The Mushroom Farmer, Chapter 21

Two out of three. That’s how many bags of fresh backyard garden produce people took from the mf’s cheerful blue giveaway bucket on the pavement between the sidewalk and curb in front of his house, across from good neighbor Nan’s bench beneath her jacaranda tree.

These were not just oranges he was putting out for passersby. Nuh-uh. The mf had taken his little doggie Blip all the way around the whole block the day before. While Blip was rapturously sniffing fallen palm fronds to conjure other doggies and also squirrels in the olfactory bulb of his brain, the mf’s occipital lobe processed a down-the-street neighbor’s bucket on the sidewalk with a sign reading “Free Lemons.”

The mf took this as a direct affront to his specialness. Yet he did not overturn the neighbor’s lemon offering, nor pick up each lemon and hurl it errantly into the nearest bushes. He walked on, proudly, a person who can often control his base impulses. He had a renewed sense of purpose now: to make his sidewalk produce giveaway better than the neighbors’.

Actual broccoli

And he thought he had done this by upping the stakes to include not only oranges and tangerines but also actual broccoli. So proud was the mf as he cut a stalk of broccoli he had always imagined he would proudly stir-fry and lightly anoint with sesame oil for his own beloved consumption, but now was giving away of his own volition to the community. “Yesssssssssssss,” was the mf’s thought process in the moment. “I am a good person.” He placed a stalk of actual broccoli atop the bags of lettuce, went back inside, read a little of this and a little of that, watched Boogie Nights, went to sleep, and in the morning….

Two out of three. A song wells up inside the mf, not in his brain where you would expect but rather in the pleural cavity between his lungs. That’s where the inside songs are for the mf. They spawn in his pleural cavity and migrate like salmon to his auditory cortex, which is where he hears this song from 1978 being bellowed by a singer who is profoundly obese and sweating profusely yet undeniably charismatic.

Nevertheless, the mf feels disappointed. He had been hoping for perfection: each of the three thick plastic grocery bags, gone.

Oh, the bliss the mf would have felt had all three bags been taken, but no, it is a two-thirds rapture, actually quite high by rapture standards but the mf nevertheless feels disappointed even as another song arises, this one from 1966, a song about how a percentage very, very close to 100 percent is still insufficient; performed in his auditory cortex by a Black singer of godlike handsomeness, celebrated for his ability to scream on-key and also for his overall wickedness.

The mf aligns himself with the close-is-still-not-good-enough song. Why was the one bag left behind? This is always the question after a rapture. Is it the puke-colored plastic bag? Why are so many things the color of puke nowadays? Burlap would be better. Burlap is scratchy but trustworthy. The mf was trying to recycle these accursed plastic bags to mitigate their evil spell. Trying is good but not good enough.

“Burlap,” the mf jots on a list titled “Ways to Make Produce Giveaway Better.” After that, he jots, “to fish, not be a fish” which must refer to the smarty-pants proverb about why it is better to teach a person to fish as opposed to simply saying, “Here, take this fish.” All these proverbs with their superior attitude. The mf would really like to bash them in the softest part of their cranium with an iron skillet. Wow, he is really riled up about unknown passersby rejecting his offering of random garden scraps.

Is there any way we can solace him? Can we believe in the mf as we are asked in Peter Pan to believe in Tinkerbell, thereby reanimating her and making everything turn out right?

We can try. Perhaps the mf can find solace by first of all taking the now slightly wilted greens — a combination of lettuce, broccoli, onion, leek, dandelion, and daikon radish leaf — and sautéing them in a little olive oil with garlic to make what the cookbook Waste Not calls “a bright side dish.” That way at least someone will be eating the food. It will not go to waste. That is the main thing. The mf is like a hockey goalie nowadays, exerting himself to the utmost to fend off waste.

With his hard-grown greens yummy in his tummy, the mf might consider setting out tiered levels of produce. More attractive, perhaps burlap-based packaging could be part of this. Also, the mf could put out seedlings. He has a tray of blue-curled kale, snowball cauliflower, and broccoli calabrese seedlings in peat pots, all rarin’ to go. He’s got some handsome pulped paper packing material shaped like super-jumbo egg containers. He can cut these into individual units and fill them almost to the brim with lovely coconut fiber growing medium; then, transplant the somewhat spindly but not wretched seedlings into their own temporary and hello, biodegradable pots, set those out to let passersby take home and grow into their own fucking food.

Wow again! Still considerable bitterness. Is the mf eating too many dandelion leaves? He nibbles on nasturtium leaves, also. This could be part of the problem. The need to be special could also be part of the problem. This is possible.

Flopped over yet perhaps resilient

To stop thinking so much about himself, the mf reconsiders the seedlings. The cauliflower seedlings actually do look somewhat wretched insofar as they are flopped over, some appearing pinched at the base of the stem. Pinched at the base of the stem is not a good sign; however, the mf has noted great resiliency among seedlings. You never know what might happen if you prop them up a little.

The broccoli and the kale, meanwhile, are like prizefighters stepping into the ring, raising their gloved fists (that would be their first two leaves, or cotyledons) in the universal gesture of “Bring it.” Bring the sun, bring the soil, bring the root-spreading and true leaf-growing. Bring the gardening, the eating, the nutrition.

Traigalo, thinks the mf in a burst of Joy Spanish. That means: bring it.

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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