The Mushroom Farmer, Book Two, Chapter 3

The sad truth is, the mf’s mushrooms are non-existent.

This is not for lack of him peeking under the plastic shroud to inspect the seven-foot-long pile of dead banana tree bark. Oh, he peeks under there plenty, each time hoping for the After picture of bourgeoning champagne oyster mushrooms, big ‘n bold like Jack’s beanstalk; but instead it’s still always the Before picture of dead brown banana tree bark with one little patch of cobwebby material that might just actually be a cobweb and not the harbinger of fungal abundance.

This is disappointing. Indeed, a murmur has arisen amid a small section of the mf’s inner army of soothsayers and diviners. These oracles look like a cross between Mr. Met and John Brown of John Brown’s-body-is-a-moldering-in-the-grave fame. Oh yes, these inner voices guiding the mf do look very much like John Brown, his mighty beard flying forward, propelled by moral outrage; yet their more extremely maniacal aspect is tempered by the easy-going, life’s-a-game outlook of Mr. Met, whom the mf especially admires because virtually all of Mr. Met’s body consists of his head.

The murmur sounds like crickets set on medium, droning relentlessly that it’s time to start expecting the Never picture.

“Never, never, never, never, never, never, never,” these inner prophets drone. Cancel the John Brown imagery. Their defiant beards are in fact those of Act V King Lear, once and for all undone.

Don’t give up, mf! There’s still time. That would be my message here, if I may intercede. Those oracles of yours are sometimes spot on but they are also sometimes like fortune cookies. And even if there isn’t time for this particular would-be mushroom patch, even if you did something wrong and killed them all, these things will happen. Killing plants and fungus too is all a part of gardening.

Remember: you have additional mushroom spawn. Oh yes. Very much so. Four pristine syringes of of Paddy Straw spawn, plus a bonus syringe of Shaggy Mane mushroom spawn. Your reality is not mushroom neverness. Your reality is potential mushroom abundance.

You just have to…. well, I don’t know. Isn’t that what we’re here to discover? How you ultimately realize your mushroom triumph, plus lessons learned along the way? Yeah. That’s it, I’m pretty sure. That’s the working hypothesis anyway, that the mf eventually does conjure up enough mushrooms to make kasha varnishkes, the buckwheat & bowtie pasta dish of his mitteleuropean ancestors, who liked theirs with mushrooms and onions and a fried egg on top. With a belly full of homegrown mushrooms, the mf will finally, finally do the dance of the fulfilled.

Oh silly mf, though. He could easily be doing the dance of the fulfilled right now! For is it not true that of the 10 cabbage seedlings and 5 kale seedlings he wrapped in conical coffee filters with a little pinch of coco fiber and a splash of root stimulator, then set out in a tray at the stand all the way in front of his house at the parkway — that only one of those coffee-filter transplanted seedlings he put out for the taking was left last night?

Yes. That is true.

And m also: the medic from the nursing home four houses down, the same medic who walked by two weeks ago looking collapsed from the weight of experiencing the actual apocalypse in all too real time —that medic who seemed so piteously grateful just to say hello to a non-terminal human three weeks ago at the very height of LA being the epicenter of the world COVID-19 pandemic — walked by again last night during the last moment of twilight and took an orange while the mf was taking a picture of there being only one seedling left.

MEDIC: Are these oranges from your backyard?

MF: Yes. They were on a tree five minutes ago.

MEDIC: I’m really going to enjoy this.

MF: That’s great. How was your shift?

MEDIC: Oh, it was better. Much better. Not good yet, but better.

The MF could infer him smiling behind his new, pro-style facemask, the beaky kind that pokes outward like a legit plague beak from olden times. And he walked away as if not quite so bent at the waist by a pestilential wind.

And let’s also not forget about the eggs! Here is the mf, fussing and fretting over non-mushrooms while the eggs are literally piling up. Moxy the alpha hen has been flying the coop of late; except not even flying, more like sauntering. How does Moxy do it? Well, as you may recall from Book Two, Chapter Two, the mf’s coop is not exactly hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world. It is penetrable, for example, through gaping holes.

The mf tends to overlook these due to his generally benign, round-headed perspective, and thus far — blessedly — varmints such as foxes, raccoons, snakes, skunks and other would-be chicken predators have not penetrated the barriers Moxy finds so permeable.

She, meanwhile, regularly shows up at the sliding glass door of the mf’s house by mid-morning. If it’s open she will scuttle right in and help herself to Blip’s dogfood. If it’s closed, she will bide her time. The mf is good at closing sliding glass doors behind him 9 out of 10 times, which leaves Moxy plenty of opportunity to chow down on the crude protein she craves.

Thus far she has shown good manners and not besplattered the mf’s hut with poop, which would serve him right. But oh no, just the opposite. The mf’s gardener, Ulises, discovered this in response to the mf’s mid-morning question, asked actually aloud, not inside but outside his head: “Donde esta la gallina?”

Even though the mf knows Moxy can come and go from the coop as she pleases, he still likes to know her whereabouts. He does not want her to be in the clutches of a hawk, for example. Asking for others to help you find something or someone is often effective, as it most certainly was here. After a minute, Ulises the gardener replied excitedly that Mr. MF should come, come, look!

Oh, and it was a sight indeed. Moxy has made a home for herself at the base of the photinia bush, nestled under its oval, green and burgundy-tipped leaves, which at the top of each branch form a catcher’s mitt for sunlight. Down near the base in a hefty tuft of grass, Moxie has wriggled herself a big ol’ nest and laid it full of 13 brown eggs that Ulises immediately took pictures of to send to his mother because it reminded him so much of back home in Mexico.

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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