Waiting very patiently for the Age of the Square Tomato

The square tomato just turned up in the news again. Somebody promised it to us by the year 2000. Thanks, but no thanks. The square tomato has replaced the disposable paper suit as the 21st-century promise we least want kept.

Why is it that futurology seems to divide itself neatly into the gravest speculations about whether the human race can survive - and the most trivial chatter about Buck Rogers novelties?

Still, we want to be patient - very patient - on the tiny subject of the square tomato.

We understand that it is a ritual of hope - this drumroll, followed by a trumpet flourish, followed by something terribly exciting, terribly post-modern arriving just as the new year rings in for the year 2000.

Once, beside that disposable paper suit, there was talk of a hovercraft in every garage, or wherever one stores a hovercraft.

That appeared to be a reasonably glamorous fantasy to live on for the next two decades.

But a square tomato? The more you're tempted to giggle, the more the tomato futurologists seem driven to convert you to the cause.

No kidding, they say, square tomatoes can be grown bigger than round tomatoes. Square tomatoes will be a lot easier to ship. Think about that for an hour or two. And when the big red cubes arrive in your futuristic kitchen, they won't roll off your slicing board.

Come on, admit it. The Age of the Square Tomato is exactly what you've been waiting for.

Well, not quite.

We don't want to sound reactionary, but we're not really unhappy with the round tomato.

We certainly have a few questions to raise about the alleged improvement.

With a round tomato, you slice off a little nib of a circle at each pole, throw the tiny disks away, and you're ready to get down to business. With a square tomato, won't one have more waste? Something dry and unusable at both ends, comparable to the two heels on a loaf of bread - we could worry about that.

What will become of the pattern of a round cut tomato, looking like a flower - like an inspired shake of a kaleidoscope? Will all those random seeds muster into a square, too?

We don't even like to think of a square tomato on a vine. The vision lacks grace.

All in all, a square tomato is to a round tomato what a march is to a minuet. Or so it seems in 1983, 17 years BST (Before the Square Tomato).

Somehow square appears to be a step backward. People thought the earth was square before they learned it was round. The invention of the wheel was an epic invention. So was the arch. So was the dome.

The circle, the curve, keeps life from being severe - all confrontations and right angles.

In the old days stodgy people who played by the letter when the spirit was called for were known as ''squares.''

First the Lycopersicon esculentum, then what next? What will follow the tomato around its curve into the straightaway? Not the orange, we hope. A lot of grapefruit we've been buying lately are pretty square already. We don't need them any squarer.

We like Stonehenge the way it is. A square Stonehenge would lose its mystery.

When the human race gathers, it tends to gather in a circle, except for war. Let's keep it that way.

But we refuse to be lured into a round vs. square debate. Such a debate, we've convinced, is a diversion.

The square tomato is like the present you really didn't want for Christmas as a child. It was always the most beautifully wrapped present, and made the centerpiece under the tree. The idea was to make you forget the gift you really wanted - and weren't about to receive.

Well, the little game isn't going to work this Christmas. We're looking right past all the gaudy Buck Rogers novelties. We know what we were promised for the future - seriously promised; and we know what we want - seriously want. Clean air. Pure water. An end to hunger. Peace on earth and goodwill.

That's the list, and no flashy genetic-engineering trick like a square tomato is going to make us forget it.

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