I HATE MUSHROOMS
I am only allergic to one type of food—lychee fruit. Not just allergic but deadly allergic, anaphylactic allergic, one bite then staring up at a team of paramedics allergic. I often think, in North America where not a single child can eat peanuts, where half the population suffers from Celiac disease while the other half is unable to consume a droplet of dairy, that my allergy seems quite obscure. Obscure to the point of being charming; possibly eccentric.
Throughout my life, I have lied about various things, one of which has been food. There are three things I refuse to eat because I find them disgusting. Eggplant, eggs and mushrooms. To avoid having to explain my aversion, for the last thirty years I've told people that I'm allergic to eggplant, eggs and mushrooms. I've looked online and as far as I know nobody is allergic to mushrooms or eggplant. But I am, or at least that's what I've led people to believe.
When I began high school in 1989, I made a point of approaching each teacher on the first day of class with a sad and embarrassed face I'd had much practice making, and told them that I had a bladder disease, so would often have to leave the class unannounced to go to the washroom. Because I presented as a fifteen-year old with what I conveyed to be a serious medical illness, not one teacher questioned me. All of them looked at me with a great deal of empathy. I roamed the hallways most of the day while friends suppressed yawns in classrooms.
I do not have a bladder disease. Like most healthy people, I can hold my urine.
The point of this preamble is to say that I have nothing to say about mushrooms. I don't care one shit about shitake. My experience with mushrooms has been with one kind: hallucinogenic. And this is where I am a food expert, a foodie, a light-hearted and kind Gordon Ramsey.
The first time I ate magic mushrooms was in grade eight. I was, I guess, fourteen years old. I'd never done drugs before that day; not marijuana, not cigarettes or alcohol. My friend Bhavesh had stolen a bunch of mushrooms from his brother Umesh, who was older and sold drugs in high school. We ate them in my mom's basement while we watched Enter the Ninja for the twentieth time. We'd tried to make ninja stars from crushed Coke cans, both wanted what we thought to be the stylistically superior white ninja uniform, and wished we could buy smoke bombs and tonfas. I don't remember the quantity we consumed, but we felt like they weren't working. Then we stood up. Once up, we realized we immediately needed to get outside.
I remember walking out of my townhouse complex and across the street to the school soccer field. I wanted to caress every tree and bush I saw. Crossing the street, barely populated by cars, seemed like an insane idea, but eventually we bolted across the two lanes. Inside the soccer field we lay on the grass. The grass we ran on and played sports on had suddenly become the most comfortable bed in the world. Bhavesh and I were both touching our faces softly, and felt the typical first experience of our hands seeming alien and bizarre to look at. We rolled around slowly, not speaking, the smell of earth seeming almost erotic. I realized that I was what I'd only heard described as ‘very high'. I didn't hallucinate that night, but my sense of the earth as a living, breathing animal did make me cry. At one point I looked up, and Bhavesh was gone. I could see him in the distance leaning against the soccer goal-post, touching it like one would the face of a dying lover. I began to think about my mother, and her obsession with the Prince album, Purple Rain. I remembered some of the lyrics, and thought they sounded quite sexual, although I was unsure of what sexual was. Something about masturbating—I realized it was all quite nasty. I thought my mother surely hadn't had sex since I was born, and was disturbed to think she might kiss men and do whatever else older people did in closed bedrooms. I didn't want these thoughts, so did my best to get up, realized that was impossible, and lay face down in the grass. I felt the bugs of the night crawling over the back of my head and liked how it felt. The rest is a blur, but I knew that what I'd done, I wanted to do again.
I've eaten mushrooms more times than I remember, but only two seem important to recount. My introductory experience, and one from four years ago where I became higher than I'd ever been in my life. It happened in Vancouver, British Columbia, where I'd lived for eleven years, and was visiting to see my best friend.
We'd planned to go up to the mountains. In that province, the license plates say, 'Supernatural British Columbia', and this isn't hyperbole. Vancouver is a city built in a rainforest, and once you drive an hour out of it, you see the supernatural everywhere. The tallest and oldest trees in the world, fog that hits you like anaesthetia, eagles, bears, whales, cliffs that descend into an unending void. The ghosts of a cultural genocide whisper unceasingly. Aaron and I stayed one night at his apartment, then spent the morning waiting on a typically clingy drug dealer to bring us an ounce of mushrooms. Once we'd shaken him off like our dads had us, we got in his Mitsubishi van and headed for roads that snaked frighteningly between mountains and cliffs. Every time I'd gone up north I'd feared plummeting off the side, something that, horribly, ended up happening to Aaron's brother a few years later. We stopped in Squamish, and pulled into a campground. We'd wanted a more private spot, unpopulated and remote, but were sick of driving and wanted to get down to getting high. It's important to mention that we stopped at a Walmart on the way there, and stocked up on food and beer and Gatorade. We settled into our spot around two, and put all our food and supplies on the picnic table.
British Columbia is known for having the world's most potent psilocybin and marijuana. We thought it was best to test the mushrooms first. It turned out the test dose was a bit larger than we'd intended, and within twenty minutes knew we'd put ourselves in a situation where we might possibly lose language and control of our bodies. This is what we wanted. The campground advertised a vague 'wifi tree' should we want to connect to the outside world. We did not want to connect. What first happened to me, and which I still have on film as it was early enough in the trip that I could operate a camera, was that I saw a squirrel on a tree behaving inappropriately. Aaron was lying face down on an earth bed of reeds and soft grass. I watched the squirrel and it watched me back. None of this part is hallucinatory, as I've shown people the video and everyone finds it inexplicable. The squirrel moved its tail back and forth slowly, precisely as a metronome. Each time the tail moved—to the left, to the right—the squirrel produced a digital sounding beep. I sat on the grass recording it, then went to get Aaron. I told him I'd found the wifi tree, but did not know how we were supposed to connect. Getting him out his earth bed was as difficult as pulling him out of a threesome; he was inside the earth, the earth was hugging him and showing him real love. I got him up and over to the tree. He saw what I saw and heard what I heard and immediately screamed. Then I screamed. We ran back inside the van. Much of that day was spent inside the van instead of in nature as we'd intended. The van was safe, we knew what it did and what it was for. But everything natural outside the van became menacing. We decided we should eat more mushrooms.
It was hot that day, and I'd taken off my shirt. My beard was ridiculously long and my hair unkempt. Since I hadn't thought to bring shorts I took off my pants and spent the afternoon in just my boxer shorts. After hugging, and rubbing each other's heads, we worked up the nerve to leave the van, and I was exposed to the hostility of gravity. We still had rational thought on our side, and knew that if we didn't chop wood to make a fire, we wouldn't be able to eat that night. I took the hatchet and tried my best to split wood, but had trouble connecting the blade with the logs. Aaron decided to just pull branches off trees, and was doing it successfully for a while until he wandered off to put his head in a stream. I wanted a cigarette but realized I didn't have a lighter. We hadn't really noticed all the other people camping around us, but suddenly I realized they were everywhere. I saw a group of teenagers about thirty feet away, figured they'd be smoking weed, and walked towards them. I was confused as I approached them as to why they were looking at me with fear, why they were getting into their cars and closing the doors. I got to their campsite and caught a glimpse of myself in a car window. My entire body is covered in tattoos, something that intimidates people in normal situations, although I'm as tender as a puppy. I saw that I was only in my boxer shorts. Then I saw that I was still holding the hatchet, which had somehow frozen in the position above my head when I'd last used it trying to chop wood. I understood their fear. A bearded man painted with tattoos wearing only threadbare boxer shorts and holding a hatchet in an attack position. I turned around and walked back to our site. Aaron was back in the van smoking; there were dozens of lighters in the glovebox. He was shirtless now too, and had cranked Octopus Family to maximum volume. There was some line we found funny; 'I'll massage you with massage oil' that we couldn't get over. The repetition of massage. Then came the laughter, and it lasted for a long time. He got out of the van and looked at me, laughing, through the front window. He pressed his face to the window and I pressed my feet to the inside of the window. He licked my feet with the glass separating us, and images of that moment are the last photographs I was able to take.
It must have been five o'clock. Aaron had not opened a beer nor I a Gatorade. We looked at all the food on the picnic table and realized it was there to eat and drink. Aaron had brought a Hibachi, and while we could barely light our cigarettes, we thought we could get the Hibachi started, make some hot dogs. Hibachi's are very simple to use, but at that moment they were as complex as tesseracts. Five minutes into trying to get it started, Aaron picked it up and threw it ten feet away, where it landed and broke into dozens of pieces. Aaron likes beer, and I like Gatorade, but the idea of hydrating never crossed our minds. One of us said, "I think we're supposed to eat now," and sat at the table looking at the enormous amount of food we'd brought. Marshmallows seemed like a good idea.
One bite of the marshmallow felt wrong. The texture was intolerable. I took the uneaten half and threw it at the van. The moist part left from my bite made it stick to the side. Without speaking Aaron agreed this was a fun thing to do. We went through a family pack of marshmallows, taking one bite, spitting it out, then hurling it at the van. Three out of four times they stuck. Once they were gone we went back to the table. I remember Aaron looking at the two-four of beer, and I remember pondering the Gatorade, but neither of us took a sip.
It was summer, but suddenly we became aware that in a few hours darkness would ascend. We did not like this. We got inside the van, lay down beside each other for a moment, then got back out. The fire. We had to make a fire. In my memory, this event would go on for an hour, or up to five. While Aaron made his own fruitless attempt to chop firewood, I lay face down in the grass. What I saw there was incredible. The smallest tomato in the world. Maybe the size of a newborn pea. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, had no idea that tomatoes grew out of the earth sometimes, instead of off a vine. I yelled to Aaron that I'd discovered a miracle of nature, and that we needed to gather things to make the world's smallest salad. He came over to inspect what I was staring at and agreed it was in fact what I claimed it to be. Our quest for fire paused, I stood up and began to look for something salad-like. Aaron was foraging for things that could pass as lettuce and I was hunting for miniature carrots. I couldn't find any so went into the van and grabbed a mushroom cap, shredding it into tiny pieces. He was back with tiny leaves he'd shredded into lettuce, and we lay down and began to assemble a miniature salad. Once it was done it was beautiful. I wanted to take a photo but couldn't find the on button on my camera. We lay next to each other marvelling at the mysteries of nature, then I wanted to pet it. Once I touched the tomato, I realized it was a very small, plastic orange bead. I think I might have sobbed briefly, but Aaron returned to the fire, determined that he could do this thing people had been doing for thousands of years. But, we weren't as smart as those people, this was obvious. All the dry wood he'd gathered we put on the pit. Underneath it we placed dry leaves and newspaper. The log was unsplittable, that much was certain.
Strangely we'd only smoked a few cigarettes, but knew we still possessed the knowledge of how to use a lighter. We still had not consumed a drop of liquid. The paper burned easily, but the wood would not catch. In an unbelievable moment of clarity, Aaron remembered that the campsite across from us was full of what appeared to be Persian men. Having spent time in Israel and Jordan, Aaron knew that if they were Muslim (which they turned out to be) they were required to assist us in some way. They had a beautiful, raging log of cinder which they gave us, noticeably disturbed by our behaviour and clothing. We were ecstatic. We would have fire. We put dry wood on top of it and stuck more paper underneath. Nothing. We blew on the paper which just sent hot ash into each other's faces. When Aaron went back to the site across from us to ask for assistance, suddenly the men were quiet, slacking the leashes on their pit bulls just enough so that they were inches from Aaron's body. He came back to me.
We sat at the table, I actually opened a Gatorade. We decided the only option we had left was to eat more mushrooms. Surrounded by wieners and Korean barbecue, corn and cookies, we slowly ate small pieces of mushroom. I was stunned when Aaron put hot sauce on his little pieces and ate them. I don't like hot things, so decided I wasn't getting on board with that. By now it was dark, everyone was asleep. We'd found our flashlight and placed it on the table with the light aimed towards the sky. It was enough to let us see what we were doing. I don't remember if we spoke, or if it was coherent if we did, but out of nowhere my best friend had the hot sauce bottle in his mouth and was drinking it. This was the first liquid he'd consumed all day. It made sense to me somehow at the time. He drank the entire bottle and we managed to smoke a few cigarettes. We saw and see each other so rarely since I moved away, that any time we spend together feels sacred and beautiful. I looked at him across the table and thought he was beautiful. I loved him for drinking the hot sauce. The wind and the trees around us were constantly morphing into jellyfish and Agent Orange. Without the fire it was cold.
We realized we were tired and went back to the van. The Mitsubishi van was spacious and had two thin mattresses in the back. I realized at some point I'd put clothes back on, although it's possible they weren't mine. It'd been a while since we spoke, but before he put the light out, I asked Aaron if he wanted another mushroom, and he did. So, we each ate another deep purple cap and drifted off to sleep, sort of hugging, sort of dead.
In the morning we woke up in the afternoon. It was maybe one o'clock. We heard the repulsive sound of other people setting up their campsites. We were stunned when we got out of the van to see it was covered in dozens of marshmallows. We were starving, so we ate them all then looked over at the picnic table. A flat of beer untouched, a smorgasbord of food. When we got closer we saw that one of us had pinned a wiener to the table with a knife.
Although we couldn't recall bringing it, or drinking it, there was an empty plastic bottle of chocolate milk with GHB written on it in marker.
We slowly packed up the van, Aaron drank a beer and I drank a Gatorade. We left just the knife and the GHB.
Driving back into the city I vomited out of the window several times, and we listened to old Smog singles on cassette tape.
Watching Aaron drive the van, I remembered how much I loved him, and thought about how much that experience brought us closer.
Then we ate some more mushrooms from the bag in the glovebox.