The Mushroom Farmer, Book Two, Chapter 6

Onions: the mf has planted a whole lot of them, and by a whole lot, he means 60, which is how old he will turn this summer. What will the mf do with 60 onions?

Give them away, not to be rude but duhhh, has the mf already forgotten his mission of combatting food insecurity in Los Angeles by growing and giving away backyard and also now front yard produce?

mf! Focus!

Very well then. He planted onions in the two raised beds at the back of his backyard, near the lemon tree and worm bucket. The worm bucket is a repurposed regulation City of LA-issued brown plastic garbage can, on wheels but not going anywhere as it is weighed down by 100 pounds of dirt enriched with worm poop and furthermore topped with every morning’s coffee grounds for years. Worms love coffee grounds.

The lemon tree was said to be on the brink of death by the mf and his wife’s landscaper back 10 years ago when they bought this house and its gigantic backyard. The landscaper planted grapevines around the base of the lemon tree so that when it died, the grapes could take over. Now the grapevines thrive up in the branches, producing up to two or even three bunches of grapes that taste like forgiveness. The mf doesn’t even like grapes but he loves these.

The landscaper also planted actual opium poppies, which the mf eradicated two days after seeing a newspaper picture of a field of opium poppies in Afghanistan that looked precisely like his back yard. He did the eradicating not on Day One but rather on Day Two. On Day One, he followed internet directions for getting high off of backyard opium poppies. The results were inconclusive high-wise; nevertheless, the mf’s better angels swiftly enough intervened, with machete.

The two raised beds have been failure-to-thrive zones ever since he erected them in a burst of envy after going on a garden tour and seeing that all the with-it gardeners had raised beds. First, he got a cubic yard of dirt dumped in his driveway and then worked diligently away at the brown-black mass, wheelbarrowing load after load of happy smiling dirt to the back of the backyard. The only plant that ever grew with any spunk in the raised beds was Mexican oregano, thick of leaf, thick of stem, a fried-dough scented plant that took care of itself, like a mature and solemn elementary schooler.

It pains me — not a stabbing pain, like I feel in my right kneecap sometimes, but a definite twinge, like I sometimes feel in the ball of my left foot — to report that after two years of this hands-off thriving, the mf grew bored of Mexican oregano and commenced un-cultivating it. He ripped it out by the roots and when it came back up again, he ripped it out again, until finally the Mexican oregano said bueno, si quieres ser asi and vanished, leaving the mf to grow whatever it was he imagined would grow somehow better in its wake, which turned out to be nothing.

never been souped

For years the raised beds have been a dismal, dusty failure zone, inhospitable to carrot, beet, potato; acrimonious to buckwheat, oat, alfalfa. The only plant hanging in there at all is lemongrass, one scraggly bunch in the back corner of both beds, still smelling like Heaven’s laundromat but never ever used in soup. What a waste. Sometimes I wonder if the mf really wants to grow things or does he just think he likes the idea of growing things but the real real is that he actually only likes planting things.

lettuce no doubt

Oh no! This idea has the inner bells-are-ringing sound of truth. No use trying to evade those bells. Ting-a-ling-a-ling, they sound, from elbow to earlobe. Very well. This being the case, let’s also be fair and point out that the mf has come if not a long way then at least a certain way, because he is no doubt growing lettuce nowadays and plenty of it. He puts fresh backyard lettuce on his turkey sandwich every day and feels virtuous+. So that’s good. We have elsewhere discussed the kale unfurling like banners at a jousting tournament. This might be one of those situations we sometimes encounter in fiction as well as in real life, when a character is indeed changing, potentially for the elusive better.

Let’s keep an eye on that. Meanwhile, the newly planted onions have continued to exist overnight: another plus. The mf carted two wheelbarrows of premium chicken-shitty compost to the ashen soil. He supplemented the compost with magnanimously strewn handfuls of coconut fiber. Coconut fiber for everyone, he declared like a baby-kissing candidate. He has high hopes for these onions, a sampler pack of short day varieties theoretically just right for this moment of Southern California mid-winter. He loves their names: Texas Early White, Red Creole, and 1015Y Texas SuperSweet. What does he love more? The double “Texas” which reminds him of his adopted home state, or the “1015Y” which has such a agronomical sound to it. The answer is he loves them both equally, as a good plant parent should.

Meanwhile, the newly planted onions look straggly, dubious, dazed. They remind him of fallen angels waking up on the sulfurous plains of Hell — but in a good way, cheering him up because it reminds him that several of his high school English students have elected to read Paradise Lost. You gotta love that, and love it the mf does. One kid said he was going to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid but the mf reminded him of one of the very few rules: if you don’t want to read any of the 31 books I have scanned and presented to you on line, then you must consult with me about your alternative. That kid said, oh, I forgot, in that case, I’m reading Paradise Lost.

Talk about growth! Other students have elected to read Walden, perhaps spurred on by the mf’s confession that he finds Thoreau baffling and snooty, yet necessary. He feels less alone knowing that some 11th graders and even a few second semester 12th graders who could understandably choose to do nothing have instead joined the struggle.

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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