Commentary: Act Two and the importance of growing tomatoes

Joe PIsani
Joe PIsani

My priorities are changing now that I’m in Act Two of my life. Though, to be honest, maybe it’s more like Act 2.5 by now.

Yes, I still get up and take the train to the salt mines to earn an honest day’s pay, but I no longer care about becoming rich and famous. Instead, I savor the simple pleasures like a good dish of pasta, a refund from the IRS or winning an argument with my wife.

And sometimes, when I’m busy daydreaming at my desk, instead of thinking about the usual things a guy thinks about like a new beemer, ESPN, sex or the Yankees-Red Sox double-header, I think about ... my tomato plants.

I suspect I’m becoming just like my father, who lived for his tomatoes. He loved them as much as his grandchildren. Maybe more, and now I’m showing signs of being the same way.

I call my wife when I see the temperature in Manhattan pushing 90 and politely suggest, “Would you go out and check the tomatoes? It’s hot, and I don’t want any casualties. Sprinkle a little water on them.”

She promptly growls something along the line of “#^%@#$!” So that idea proves to be a non-starter.

Tomatoes have feelings

Based on my scientific botanical research, I’ve concluded tomatoes have feelings. They know who cares about them and who doesn’t and, believe me, the people who don’t care about them won’t be getting any to eat at harvest time.

I got this obsession from my father. It must be an Italian thing. He’d sit on the porch for hours, clutching his Red Ryder BB gun, which was so old the BBs couldn’t pierce a sheet of typing paper, and he’d wait for the woodchucks and rabbits to try to snatch his lettuce and peppers.

He never bagged a single woodland creature, though, probably because they got wise to him and only came out at night.

A story about giant zucchinis

Growing monster zucchinis was his specialty. I was in journalism long enough to know there’s nothing better than a story about a giant zucchini to sell newspapers.

Every summer, some ancient gardener from the old country would trudge into the newsroom toting a terrifying large zucchini for us to photograph — a zucchini that looked as if it came from outer space or the cast of the Jersey Shore.

I’m convinced The New York Times could boost its sagging circulation with zucchini photos. Papers would fly off the rack if there was a front-page picture of Hillary Clinton or Chris Christie holding a four-foot zucchini.

But I’m not growing them. Instead, I have a few dozen containers on our deck with cherry tomatoes, romaine lettuce, basil, rosemary, summer squash, bell peppers, dill, parsley, sage and lemon balm.

Help from specialty magazines

I even subscribe to a magazine called Hobby Farms and plan to bring in goats and chickens, although I haven’t told my neighbors, not to mention my family.

I bet you didn’t know there’s a magazine called Chickens. Neither did my wife until it started coming in the mail. It’s better than Cosmopolitan, Popular Mechanics and Men’s Health.

Let’s be honest, wouldn’t you rather read about how to get jumbo eggs instead of how to meet a hot guy or girl online? When you’re in Act 2.5 of your life, the chickens and tomatoes are safer pursuits.

I also bought a compost bin and started throwing in household waste like eggshells, leftover greens, fruit and vegetable peels and toilet paper rolls.

'May I take home ... ?'

When we were at a dinner party recently, I politely asked the hostess, “May I take home the leftover salad for my compost pile?”

Everyone stared at me with strange looks and started mumbling. And even though I offered to pay a modest stipend, they wouldn’t give me the salad.

The only person who understood my request was a 6-year-old girl who had learned about composting in first grade. The teacher told the class to bug their parents about throwing scraps in the backyard to promote a greener world or something like that.

I’ve become a rock star to the kids because I have a compost bin. I’m ahead of my time ... even in Act. 2.5.

Joe Pisani, who grew up in Shelton’s Pine Rock neighborhood, may be reached at