The Utility Player, Chapter 5

The up saw his Black Doppelganger again, alive and well — thriving, the up inferred, based on BD being on a bicycle, leaning forward, ready to go.

This is going to require some explaining, I realize. Deep breaths, everyone! In through the right nostril, out through the left gill…

Now, in through the left spiracle, out through the right nostril… yes. Just like that.

A profound feeling of peace has welled up inside us, and around us. It is a warm and welcoming stimulation of the gravitational waves that surround us, wherever we go on Earth or throughout the universe. Pretty good, right? Oh, yeah, it is pretty good. This is the kind of open-minded, warm and welcoming mindset that helps us get the whole thing about the Black Doppelganger.

OK. The last time the up saw his Black Doppelganger was in a different book. That one is called The Mushroom Farmer, and in it, the up plays a different character, whose name is the mf, for mushroom farmer. It’s ironic because the mf has yet to grow a mushroom and we are already close to 200 pages into that book, which is itself exciting because 200 pages is roughly the low-end estimate of what’s required to call it a novel.

Whew doggy! Let’s just let that fun factoid sink in. In through the stomata, out through the blowhole.

Right then. Stay with me here. In The Mushroom Farmer, the mf meets his Black Doppelganger in Chapter 16. They have a wide-ranging conversation, including discussions of pollinators, what it means to kick someone’s ass, and fishing off the rocks in Marina Del Rey. There appears to be a subtext to the discussion as well.

Long story short, the mf finds it to be quite the inspiring encounter. He keeps an eye out for the BD in subsequent chapters but you know how divine interventions are: few and far between.

Until yesterday, when out of the corner of his eye — which is how Thoreau recommended apprehending Nature — the up spotted another BD. Not the exact same guy. That would be… well, honestly it would be enormously welcome. The up would love to know what’s up with OG BD nowadays, moving cautiously towards post-COVID. Meanwhile he feels plenty blessed to have encountered this new version, which is probably just right because the up is clearly not who he was back in Chapter 16 of an entirely or somewhat different book.

Right?

This all makes sense.

There was no spoken interaction this second time. Communication consisted of big smiles from both gentlemen bicyclists, each of them kitted out like people who have given careful study to Parliament/Funkadelic album covers. The up was sporting all-black performance tights and windbreaker, along with a red-gold-and-green plus brown scarf he appropriated from his daughter. The BD had wrapped himself in layers of silver.

Their aesthetic met and gronked at their nearest point of intersection, the corner of Venice and Vineyard. The up noted the BD had a salt and pepper beard just like the up sports, which makes sense given that if someone is your Doppelganger, you’re their Doppelganger too. The up indicated their brotherhood by stroking his own beardy beard. The BD repeated this gesture with a big smile and wave as the up continued on towards school to start setting up for the return of students.

*

First jacaranda

It’s fun having visions. To the up, this return visitation of the BD meant he was headed in a good direction. He has also just seen his first flowering jacaranda of the Spring, in the Culver City park at the eastern end of the Ballona Creek bike path. Jacaranda season always feels like the onset of good fortune to the up, which makes sense because basically it means it’s Spring. Still, the up values all the calibration he can get.

So there he was, brimful of good tidings, lucky guy. He shows up at his school and guess what? Everyone is nice to him. The security guards, the clerks in the office, and the almost nobody else he sees teacher-wise: everybody is nice, nice, nice and friendly. This is good because it is grounding and he needs that because unlocking the door to his classroom and entering is time travel back to March 13, 2020.

Deep breaths. Mix ’em up — spiracle-blowhole; gill-mouth. Ah, yes. Everything is made of molecules. OK! I should have mentioned that the up was conducting class via Zoom on and off throughout this fantastic voyage. At the park in Culver City, for example, he had oriented his 12th graders to a very fine lesson exploring diction and syntax in poetry. Yup! And then, when they were all clear on the instructions as well as what to do if they weren’t clear on the instructions, the up announced that he was about to improvise an ode to the jacaranda tree and if they didn’t want to hear it, to turn their volume down and put tape over his window on their screens.

Most of them hung out for the ode, though, which further assured the up that doing whatever he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it is a good and proper path through life. He thanked the students for their attention and asked if it would be ok for them to work offline for an hour while he made his way to school. To this they actually responded with teen phrases including “legit” and “1.”

So now you are super-up-to-date on everything the up did and thought all the way through him wandering around his classroom showing the seniors this that and the other thing on his phone as if all of them were holy relics.

“Look at these index cards,” he exhorted his seniors. “They’re like shirts in Gatsby’s closet. Give me a G if you’ve read The Great Gatsby. No, give me a GG.”

Some kids typed back GG. That counts as discourse, 14 months into remote instruction. Eventually, the up realized only two kids were left on the call so he bid them a fond farewell. Then he basked in his own molecular structure for a few minutes, until it was time to Zoom in with his homeroom. They secretly planted sunflowers and zinnias in some of the bare dirt patches outside, sprinkling some bone meal the up found in a green bag in his room at school.

There is so much stuff in his room

There is so much stuff in his room at school. So many books, so many records. He has to go back this morning to put them all in storage. The rooms are supposed to be as sterile as possible, the up learned from the administrators, with whom he shared warm greetings when he found them all gathered in the principal’s conference room, on his way home, after walking throughout the entire school and finding exactly three other teachers there.

He had asked those other teachers all how they were doing and listened to their follow-up and then asked if they wanted to talk about the election for Dean. And you know what? I think we could talk about all of that another time. Suffice it for now to say they were nice, warm, friendly conversations. One of the three teachers on campus the day before school re-started even told the up all about a micro-farm in someone’s front yard on Degnan.

“Oh, that’s right by Crenshaw,” the up exclaimed, ever the eager-beaver when it comes to hood geography. His fellow teacher, whom he found down in a basement behind two rows of doors that said “DO NOT ENTER” but the up entered anyway — his fellow teacher said he too had barged right through those doors, and that these front yard farmers have their robust crops growing in vinyl socks.

Vinyl socks.

That cuts through.

Also they are tilted as part of a regenerative irrigation scheme. The up carved a memo in the stone tablet of his brain to follow up on this front yard farm, as doing so would involve an encounter with his own intrapersonal Doppelganger, the mushroom farmer. And so we finish where we began, a special feature of things written by Mark Gozonsky. I recommend that the up remember the niceness of all the conversations and encounters he had on his first bike ride back to school in the getting-to post-COVID era, and store them up for the next time he feels bitter towards his colleagues. Store them up, up!

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