Excerpt from The Fungus Man
“Jim, meet Doc Handley. Doc, meet Jim Jefferson,”
Thus did Manny introduced me to Doc, who extended his right hand to grip mine like a vise. His hand had a thick, grotesque thumb and only one finger, the index finger. I glanced to see if his left thumb was equally large, but instead of the hand I had expected, he sported a prosthesis, lifting it up and waggling it at me as if he knew what I was looking for. Another peculiarity I took mental note was his ears, or rather his half-ears: cartilage was missing on each of them – the edges were jagged, as if bitten off. He was a muscular man, bald but for a long white queue tied with a small bow of black silk, drapped over his shoulder and down the front of his black silk shirt, which was fastened with white death’s-head buttons. He had a matching Fu Manchu mustache, presided over by a Hittite nose and steel-gray eyes.
“Hi, Jim, it’s my big toe.”
“Hi, uh, excuse me?”
“You were wondering about my thumb. It’s my big toe. Gangrene got the original, and my left foot to boot, but I managed to save the right one, so I took its big toe and made a thumb out of it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, but I’m glad the doctors managed to….”
“I managed the surgery myself, with Manny operating.”
“Oh. Pleased to meet you.”
“Your pleasure is mine.”
“My man!” Manny affectionately exclaimed, throwing his arm around Doc’s shoulders. “What’s up for supper?”
“I thought we’d have plasmodia pancakes.”
“Great! I love ’em. Jim, Have you ever had plasmodia pancakes?”
“Can’t say I’ve even hear of them. Plasm? That’s an old term for basic substance of life isn’t it?”
“Good call, Jim,” Doc said. “That’s protoplasm. The plasmodium constitutes the main vegetative phase of the life cycle of slime mold. It comprises cytoplasm or cellular protoplasm with multiple nuclei.”
“So we’re having slime for dinner?” I asked, incredulously. I thought of the slime mold I had found on my lawn once. It didn’t look that appetizing, looked more like dog puke or dog diarrhea.
“Jim,” Manny interjected, “how ’bout a glass of Kool Aid?”
“Why, sure,” I accepted.
“I’ll get it,” Doc said, and walked over to the refrigerator – his gait was certainly graceful considering the fact that his left shoe was filled with a prothesis. “An old acquaintance of mine, Retardo Culo, gave me his Mexican Myxomycete recipe.”
“Retardo Culo?” I queried.
“You know him?”
“I know a Retardo Culo, a Doctor Retardo E. Culo. He was my chiropractor but he got busted. Good chiropractor, bad insurance thief.”
“Gee,” Manny interjected, “that name is familiar, something about the E. Oh, yeah, I met a guy in San Diego, a pot dealer by that name, but people called him Mister E, or just E – he carried glossy black business cards with a large gold ‘E’ embossed on them, on its back with the arms sticking up. Weird cards. He was a friend of Paul the Grass Man, from New York. ”
“I’ll be,” said I. “That’s gotta be the same man. He had a gold ‘E’ on the sign outside his door.”
“He said something about getting a chiropractic certificate,” Doc added.
“He never got one but went into practice anyway,” I advised. “What a small world…. Hey, this Kool Aid is good,” I took another swig and smacked my lips. “I thought the FDA made ’em get rid of the Root Beer flavoring. So Culo gave you the mixo, mixed, mix….”
“Mexican Myxomycete pancake recipe.”
“Mexicans eat that stuff?”
“Sure. They like it best with chocolate in the afternoons, or with cayenne in the mornings.”
“I hear Mexicans eat so much cayenne that the buzzards won’t eat them,” Manny put in.
“I don’t know about that, but I do know gringos aren’t too familiar with plasmodia. There was a big alien scare in one Texas border town when plasmodia appeared there.”
“The slime-mold must have been in Moronia, Texas,” Manny chimed in and giggled like a girl – the man is getting silly, I thought to myself, but I was beginning to feel rather odd too as time went by, slightly giddy.
“No joke,” Doc persisted. “The sporulation probably occurred on the Mexican side of the border. The sporongia ruptured, releasing the sporongia mass into the surround. A freak wind carried the spores into Texas and by chance into the right environment for release of amoebae, which formed plasmodia, frightening the inhabitants.”
“Whoa, you’re over my head a bit,” I said. “You’re talking about slime mold, right? A plant?”
“And animal. The Myxomycetes are usually classed with fungi, and fungi with plants, but a fungus is really not a plant.”
“Fungus I like,” I pronounced – Manny nodded affirmatively. “We got some cool alkaloids out of them in the old days, and I love mushroom and cheese omeletes, but I never heard of making slime mold into pancakes. Oh, yummy, mommy, Doc Handley’s Slime Cake!” But I envisioned dog barf again, and felt like barfing. “So you’re talking about spores here. Maybe the Mexicans got alien spores from outer space!”
I don’t know what came over us, but at that juncture we all busted out laughing hysterically. “Oh, oh, wait!” I got ahold of myself. “I remember the ergot thing, the thing called sclerosis!”
“Sclerotia,” Doc corrected. “That’s the hardened hypha or purple fungus body that replaces the rye flowers. That’s ergot, though. Slime mold can grow to large sizes as it migrates for food, and, when it starts to starve, it will thicken in spots and rise up into sporongia, or fruiting bodies, to sporulate, or it might dry up and harden into sclerotia, and rest dormant for years – that’s how I keep it, then I grow plasmodia on filter paper wet with nutrients.”
“So, Doc, what wakes them up?” I asked, emptying my glass of Kool Aid.
“They love oatmeal.”
“That’s right. Oatmeal flakes.”
“Ha, ha, hee, hee, that’s so funny!”
“They really feel their oats,” Manny’s huge huge belly bounced up and down.
“Mexican plasmodia from outer space!”
“Hee, hee, so we’ll get spaced out!”
“Hey, you guys!” Virginia appeared at the back door in a towel. “Jim, Manny, come on! Come get in the hot tub!”
…. to be continued