Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pop Art

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, .)

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?"


oldhousegal said...

I love the story of Tomato Man.  I take back all those crazy thoughts that floated through my head when I first saw him!  It's always good to be reminded that there are truly virtuous people in the world who do their magic quietly and without needing the rest of us to give them an award for it.  I suspect she gets her reward every day in a million small ways.  Thanks for telling us the "True Story" of the amazing Tomato Man!

astoriasand said...

What a lovely story Ben,how thoughtful and kind was Carmela,it's pity there arn't a few more like her in the world today.As for Tomato Man I wil have to check that one out. I am not familiar with that..I hope you are well.I have been having real computer problems disconections,thanks to AOL and there changeover plans for people signing in.What a performance I have had this week.Still not on top of it and apparently it is going to affect everyone who is with aol.Grrrrrrrr.I hope they do not have the same problems as I am having a full week of it and they still havn't sorted me yet..Grrrrr.Take Care God Bless Kath astoriasand

rdautumnsage said...

I had fun checking out the balloon site. Somehow I knew you were the one who came up with Tomato man (winks). As for Tom Cruise and Scientology, can we say it's the 21st Century's answer to a cult.....Takes brainwashing to a whole new level. (Hugs) Indigo

gazker said...

I go away on holiday and come back to read your blog and you are talking about tomato man....... It's just gone way over my head!
Gaz ;-)

valphish said...

Wow, what a wonderful story =)

lv2trnscrb said...

should have read ahead when I posted my comment about the story of tomato man; what a neat story; I still will be back to read more entries, I like the way you right; I think its cool you make balloon sculptures; there is talent there!


fisherkristina said...

Thanks for explaining Tomato Man.  Carmela sounds like one special lady.  That is wonderful that you gift a special lady who gifts so many others.  God bless you for doing that.
PS  Another question!  Was learning to do balloon figures hard?

Krissy :)