My dad studied mushrooms. People used to send him slides of mushrooms they had photographed so he could identify them. They sent the slides in the mail. That is how people used to share images before the Internet. Before Slides and The Mail, people just kind of wondered about their mushrooms, and maybe made mental notes of random data such as whether anyone was observed to drop dead directly after eating them. I like mushrooms because they’re beautiful and/or interesting and I feel a family obligation to be an appreciator, but I don’t know their names like my dad did. I do like Shaggy Manes, with butter. My least favorite kind of mushroom is the kind that likes to eat my house.
I am mushroom-like in many ways, from my button head to the fact that I like to live in dampish places. I would be horrified to have to live somewhere hot and dry. If it’s no good for salamanders, I’m not going to like it either. Nevertheless there are drawbacks to living in a squishy climate.
Fungi have a whole kingdom to themselves (“Fungi”) and yet nevertheless have no compunction about waltzing over to your castle and eating it. You might not even know they’re doing it until your tower falls down. There were indications probably fifteen years ago in our own castle that there might be trouble in the struts, but thanks to my world-class ability to ignore difficult subjects, I was able to live a worry-free life just about up to the point a flower started growing out of my house. To my credit, I did consider that a “tell.” But that was after fifteen years of relative serenity, and you can’t put a price tag on that. Well, I couldn’t, until now. It costs ten thousand dollars.
Fungi can do a pretty expeditious job of hollowing out structures you might have been counting on. We saw a nice example of that up close and personal when one of our Adirondack chairs sprouted mushrooms along one side. It got spongey pretty quick. Still, the patio looks better with four Adirondack chairs than with just three, so out it stayed. You know those games where there’s a timer going and you’re trying not to be the one holding the bag when the buzzer goes off? We love that game. I might even have professed innocent horror when our guest finally caved in the chair, except that, if I were being honest, I’d been avoiding that chair for months.
This is how denial goes. House addition goes up in 1996. By 2000 or so, on the inside, there seems to be a crack in the timbers between the bedroom and the tower floors. A couple years later, one floor below, the baseboard separates from the wall and the wallboard looks dimply. Here’s what you do. You put it down to settling. Houses settle! You can’t expect things to stay pristine when houses are known to settle. I can look at something suspicious and say to myself: that looks suspicious. Followed by: I wonder if there are any cookies left. Followed by a stretch of peace of mind until I see the suspicious thing again. And repeat.
A few years later it looks like the clapboards on the outside of the house are warping a bit. That’s to be expected! They’re long and thin. Those are known qualities of warpable things. Yes, they’re warping mostly in a vertical plane corresponding to a long downspout, but that could just be happenstance, couldn’t it?
Then your friend points at it and says “You’ve got a water problem.” Right out loud and everything.
Then a plant grows out of the side of your house. Blooms, and everything.
The particular water problem being referenced is, in fact, that the water is inside the walls, rather than outside, where it was presumably engineered to be. In fact, during a good rainstorm, a person still struggling to maintain denial might be able to observe a particular patch of siding where water is gushing out. A spring, as it were, of life.
You really don’t want life in your walls. All the way indoors, or outdoors, that’s our motto. No intramural life.
The nice contractor man was not willing to predict a final tally. “We don’t know how bad it is until we get in there,” he murmured, thumbing through a BMW brochure.
This bad: top to bottom, rotten clear up to the tower and into it, not much holding up the house but force of habit and the spotless, untroubled mind of the eternal optimist. Breathe, have a cookie, and try not to be the one in the chair when it goes down. That’s what I say.