Free excerpt from Bourbon Billy

Bubba Tomatoes

Bubba Tomatoes

 

It was 3:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning and Tony was duct-taping the joint between an extension cord and his Shop-Vac, hoping to avoid electrocution. A nor'easter the day before had flooded Tony’s basement and he finally had power restored. Tony’s basement always flooded when Willie was on a cruise, or so it seemed to Tony. Willie was with most of the extended Magillicutty family on a Norwegian Cruise Lineship in the Eastern Caribbean. While the Magillicuttys stumbled drunk thought the halls of the Norwegian Gemlooking for their cabins, Tony sloshed through his basement trying to minimize the flood damage.

The Magillicuttys began an annual vacation tradition the year Tony bought Tommy Potzandpan’s tax practice. The vacation tradition brought nearly two dozen family members from three different states together each year and was always during tax season. Even Willie made the voyage, in spite of Bullo’s complaints. The tradition caused Tony both resentment and relief. All of Tony and Gwen’s babysitters were out of the state at the time of year he needed Gwen’s help at the office and Tony and Gwen were stuck pet sitting for several of the family mutts. However, it did at least provide Tony an excuse to Gwen as to why they couldn’t join the family vacation: it was tax season.

Tony was lukewarm at best when it came to animals. He was neither a lover nor a hater of them. Early in Tony and Gwen’s marriage they had come to an agreement on which Gwen quickly, and regularly, reneged. They would have one pet - a small dog - and that was it. After a mouse appeared in their living room one evening, Tony consented to a single cat joining the family as well. An invited cat was slightly better to Tony than an uninvited rodent. That amendment to the animal accord was all Gwen needed. Like a well-skilled civil-liberties attorney, Gwen used Tony’s cat-concession to blow a gaping hole into the Violette family pet-pact and soon began accumulating beasts. Parakeets, canaries, guinea pigs, gerbils, rabbits, more cats, a couple more dogs, aquatic frogs, fish, hermit crabs and probably a few others that escaped Tony’s notice.

The animal population didn’t grow in a straight, ascending line. Rather than an animal lover, it would be more accurate to describe Gwen as one who had a serial infatuation with pets. Gwen would come home with cages of guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils, plus hay, feed and cage-toys, only to grow tired of taking care of them after a week or two when the novelty - temporarily - wore off. Tony half-seriously considered starting a business of pet renting - Pet Pimp.Tony figured that most pet owners, like husbands - and probably wives too, for that matter - almost all had buyer’s remorse quickly after acquiring their new family member but that it was such a hassle to get rid of the new family member most people determined it was easier to adjust than divorce. Concerns about liability convinced him the Pet Pimp idea was impractical.

Getting rid of pets became an avocation almost as consuming to Gwen as her unpaid occupation of collecting them was. You can’t really return a rodent to the store you purchased it from, even if you offer it back for free. Unless you know someone with a snake, you have to consider more sinister methods of disposing them. Tony would have been pleased to flush them down the toilet had he not been paranoid about it somehow resulting in an expensive plumbing bill, especially the guinea pigs and rabbits. The birds took care of themselves, or really, the cats took care of the birds. Not that the cats ever killed any of the birds directly, but no bird ever lived more than a month or two in the Violette house. The stress of being constantly looked at as a meal, and having their cages pawed-at, caused the birds to drop dead from heart attacks in their cages.

 

One time it was thought that Tabitha the cat had killed the parakeet, Noah. Tabitha managed to nose her way past an insufficiently closed bedroom door behind which Gwen was allowing Noah to fly freely, to the great amusement of her daughter Nicole. In seconds, Noah was bouncing off the walls and Tabitha was tearing through Nicole’s bedroom like a cheetah after a gazelle. Feathers filled the room like falling snow flakes. Noah disappeared. A tearful Gwen and Nicole chastised Tabitha and searched every corner of the room only to conclude that Tabitha had eaten Noah. Tony felt badly for Nicole, but put his foot down nonetheless.

“No more birds . . . that’s it. They make a mess . . . it’s a waste of money . . . and it’s a miserable life for the birds, anyway. They all drop dead in a couple weeks, from heart-attacks, because the cats eye them like a snack all day. You want another bird? Look out the damn window - there’s birds everywhere.”

“I know,” said Gwen. “I hear you. I don’t even enjoy taking care of them anymore. I just need fifty dollars for cat food and some hay.”

“What do you need cat food for? Didn’t Tabitha just eat Noah? That should hold her off for a good week.”

Tony went back to whatever he was doing that afternoon only to learn the disappointing news a couple hours later. “There’s great news,” said Gwen. “Tabitha didn’t kill Noah after all. We just found her under Nicole’s bed.”

“Dammit . . . but what I said still stands - Noah is the last bird we are ever going to own.”

“I know, I heard you before.”

Later that evening Tony was in his garage with a flashlight trying to determine the source of an odd noise he was hearing. “Do you hear that?” asked Tony to Gwen, who just walked in to see what Tony was doing in the garage this late at night.

“What noise?”

“Shush!”

The noise resumed. Gwen looked up. “Noah!”

“What?!”

“Tony, Nicole was so upset when we thought Tabitha had killed Noah that I took the money you gave me for cat food and hay and bought another Noah.”

“Gwen,” said a dejected Tony, “even Noah’s Ark - which had two of everything - didn’t have two Noahs, but now . . . we do.”

 

Even though his family was the only branch of the Magillicuttys not on a ship, Tony had more empathy for the human Noah than usual. His house was flooded, he had even more animals than usual because of the pet-sitting and, worst of all, the rodent cages and cat litter boxes had to be brought up from the basement to escape the deluge. The dogs were barking ceaselessly at the guinea pigs and rabbits. The stench from the cages now on the first floor of their center-hall colonial was making its way up to the second floor where the bedrooms were. The musty, fetid basement stench, magnified by three feet of water, was making its way up to the first floor. Tony was subsisting on just four hours a night sleep for the past two months. Now, in the final weeks of tax season, he was now up in the middle of the night before his last off-day until April 16th scooping buckets of water from his basement.

“Enough,” shouted Tony. “You’re getting rid of these goddamn animals.”

“Which?” asked Gwen.

“The rodents . . . at a minimum: first thing in the morning. After that, we’ll get rid of the rest by attrition. The cats and dogs can die off on their own, and you’re never bringing another new animal into this house again. And, if you do, I am putting it in my car, driving right over the Outerbridge Crossing and leaving it at Fresh Kills.”

“What am I supposed to do with them?”

“Why don’t you take them for a drive, now while it’s still dark, and let them all out in your sister’s neighborhood?”

“Tony!”

“Or go to the pet store - before it’s open. Leave them in the cages in front of the store - let them worry about it. I want the cages gone too, anyway.”

“They have cameras in front of the pet store. Not for robbers, but to catch people abandoning their pets. They catch people all the time - they call the cops on them. There’s even a sign - ‘no doggie dumping.’ You get a fine and everything.”

“Alright, then. Just bring them to the park. Let them be free. If I can’t be free, at least let the rodents roam free!” roared Tony, less agitated now and feeling a bit punchy from his lack of sleep. “I’ll take the cages to the office Monday and throw them in the dumpster.”

 

10:00 a.m. that morning, with a foot and a half of water still in his basement, Tony was passed out on his bed in a sleep that could have been no deeper even if the half-drunk glass of Bardolino on his end table had been spiked with GHB.

“Tony, Tony . . . there’s some type of cop at the door . . . Tony!”

“Wah?”

“He’s got a gun. He’s some type of sheriff or something.”

“I have to sleep Gwen. Tell him to come back in May.”

“The gerbils. Somebody caught me this morning. They took a video.”

“What? Gerbils? What the hell were you doing with gerbils?”

Loud banging on the front door could be heard all the way into the master bedroom. “You have to come down, Tony. He told me he would give me five minutes to get my husband out of bed. He’s coming in, Tony.”

“What the hell is going on, Gwen?” The pounding on the door got louder. “Is he really a cop? Let him in before he breaks the door in.”

Gwen rushed downstairs and opened the front door. Tony grabbed his robe and stumbled down his hallway, dragging his right shoulder against the wall and knocking pictures askew. He reached the stairways, grabbed the railing with both hands and allowed his body weight to pull him down the steps. When he reached the bottom floor, Tony stood up and looked at the squared-shouldered, uniformed, revolver toting, crazy-eyed, mega-moustached, polished-bald-headed Bubba Pazza - better known as ‘Bubba Tomatoes’ - standing in his vestibule. Tony squinted to read the gargantuan patch on the left shoulder of the blue police-like uniform that read ‘SPCA’.

“Are you with the CPA police?” asked a groggy Tony, not able to make sense of what was happening. “I’ve never heard of that . . . I’m allowed to prepare taxes with just an accounting degree.”

“Monmouth County SPCA” said an unflinching Tomatoes, not even trying to make sense of what Tony was saying. “I’m Sheriff Pazza. I’d like to take a look around.”

“This isn’t Monmouth County . . .”

“Your wife was spotted at Lake Lefferts Park in Matawan this morning. A civilian spotted her releasing four animals - three gerbils and a hamster - into the park.” The crazy-eyed Tomatoes reported this like he was announcing Gwen had been found holding the heads of four orphaned children underwater.

“Well, if you’re here to thank her, just give us the reward and let me get back to sleep.”

“You don’t get it, pal.”

“It’s tax season, I’ve got six feet of water in my basement and we’re watching pets for ten different relatives who are hopefully floating in punctured rubber tubes in shark-infested water outside of Cuba.” Willie and a couple of Tony’s uncles were actually on a bus at this time for an excursion in a Mexican port taking them to watch some Mexican Short-Knife cockfights.

Tomatoes’ crazy-eyes were now bulging. His eye brows stood up as if being pulled by a static electric charge. “That’s what I was worried about - you’ve got more animals in this house. I can get a warrant in thirty minutes, but I assure you this will be easier on both of us if you allow me to search the property.”

“Get the hell out of here before I call the real cops.”

“I hear your dogs barking, that’s a distressed bark. Probable cause for more animal abuse. Step aside, sir. I’m coming in.”

“Animal abuse! What the hell are you talking about? I am the only animal abused in this house.”

“Step aside, sir, or the eight tickets I’ve already written up on your wife will be the least of your problems.”

“Eight tickets?! For what?”

“Four tickets for abandoning three gerbils and a hamster and four tickets for failing to provide food and water to a domestic animal. The tickets are a thousand dollars apiece.”

“Eight thousand dollars for four rats?”

“You don’t get it, sir” said Tomatoes, contemptuously. Tomatoes always said ‘you don’t get it’ whenever anyone failed to share Tomatoes’ extreme animal rights perspective. It wasn’t simply a matter of Tomatoes mistakenly believing that the other person was misunderstanding his view. It was pure fascism.

Lack of empathy for, or even cruelty to, animals is common among psychotics. However, there is a certain type of sociopath that, while devoid of concern and empathy for human beings, have a hypersensitivity for the feelings of animals. Abused and/or neglected in childhood, the animal-obsessed sociopath disassociates from fellow human beings but develops great empathy for helpless animals.

 

Tomatoes childhood was one of extreme cruelty and lack. He suffered daily beatings from his father and was bullied at school until his early teens when he took up judo and boxing. Tomatoes trained obsessively at both arts and by age fifteen he had turned the tables and become the chief thug and bully at Perth Amboy High School. It wasn’t just physical and emotional abuse that had traumatized Tomatoes. Although his family was working class, and not poor, Tomatoes suffered from severe deprivation. Tomatoes usually only had a pair or two of pants and a couple of shirts which he had to wear for weeks at a time between washings. Tomatoes looked more like a dust-bowl era Okee than a New Jersey working-class child in the 1950s. Tomatoes’ parents simply endeavored to spend as little as was humanly possible in raising him. It was almost as if they knew what he was going to be like as an adult and they decided they disliked him as much as the people with whom he would interact with in the future did.

Every year Tomatoes’ father grew a quarter-acre garden which consisted of nothing but tomatoes. Each week during the growing cycle he would plant a new row, so he would have fresh, free tomatoes for as long as possible throughout the year. When there were ripe tomatoes to be picked - and Tomatoes had to pick all the tomatoes - all Tomatoes was allowed to have for breakfast and lunch was tomatoes and fresh tomato juice.

This austere life, however, toughened Tomatoes up and provided him with a lifetime supply of resentment to fuel his bossy and unreasonable personality. Tomatoes’ life was crap for his first twenty years and he spent the next thirty five years returning life the favor. Tomatoes had no feelings for human beings besides hostility, but he had a deep reservoir of love for animals.Not all animals, though. Tomatoes’ animal-association and empathies were limited to domestic beasts and small animals of all kinds. Seeing a squirrel that had been run over by a car, a barking dog leashed to a chain or a chinchilla whose Timothy-hay bedding was overdue for changing, caused Tomatoes’ crazy-eyes to leak buckets of tears. ‘Here comes the tomato juice’ was the phrase whispered behind Tomatoes’ back every time he began weeping over a neglected ferret, or forgotten frog.

However, Tomatoesactually hunted large game. This included, at least metaphorically, homosapiens. Shooting a deer or a black bear left Tomatoes as unmoved as had the suffering his extremism had caused in people’s lives. Tomatoes’ endeavors never had him cross paths with a chimp or gorilla, and it’s not clear where his sympathies would have lied in that case, with apes being so close to human beings. Given a choice between and a man and a gorilla, Tomatoes likely would have sided with the gorilla, but should an orangutan have a conflict with a hermit crab, Tomatoes certainly would have sided with the crab.

 

The SPCA, of course, does do humane work by rescuing genuinely neglected and mistreated animals. However, in many jurisdictions, the SPCA has been given police-power allowing SPCA agents to impose radical animal-rights agendas. In Monmouth County New Jersey, it is better to be charged with killing a human being than an animal. A woman whose ex-boyfriend had received a suspended sentence after being convicted of stalking and assaulting her, broke into her apartment, kidnapped her two cats, squeezed them into a bowling-bag with the ball still enclosed and threw the bag into Shark River. For this, he received a five year prison sentence plus a six-month suspended sentence for breaking and entering into her apartment. A grinning Tomatoes’ image was all over the pages of the Asbury Park Press for weeks. Another time, a frustrated golfer, who accidentally brained a turkey vulture with a thrown pitching wedge on Hominy Hill Golf Course, had to settle for a three month sentence after Tomatoes tried to get him imprisoned for three years.

Tomatoes’ main target were the animal trappers who people would call when they had squirrels in their attic, skunks living under their deck or a raccoon sitting behind their fireplace screen. New Jersey statutes required that traps set for pests like moles, skunks and squirrels be checked daily by the exterminator but this, of course, is impractical. Normally, the traps were left out for the feral cats or raccoon and the home or business owner would simply call the animal-control business when an animal had been caught. Tomatoes had a pathological hatred for the trappers and obsessively monitored all the Havahart Traps he could, hoping to catch a trapper with an imprisoned squirrel or mole for more than twenty-four hours, so Tomatoes could fine him.

Tomatoes had a new mission now - raising the status of small pets, like hamsters and guinea pigs. Most people are horrified upon learning of abuse or the gross neglect of a dog or cat. A mouse or gerbil is another matter entirely. Although gratuitous cruelty to any living creature is repugnant, it is a sound impulse in a reasonable man that ranks a chimpanzee ahead of a ground mole, a dolphin above a guppy and an elephant higher than an earthworm. It was this hierarchy Tomatoes sought to tear down. To Tomatoes, a gerbil deserved as much status and legal protection as a German Sheppard, and Tomatoes was determined to make a public example of Gwen Violette’s rodent-release.

 

While Tomatoes quickly canvassed the Violette’s colonial, Gwen pulled Tony aside and earnestly explained that the rodent tickets were a much bigger deal than Tony realized. “Tony, a woman caught me with her video camera. I saw her taking pictures by the lake. She didn’t say anything to me, but she posted it on YouTube. It’s already a story on The Drudge Report.”

“Your mice are on The Drudge Report? What the hell is YouTube? This is all some big joke, right? Candid Camera? He does look a little like Alan Funt.”

“The woman posted her video online and called the Monmouth County SPCA on me. They issued a press release this morning announcing eight thousand dollars in fines for a woman caught abandoning three gerbils and a hamster. That’s when Drudge must have picked it up. I think it’s all over the news.”

“This is crazy, I have to get some sleep and get somebody here to help pump the water out . . .” began Tony as Tomatoes approached Tony and Gwen. Tomatoes intentionally didn’t make eye contact with them and spoke loudly into his cell phone, wanting them to overhear.

“I need you to send backup - a couple of vans.”

“Backup?” whispered Tony, to Gwen, “I think we have to get Nicole and make a run for it. This guy is deranged.”

Tomatoes got off the phone and spoke to Tony. “You’ve got unacceptable conditions for the animals. You’re not maintaining the house properly. There’s a foot of water in the basement.”

“We got flooded from the nor'easter! We just got power back seven hours ago.”

“You also have traumatized rabbits - they should be kept separate from the dogs.”

“We keep them separated - in the basement. We had to take the cages out of the basement to keep them from drowning.”

“What the hell? You keep the rabbits down there? It’s a hell hole.”

“It’s not normally a swimming pool - that’s why we brought them up stairs. I only left the fish and aquatic frogs down there”

“You’ve got fish swimming in that mess?

“I was joking.”

“Joking? You don’t get it, pal. We’re sending over a couple of trucks to rescue the animals.”

“You’re not taking any of my pets!” said Gwen. The same Gwen, whom thousands of internet viewers had already seen abandon four pets just hours earlier.

“Oh, now you want to keep your pets?” asked Tomatoes, sarcastically, while leaning his perspiring, bald head menacingly towards her. “You’re unfit to keep animals.”

“Can’t we keep just one cat in case the gerbils find their way back?” asked Tony, intentionally trying to irritate Tomatoes, and succeeding.

“You’re in a lot of trouble, pal. The animals are all going.”

“They’re not even all mine - we’re pet sitting.”

“Do you have a license for pet sitting?”

With that, Tony was done speaking to Tomatoes. “Gwen, call your jackass cousin, Sammy Riscatto. This is one case I think he’d be good for.”

 

Bubba Tomatoes was out of his jurisdiction in Tony’s Middlesex County home. Sammy got the Middlesex County D.A. to drop all charges against Tony resulting from the animals taken from his house and the dogs Tony and Gwen were pet-sitting were allowed to be returned to their owners, although Tony and Gwen’s pets were still being held by the Monmouth County SPCA pending Gwen’s trial. The removal of the pets from his house almost made Tony believe the eight thousand dollars in fines they still faced was a good bargain. Tomatoes, though was not done.

Angered that Middlesex County wouldn’t press charges against Tony, Tomatoes stepped up his heat on Gwen, granting interviews to News 12 and WWOR 9 News and attempted to roll the pet abandoning charges into a disorderly person’s offense that could have had Gwen facing six months in prison. It was the most commented-on story the entire week on the Asbury Park Pressweb site which ran nearly a dozen stories on the ‘Middlesex County Woman Fined $8,000 For Abandoning Three Gerbils and a Hamster’ in Lake Lefferts Park in Matawan’. Opinion among the posters were largely divided between people who thought Gwen was ‘cruel and inhumane’ and ‘got what she deserved’ and folks who were aware of Tomatoes reputation - many of them professional trappers - who used the controversy to expose Tomatoes’ lunacy and extremism. Asbury Park Pressbeat reported Ned Johnstone covered Bubba Tomatoes and ran regular puff pieces of him rescuing abused dogs and neglected cats while down-playing Tomatoes’ bullying and extremism. A final story of the week from Johnstone entitled ‘the most talked about story in the Press this week $8,000 fine: just right or too light?’ pushed Tony - already crushed under the weight of the final week of tax season, a looming eight thousand dollar fine and a growing mold problem in his basement - over the edge. Without consulting Sammy, Tony fired off an angry email to Johnstone, which the Asbury Park Press promptly, and eagerly, published:

Mr. Ned Johnstone: I am Gwen Violette's husband. How do you have the most "talked about story" of the week and you don't even attempt to speak with the family who is the victim of this police abuse?  How many people in Monmouth County understand that an extremist animal rights group has been deputized and if you <sic> neighbor thinks your dog barks too much, a firearms packing Bubba Pazza could be at your front door intimidating your wife and children while you're a <sic> work?  Perhaps "Bubba" is (a) good contact for you, so asking him a few tough questions might interrupt your flow of human interest stories. The day this story broke on your web site, a 24 year old from Holmdel was killed in an automobile accident, but the rodent story was listed higher on the web page. Did you ask "Bubba" if he thought (that) $8,000 was (an) insanely inappropriate fine for gerbils? Did you even question the “sheriff’ about engaging in the unethical practice of overcharging a defendant? Did you ask the "sheriff" if (he) was concerned about bringing down ridicule and embarrassment on his department for showing such extreme lack of proportionality and judgement <sic>? Did you question Mr. Pazza about his extreme animal rights point of views? Did you ask Mr. Pazza if he felt (it) was ethical to use his police powers to attempt to impose his own subjective, and out of the mainstream, opinion? Also, why 8 tickets? If she had stolen eight dollars from someone would she be facing eight charges of stealing $1? How does he justify charging to <sic> tickets per rodent? One for abandonment and 1 for not providing food & shelter? By definition: once you abandoned a rodent you've stopped providing food and shelter. I phoned Bubba Pazza and attempted to reason with (him), but found it not unlike speaking to someone belonging to a religious cult. Gwen understands that she used poor judgement <sic>. Sheriff Pazza does not understand that he used poor judgement<sic> to <sic>. Sheriff Pazza told my wife, "there's something wrong with you." Very professional!  I (tried) explain (ing) to the “Sheriff” that his serving these citations to her, which requires a court appearance, caused such grief (and) anxiety for her that I had to send her to her doctor who put her on Xanax. THAT WAS BEFORE she became humiliated by the publicity of the case. When I told Pazza this, his response was to chuckle and say "make sure she doesn't watch channel nine news this evening because I’m giving them an interview this afternoon." I also appealed to Pazza explaining that these enormous fines he whas <sic> threatening Gwen with are going to fall on me, not her. Gwen doesn’t work. So, there is no use in pretending that any justice or prevention of cruelty <sic> of animals is taking place. I explained to Pazza he is causing enormous stress to a family OF HUMAN BEINGS. I deeply regret sharing this personal information with Pazza because he seems to have an almost autistic-like inability to have empathy for human beings. His response to my sharing these personal details and the enormous pressure he was creating for my family (all before the publicity) was to lecture me about (how) I ‘don't get it’ for telling him that "This is not a chimpanzee, they're rodents”. Gwen is an animal lover who has been a vegetarian for years and a vegan now for several months. I to <sic> have been a vegetarian for almost three year but plan on going straight to Outback for a steak and then on to the pet store to buy a mouse eating snake should she be convicted on these ludicrous charges. Pazza (is) an unbalanced lunatic! The “Sheriff”, in my opinion, lacks the human empathy and intellectual judgement <sic> to wield such authority. Regards, Tony Violette

 

If Tony’s objective in writing the email was to rein Tomatoes in, he failed completely. Of course, Tony really had no objective at all with his email, other than venting. The published email simply served to ramp up the hostility between Tony and Tomatoes and extended the controversy into another week. Unable to bring further charges against Gwen, Tomatoes took a new tactic in his counter-punch to Tony. Knowing Tony was going to need to make repairs in his basement due to the flooding, Tomatoes called a friend in the Woodbridge Home Inspections Department. The flood had ruined Tony’s hot water heater which he promptly had replaced by a licensed plumber. When the Woodbridge inspector showed up the next week to approve the work, he rejected the newly installed hot water heater because the chimney vent-pipe wasn’t insulated.

“I’ve never even heard of that,” said Tony.

“It’s new” said the inspector, not even lifting his eyes from his clipboard.

“Aren’t I grandfathered in - they didn’t say anything when we bought the house.”

“Your old boiler was grandfathered in. New work: new rules.”

“How much is that going to cost?”

The inspector just shook his head, “There are more problems . . .”

“You’re only here for the hot water heater.”

“A couple things didn’t escape my notice. You’ve got a deck built around that pool of yours. I didn’t see that on your original blueprints. Did you get a permit for that?”

“You study the blueprints of everyone’s house before you inspect a boiler? It’s not even attached to the house.”

“I also see several locust trees from your backyard have been cut down without a variance or permit.”

“I need permission to cut a tree down in my own back yard? They were blocking the sun. Plus, we had tons of leaves in the pool all the time.”

“This neighborhood sits on a high water-table, sir. The roots from those trees would have sucked up most of the water that wound up in your basement.” For a change, Tony didn’t have a retort. “I’m afraid there’s no way we can let you stay in this house, until certain repairs are made.”

“What?!”

“Your home will be tagged ‘unsafe to occupy’ until you’ve been certified mold-free and have French drains and a sump-pump installed.”

Even the normally paranoid Tony didn’t see this coming. Worse, he didn’t even smell a rat - or hamster or gerbil for that matter. Tomatoes’ inspector friend played it beautifully. Tony, Gwen and Nicole had to move in with Tony’s parents Eddie and Meryl while Woodbridge Township buried Tony financially in fines and repair costs.

 

 

      

 

Tony and Gwen were more like stowaways than guests at Eddie and Meryl’s house. Eddie and Meryl had become a bit cantankerous in the past couple of years and were ruthlessly set in there ways, while Gwen wasn’t set in any ways. Like a driver on a long one-way stretch of road with a tailgater behind him and an eighty year old woman in front, Tony struggled to keep the conflicting, unhinged personalities apart while trying to maintain his own sanity. Tony spent as much time at his office as possible, trying to follow up with the typically unreliable contractors who were working on his house, and the Woodbridge Home Inspection Department, which was stonewalling him on every permit. The hours he did spend at Eddie and Meryl’s left him feeling like a prisoner of war during an air raid. The hard-of-hearing Eddie and Meryl constantly attempted to speak to one another from opposite sides of the house.

“What did you say?” screamed Meryl.

“Huh? I didn’t hear what you said,” shouted Eddie.

“You’re going to bed?’ howled Meryl.

“You’re going to see, Ted?” cried Eddie. And, on and on it went then entire day. Neither Eddie nor Meryl would ever budge an inch during these failed conversation attempts, each believing the other one was not making a wholehearted effort to speak loud enough. Eventually, they would each give up with corresponding waves of their hands as if to say, ‘the hell with him.”

The worst was the television volume. Tony first tried earplugs and then picked up earmuffs from Ray’s Sport Shop meant for shooting ranges, but it was not enough. “Canadian Geese migratory routes are even getting disrupted from this TV volume. I can tell what they’re watching as soon as I turn off from Route 35, two miles from here.”

As bad as the noise was, it was nothing compared to the stifling heat. Eddie and Meryl kept their thermostat on eighty-five degrees year-round, whereas Tony ran his air-conditioning at home straight into December.

“I’m gonna’ die here,” whispered Tony. “I can’t breathe.”

“Why are you whispering?” asked Gwen. “They can’t hear anything.”

“I don’t have the energy to talk any louder. I’ve already taken four showers today.”

“I know you have - your mother’s mentioned it about five times already.”

“She keeps track of them?”

“Are you kidding? She times them, too.”

“Why don’t you call Bubba Tomatoes? We’re living like animals here - abused animals. Maybe he can get my parents locked up.”

“Speaking of Tomatoes, Sammy called. He had my court date postponed again because it conflicted with his schedule. Willie’s filing for bankruptcy again the same day.”

“I thought Willie’s filing date was next week?”

“It was, but Willie’s going to the Cayman Islands next week instead. Willie won four thousand dollars betting on cockfights during their cruise and Sammy told him to spend the money right away otherwise it would go straight to their creditors. Willie spent it all on plane tickets and two non-refundable all inclusive packages for the Grand Cayman Marriott. And, he’s not taking Leah . . .”

“You know” said Tony, sardonically, “when it comes to God, I’m agnostic. I’m too cynical to believe but too paranoid to be an atheist. But, as far as the devil is concerned, I know he exists just as sure as I know one plus one equals two.”

 

Just when he was in his deepest despair, a phone call from Sammy, with indescribably wonderful news, rescued Tony from his anguish. “Tony” said Sammy, being a bit coy with his great news. “You can go home now. It’s safe to go home now.”

“What do you mean?” asked a suspicious Tony, with his left hand firmly over his ear trying to block the noise from Eddie’s TV.

“It’s all taken care of.”

Tony wiped the perspiration off his forehead. By the tone of Sammy’s voice, Tony was convinced he had pulled some stunt that likely would bring him more trouble rather than less. “What have you done, Sammy? I’m in enough trouble as it is. I just want these repairs completed, the tickets reduced and to be back in my house.”

“I wish I could take credit for this Tony, but sometimes it pays to be lucky rather than good.”

“I know - but that only works for Willie.”

“Tony, Gwen’s going to have to plead guilty to one count of animal endangerment and pay a thousand dollar fine. A misdemeanor, no big deal. And, the ‘unsafe to occupy’ tag has been removed from your house.”

“You kidding? How’d you do this, Sammy?”

“I didn’t. It seems Mr. Tomatoes had a friend in the Woodbridge Inspector's department; not really a friend so much as someone who owed Tomatoes a favor.”

“What are you telling me, Sammy? Tomatoes put Woodbridge up to all this inspection harassment?”

“Exactly, but that problem just went away.”

“I have to pay off someone at Woodbridge, right? I’m not doing that. Tomatoes is just baiting me, probably to set me up on a bribery charge so I can get thrown into prison.”

“You’re so cynical, Tony. The problem went away on its own. I don’t even want to tell you myself. Look it up, Tony. It’s already on the Asbury Park Press website.  NJ.com too. Drudge will probably have it linked any minute.”

Bubba Tomatoes had been keeping particularly close tabs on a trapper who had been hired to catch a raccoon that had invaded the stables at a horse farm in Colts Neck. The evening before, Tomatoes had trespassed onto the property to spy on the traps, hoping to catch an imprisoned raccoon, so he could ticket the trapper. The farmer’s security camera, however, captured Tomatoes engaging in an act of involuntary intimacy upon a colt. Word spread quickly. The next day, Tomatoes was mulching brush from a fallen tree in his yard from the nor’easter and got a call about the video, warning him that the police were on the way to his house to arrest him on bestiality charges. Tomatoes promptly threw himself into the woodchipper. Tomato Soup.