I GAZED AT ITS voluptuous form. I fantasized what it would be like to hold those graceful curves in my hands, to press that smooth flesh to my lips. I had a bad case of tomato envy.
Somewhere it is written: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's tomatoes." I was breaking that commandment.
I am not sure if grass always looks greener on the other side of the hill, but I am certain that tomatoes always look redder in the other guy's garden. Especially in mid-July, when tomato growers get antsy waiting for the crop to come in.
I was up to my eyeballs in tomato envy the other day while inspecting my plot in the community garden in Druid Hill Park, comparing my tomatoes with those grown in other plots. Most of the tomatoes looked like mine, little green hardballs, at least two weeks away from harvesting.
The sight of the widespread green-hardball condition was reassuring. It meant I was not the only one who had missed the July 4 ripe- tomato deadline. Among gardeners, July 4 is a milestone, a measure of tomato-growing prowess that every gardener secretly wishes to attain. Like a 300 game for a bowler, or a hole-in-one for a golfer, a Fourth of July tomato is a sign of prowess, a trophy you display.
Here it was mid-July, and I had nary a ripe tomato to my name. I was feeling anxious. So, even though I knew I shouldn't, I went on the prowl. I let my eyes roam. I began to examine the goods in other gardens.
At first the appearance of all those green tomatoes in other garden plots made me feel confident. I told myself that maybe it was the weather, the cool, wet spring, that had kept me and other gardeners from reaching the July 4 goal this summer. Maybe nobody was growing an early-achieving tomato.
But I saw a blush of red. Like a voyeur who finally gets a glimpse of what he has been looking for, I couldn't believe it, yet couldn't take my eyes off it. On closer inspection I observed not just one ripe tomato growing in this plot, but several.
I tried to console myself by finding fault with the fruit. These were the little cherry tomatoes, not the luscious, fat, wide-bodied types I was trying to grow.
Moreover, their color was not that bold, take-no-prisoners, fire-engine red that lights up a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Instead it was a polite, don't-pinch-me pink, the kind of tomatoes used as garnish.
And, as everybody who ever bought a bag of bone meal knows, to get ripe tomatoes in early July, you have to cheat. Back in the early spring, you warm your plants with hair dryers or stick them under lamps or feed them a quasi-legal potion.
These criticisms might have been valid, but they did not cool my ardor for the forbidden fruit. I looked and looked at my neighbor's tomatoes, and as former President Jimmy Carter might have said, "I had lust in my heart."
I grabbed a nearby garden hose, turned on the cold water, and gave my plants and myself a shower.
Just as I was about to leave my garden, still longing for a ripe tomato, I spotted a consolation prize, a zucchini.
One of my plants had produced the first zucchini of the season. I grabbed it, took it home, sliced it and cooked it in a little olive oil.
It had a fresh, delicate flavor. But I couldn't help observing that zucchini, like almost everything else on earth, would taste a whole lot better if it had been accompanied by some sybaritic home-grown tomatoes.