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October 17, 1956

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Fame



CHARLIE woke up to the sound of a crowd outside his bedroom window. He glanced at the clock next to his bed and saw that it was almost 6:15 in the morning, which meant it was time to get up anyway. For some reason the room seemed darker this morning than it usually did at this time of the day. Almost as though there was a shadow over the window of his room, where the sun usually streamed in every morning. He got out of bed and dragged himself to the bathroom, where he put on his robe and took a quick drink of water. The murmur of the crowd outside grew a bit louder, and he even heard the sound of cars honking as though there was a traffic tie-up of some sort on the usually quiet street in front of the house. "What the hell is this?" Charlie muttered to himself in a half amused way. For some reason he felt elated and ready to laugh at anything. This in itself was unusual, but more about that later. What Was Up? He hurried back to his room and went directly to the window to see what was up. He could see nothing except that something was blocking the window. Something that had never been there before and which loomed darkly in the yard. It was too close and large to tell what the devil it was. The crowd noise grew louder. Charlie took a shirt off the back of a chair and slipped it on. He pulled up a pair of trousers and hurriedly stepped into his shoes without bothering with socks. The faster he dressed, the more his excitement grew. His shoes finally on, he rushed through the kitchen and out into the backyard, where he immediately stopped in amazement. There next to the house was an enormous mushroom. A colossal mushroom. It was at least 40 feet high and had a base of 15 feet across. The shadow it cast fell all the way across the house and even touched the driveway on the other side. A large crowd had gathered in front of the house and the street was jammed with cars. The crowd had a curious muted sound, as though a feeling of awe and slight fear had shot through it. Charlie walked up the path to the front of the house and as he passed close to the base of the mushroom he became aware of a peculiar sweetish odor that frightened him a bit and caused him to walk faster. As he neared the crowd he noticed they were watching him and seemed to be talking among themselves about him, and a few were pointing. "Hey, fella, is this your mushroom? I'm from NBC and I'm looking for the guy who grew it," called a tall man with sandy hair and no hat. Charlie saw his opening. This is what he had been waiting for all his life. By God. They Were Listening "You're damn right it's mine. I grew it." The crowd was hushed now. They were listening. "This is the greatest mushroom in the world and it's mine!" Charlie told the tall man, who was unreeling a microphone cable and directing a man who was setting up a movie camera pointed in the general direction of the mushroom and Charlie. The crowd cheered when Charlie to the interviewer ho he had worked for years in his basement developing a new strain of mushroom, and that the huge speciman in his yard was only the beginning. By the time the interview with the TV people was over, the crowd had doubled and dozens of flashbulbs were popping and the police had arrived to keep things in order. Charlie felt 9 feet tall. Questions were being fired at him from all the New York papers as well as Time and Life. He was famous. After going back in the house in order to put on his new blue suit and a pair of socks, Charlie was ushered into the back seat of a long black Cadillac for the drive to the city. All the way in, his story grew and took on substance, and as it did the reporters treated his with increasing deference. Charlie had become a great man as well as a scientist. When they arrived in the city Charlie was taken to the City Hall to meet the Mayor, who told him that he liked to garden too, in his spare time, and especially enjoyed mushrooms with onions. Charlie told the Mayor that he was a pretty good mayor and that he, Charlie, might name his new mushroom after him. In quick succession Charlie was interviewed on the Dave Garroway Show, the Home Show, the Will Rogers, Jr., Show, the Tex and Jinx Show, the Steve Allen Show, and by Pinky Lee. He met Edward R. Murrow. Had lunch with Jayne Mansfield, whom he dated for dinner later that week. Was booked for "The $64,000 Question" as well as "Omnibus." The New Yorker assigned Richard Rovere to do a profile on him. And Faye Finerson said hello to him. By dinner hour, Charlie had acquired a personal manager, a press agent, and had signed a contract with William Morris to handle his TV work. Later that evening he checked in at the Plaza, taking not a room, but a suite. A Celebrity The next morning was clear and bright with a warm sun beaming down. Charlie awoke a full-fledged celebrity, with the phone already ringing. The man from Life arrived after breakfast and suggested that they drive out to Charlie's place on Long Island for a cover shot of the mushroom with Charlie standing before it. The drive was pleasant, especially since the reporter spent most of the time outlining plans for a special supplement Life was getting out on the mushroom and Charlie. The car turned into Charlie's street and rolled to a stop in front of the house. They got out. "My God, it's gone!!!" raced through Charlie's mind in a rush of panic. It was. Not a trace remained where once the glorious mushroom had been rooted. The shadow was gone forever, with only a few pop bottles and some trampled spots on the lawn to say it had ever happened. After a while the Life man got back into his car and left for town. Charlie went into the house. He sat on the edge of his bed with his collar opened. He put his head in his hands and all he said was "God Damn it to Hell!" over and over again.


Copyright: 1956 The Village Voice

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