The Mushroom Farmer, Chapter 16

hunting overalls that scream orange at the top of their lungs

Additional fallen Canary Island date palm fronds are required for the chicken coop, where the hens got drenched overnight in a lightning storm centered a few miles to the south of the cozy bed in which the mf kept his little doggie Blip company during the thunder.

Blip quivered but did not shudder, comforted as he was by the mf, who felt glad to be able to provide the little doggie this little kindness. Doggie-warmed and comforted himself, mf sought the blissful peace of childhood sleep, deep, uninterrupted.

It is the 13th Month, Christmas over, the first abandoned tree discovered this year in Chicago by the mf’s daughter’s boyfriend, who brought it home. The mf had zero indoor trees and oh so many outdoor trees including the palm that had shed many fronds in the storm.

They lay on the parched grass lawn of the mf’s neighbor, who had had the sod unrolled years ago, at the height of the city’s xeriscape subsidies. Lonnie must not be into xeriscape; his right as a citizen. Lord knows he gets enough xeriscape looking at the mf’s front lawn.

The mf strides over to the fallen fronds in his most orange and blue outfit of all; an electric blue raincoat combined with insulated orange hunting overalls that scream orange at the top of their lungs. So contrastingly attired is he that a line could be drawn between the mf and the constellation Hercules to keep the solar system drifting to the east of Hercules.

While the mf is shearing off the the needle-sharp leaves at the base of the fronds, up the sidewalk walking a little white dog comes the mf’s Black Doppelganger.

“Howdy,” says the mf.

“Howdy,” says his Black Doppelganger.

Scene 2:

EXT SIDEWALK & PARKWAY IN FRONT OF MF’S HOUSE.

BD: (bigger and stronger than the MF) This storm is no joke.

MF: (not one bit surprised, there is always somebody bigger and stronger coming around the block) It is no joke at all. Down by Inglewood.

BD: (appraising. Ozone still crackles in the air. Street tar sizzles with wetness.) Inglewood…. Lawndale.

MF: I’m planting kale. Kale and broccoli. And spinach.

BD: (gazing towards Lawndale). What’s this over here. (Focusing gaze and gesture on two luxuriantly embedded plants at the northeast edge of the parkway.)

MF: One is clary sage (he is thrilled to remember the name without hesitation) and the other next to it is (and here he does rest a semiquaver) borage.

BD: You can see these are two different plants.

MF: Borage is a pollinator with a bright blue edible flower. Clary sage is a tonic.

BD takes this information into consideration as a Nursing Attendant appears coming up the sidewalk from the nursing home four homes away.

MF: Howdy.

NA: (Wearing a clear acrylic face shield and ear buds, she walks by unaware of his greeting.)

MF: That’s just how it goes. You gotta put it out there.

BD: In these times, you really do. These are serious and different times, and people respond differently now than before COVID. For example, that woman sleeping on the sidewalk four or five houses down from here.

MF: Yes. She requires attention. I have not taken action.

BD: I brought her some blankets.

MF: I used up my allotment of blankets pre-COVID.

BD: For example of how it’s different for people now, I’ve been this big ever since I was 13. {He is big enough to have played junior college football.] People have been crossing the street to avoid me my entire life. It used to make me feel, I don’t know. And then I was walking and there was this tiny white woman with the biggest pit bull I had ever seen, and I crossed the street. That made me understand that people just want to survive. They see a threat and want to avoid it.

MF feels comfortable in silence with BD. There is no rush. It’s the thirteenth month. BD has a bright purple wire attached to moonsliver headphones, dangling comfortably along his blue jacket, made of an advanced synthetic capable of adjusting to his body’s microclimates.

Nobody’s going anywhere.

The hens will dry off. They have an entire henhouse bottomed with three inches of fresh dry straw.

During this interlude, and the entire scene, not a word from BD about MF’s orange-and-blueness, nor any indication of his holding an opinion on the matter.

Embryonic kale, broccoli, spinach, oat, clover and nasturtium cells enlarge.

Seed coats break open; root radicles emerge.1

BD: I’m a teacher at the Grammy Magnet.

MF: (not one bit surprised. Naturally his Black Doppelganger would be a teacher).

BD: (uncharacteristically back-peddling) A teacher’s assistant.

MF: (making a not entirely scrutable gesture, perhaps an attempt at a courtly sweep while thinking but not saying, “P’shaw.”)

BD: (He has searching green eyes.)

MF: Full disclosure, I’m a teacher too, an English teacher at Ghost Note Academy.

BD: I coach football and track as well. I miss it. I miss preparing the football players in the spring time. Track builds their wind; keeps their weight in check. And of course I beat their ass.

MF: (Knowing “Beat their ass” means, beat them in competition for alpha regardless of size or strength or skill) You’ve got to beat their asses or else they have no reason to believe you.

BD: I also coach boxing. (He really is the MF’s Black Doppelganger!) In the old days, I’m talking the 80’s and the 90’s, the best two guys would fight. I mean, you know, there would be tune-up fights. You’d know when it was a tune-up, but then it would be the best two guys and you’d know.

MF: (assumes things are no longer like that.)

BD: Things are no longer like that.

MF: (nods). [what follows here is exactly how they would talk about boxing gyms they have known before and since lockdown until suddenly BD, speaking with the clarity of spontaneously-attempted truth, begins to recount the details of how he was, early March 2020, on the brink of opening his own gym, the beautifully-planned fulfilment of a long-held dream…

BD: I was about to, with a partner, when the

MF: (is his BD crying?)

BD: (yes, BD is crying.)

MF: Opportunities present themselves in new ways sometimes.

BD: (Weighs this. Not automatically buying it. Further pondering, in unhurried fashion.)

MF: My name’s Mark.

BD: Oh that’s easy to remember. I’m Mark too.

MF: You’re Mark?

BD: That’s me.

MF: This one guy from Ghana, he used to call me Garth.

BD: What was that guy’s name?

MF: Kwame. He might a been six-nine. Skinny six-nine. Big serve, lots of patter. 40-lovely he’d say. Big swerve, swoop up to the net, giant wingspan. Hard to contend with. I tried to hit the ball at his solar plexus, make him fold those arms. That was the idea but Kwame would always kick my ass.

BD: I knew a Kwame like that. Tall. Tough. Didn’t say forty-lovely. I don’t think from Ghana. We grew up together in the hood until my mom remarried a rich Jewish guy and we moved to the Hollywood Hills.

MF: Full disclosure, I’m Jewish.

BD: Got it. What I’m saying is, we need the water.

MF: It’s bone dry around here.

BD: I like to go fishing. I go up to Castaic Lake, you can see, it’s way down.

MF: It’s been bone dry until last night.

BD: It’s about two feet down at Castaic.

MF: Tahoe was down too, the last time I was up there, it was still the drought, Tahoe was way down.

BD: Tahoe is a deep lake. It’s 732 feet deep.

MF: We got some fine lakes hereabouts. Crater Lake. If you ever want to ponder the depths.

BD: I go fishing right here in the Marina, along the channel.

MF: Off the rocks?

BD: That’s right. That’s 150 feet deep.

MF: (has fished unsuccessfully off these rocks.) What do you use for bait?

BD: Frozen squid. Fresh sardines.

MF: You get those at the bait shop right there by the fishing charters.

BD: That’s right. It works out to be a good deal. You can catch up to ten California halibut, up to ten Pacific whitefish, up to ten sand bass, kelp bass, you might get a largemouth bass. Up to ten bluegill. There’s other bass you can catch. I once walked off the rocks with 48 fish. The halibut, that’s a bottom-feeder. They come up dead. Their eyes pop.

MF: Coming up dead takes some of the fun out of it.

BD: It does. Pacific whitefish, they’re more adaptable, they can swim in the ocean and the channel, the mixed water is fine with them. Pacific whitefish, they come in alive.

Here Petrichor surges, breaking up the conversation like a referee, sending mf and BD back to dog-walking and frond-stripping; the air tangible as water splashing on a hot black inner tube that won’t be dry much longer.

1SOURCE

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.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: