My neighborhood is full of cafés. My current regular place is good, but no better than all the others. It’s good for meeting interesting people, which you could say about any café here. That includes the one I used to go to all the time. I’ll get to why I stopped going there later.

Last year, my mother flew out to visit and I showed her around. We had been walking for five minutes when she asked if she needed a special passport.

I knew what she meant. She still has her looks and she dresses nicely. No: elegantly. But around here, everybody you see who’s over 50 is someone you think you recognize from an Andy Warhol film. I remember thinking that she didn’t have that straight-out-of-Middle-America look, like other people her age that you catch staring up at the tall buildings. Yet she definitely looked out of place.

On her last day, I met Martin. She and I had ordered mushroom omelets at my previous regular café.

Twins who look the same and do everything the same, he said from the next table.

He smiled at his own cleverness, at knowing that we knew he recognized the age difference so my mother wouldn’t really be flattered, but that we would appreciate being spoken to by him. After my mother had flown home when we would talk on the phone, she never called him Martin. She called him Features because he had made-to-order features. If he had been born in a different time, you could see Goebbels giving a speech and spotting Martin in the crowd and telling one of his henchmen to grab that guy, we’re putting him on a poster.

He was Dutch, but he said he didn’t mind if people thought he was German, smiling again at his cleverness. He knew we weren’t the kind of people who would make assumptions about Germans. But he thought his jab at people who would make assumptions would please us.

My mother asked if he wanted to join us so he brought his coffee over. He said women should never be embarrassed to eat in front of men, they had just as much right to their calories.

Let me guess, my mother said. You’re an independent filmmaker?

I’m actually a painter of nudes in search of a model, he smiled. Perhaps you. . .

Her mocking expression turned into a blush.

She said it was her last day to visit and we had plans. Then she kicked me under the table.

On the phone when she asked about Features, she would ask if I had posed for him yet. I would say I didn’t want to be objectified. She would call me naive. We had bodies. We were physical, material creatures. This made objectification inevitable. Did I wish that I were purely spiritual? Had I thought about what would be denied to me if I were?

She would say I should turn the tables. I had painted in high school and almost taken a painting class in college. She said I should paint him to make the objectification equal.

Never adding what I knew she was thinking: then you could show me the painting.

Once, she reminded me of when I had talked about trying sculpture. She said sculpture was more sensuous than painting. Wouldn’t I enjoy the feeling of sculpting those perfect features?

Unfortunately, Martin’s features were the only perfect thing about him. My attraction to him based on his looks was superficial, though I would never have told my mother that. She might have quoted what Oscar Wilde said about shallow people and judging by appearances.

Well, call me shallow if you like. But shallow or not, I think I was giving off this vibe that I was open to meeting someone else. I think Lauren’s antennae picked it up.

I met her in the café where I had met Martin. I was eating a mushroom omelet.

She said from the same table where he had sat, They’re wonderful for you, you know.

I said, Eggs?

Mushrooms. That’s because, biologically speaking, they span the plant and animal kingdoms.

I nodded. But my nod was perfunctory. I corrected my bad manners by nodding again and adjusting the expression on my face.

You get the benefits of both plants and animals, she said. Although the last person I was with wouldn’t eat them for that reason. Strict vegetarian.

I’m not vegetarian.

Or vegan, she said.

I put my fork down. I felt rude holding it like I was there for the business of eating and that conversation would only distract me.

I said, I love your hair.

It was blondish. It was cut short in back, but tapered so that it got longer toward the front, where it was like two arrows pointing at the collarbones that her top left bare, the way that arrows on a road sign will point you toward some attraction that you should make time to see even if it’s out of your way. Or like her hair on either side was the pointy nose of some little creature that was straining toward those collarbones, dying to stroke them and glide along the taut skin that sheathed them, or to nestle into the hollows just above and just below.

I’ll give you the number, she said. She’s not expensive, for here.

She played with the little creature on her right, tugging it down as if she was going to grant it the pleasure of contact with the collarbone, but only teasing it and not quite letting it get there.

I said, Your boyfriend was vegetarian?

Girlfriend. But I’ve had boyfriends, too. I’m kind of a mushroom.

She saw that I didn’t understand.

I mean I’m versatile, she laughed. But what about you? Are you versatile?

I met her eyes. I had looked before only in the way that a stone touches the water when you skip it: making brief contact and then moving on. Now I let my eyes sink into hers and enjoy a good swim.

We did the little dance that people do when they cast about desperately for anything but themselves to talk about to avoid becoming intimate too quickly. Except we didn’t need to cast desperately because we had started with mushrooms. That gave us plenty to talk about. I would ask a question and she would give a long answer. That might give the impression that I was captive to some boring monologue, but not at all. She seemed to know everything about mushrooms, so it was appropriate for her to do the talking.

It wasn’t like when Martin talked. He thought that no matter what he said, you wouldn’t be able to take your eyes off him. Listening to Lauren was like listening to a really good professor. What mattered was the subject, and just like a good professor she thought the subject should hold your attention if it was communicated intelligently.

Though it didn’t hurt that I found her attractive. She wasn’t gorgeous, like Martin, and at first the only thing that struck me about her was her hair. And her collarbones. But as she talked she became more attractive. Her intelligence and certain other non-physical aspects of who she was, which emerged while she talked, threw a kind of light on her physical self. It illuminated the beauty that in the beginning had shyly hidden.

I felt so much like I was listening to a professor that a couple of times I almost stopped her to ask if I could take notes. I had my phone and my laptop. That would have been weird, though. Because as intelligent and informative as she was, I knew she did not intend a teacher/student relationship. She intended something else. Taking notes would have been like a rejection.

Anyway, mushrooms. She talked about how they’re crammed full fiber and low in calories and a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And what a perfect meat substitute they make, in a time when climate change should make us think twice about raising animals to eat because of the resources they gobble up, because they contain all the essential amino acids. And how this makes them so digestible and usable by our bodies. And how they’re adaptogens that help us counteract the effects of stress. So they might be able to improve our immune functions, correct mood disorders, and increase our endurance.

She also said that even though the mushrooms that contain psilocybin have gotten a bad rap for causing hallucinations and psychedelic trips, psilocybin can actually increase focus, level out our moods, and tap into our empathetic side.

She said, I’m talking about micro-doses: tiny amounts. She said, You think the legal cannabis movement is big, once people conquer the stigma from the Sixties, like we’ve done with cannabis, the legal psilocybin movement will blow cannabis away. She said, PTSD, anxiety, and depression: for things like that the legal psilocybin movement will be a game-changer.

Finally, she came back to environmental impact. She had already touched on it when she was talking about meat substitutes. Producing mushrooms takes far less water and energy than growing most other agricultural crops does, and the CO2 emission rate is nothing. Plus you can grow mushrooms in vertical structures. This requires very little land, reducing deforestation and maximizing soil conversation.

I was impressed. I said, I love mushrooms so much now that I want to marry one, and she said, Would it be a church wedding?

I told her I had to get going to a doctor’s appointment.

Looking at my omelet, she said, You only ate half.

I said, Yes, but I picked out every bit of mushroom to eat.

She asked if she would see me again and we traded phone numbers.

After the doctor, I went to a market that had every imaginable variety of mushroom. In between Hen of the Woods and Enoki, there was Above the Clouds. The name and appearance reminded me of my favorite thing about flying. And Music of the Mountain, which was next to King Oyster, seemed like a good match because some mountains poke up into the clouds.


Most nights, Martin would come to my apartment. I never went to his because mine was nicer. But that night, he texted that he wouldn’t be over; he was obsessed with finishing a painting or he was sick or something. That made me happy. It left the coast clear for Lauren.

I texted her. She called right away but guess what: she was out of town. Her father was in the hospital, I can’t remember why, and her mother had called and said please come right away. She was from somewhere in the Midwest and she was at the airport ready to board. I said I hoped everything would be okay and she said her mother always made a big deal out of things. She promised to call when she got back.

I was sorry about her father, but it didn’t take away what I’d been thinking about. I thought I’d be stuck with finding a romantic movie on Netflix and then…you know. I wondered if Netflix had this Korean movie that I’d never watched because it had a title like The Handmaid’s Tale. I knew that was a stupid reason. I thought that if Netflix didn’t have it, then I’d be able to figure out how to watch it some other way.

However, first I needed to eat dinner. I put the Above the Clouds and Music of the Mountain mushrooms on the cutting board and stared at them. I was hungry, but something stopped me from chopping. I was thinking about all the great qualities of mushrooms that Lauren had talked about. I wondered if they might have other qualities that she hadn’t mentioned, or that no one even knew of. Instead of getting my chopping knife out of the drawer, I kept staring. It was like they were speaking to me.

I don’t want you to think I was having some kind of psychotic episode. I mean, I didn’t hear voices or anything like that. They were calling to me in a way that I don’t know how to explain, and I knew that chopping them up would be a terrible waste. I tipped them off the cutting board into my nicest salad bowl—I felt like they deserved the best—and took them into my bedroom.

I’m going to be shy about describing what we did except to say it wasn’t the obvious. That would require other species of mushrooms, and if you thought that it would be because you don’t know what Above the Clouds and Music of the Mountain look like. Google them and you’ll see what I mean. Anyway, it was an immersive experience.

Maybe this will help: try to imagine that the person you’re in bed with is also the bed. Does that make sense?

I took a couple of accrued sick days and ordered food in so that I didn’t need to leave the apartment. One of the great things about the mushrooms was that they didn’t care what I had delivered, whereas Martin had always wanted Chinese when I wanted Italian and vice versa. That was a part of his male energy that I knew I wouldn’t miss.

The day that I finally emerged from the apartment he texted me to break up. The night he had texted that he wasn’t coming over, I’d suspected he was with somebody else, and this pretty much confirmed it. I probably don’t need to tell you how relieved I was.

But it was going to be awkward with Lauren, so I changed cafés. After she got back—by the way, her father was fine—she must have called and texted 20 times before she stopped. I still have her number, though, so I’m thinking about getting in touch and making up some excuse like I was in a coma.

Okay, I could invent a better excuse. But it’s not deciding on the excuse that holds me back. On one hand, she’s such a mushroom lover that I could see her not being jealous. I could see her saying there’s plenty of love to go around and wanting to join in. On the other hand, I don’t know if I’d be up for that. It seems a little perverted.