The Mushroom Farmer, Book Three, Chapter 9

The mf is yet again trying to grow mushrooms.

He is not trying hard, though. Some might say he is barely trying at all, which is fine with me. I have seen what over-trying can do.

All the mf has done is read yet another website about porcini mushroom cultivation and thought to himself, “Ugh, six and a half weeks.” That’s how long, according to this particular site, it would take for the porcini mushrooms to rise up from a sterilized substrate.

Sterilized substrate, though. Ugh. Now the mf is supposed to boil, what? Cardboard?

A: Many things can be mushroom substrate: straw, banana leaves, a log. The mf wishes he had a mushroom log. He wishes for this devoutly, in a cloistered part of his mind.

“God, please grant me a mushroom log,” the mf wishes here in the gray and mushy part of his mind that itself could make a pretty decent mushroom substrate. He would not feel good about that; nor would he feel anything.

He would just be carbon. Either carbon or starlight. Nothing wrong with that. Everything is energy from the sun; anyway, that’s how it is in this part of this universe, as the mf understands things.

Yet while he is energy from the sun in human form, the mf would prefer to grow mushrooms on a log if possible and if no log materializes, then what about cardboard rolled up like a taco, as it suggests on this other site?

A: Let’s do it!

impregnated with spawn

Et voilà. The cardboard mushroom taco is impregnated with spawn, tied up with the black string from a pair of sweatpants that the mf had been admiring on the floor of his office for several days. He was glad for this string to have renewed purpose. He stashed the works in a closet above a stack of five broken turntables.

The mf must be hard on his turntables, eh? A topic. But not for right now.

Right now he has to boogie on to school. It’s the first day of school with students in a year and a month and two weeks.

*

It’s weird. There are arrows everywhere, plaintive and poignant, pointing where people are supposed to go even though to look at these arrows is to know that no one will pay attention. The mf thinks of the person who thought of the arrows, the committee who decided where they should go, and the other person who lay the sticky material down on the ground and walls and doors, all for nothing.

Gulp, thinks the mf. It would be good if you could avoid thoughts about meaninglessness and waste, yet those arrows are pervasive at school. Fortunately for the mf, one of his students took an online assessment yesterday that showed her reading level had improved from eighth grade to twelfth grade since the start of the year. The mf has never met this kid and has had scant interaction with her, yet still, when he saw her score go up so much, he felt present at a moment of wonder. Moments of wonder are good for fending off the arrows.

In other good news… well, let’s not go crazy. An abandoned school, even if the teachers have come back, is still a somber testament to the year and month and two week everyone has been gone. That’s a lot of piggy-back rides that went un-piggybacked. A lot of teen slang that didn’t get slung.

The learning, the mf is not as personally concerned about. He sees his own students writing either better or more like him all the time. In either case they are using more paragraph breaks, not just writing a giant undifferentiated blob, so that’s progress.

Back on the disheartening side, the mf had no kids in class all day yesterday and in fact only saw one kid all day long, a scrawny 9th-grader holding a skateboard the size of a rowboat. Apparently yesterday was just the 9th-graders back at school, and not many came, because the mf had plenty of opportunity to observe billowing clouds and blue-blue sky because there were no kids performing antics or sulking, and all the grown-ups were standing around dumbstruck by the emptiness.

Oh yeah. He cried on the way to work. Did I tell you that? He did. Not heaving sobs, no cataclysm, but a definite “I’m going to cry now” feeling followed by sad face and tears. For all the lost school time, the never-coming-back of the hijinks and defiance, and also for the suffering and the dead. You can’t just ignore that stuff like you can and will the arrows on the floors.

I would rate the mf’s crying as between a snuffle and a convulsion, which is just right because he was driving. Also truth to tell he had just rocked out hard to “Backstreets” by Bruce Springsteen for the official umpteenth time in his life, and all the screaming and grunting and groaning at the end, all the spittle and his own personal voice-cracked howling, it really put him in a place where the suffering and loss from the COVID-19 pandemic hit home.

So yeah, back to school, it’s somber. That’s fitting and proper. I’m glad to know the mf has the real sadness in him; sometimes he comes across as a little too loosey-goosey, too much of a “is-money-like-a-coupon?” kind of guy. I’m not judging, except that I am.

There is just this one other thing I wanted to share and it is that the mf accidentally spilled porcini mushroom spawn on the floor of his classroom. It just came out of his pocket from earlier in the day and before the mf could react, not that there was any reaction that could have prevented spillage, unless he was to fly really fast backwards around the earth a bunch of times like Superman, anyway, before the mf could turn back time there it was on the smooth concrete floor of his classroom, mushroom spawn.

Like powdered rice, forming a constellation on the floor. He knelt down and picked it up the best he could, put each little itty bitty mushroomlette back into the packet with the cute little button mushroom on the front. He taped down the top of the packet so it wouldn’t spill again, and then put a little more tape on it, just to be sure.

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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