No infield party until he has the tomatoes in-field

May 15, 1999|By ROB KASPER

IT IS Preakness Saturday and my tomatoes are not planted. Panic!

One of the major decisions a person makes is when to put his tomato plants in the ground. This is a decision based on years of experience, much book-learnin' and an inordinate amount of superstition.

For me, the landmark planting day has always been Preakness Saturday. It always falls on the third Saturday of May. It is usually warm enough to avoid any danger of frost. The tomato plants I have put in the soil on previous Preakness Saturdays have led reasonably productive lives. And -- this is the really attractive feature -- the date is really easy to remember.

When the ponies are pounding at Pimlico, I know my Beefsteaks should be setting down roots.

But unless I get the garden organized before post time, about half-past 5 this afternoon, I am not going to meet my "plant 'em by Preakness" deadline. This year I have been hard hit by May madness, an affliction that seems to strike many folks in the Baltimore area.

The long, complicated description of this condition goes something like this: In May, every promise you ever made -- from planting the garden to painting the porch to watching your relatives sing and dance -- comes due. This flood of domestic responsibilities produces feelings of anxiety and eliminates any chance for weekend leisure.

The short-hand explanation of May madness is "Panic!"

Every year I vow to get a headstart on the long list of duties that May presents. My spirit is willing but my efforts are feeble.

This year, for example, I got to the garden early in the month, and started shoveling. I dug up the entire garden and had visions of transforming it -- with the help of a couple of bales of hay and a couple of soaking rains -- into a veritable fertile crescent.

That was about two weeks ago. I never went hay shopping. Instead, I got detoured and ended up shopping for a baseball glove for one of my kids. The leather laces on the kid's old glove had snapped. I quickly found a cobbler on Cold Spring Lane who did a beautiful job restitching the laces. The glove was ready in time for the kid's next game.

I thought the glove emergency was over. But the kid decided that even though the 4-year-old glove was working, it was "too old," and needed to be put out to pasture. (I shiver when I think that this kid might one day be taking care of me in my dotage.)

We cut a deal. I would drive the kid to various sporting-goods stores to hunt for a new glove, but he would have to pay for it. It took three stops, but eventually he found a glove he was happy with.

By then the outfit selling bales of hay had closed for the weekend. So it goes in May.

It hasn't rained much since I dug up the garden. So yesterday, when I did get the courage to glance at the garden, the place looked more like the Sahara Desert, with weeds, than the fertile crescent.

The arid ground reminded me of the dusty baseball fields where I had been spending much of the month, watching my kid play baseball.

While standing around the sidelines of a baseball field didn't get the crops planted, it did reassure me that I was not the only victim of May's frenetic pace. May, it turns out, is maddening for many families.

One mom on the sidelines, for instance, told me what happened when her 14-year-old son, Nick, had a piano recital and a baseball game scheduled on the same afternoon. First he played some Chopin, then he played first base. He wore his baseball uniform to both endeavors.

At the end of one school baseball game, I watched as several eighth graders shucked the tops of their school uniform and quickly replaced them with shirts worn when they play for their recreation-league team. Their school game ended about 5: 30, their recreation-league game started about 6. The guys finished changing in the back seat of a car as they were being shuttled across town.

So this month if I am driving around town and happen to see some feet, arms and sweat socks flying around in the back seat of a neighboring car, I won't pay it any mind. I know such commotion comes when a family scurries to meet its next obligation. It is just May in Baltimore. Besides, I can't gawk at the passing scene, I've got tomatoes to plant.

Pub Date: 5/15/99

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