Tenth in a holiday-season series of posts that will reprint short fiction written — by twelve HiLobrow contributors — for the collection Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, eds. Rob Walker and HiLobrow’s Joshua Glenn (Fantagraphics, August 2012).
The following story is by Greg Rowland. Enjoy!
I am a mycologist. I study fungi. (I do not study “toadstools” or “fairy rings.” These are objects of fantasy, not science. Ask me about “toadstools” or “fairy rings” and I will most surely spit in your eye.)
It is my great misfortune to encounter non-mycologists from time to time. It may seem astonishing, but there are people who cannot separate agaricaceae from coprinaceae, much less entolomataceae from strophariaceae. But I can, because I am a mycologist.
I have mixed emotions when I meet people who cannot distinguish between entolomataceae and strophariaceae. Mostly I feel pity, mixed with a burning feeling of nausea that settles around my upper trachea. Sometimes I feel pure hatred. I reserve the stronger emotions for those who deliberately flaunt a lack of mycological knowledge as some kind of “badge of honour.” Please be assured that, if I were to meet you, and you deliberately flaunted your lack of mycological knowledge in my presence, then I would most definitely spit in your eye.
Beyond that, here are the two worst things you can say to a mycologist:
“Is there ‘mush-room’ in your field for advancement?”
“You must be a real ‘fun-gi’ to be with.”
It is the fun-gi “joke” that fills the mycology community with dread and foreboding. It is repeated to us every time we venture outside of the mycology community. (Sometimes up to twice a month.) It is enough to make a mycologist spit. It is certainly enough to make a mycologist produce a unique form of body-anger-fungus — which has, ironically, provided a research paper dividend for two less than honorable members of our field. (You know who you are.)
A human female, who carried no malign fungal infections, gave me this Mushroom Shaker. She was attracted to mycologists, and had never knowingly uttered The Joke (op. cit.). She was a dilettante mycologist at best, yet her shiny shoes and gadfly, fungal-free demeanor blinded me.
Some might see this as a thoughtful gift for a mycologist. They would be wrong. This “gift” is merely an extension of the ritual degradation of our science by the non-mycology community (see above, passim). This is why its companion piece is now in several pieces in a landfill, having been battered into fragments by a specialized hard-fungal chipping utensil.
This object is a non-mycologically accurate three-dimensional evocation of a non-existent mushroom. Do not use it as a reference device. Or for any purpose whatsoever. Don’t even look at it for more than 0.75 seconds.
In closing, I contend that this Mushroom Shaker embodies a strong risk of mycological disinformation. Just like the woman who gave it to me.
Original price: $3.00. Final price: $32.00.