The Mushroom Farmer, Book 4, Chapter 3

IT has happened.

I-T it.

The thing itself.

The mushroom farmer has grown mushrooms.

*

Listen my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…

*

Amid the glory, the mf feels like a malfunctioning companionship robot, rebooting repeatedly, desperate to generate an appropriate response.

*

What if he assigns himself a task he sometimes gives students: write an objective summary without giving your opinion.

*

He saw them two days ago, golden brown, shining like a ground crown behind the orange tree.

It was a side-of-the-eye sighting, too magnificent to behold straight on.

They were there, though, no question about that, conspicuous as the torch of the Statue of Liberty reaching up from the earth at the end of Planet of the Apes.

These are the chestnut mushrooms the mf planted a scant two weeks ago. It has not even been the three weeks recommended by the instructions for simply going about your business, never-minding what might or might not be happening in the pile of oak chips and sawdust covering the reeking, caramelly bricks of spawn.

Never mind those bricks of spawn! Go forth and teach your high school students to identify the elements of narrative and the influence of word choice, or to use the academic word, diction. Teach them further that writing and reading are global contemporary art forms in which their participation is not only welcome but needed. Do this by sharing texts published long after the most current book most of them have ever been taught, The House on Mango Street (1991).

The House on Mango Street is a terrific book, compressed and alive and short and true. Some editions include a wise and informative introduction by Sandra Cisneros about the struggle to create something original and brilliant. The mf has nothing against The House on Mango Street other than its ubiquity as ethnocentric text. The mf should be more understanding and less grudge-y, but that is not new news and anyway, I thought we were talking about mushrooms?

It is as though an octopus has occupied the foot of the orange tree. Here is life and intelligence of a different order, all the more alive and bright for being different.

How many breaths — in through the nose — out through the mouth — are needed for the mushroom farmer to feel at peace with his creation?

Whatever that number is, he has not reached it yet.

Keep trying, mf!

Keep breathing: in through the nose, out through the mouth.

You can do it.

The octopus is rooting for you.

*

This is the part where the mf keeps trying to digest the splendor of his newly emerged chestnut mushrooms.

It is dawn: birds chirping, pool filter whirring. Air temperature quiet-cool. Early sunlight through the underbranches is gray-orange-green: orange of the early morning horizon; gray of the marine layer; green of the ferns at the base of the orange tree next to the chestnut mushrooms which are proclaiming Hallelujah.

They are all but pulsing.

French toast. That’s what they resemble. Toasted brown on top, buttery edges.

Challah French toast, because of the puffiness of the mushroom tops, and the white sprinkles like powdered sugar and black sprinkles like poppy seeds. There is also the Judaism inherent in this project of homegrowing ingredients for barley and mushroom soup, a staple of the mf’s forebearers if delicatessens are accurate predictors of the past.

But what are these sprinkles actually? The mf hopes that if he thinks like a beginning mycologist he might be able to generate an appropriate response.

A: (from the internet): Scales.

RESPONSE OF MF’S MIND TO THIS INFORMATION: (whirring, like a pool filter): Hmmmm. Perhaps. Or perhaps they are jewels in a diadem.

The mf devotes the early morning to walking from his desk to the pile of mushrooms, trying to decide if they are actual or metaphorical jewels. He gazes with eye and with mind’s eye. The golden brownness, undulating, is what really gets him. The experience is like looking into the mind of God or if that’s too grandiloquent then how about… nope, sorry, not backing down. Mind of God it is.

That said, in these situations one is supposed to look slant. Thank you Emily Dickinson for preparing us to face the divine. Now here’s the thing. The mf is sorely tempted to bring a nice clump of mushrooms to school with him, along with an electric skillet, some butter, and fresh-laid backyard eggs from his hens who by the way, the overlapping pattern of their brown, yellow, and gold feathers also conjures mind of God, which is everywhere once you start looking for it.

He is tempted, I say, to go ahead and electric-skillet a nice mushroom omelet for homeroom and he definitely would if it wasn’t for COVID. However, since it is COVID, the mf uncharacteristically thinks about erring on the side of caution. He has already commenced making sun tea from homegrown pineapple sage on the big sunny windowsill of his room. He wore latex gloves to infuse water fountain water with sage and also dried hibiscus leaves.

Even so, with the latex, while concocting sun tea he was still thinking, “Yellow light definitely flashing here in terms of potentially avoidable contagion.”

Omelet-making feels like an activity for a less-raging pandemic.

What the mf could do is bring in more pineapple sage, with its lovely sure-enough pineapplish aroma and bright red tubular flowers, which one of his students — the last time he brought a bunch of pineapple sage to school, it’s been that kind of year already — has already said look just right for hummingbirds.

He wants to distribute sage among his students because there is a bad social media vibe at his school. A nasty account has emerged, making cruel fun of people. Ick. Also, online videos have emerged of reckless albeit age-appropriate behavior — vaping, piercing — in the bathrooms. Alack, bathrooms, covens of high school heresy.

The mf had heard much bemoaning of the bad social media vibe at a faculty meeting and thought to himself, “Hmm, you know what’s good for purification? Sage!” So yeah, he’s going to bring in another bundle and save the mushrooms for further contemplation and home omlete making.

*

And this turns out to be excellent judgement — not at all impaired! — because the mf gave himself a mortifying tummy ache due to over-omelet-ing.

Oh no! — but also, oh yes. It felt like he had ingested a lava lamp. Let’s leave it at that. Desperate to identify any other possible cause — harvesting kale by flashlight, for example, might he have accidentally picked up an insect of the garden that did not like being in his belly?

A: (from the internet) Nope. Too many mushrooms can do ya like that.

RESPONSE OF MF’S MIND TO THIS INFORMATION: (lurching, like an elevator dropping unexpectedly): I will be eventually be okay if I nibble on a bit of cheese.

And so unfurled the mf’s school day, inquiring with what he considered to be well-concealed burps and discrete belly-rubbing into narrative strategies of such non-House on Mango Street books as Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Sympathizer by Viet Than Nguyen and Skinship by Yoon Choi. If you get the impression the mf is including more texts by Asian-background writers, ding-ding-ding! Because even if you can’t single-handedly turn back anti-Asian hatred spewed by the previous president, though admittedly already plentiful in the atmosphere like yeast spores — even if you can’t get people now to c’mon and love one another, you can certainly include more texts by Asian-background writers.

Furthermore, these single-handed gestures actually have an effect. For example, did you hear? That nasty social media site the mf brought in pineapple sage to combat: taken down the very day he brought in the sage.

Yeah + uh-HUH. Power to the people, right on. So what if the mf over-omleted? You would have too, these new chestnut mushrooms are so gorgeous. Either the mushroom and fresh backyard egg omelet OR the butter-sautéed mushroom side dish; either of these alone would have been a culinary delight and the mf would most likely have awakened from easy dreams to find himself transformed into a person of renewed purpose and intensity.

But life is not that linear and as we know, the mf awoke instead to inner rumpus. Yet he soldiered on through the day, discussing narrative strategies such as describing setting to invoke mood and more importantly nodding and saying “What you say is true” when a student who had until that moment had been acting the role of Kid Who is Always Confused said of the opening scene of Klara and the Sun, “What’s remarkable is how specifically he describes one gesture after another.”

Whoaaaa. Kid. What you say is True!

So that plus cheese-nibbling plus an emergency order of sticky and coconut rice got the MF through the day. Thank you Joseph Campbell for preparing us for the Turn and Run phase of the hero’s journey. The mf could easily have been one-and-done on backyard mushrooms after his belly-ache from over-omlet-ing, but nah. He has not come this far to give up. He just needs another day or so of simple solids, and then he will sail on towards his destiny as a human being possessed of glowing chestnut mushrooms.

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.

One thought on “The Mushroom Farmer, Book 4, Chapter 3

  1. So many take homes, Too many to list.
    “…conspicuous as the torch of the Statue of Liberty reaching up from the earth at the end of Planet of the Apes.”
    “…”a staple of the mf’s forebearers if delicatessens are accurate predictors of the past.”
    “…Alack, bathrooms, covens of high school heresy.”
    Mushroom Pride dominates the weather on the east coast.
    It was a blue/orange sunrise.

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