Close encounters of the mushroom kind

I made a huge tactical error during a telephone conversation with an old friend a few evenings ago. During what I believed to be some harmless small talk, I foolishly mentioned that I’d consumed a large portabella mushroom for dinner.

The aforementioned friend was none other than my old ’60s sidekick, Sapper, and my brief remark about the oversized gourmet mushroom sent him through the roof.

Sapper, forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, told me in no uncertain terms that I’d endangered my home, the security of the nation and possibly the future of the human race by consorting with portabella mushrooms.

“So they took you in too, eh, bro? You really believed that was a simple, garden variety mushroom that you invited into your dining room?” he asked with ill-concealed disdain. “I really thought you were smarter than that. I mean, did it ever occur to you that mushrooms weren’t supposed to be as big as footballs?”

Before I could reply, Sapper answered for me.

“Of course not, Mr. Trendsetter Gourmet. You just scooped up that so-called mushroom and ran with it, just like everybody else who’s fallen for their insidious alien plot …”

Alien plot?

“Think about it, pal. When was the last time you saw a little can of Green Giant portabella mushrooms, or saw a portabella pizza from Domino’s? Never, that’s when, because before 1978 nobody had ever seen one. And that’s because they’re NOT OF THIS EARTH!”

(I positively love conversations like this.)

“The guy on the Internet at the sheet metal shop laid it all out for me, bro, and it ticks like a watch,” Sapper explained. “Shortly before 9 p.m. on Nov. 12 or Dec. 6 or something in 1978, no fewer than eight guys in Portland – one of them a respected grain broker – saw a group of five octagonal lights crisscrossing the skies overhead really quick and goofy-like and then they just disappeared …

“Yeah, the lights went away, but not the portabella mushrooms and now they’re everywhere and you just don’t get it, do you? How much clearer do I have to make it for you? Start with UFOs, factor in Portland where everything’s just a little bit weirder and then multiply by about 500 billion giant mushrooms just showin’ up outta nowhere like your Uncle Beauregard at a barbecue,” Sapper explained slowly, as if talking to a slightly backward 8-year-old.

“You think those big mushrooms don’t know what they’re doing, bro? First they fool the gourmets, then they fool the man in the street and then they fool Congress and the National Guard and the United Nations. Before you know it, that outer space fungus will have infiltrated every aspect of American life and taken over,” Sapper warned. “In fact, the takeover’s already begun – and at the highest levels of government, Mr. Complacent Head-in-the-Sand Suburbanite.”

I was prepared to scoff at Sapper’s latest conspiracy theory, but he silenced me with what he termed imprescriptible evidence.

“Don’t take my word for it – see for yourself. The next time you’re watchin’ ol’ George W. Bush on the TV, kinda squooze yer eyes together so he gets sorta fuzzy around the edges. Then realign ’em and see what ya got. If it looks like a portabella mushroom, talks like a portabella mushroom and walks like a …”

Uh-oh.

Originally published February 4, 2001

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