Dear Dan Quayle,
Every time I see the word “tomato” or “potato,” I think of you and the apology that I think almost everyone in America owes you — at least the American press — and at the very least, me.
In preface to my apology, may I tell you about Mr. Heiny, my high school botany teacher? I misspelled the word “potato” once in his class by adding an “e” to the end of the word. To help me remember how to spell it correctly, he said to me, “Potatoes don't have toes, they have eyes. So, do not put an “e” on the end of potato.”
However, somehow in my twisted memory, I remember him also going on to say, “Potatoes don't have toes but tomatoes do, because tomatoes is spelled with an “e” on the end.” (Which, of course, is correct because when you pluralize those two words, you add an “e” on the end before the “s.”) However, in my mind, from then on tomato was supposed to be spelled “tomatoe” and “potato” was supposed to be spelled “potato.” That is, until that fateful day in Trenton, N.J., in 1992 when you corrected that schoolboy, telling him he had misspelled “potato” when he had actually spelled it right. At that time I thought, “Gosh, I thought that was how you spell that word, too!”
The truth is, that innocent, supposedly helpful conversation with Mr. Heiny messed me up for the rest of my life, and your meeting with that lad added to the complexity of the situation.
I go into deep traumatic stress every time I go to write either of those words. Each time I pick up a bag of potatoes in the produce department, I think of Mr. Heiny and begin to wonder how to spell the name of what I have a bagful of. Do potatoes have eyes or toes?
Then, when I plant my tomato garden each spring (which consists of three tomato plants) I once again think of botany and Mr. Heiny, and there, with my sexy gardening gloves on, sweat pouring down my face and dirt on my pants, I think of you, too, Mr. Quayle, and the trouble you must have to this day spelling tomato and potato.
Then I begin to wonder, “Can Dan Quayle even face a tomato? I bet he even never orders a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich — nor enjoys fried green tomatoes. Poor Dan.”
There you were — a marvelous public servant — we were so proud of you here in Indiana — and then you were tripped by the fifth letter in the alphabet, forever to be known as the man who couldn't win a spelling bee.
No matter that you were excellent at what you did, being the vice president of the United States. Who should care if a public official could spell or not?
Consider this my formal apology, Mr. Quayle. You were such a marvelous vice president, and we are still proud of you, even if you can't spell.