The Mushroom Farmer, Chapter 20

Openly hoping for a reunion with his Black Doppelganger, the mf decides to plant lettuce in the parkway. So he loads the wheelbarrow with compost from way back in the chicken coop, adds a healthy bucket of worm soil, tops it off with coconut fiber and trundles to the front of his house.

“Back to front,” thinks the mf. He wonders, “Is that a motif or a theme?” The mf, as you may recall, is a high school English teacher, and tomorrow is the first day of school after winter vacation. He had been planning a survey of goats in world literature, because the mf is powerful fond of goats and wants to become a goatherd when he retires from teaching.

The survey of goats in world literature would include the Cyclops chapter from The Odyssey, because the Cyclops is a goat herd. Re-reading the epic over vacation, the mf realizes that Odysseus and his crew are vile colonizers who ruin the Cyclops’ life in their pursuit of plunder. Bad Odysseus! He’s a liar, too. He boasts of his lying at every opportunity. You could read The Odyssey as the triumph of evil over good, although the more the mf tills the parkway with his pickaxe in preparation for planting lettuce, the more he thinks that’s just as simplistic as reading it as hero’s journey.

Interrupting his thinking, fumes from an enormous, dung-colored Dodge van drift from his neighbor’s driveway. “Ick-ack-ugh,” thinks the mf, his nostrils disturbed and overall sensibilities offended. Pulling up his face-mask, he overhears his neighbor hollering encouragement to the driver of the van, which speaking of The Odyssey is the size of the the Trojan Horse. Black, black, black-black-black fumes puff out the tailpipe, desecrating the pastoral vibe.

The mf had been hunched over, interspersing garlic cloves with the lettuce seed. It is too late to be planting garlic but the mf is planting it anyway as a companion to keep bugs away. You can grow it for the stalk and flower rather than the bulb. The stalk and flower are plenty garlicky and can also curve around themselves quite elegantly.

All potential elegance is erased by van emission, however. The mf stands up, willing his body language to be impassive, not judgmental. This across the street neighbor has never hesitated to park a car on his own front lawn, very much a different style choice than the mf’s varieties of agave and palm and now kale. To each their own, vows the mf. His vibe is putting oranges out with a sparkles-glued-to-cardboard sign that reads, “PLEASE ENJOY” if you know that’s what the mf intends it to read. It might also look like a mess of sparkles. Either way, it’s shiny.

The fumes erase the mf’s Homeric reverie but not his awareness that a Maserati SUV sits in his own driveway. Are its emissions lavender-scented? Do they waft zephyr-like? Oh no. His Maserati SUV has a hood ornament of the mf’s future grandchildren glaring at him in fury. They do not buy his argument that he rode his bike a lot, too. The mf gazes impassively from the future child hood ornament to the neighbor, who from across the street appears to be a stick figure in a flannel coat waving his arms, the only corporeal part of his body.

“You’re good, you’re good,” the neighbor hollers to the driver of the van, who although the mf cannot see him reminds him of William Least-Heat Moon, who wrote a great book about driving a van aimlessly across America on the backstreets, or the baaaaaaa-aaaaaackstreets as the mf’s hero Bruce would sing it. Why believe your neighbor’s friend driving the horribly polluting vehicle must necessarily be horrible also? The mf once owned a Ford Falcon that belched just as if not more grotesquely than this van. This is not a good time in American history to be holier-than-thou.

It never is. The mf applies wormsoil, compost, coconut fiber. He nestles the red romaine lettuce seed in a north-south row. Into the richly amended soil he sticks a bigger than standard size craft stick with “Red Romaine” written on one side in blue Sharpie and “Lettuce” on the other. The craft stick has curvy edges, is voluptuous. The van, which is not just one shade of dung but many shades, like a Tres Leches cake made of shit, backs up and putt-putt-putts away. The across-the-street neighbor goes to his garage, backs up a Studebaker the color of whoever used the stall before you puked pizza and peach cobbler all over the toilet. He leaves it in the driveway, putt-putt-putting.

The mf, impassive throughout, replenishes the oranges in the blue bucket next to the bench his good neighbor Nan has built around the jacaranda in her own parkway. He adds more glitter to the sign, which sheds glitter everywhere. “Please enjoy,” it reads, if you can read it. People do take the oranges. The mf has seen them, people from the neighborhood, not stick figures but walking shadows, sorting through the oranges, picking out the best ones, the ones with spots from insects who have taste-tested them and found them yummy. The leftover oranges are still in the bucket, waiting for someone to come along and make them into juice.

The mf has been waiting for someone to come along too but although he has seen people walking in the middle of the street like not-yet-lurching zombies, and a hefty oldster with Arlo Guthrie hair hellbent on an undersized bike on the sidewalk, still no Black Doppelganger. He will have to be satisfied being his own doppelganger. Now it is time to go inside and figure out what to teach tomorrow instead of The Odyssey.

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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