacle was to make an exit after washing off. The hose was in the field of play, so after hosing the acidic stick of tomato paste from every orifice of your body, you still had to trek through a long line of douche baggery participants looking to sling hand-fulls of sauce on to your newly washed skin.
An overweight gentlemen with a cut-off t-shirt stood near the hose; Discombobulated, drunk, staring aimlessly at the last of the sauce being tossed in a lost tomato fight. A good solid tomato unleashed from the small fray of fighters at the end of the war, striking the overweight gentlemen square in the chest. He did not flinch, his eyes rolled toward the culprit in his view. The audience surrounding him carried looks of astonishment, as if they paid witness to a stray bullet taking out an innocent bystander. Then, the only words that could be given to the moment a tomato fight has turned to mush and a lone asshole who pocketed the last fresh vegetable decides to peg an innocent in cold blood... were spoken. “Fuck you man” said the overweight gentlemen to the culprit. It resonated through the air as somewhat of a poetic conclusion to the madness.
Sauce continued to fly through the air, but the fight was over for me. What felt like at least an hour of insanity, was only 20 minutes. 20 minutes of absolute fun, senseless violence, and immaturity well worth it. Given the chance again, I will formulate a team, make t-shirts, and ransack the hills of tomatoes once more.
Until then, I tip my hat to the Midwest Tomato Fest and all its greatness it had to offer for several thousand people amidst a downtown block on a Saturday afternoon that would otherwise be assuredly spent in a less fulfilling manner.