Fungus

There’s a variety of fungus that people cultivate down here in little rooftop gardens. I’ve really never seen anything quite like it. They only grow at night, and very quickly too, so that they complete their entire life cycle in just a few hours.

There’s a whole subculture surrounding these things, which is how I first found out about them. People have rooftop parties where they get together, watch the fungus “bloom” and then carve it up and eat it. They’re not hallucinogenic (I know, some people are probably wondering “then what’s the point?”) or if they are it’s very subtle. The main focus is more on the social aspect of just getting together and having a good time.

In fact, most people aren’t really interested in the fungi at all, which is a shame, because they are fascinating organisms. They grow to be almost three feet tall (in as many hours!) and they’re mostly dark orangish-red, dappled with darker-colored spots and lighter-colored knobs. But there’s an incredible variation from one specimen to the next. Occasionally I’ve seen ones that glow faintly in the dark. They’re not shaped like mushrooms at all; they’re more like giant-size asparagus.

It took me a while to wheedle out information from the people who actually grow them. They’re an odd lot. It’s not that they’re secretive, exactly, but they seem to have a hard time expressing themselves. Or maybe I’m just dense. But they get into a quasi-mystical fervor whenever they talk about growing these things.

Eventually I gathered that key to the whole process is collecting the spores. The most common method is to use big swabs of damp cloth. These are mounted on long poles on the roof and left up all night. In the morning they’re taken down and the spores are extracted, if there are any. The whole process is kind of hit and miss.

I thought this was very strange.

Once the spores have been acquired, they have to be planted almost immediately or they’re no good. Only they’re not really planted like a seed would be; they’re placed in a “growth medium.” I’ve never really understood what this medium is, and I think different people might use different semi-secret formulations of their own. When I ask about it all I get is technical mumbo-jumbo about “polysaccharides” and “red algae” and (I’m not making this up) “sulfated galactose monomers.”

Whatever it is, the shit’s expensive. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit how much I’ve spent over the last few weeks. The guy I’m buying it from is one of the more successful growers, and he says he’s giving me a discount.

What’s really frustrating is the lack of results. I did have an initial batch of spores that grew up nicely, just when I was getting started; I called up everyone I knew, and a bunch of people came out, and we had a nice little party. Xy & I were both pretty psyched. But since then, I’ve had almost no luck at all — just a few stunted things that look more like ordinary toadstools than anything else.

I’m getting tired of putting up the damn swabs every night, but I keep thinking of that first crop that was so beautiful. I just wonder if I could swing a better deal on the growth medium…

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