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The Observer, July 15 

It's a good thing this column is written anonymously, because what The Observer has to say is going to make some people real mad.

The Observer hasn't had a decent tomato all summer, and it's not for lack of trying. We've had 'em from the River Market, we've had them from a couple of real farmer's markets, we've had them from fancy-schmancy places in the fancy-schmancy Heights neighborhood. We've had heirloom and carbons and hybrids and whatnot (we draw the line at those chilled store-bought horrors).

Where are the tomatoes of yesteryear? The kind you ate three of at one sitting, with salt and pepper and maybe some cottage cheese? (No, we didn't have fresh basil and mozzarella in yesteryear.) That you ate until the corners of your mouth stung?

Our boss accuses us of sounding like a complaining old person, especially when we note that our mother, a tomato lover of the first order, would be dumbstruck at the prices people — we — are paying for so-called real tomatoes these days. There's something wrong with a $7 tomato. When people are paying $7 for a tomato, the end of the world is nigh.

OK, so it does sound old to express disbelief that a fruit that was once 50 cents a pound and delicious is now $3.50 a pound and tastes like water. OK, we're old. We get it.

But that doesn't mean we're wrong about the dearth of good tomatoes. Now here's what's going to make some folks mad: Heard someone say they had some good pinks the other day. They can keep their pinks; we want high acid. Complain, complain, complain.

The Observer has fond memories of the July 4th weekend, especially the part that involves blowing things up. In Little Rock where we reside, fireworks are technically a no-no. We lived out in the wilds of Saline County as a pup, though, where the only regulations concerning fire are that you can't use it to prepare an endangered species for Thanksgiving dinner, so fireworks were on the agenda every summer.

Given our clear disregard for fireworks safety back in those days, it's a wonder we made it to manhood without a skin graft, a glass eye and/or a hook in place of a hand. We set the porch on fire one year, thanks to a smoldering ember left inside a tube we'd been using as a makeshift bazooka. Another year, our brother thought it would be funny to stick a lit firecracker into The Observer's shirt pocket — a pocket which just happened to be filled at the time with a quiver of bottle rockets (which, to be fair, we were in the process of firing at various neighbors and kinfolks). The result: Nipple flambe, with a side of smoldering shirt. Not recommended.

Grown now to the mind of a father, we like to think that we're a little more cautious with things that go boom, but we just can't help but stop by the fireworks stand every July to take in its wonders. No scofflaw, The Observer does his lightin'-n-runnin' out at our Auntie's palatial spread in the far, unincorporated north of Pulaski County. Last weekend, during a visit, we showed Junior — 10 years old now — how it's done.

There was a bit of magic there: Pa and son hunkered down beside an old bottle with a rocket sticking out, him cautiously holding the faint, glowing end of a punk to his first fuse with shaking hands while his Old Man muttered encouragement. The fuse sparked to life, and we hauled keister like we'd just lit the wick on a cruise missile, turning back just in time to see his handiwork whoosh into the darkening sky — up, up, up, then a pop and a puff of light and smoke.

Yes, it's dangerous. Please don't write letters filled with cautionary tales about the burn ward. The Observer is a worrier when it comes to our sole and only progeny, and any horror you can dish out is one we've already served to our self, cold, a dozen times over in the dark reaches of the night. Fatherhood, for Yours Truly, has always been about walking the tightrope of doubt — the line that runs between the urge to mummify him in bubble wrap, and the knowledge that risk is what makes boys into men. That said: the look on my son's face at that accomplishment — smiling, face upturned to the sky, where the breath of smoke was quickly lost to the dusk — was worth a hundred burned fingers. It will, I think, linger long past this summer in my mind.

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty. And bottle rockets.

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