The Tomatoing is a tradition more than a punishment. Each year twelve men gather to throw tomatoes at one of their own. Ten tomatoes each from 15 yards away. Same spot every year: the dirtiest of alleys in New Jersey. Literal dumpsters as the backstop. Street lights above the block’s end like stadium lights. There is a puddle of black water and a Construction Zone sign on the ground. There are sirens in the background from the hospital. Then there is the countdown from five.
The Tomato Boy paces the length of three dumpsters, his arena, where he must hope to evade the slew of red softballs hellbent on his temple. He debates strategy, plans a summersault, hopes twelve beers will be enough as far as protection. The moment before the moment. Utter nervousness, the inevitability. Worse than when the tomatoes are hitting you.
There are eleven men who hurl from said fifteen-yard stripe. Side by side they stand with their small mounds of tomatoes at their feet. They bounce and yell at the Tomato Boy in excitement as the countdown ends. All eleven throw at once. The Tomato Boy squirms. There is a breath, and then the sound of overthrown tomatoes THWACKING the dumpster backstop like mortar rounds. Many tomatoes strike our boy. Several smash his face. It is customary to yell obscenities at the Tomato Boy as you throw.
The whole of the event last sixty seconds, but feels like a twelve-round fight. A sincere round of applause follows the final throw. The Tomato Boy approaches the men to high five and side hug. There is laughter with the dump of adrenalin. A half jog to evade cops that never come. The lighting of cheap, bodega cigars. The rest of the night to follow. A shower and clean clothes for the Tomato Boy.
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