How to Give a Reading on Mushrooms


Arrive early and talk to Rita and her friends, unsure if they’re all also on mushrooms (as they’d previously agreed) because Rita giggles nonsequiturly even when sober, until an unsmiling woman in her 40s—the event organizer—approaches saying something about “housekeeping.” Follow her into the backroom and learn it’s important you speak clearly tonight, “into the microphone,” as the reading and Q&A are going to be “livestreamed” onto the internet. Because of the medium-large amount of mushrooms you ingested ~25 minutes ago this (and most things the next 80-120 minutes) will seem like evidence that the universe is idly but skillfully thwarting you to weakly amuse itself. Sign a waiver agreeing to be “livestreamed.” In the bathroom text message Rita asking if she’s on mushrooms, then notice you’re walking toward the bookstore’s exit, beyond which is Haight Street, distantly amused that you don’t know where you’re going. An acquaintance you haven’t seen in maybe two years enters the bookstore staring at you in a manner that seems openly suspicious. Walk to Rita and ask if she’s on mushrooms. Read “Yes we all are. Have fun!” from her cell phone held toward your face. Walk away a little, hazily discerning a pretty girl somewhere, and say “I feel worried” and “I feel scared” at a speaking volume to what seems to be no one. When the event organizer introduces you, for some reason using the word “housekeeping” again, you’re “loitering” alone near the magazines, not apparently doing anything. Walk carefully to the podium and open Richard Yates, your second novel.

Everything seems vaguely normal, in that things seem predictably surreal, as you read sentences about Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning Gmail chatting about hamsters, until, after maybe two minutes, you realize you’ve been ignoring that there are tribal-tattoo patterns near the margins and in other places and that the text is glowing reddish-black and sometimes has a slightly 3D nature, like it’s projecting a holograph of itself an inch above the page. While trying to discern if your microphone is emitting science-fiction-like noises because it’s broken, because you’re emitting those noises, or because the mushrooms are causing you to hear things realize your heart is beating very hard and your upper body seems to be sweating profusely. Earnestly panic while also feeling unexpectedly calmed by a sudden, convincing, “dark” sensation that from the perspective of being dead it’s irrelevant if everyone in the room views you as insane. Briefly fixate on how you aren’t sure if you should be panicking or not. Should you just act completely insane? Think “Hunter S. Thompson” and distractedly sense the aesthetic of the movie Aliens. Consider saying “is there something wrong with the microphone, or is it the mushrooms?” before realizing, with some alarm and a shrinking feeling of aloneness, that the audience doesn’t know you’re on mushrooms. Prepare to maybe say “I’m having a bad drug experience right now” and go to the backroom and lay in darkness, under a desk in a fetal position, returning to complete the reading when you’re normal, but sort of “remember” that it will be hours, including a period of increasing complication, before you’re normal. Try to retain control by thinking “you probably look completely normal to them” and “people act insane all the time, normal people are insane” while focused on reading in a consistently pitched, speed-controlled, volume-controlled manner. Realize you’ve been becoming conscious of certain things in medias res, which means you’ve repeatedly been unconscious for unknown amounts of time. Focus on not moving your head or limbs or body, because if you don’t move it will be more difficult to do something completely insane. Become rapidly convinced that you’re about to exhibit out-of-control behavior. Feel confused about what this means. It seems like you’re going to sob loudly.

At some point realize you’ve been staring catatonically at the page, which seems to be liquidly moving within itself, for an unknown amount of time. Look up with unfocused eyes and a frightened expression and say “I’m just taking a break for a second.” Focus on different areas of the audience. Realize that varying the distance of your sight increases your feelings of control and begin while reading to sometimes look at the audience in a manner you’ve never done before but that’s probably normal for most authors, holding the book charismatically in front of you and sometimes smiling a little. Become fixated on an unseemly image of yourself “flailing” in a jellylike manner. Discern this fixation to be troubling but probably manageable. Focus on not moving in a jellylike manner and feel like you’re uncontrollably exhibiting a jellylike presence, no matter what you do, it seems, and notice you can’t seem to find the words “just come please” which you remember having just read. Stare at the page discerning only a mental projection of the word “just” in the foreground of a blurry mass that seems to be “roiling.” Think “seems completely impossible, really seems completely impossible” and close the book and slowly look up and say “that’s all I’m going to read” while grinning a little. Most of the audience seems to be viewing you with strong disapproval; an older couple in the front row seems “not amused” in a movie-like exaggeration of being unamused. Think “they disapprove of everything about me, especially that I’m on drugs right now” and “why are they even here, in the front row?” For a microsecond the entire audience seems to “squirm” in their seats. Think “Hunter S. Thompson.”

During the Q&A sometimes notice that some of your fingers are interestingly moving in a languidly tentacle-like manner, independent of your overall feeling of paranoid fear. At one point move your hand away from your face after realizing you’ve been unconsciously covering your mouth in a vulnerable, childlike manner for an unknown amount of time. Almost every question causes you to think “they don’t make any sense, they seem completely insane” in a briefly enthusiastic manner, as if something has been proven, then “no, it’s the mushrooms,” then “no, this is normal, remember how people just normally don’t make any sense?” Someone uses a White House press-meeting tone to ask a question you can only comprehend as implying that your entire book was written using only Gmail chat.

After the Q&A walk carefully toward a table and a chair ~10 feet to your left, where you will personalize copies of your books by drawing hamsters and upside-down crosses in them for the ~20 people who have formed a line. Prevent conversation by seeming engrossed in your drawings. Notice you’re drawing oval eyes instead of round eyes on some hamsters, which has never happened before, and earnestly think “brand, your brand.” Fear egregious mistakes like writing “to Tao / from Tao.” Sometimes stare “helplessly” into the distance, “searching” for the other people who are on mushrooms and seeing “no one” in a parody of not seeing anyone. When a 30-something man says to personalize his book “to Michael” write “to Frank” with a feeling of competency. When he sheepishly says “that’s okay” and reaches for the book, saying something about how it’s now worth more, think “oh my god…” and laugh. Draw a line over “Frank” and write “Michael.” Apologize three times while grinning insanely.