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Let Him Finish — Chris Matthews on Egypt and Tomatoes

A transcript from tonight’s “Let Me Finish” segment of Hardball with Chris Matthews:

“Let me Finish tonight with some thoughts on those brave and inspiring young people in Egypt who have been protesting for over a week in Cairo and elsewhere around the country.  I can’t help but think of my own youth.  As children on the Pennsylvanian countryside, like the poor Egyptian protesters, we didn’t have a lot, but we did have something they don’t have — bushels full of irregular Brandywine tomatoes.

And we created our own sort of government takeover in the form of a game we called ‘tomato tag’, where we’d repeatedly and, yes, sometimes ruthlessly, pelted one another with the overripe fruits until our bodies were bruised, our skin soaked in tomato goo, our hair buzzing with flies.  And we had our own sort of protest songs, too.  We’d take popular, or as we called them, ‘pop’ tunes of the day like Bill Haley & The Comets’ ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and change the lyrics by inserting profanities.  Oh, boy, were we bad.  ‘When the clock strikes two, three and four, if the band slows down we’ll yell for Marilyn Monroe to take her top off and squash ‘em together like two helium balloons.’

Oh, maybe it didn’t rhyme by today’s standards, but it’s what kids did then, and no one ever got hurt or brought a gun to school, except for maybe the kids in skeet shooting club, but we knew better than to pal around with the likes of them.  They may have had their pump-action shotguns, but we had our tomatoes and, believe me, it was enough.  And that’s what young activism is about — being willing to and, dare I say, relishing the dignity that comes with taking a produce shot to our old noses, or as we used to call them “Pennsylvania face holes”.

When I see these brave kids, and that’s what some of then are, kids, I just want to wrap my arms around them and bury my face holes into the nape of their necks and breath in the fresh scent of Brandywine tomatoes — It’s like an heirloom summer salad, the kind they make in small towns all across this great land of ours.  I remember later after I returned from the Peace Corp. and met long-time Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, my old boss, in an elevator for the first time and he said, ‘Who the fuck reeks like rotten Brandywine tomatoes?’  And I proudly stood forward and brushed a shriveled tomato skin off my shoulder — and god only knows how long that piece of composting material had been there — and I stuck out my red stained hand and said, ‘Mr. Speaker, I smell like garbage and I wouldn’t have it any other way.’  And then we went and shared a caprese salad, I’ll never forget that — loved his caprese salad, my old boss did.

He was so smart.  He once told me, ‘If you took all the homeless people in the world, and offered them lucrative no-bid government contracts to do exactly what they were already doing, they’d probably still give you a confused look and ask why all the zombie leprechauns are purple canaries.’  In other words, all politics is local, is what I think he was getting at.

Which brings me back to Egypt and the protesters, and my fondest memories of being bludgeoned with Brandywine tomatoes.  To the people of Egypt, I’d just like to send out a message and let them know that America, or at least I, stand with you in your quest for a democratic, representative government that respects its people and never treats you with disdain or turns up its face holes at you and, if I could, I’d smoosh you in the head with one of my garden’s finest.  Summer is just around the corner, and this year, I’ll be saving a bushel for you.”

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