The Mushroom Farmer, Chapter Ten

The pandemic on the day before Christmas Eve on the mf’s inner exurban sidewalk in Los Angeles is no joke. Everybody within 20 feet of each other — and no one comes any closer — says a hello that implies, Godspeed.

It feels holy to say hello to your neighbors when you live in the epicenter. The mf feels the holiness and yet still remembers to till the soil before he plants broccoli-for-the-taking on the median between the sidewalk in front of his house and the street. This, along with planting kale and spinach, also for-the-taking, is the mf’s current response to food insecurity, a problem that was epochal in Los Angeles before the pandemic and now is beyond critical.

It’s rampant. Walk around the block and there you’ll find it. Sometimes an unhoused person sprawls on the sidewalk four houses down from the mf’s house, between the manicured birds of paradise of the nursing home and the four-McMansion gated mini-community.

The sidewalk is regular normal steady-as-she-goes sidewalk; the mf was long over his “I’m gonna be the one with the grungy-looking sidewalk” phase. His gardener tended to this admirably.

They were on friendly terms, the mf and his gardener. Muy amable. You bet. The mf’s gardener seemed a most happy fella; happy to keep the sidewalk unremarkable. The rest of the front yard was remarkable enough, with its Mexican fan palm, Yemeni barrel cactus, Jerusalem sage and innumerable agave. Things were sticking out everywhere in the front garden. Oh, it was an orgy; when you watered the front garden you could almost hear it moan.

Here’s what snapped the mf back from plant orgy to holy moly:

Scene

mf — wearing biking tights under weight training shorts and a Mets hoody with such violent extremes of blue and orange, he is almost a black hole — drags recalcitrant, kinky, sometimes spurting garden hose towards median between sidewalk and street. Coming up along the sidewalk is Defeated-Looking Nursing Home Attendant. mf can tell DLNH looks defeated by the male-looking person’s pronounced slouch to the left while walking, the extreme dishevelment of his gray-blue scrubs, and his air of being perpetually mid-sigh.

mf (dropping the hose, the better to give the attention that must be paid to this valiant neighbor): How was your shift?

DLNH: (possibly older than mf, or maybe younger but prematurely aged, possibly even by what he has just experienced) Not good. Not good at all, actually.

mf (connecting with the all-purpose emergency empath vibe that anyone with common courtesy taps when meeting someone in the throes of grief or trauma): I’m concerned to hear you say that.

DLNH: Let’s hope it gets better. Meanwhile, I’m so glad to see you.

mf: I’m glad to see you too.

And, scene.

Just in that flicker, as the nursing attendant continues on to his car walking, it does seem, a bit more upright, the mf feels what a good decision he made to be in the front of his house, rather than in the back, where the attendant could not possibly have seen his Mets hoodie.

The broccoli-planting proceeds, with the mf casting many but not all of his 50 black round ballpoint pen tip sized seeds of broccoli rabe and transplanting several rugged to straggly-but-we’ll see seedlings.

Sometimes the straggliest-looking seedlings ultimately prosper.

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky has been writing stories and essays since he was a music snob prodigy in early-1970's San Antonio, Texas. Since then he has written about not only music but also baseball, gardening, teaching, parenting, cycling and the... glory of love. Lit Hub and The Sun have published his work, and so has the Austin Chronicle. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he teaches English to some of the nicest kids in the world at an arts-themed public high school downtown.

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