Quarantine Derangement du Jour: Spinal Fungus

Everyone’s lost their goddamn mind. Can you blame them?

For example, my eternally beloved Josefina: 125 lbs of molten lava woven into woman whose brilliance is only shadowed by her wickedry; even she is not immune to the sanity elves thieving marbles in the night. Some people learned how to bake bread during the coronavirus pandemic; Josefina is directing a stage production of King Lear featuring the ducks of our pond.

Fortunately, my grip on reality is quite firm. Or so I tell myself whilst Josefina insists it is I who’s gone mad. Quarantined together, like two lab rats in a cage, or two goldfish blowing bubbles at each other from separate fishbowls of conflicting realities, it is my word against her word against the word of the whispering mushroom in my head and there’s no one to mediate but the lumbering wood stork outside and Odrick is clearly biased towards Jo after all the salmon skin she’s fed him. It comes down to this: at least one of the three of us: Odrick, Josefina and/or I, is a salty bag of mixed nuts. Odrick’s bird brain hasn’t evolved since he was a dinosaur; you can’t blame him his irrational temper. Between Jo and me, though, there is only one of us who gossips with the crows.  

Josefina preaching to her flock

And so I quest for a cure… not for Covid, though, I mean, I’ll take a look, but a cure for the Quarantine Derangement afflicting my beloved Josefina.

Jimmy Beakers sold me some of his homemade tonic, distilled in his bathtub, having promised it has cleansing properties, will turn gold into lead and cures baldness. “Dude-bro, people are sick of themselves.” JB told me from his lemonade stand at the Citgo gas station. “Literally dying on their own breath after months of breathing-in burps of Cheetoh-flavored carbon-dioxide. I mean, if God had wanted us to wear masks, he would have put our face on the top of our heads so we could just put on a hat.” So I bought JB’s tonic, mixed it into a pitcher of sangria I made for Josefina and me, which we drank and… while she and I both lost five pounds and have not gone bald since drinking the concoction, I cannot say either one of us are anymore sane than we were the day before.

I further my search…

According to some, humanity’s collective descent into global madness should come as no surprise. Prophets have been warning us of a “galactic unhingement” for decades. One such doomsday forecaster is Bernadette Dovetail of Deltona, Florida, the author of “Plunging into the Dark Rift: a Journey of Self Discovery”. Only 14 copies of the manuscript were created, all 371 pages hand-written by Bernadette herself. The Orlando Centenarian called the auto-biographical novel, “a feat of orgiastic splendor” and “salve to the itch I can’t bite”. Within the pages of this book, Bernadette writes of her many lovers over a three week road trip she undertook in 1987, driving in a van from Cleveland to Mexico City to Acapulco to Tijuana and eventually Juneau, Alaska. While 97% of her lovers over this journey were described as “an uninfluential member of society”, “flotsam”, “presumably left-for-dead”, “a matchstick with a coke habit”, “gimpy-legged hitch-hiker”, “librarian cursed with far-sightedness”, “hobo king” or, most frequently, “never-to-be-seen-again” men or women, there was one sexual partner who stands out from the pack: Monte Aguilar, a noted Maya Scholar at Mexico City Colegio Comunitario, who initiated Bernadette into the rituals of the ancients, including a lot of involuntary breath-play and skinny dipping in Yucatán cenotes.

Monte currently lives 15 minutes away in Casadaga where word on the street is he and Bernadette are no longer on speaking terms.

Bernadette Dovetail

Bernadette is waiting for me on her front porch, leaning forward out of her patio chair as she stubs a cigarette on a rusty can of diet cola. She is squinting into the sun as she quietly mumbles, “don’t see that every day” without elaboration. She hollers for me to take off my facemask. Bernadette can “sense who’s got the corona and who don’t” and I clearly am a non-carrier. I step up her porch and ask about one of the two signs in her front yard; not the “Natural Healer for Hire”, but the sign reading, “Trump 2024: Make America Great Again Again”. Mm-hmm, she hums while nodding. “Yeah, well, the pedophiles are going to steal the election this year, but not to worry because Trump will be back to win the next election.”

Why watch the news when you can just talk to a psychic?

“The most common misperception by those who read my books is that I am an academic.” Bernadette tells me. Bernadette dropped out of high school in 1971 and relocated to Florida where she eventually became the proto-Hooters Girl at the original Gulf Coast location. “Who do you think convinced L. Ron to move the Scientologists to Clearwater?” Bernadette recalls those early days. “I made enough money slinging beers and fried food to upgrade what my momma gave me to double-d courtesy of science, baby, back when fake boobs were made in the U.S.A. and built to last.” With fluttering hand motions, she draws my attention to the breasts gracefully hidden by her cheetah spotted blouse. She insists her “tatas” have been pointing straight at the horizon for forty-odd years, except, of course, she says with a wink, when they’re pointing up at heaven.

Bernadette advertises herself as a medium, but she was not born psychic. She only found her “shine” after a night of purging a bad chicken wing; an industry hazard (“comes with the territory, baby”). The fowl affliction put her into a 3 hour coma and when she emerged, she was able to communicate to the Mesoamerican nurses at her bedside in Yucatec Maya, a language she had no prior knowledge of. It was then she realized her destiny was in Mexico. Cue her road trip of self-discovery and cue Monte Aguilar. After a decade of sexual indecencies in the ruins of Tulum, she and Monte relocated to the Spiritualist Capital of the World, Casadaga, Florida, but according to Bernadette, “someone put a little too much nut in that fruitcake.” I am unsure if she is speaking of Casadaga or Monte and would rather not know.

“Enough about me. Tell me, son, what ails you?” Bernadette inquires as she rubs fragrant oils on my forearms with violent intensity as if she were deciding between two baseball bats to take to the plate in the bottom of the ninth. I explain my reason for being here by detailing Jo’s erratic behaviors: she’s become queen of the birds at Hawk Haven Country Club, she feeds dozens of ducks throughout the day, she practically squats on nests when expectant mothers wander off for a swim, she throws her flip-flops at predatory raptors, screaming at hawks outside our neighbor’s houses, screaming at the lawn-mowing men around the lake, hurrying them away from her flock. Bernadette watches me plead my case and does not seem convinced. “And!” I add, lifting an index finger to represent my exclamation. “And Josefina believes I am possessed by a demon mushroom.”

Mm-hmm, Bernadette hums with her nod. “I do sense something fungal in your aura.”

No. No, no, no, no, I say. I am not a mushroom zombie, I insist. Josefina got the idea from talking to crows and reading internet articles about the largest living creature in the world being a massive mushroom under Oregon which communicates through its branches across the Pacific Northwest and can control the trees and through the trees can control the wind. People who take mushrooms as recreational drugs or salad toppings are not hallucinating as much as they are communicating with the forest gods, which are, Jo says, essentially, the mushroom underworld. “And!” I exclaim with another raised index finger. And there is this fungus found in Southeast Asia which emits spores which attack carpenter ants, driving them to climb rainforest trees and die as mushrooms sprout from their spine and release more spores to the jungle floor, zombifying more ants and, “And!” Josefina believes I might have ingested similar spores during one of my trips to the jungles of Vietnam or the Peruvian Amazon or Miami and that there is a malignant mushroom puppet-master which has become embedded in my spine and controls my nervous system, influencing my thoughts and decisions, everything from which protein I crave to which shirt will attract the most prospective mates, as if my semen is loaded with spores seeking to propagate… her words, not mine…

“If…” Bernadette begins. “If you were under the influence of a portabella, wouldn’t the fungi tell you Josefina was the crazy one and you were the one with a firm grip on reality?”

Well, naturally…

Bernadette takes out a can of snuff and pinched enough for a good snort. “Excuse me” she says. “Helps keep me focused in the ‘now’.” As opposed to the future… or the past, I ponder, as she takes out a tablet to consult the current alignment of the planets. Referencing the star charts, Bernadette tells me, “Uranus has just gone retrograde in Taurus.”

Yeah, ever since I drank Jimmy’s bullshit tonic.

“But what worries me is Mars in Aries. We’re talking confrontation, which is Mars, but Aries represents the mind. We’re talking confrontation in your brain, baby. You might think you’re fine, but your mind is either at war or already annexed by a greater power, perhaps by your portabella overlord.”

Okay, maybe I am not fine, but I damn sure ain’t a walking mushroom.

“If you had a CAT scan I wonder how much of your brain has been replaced with fungus.” She muses.

“I’m going to make you a tea.” Bernadette tells me. “Do you have a neti pot? Are you currently taking laxatives?” She stands up on her porch and opens the screen door, pausing to turn back, “How much cash do you have on you?”

I thumb through my wallet, but really, who carries cash anymore? Bernadette enters her house discouraged. She returns with a mason jar of coconut oil and other accoutrement: healing salts from the Himalaya, a dollop of athlete’s foot cream, sage, dried sea urchin and cayenne pepper. She suggests how to get the concoction deepest into my nasal cavity where the mushroom has clearly taken root. Lastly, there is a recipe card for baked mushrooms stuffed with pimento and cream cheese.  

“I want you to read the recipe.” Bernadette tells me. “And ask yourself… is it the mushroom who is stuffing me or me who is stuffing the mushroom?”

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