The Mushroom Farmer, Book 4, Chapter 8

Should he?

The MF often wondered.

Should he have his schoolkids grow oyster mushrooms in their English textbooks?

__ Yes

__ No

__ Maybe so

Round and round he went.

Yes, it would generate amazement.

No, it would encourage them to trip on psychedelic mushrooms. Which he did not advocate. Their brains are too immature. You should wait ’til you’re 25 before tripping, is the MF’s rule of thumb. He himself does not partake, hasn’t in 40 years.

The appearance of encouraging his schoolkids to trip was a major point in the Don’t Do It column, but the MF kept thinking would still be worth it for the amazement factor plus the fuck you to the education establishment — and that was the deciding factor. If you wanna say fuck you to the education establishment, say fuck you.

Don’t put mushrooms in the middle.

Furthermore, we all already know that textbooks are flawed insofar as they suggest that the necessary questions already exist, as do the answers. Many people like it this way, because of the clarity and order.

The MF is not one of those people; however, he himself would probably have gotten on the phone to a school administrator had one of his daughters’ teachers proposed they grow mushrooms on a textbook.

So what we have here is a case of the MF thinking something through and deciding not to act on impulse.

It is also a case of his pioneering a Third Way, combining both Yes and No.

No, he did not have his schoolkids grow mushrooms on a textbook.

Yes, he did it himself.

They are beautiful.

And delicious.

Although they cook down to nothing.

Still, they give that earthy and also otherworldly flavor to a bowl o’ noodles. Yummmmmmeeeeee! Big Thank You to the Mushroom Farmer’s Wife for the cooking.

Purification ritual

Now, here’s how you grow mushrooms in a textbook. First, you pour boiling water on the textbook, for purification. The MF placed a book in his bright green 10 gallon bucket, then down came the boiling water.

These books have some great writing in them — Alice Munro, Chinua Achebe — but they are also chock full of micro-management about how to read and what to think, which drives the MF krrrrrrazzzzzzeeee. He was happy to pour boiling water on the textbooks, see them puff up, and emit white paste-y pellets of glue from the binding.

These textbooks, by the way, are referred to in-house as “disposables,” meaning, they get dumped in a landfill at the end of no one using them during the school year. None of the English teachers at the MF’s school use the textbook, that’s for sure. So the MF did not feel sacrilegious about repurposing landfill fodder as mushroom substrate.

On the contrary. He felt righteous, a feeling that rightfully inspires suspicion so let’s be on the lookout for it here. K? K!

To proceed: let the books dry out because you don’t want them to be water-logged, according to the MF’s contact at Field Forest, the real name of his online source of mushroom spawn.

The helpful customer service person there also advised him against sprinkling coffee grounds inside the book. He had thought this might be a good idea based on the video he watched about growing mushrooms on books, but the customer service person said coffee grounds would not provide nutrition so much as contamination — good to know!

After the books had dried out by lounging poolside, the MF sprinkled oyster mushroom spawn between the pages. Equally fun things he has done in his life include swaddling his infant daughters in his T-shirts and playing catcher in adult baseball leagues. That is to say, it was way, way up there on the fun stuff list.

I think the MF really does harbor intense resentment at the education establishment for seeking to establish mediocrity as the pinnacle of achievement.

That’s what made lining a textbook with mushroom spawn such delicious fun. It was like wiring a bomb.

Hold on.

This might be that righteousness we’ve been on the lookout for. What’s the bomb for, MF? Hmmmm? Bombs are not good. Can you think of a different metaphor?

Lining the textbook with mushroom spawn was like planning a surprise party for someone who really loves parties.

Lining the textbook with mushroom spawn was a dream come true… was like breathing a new and better kind of oxygen… like believing in yourself.

OK I get the idea. He liked it. It was exciting. He felt fulfilled or on the way to fulfillment.

That’s all fine. The bomb part, let’s just keep an eye on that while we continue with the how-to. You have to put the spawn-laded textbook carcass into a plastic bag. It helps if the bag has a vent. The MF happens to have such bags from his other adventures in mushroom farming. Persistence pays off!

Then comes the waiting. Not too long. Four and a half weeks. During this time, the MF did not think much about mushrooms. He focused instead on kale. The kale is starting to come around. The MF is cautiously optimistic although not yet to the point of changing his initials. That time may come, but it is not yet.

What the time is, is time to celebrate the fruiting of oyster mushrooms on the now barely recognizable textbooks. The textbooks are curled up and brain-shaped. The oysters meanwhile arise like the Sydney Opera House, a fantastic and iconic achievement of loftiness.

The MF feels

a) content

b) proud

c) excited

d) like sharing a picture of the mushroomed textbook with his students, to accompany instructions for journalling their independent reading. A picture is okay, I think. Here is my kooky hobby. It’s a symbol. A symbol of what? Oh, a symbol only has meaning if you figure it out yourself.

So the MF feels all of that, and especially d). I think whatever the schoolkids come up with during their reflections on independent reading — that is going to turn out to be the most meaningful harvest.

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky is the author of The Gift is to the Giver: Chronicles of a 21st Century Decade (Keppie Usage, 2022). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Sun, and Lit Hub. Mark’s essay, “Gritty All Day Long,” is anthologized by Norton and featured in Best American Sports Writing. He has been writing since his emergence as a gigantic music nerd in early-1970’s San Antonio, Texas. Stints as a regular commentator on public radio’s Marketplace and Internet 1.0 exec preceded a 20-year run as a public school teacher. Marko’s favorite writing topics include unorthodox pedagogy, well-intended gardening, and the intersection of baseball and urban bicycling. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he is working on a new book about his quest to play tennis on every free public court in LA.

3 thoughts on “The Mushroom Farmer, Book 4, Chapter 8

  1. Your delightful and introspective and thoughtful quirkiness lead me to ask if you have discovered/partaken of “Midnight Diner” on Netflix. (Don’t dub, hearing the Japanese is essential.) A pleasure of wistful care.

  2. Thank you! I appreciate both your kind words and the viewing tip, as Season 5 of The Bureau won’t last forever no matter how many times I rewatch each episode.

  3. Lordy, so many take-homes.
    1) “Don’t put mushrooms in the middle.”
    2) “The oysters meanwhile arise like the Sydney Opera House, a fantastic and iconic achievement of loftiness.”
    I wonder if Earthworm Farms in the classroom constitutes a “stick it to the man” situation?
    May moisture and spores always fill your textbooks.

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