I have to apologize. When I was asked the other day about the Tommy affair, I spoke off the cuff and without my usual thought and reflection. I shouldn’t have said the Great Barrington Police acted “stupidly.”

The fact is I wasn’t at Fuel when the incident happened and have no way of knowing exactly what the Police Department had been told about Tommy.

I had just returned to my full-time life at Fuel after many days of working – as CEO and CFO of MIckWebsiteMD, I am occasionally forced to give up my prime seat at Fuel.

Admittedly I was a bit woozy. And I hadn’t had my double espresso yet. I know that’s not really a good excuse, but if you review the transcript, this is what happened:

Unnamed Customer: “What are you going to do about Tommy?”

Me: “I’ve been helping my good friends Tim and Jen and Shea fix their website. Who’s Tommy?”

Unnamed Customer: “You’re here every day. You have a great seat. You have responsibilities. They took Tommy away?”

Me, thinking Tommy was a particularly obnoxious customer: “Was he causing a disturbance?”

Unnamed Customer: “How can a tomato plant cause a disturbance? Since when is bearing delicious red tomatoes a crime?”

Me: “Are you talking about Tommy the Tomato?”

Unnamed Customer: “I was on line the other day, about to order a dark roast and an Avocado Montalban, with extra tomato by the way, when the cruiser drives up, lights flashing, and an Officer of the Law, gets out of the cruiser. I quickly look around for suspicious types in case it’s a terror attack. But the Officer goes up to the flower box that’s right outside, roots around for a bit, grabs Tommy by the neck and yanks him out. Then throws him in the cruiser.”

Me: “You mean to tell me Tommy was just being Tommy in his own flower box, the same flower box that Steph put him in as a baby? Was he crowding the other plants? Was he messing up the feng shui of the flower box?”

Unnamed Customer: “No, man. How about you listen for a change! They accused Tommy of being a pot plant. No warning. No warrant. No chance for Tommy to tell his side of the story. They just arrested him.”

Me: “So you’re telling me that Tommy was in his own home and that there were other plants that could testify to the fact that Tommy was not a pot plant, had never been a pot plant, and didn’t ever want to be a pot plant?”

Unnamed Customer, getting a bit annoyed with me: “What’s your problem? I’ve watched you order sandwiches with tomatoes all the time. You like tomatoes. Grow a pair. You’ve got no problem demonstrating against the war. Well, the war has come home. It’s a sad day when it’s a crime to be a tomato plant. Free Tommy!”

And he began to chant “Free Tommy!” again and again. And here’s where I got carried away. Call it social pressure. Surrendering to the mad hysteria. I said to him: “Well, it sounds like the police acted stupidly.”
But, of course, there were facts I didn’t know and didn’t fully appreciate. It turns out that some obviously jealous non-fruit bearing flower in the Baba Louie’s flower box next door had called in an anonymous tip that Fuel was growing a pot plant.

I have to admit that I also had no idea that the police are required to act on what they believe to be a real complaint. And I foolishly had no idea that police officers, in the interests of public safety, without time-consuming warnings and warrants, are able to seize what they believe to be dangerous plants if they are grown in public view.

I am very sorry for using the stupid word. In retrospect, I was the stupid one.

So I’d like to think of this as a teachable moment. And I’d like to suggest that Robin Curletti, the hard-working owner of Fuel, and the conscientious Chief Walsh and some of his officers have all come together over a single simple tomato plant to learn about what is important in life. The fact of the matter is we all benefit when we realize it is better to be safe than sorry. In retrospect, a simple little “Tomato Plant” label might have done the trick.

Clearly, we all have a lot to learn. But just maybe that flower snitch at Baba Louie’s did us all a big favor. I’d like to think we emerge from the Tommy Affair a more enlightened and tolerant community.
So put away your “Free Tommy” tee shirts. For unlike so many sad tales we hear today, this one has a happy ending. On Tuesday, August 11, 2009 Tommy came home with a police escort. No trumpets. No parades. No tee shirts. Just a quiet and sweet homecoming. Welcome home, Tommy.


A long, long time ago Mickey Friedman worked for South Berkshire Community Action and helped to create community gardens. And grew things. Nowadays, he buys his tomatoes. Which is why it took him days to discover Tommy is a Cleome, not really a tomato plant.

Thursday August 13, 2009 © Mickey Friedman – All Rights Reserved