The Mushroom Farmer, Book Four, Chapter 2

There can be no turning back.

The Chestnut Mushroom Mound has been planted, decisively, by the mf, wearing a brown shirt that is almost decomposing and black shorts spun from never-going-anywhere polyester, in the dappled shade of the big orange tree now here in early-mid September really starting to fill up with green soon-to-be oranges.

The dappledness of this shade is not to be whatever’d. It is the shadow of twisted limb upon twisted limb, a labyrinth of light and solidity. The mf navigates it heavily, tromping around back there with his trademark grunts and happy sighs.

Fortunately he is wearing the trifecta of gardening safety gear: hat, protective eyegear, work gloves; and wielding, by-the-by, quite the rusty scythe. The shorts are iffy in terms of gardening safety; however, the micro-biome behind the orange tree is bramble-free and as far as anyone knows, tic-free, although this may be collective magical thinking. The backyard does not lack for rats, and certainly not for squirrels, which gouge out mature oranges, making them look like Oedipus post-The Truth.

The fact is that the mf has recently cast gouged-out oranges as Oedipus in his classroom re-telling of the timeless myth. He is a high school English teacher when not attempting to farm mushrooms. Did we all already know that about him? Well, now we double-know.

He actually double-cast the role of Oedipus, with ungouged-out oranges playing the doomed king pre-Truth. His wife got these oranges for the mf at the supermarket, after asking him if there was anything she could pick up for him. Yes, he said, as a matter of fact: two oranges. The orange tree has zero mature oranges left. Humans and squirrels have consumed them all… oh wait no, I take it back, there is one orange-orange remaining at the tippy-top of the tree.

There is no way the mf is getting a ladder to harvest the last remaining orange. No way. Nunca jamas. Getting on a ladder is like inviting a vampire into your house. Furthermore, you are not supposed to harvest every single last fruit or grain, according to Judeo-Christian tradition. Leave the edges for those in need. The mf is all-in on this tradition but there is no cause for worry because there is no way he is getting on the highest step of his tallest ladder just to harvest the one last remaining orange.

The supermarket oranges played the role of Oedipus just fine, meanwhile. He told each class how much he appreciated his wife picking them up for him. The mf also has a Franklin Mint scale model of Dodger Stadium in his classroom, a gift from friends decades ago — friends who are still friends, what a blessing — and Dodger Stadium served in the mf’s retelling as The Castle.

Oh, it was a festival of fun, producing Oedipus Rex with mainly produce but also certain inanimate objects, such as a cowbell for the Priest who breaks down for a clueless Oedipus the hideous conditions under which the citizens of plague-besieged Thebes are suffering at the beginning of the play.

A cowbell, because the Priest has to cut through Oedipus’s fog when he comes out of the castle to find out what’s all the ruckus. What are you people all doing out here, the King wants to know as the play begins. You there — cowbell — explain this for me. And so the cowbell tells the two oranges playing Oedipus that there’s a plague and drought and unborn children are dying and work has no meaning, then begs him as King to do something about it, at which point Oedipus snaps to and says oh yeah right, the plague, sure, I’ve got a guy for that — Creon — I sent him to the oracle to find out what we’re supposed to do. And thus the inexorable horror is set into motion.

An outgoing student proposed casting a crayon as Creon. We call that co-learning, and it is beautiful. Back to the mushrooms, though: they are also beautiful in their current state of being: ready-to-fruit blocks — themselves a hefty combination of sawdust and sugar — the size of an oversize loaf of pumpernickel bread, with advanced odor of overripe cheese and an additional force field of funk. To be in the presence of a ready-to-fruit Chestnut mushroom block is to feel presence of a great and wild Otherlyness.

The mf had four such blocks. He arranged them in a rectangle according to the instructions, exactly according to the instructions, not making weird improvisations midway through, such as he did when planting carrots recently. “I’ll just cover these carrot seeds I just planted with pinpoint exactitude in terms of depth and spacing because I want to do this right for a change… with grapefruit rinds. Why? I don’t really know why. On a hunch? Because the directions call for using burlap and I don’t have any burlap?”

Oh, mf. Why do you wonder when your carrots do not grow? What is the polite way of asking what is wrong with you?

Oh well. At least he’s not Oedipus, right? Poor Oedipus. What we love most about him is that we are not him. Does he really have to blind himself, though? This is what the mf has been mulling over lately. Why can’t Oedipus say, “What did you expect? You — Apollo, that’s right, you — you made me this way, you made it be my fate to kill my father and you-know-what my mother. So now you want me to gouge my eyes out too?” Here the mf thinks Oedipus would be entitled to an all-time world-record-setting eye roll, and then to just saying the magic word: “Pass.”

After that Oedipus goes on to live out the rest of his natural/unnatural life, perhaps dedicating himself to mushroom farming, assisted by Jocasta, who doesn’t have to hang herself, as well as his sons who don’t have to undertake internecine warfare for the throne and his daughters who don’t have to choose between complicity or martyrdom. Nah, they can all just be like the mf who finally after god knows how many false starts seems genuinely on his way now more than ever to actually taking steps that will lead to the emergence of abundant edible mushrooms.

And what he is going to do with all those mushrooms?

Make barley and mushroom soup!

Mushroom farming, for real

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.

2 thoughts on “The Mushroom Farmer, Book Four, Chapter 2

  1. The take home:
    “Getting on a ladder is like inviting a vampire into your house”
    I agree. I am one ladder incident away from the grave.
    And yes, A crayon as Creon. Crayola “Bluetiful” (one of their recent new colors) might work.

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