While I won't comment on rumors that Tomato-Man was involved in the recent breakup of MJ and Spiderman, the responses I received - that he received, really - both here and privately are gratifying and appreciated. On the surface, it might appear he's simply the result of a budget-conscious athlete who couldn't afford steriods and human growth hormone, opting instead for injections of licopene and Miracle Grow. As is the case with most things, the truth is a lot less exciting.
First, a bit of housekeeping. Although I adapted it to Tomato-Man, the basic superhero figure used was created by a gifted balloon artist named Ken Stillman. (You can - and I hope you will - check out some of his amazing work at his web site, http://balloonmaster.com/ .)
Tomato-Man's story begins in Fort Lee, NJ, with a wonderful lady named Carmela who has a charming family-type Italian restaurant there. For the past who-knows-how-many years, Carmela (who I hope someday to make the subject of a well-deserved tribute in this space) has closed her restaurant to the general public one Sunday around Thanksgiving time and hosted a night of dinners for as many sheltered families as the place will hold in three or four sittings. The organization of the event itself is astonishing: Carmela and her equally selfless team execute the arrival, seating, serving, entertainment, clean-up and set-up for the next group with great, practiced precision. Even more impressive, though, is the genuine love and dignity that overflow from every aspect of the evening, elements generally missing from organized efforts to provide a meal to someone in need. There's music, dancing, entertainment, and everyone is young again. Words don't do it justice. If all this reads in a way that suggests I think of Carmela as an angel come to earth, it's because I do. (Looks like a bit of that tribute made it in after all.)
So what's this got to do with Tomato-Man?
For the past several years, it's been my privilege to be brought into this great event to make balloon sculptures for the folks in attendance. (My weekend profession is children's entertainment.) While the number of people there requires that the balloons be things that can be done fairly quickly, each year I try to make something big and special for Carmela herself. From one of these efforts came - you guessed it - Tomato-Man.
So it turns out that the story of Tomato-Man actually has very little to do with him, and quite a lot to do with kindness, respect, and a real-life superhero from Fort Lee, NJ. I like it better that way.
Unrelated Item 1
Memo to the press: You can stop reporting that Tom Cruise is an alien sent here from another planet for the purpose of reconnaissance preparatory to invasion. We already know that.
Unrelated Item 2
In this season of political campaigns, speechmaking and fist-pounding position asserting, I have to share this gem I came across. This was Tallulah Bankhead, campaigning way back when for FDR and against Tom Dewey. "Mr. Dewey is for unity. Next he will declare in favor of motherhood, the zipper and the telephone. Will all the candidates for disunity please stand?"