There is a mythical shroom that is unlike any other shroom. For, you see, this mushroom looks like a penis—not just a little bit like a penis, as many mushrooms do, but exactly like a penis. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? And although mushrooms usually spring forth from the earth as if from the toes of the gods, the penis mushroom is about as natural as a cocker spaniel. In other words, it’s totally man-made and if it were ever placed in the wild it would die instantly.
So what is this magic little cock-looking guy all about? Where did it come from? Who made it? I recently sought to answer these questions and was met with a dizzying world of magic, lies, and unsolved murder. And I was tripping balls the whole time, too.
The mushrooms arrived packaged like live internal organs, only in a blue Igloo beer cooler. I threw back the lid to find it filled with smoke. Garlands of carbon dioxide fell over the edges. I stuck my face inside and blew. Rows of methodically stacked penis mushrooms filled the cooler, an impressive array of lengths, girths, and colors. Most were a creamy manila. Others were white as alabaster. They were all nestled on a fuming bed of dry ice. I had never seen mushrooms like this before, and I grabbed one but immediately recoiled, surprised by how fleshlike it felt. Then I reached back inside, picked one up, and slid it, smoking, into my mouth.
Now, previously my friend Richard had the opportunity to eat a quarter ounce of penis mushrooms. He found that to be a massive overdose. Minutes after eating the last one, he called the police on himself in a beshroomed attempt to order an apple by phone. When an ambulance and the cops arrived at his apartment, he was unable to tell them his name or what year it was. They injected him with $600 worth of antipsychotics and took him away on a gurney. Upon his release from the hospital, he could barely remember what had happened. He’d blacked out. With the above in mind, I was a bit apprehensive about stuffing my mouth full of penis mushrooms, but I did it nonetheless.
I am not one to complain about the taste of mushrooms. I might even go so far as to say I savor the taste of the occasional eighth. But the penis mushroom was like nothing I had ever put in my mouth. Each time I bit into it, tiny motes of bitter shroom dust flittered through the air. I gagged trying to get it down. I went to lie in bed awhile, where I closed my eyes and saw penis mushrooms bursting from pots of gold coins, stars, and rainbows. Then I hopped up and proceeded to fill my mouth with more mushrooms. I neglected to weigh them out. I later realized that I had eaten half an ounce.
In 1971, ethnobotanist Terence McKenna traveled through the Amazonian jungle to investigate a mysterious blue ectoplasm that gushed from the mouth, anus, and genitals of shamans in the midst of drug-induced trance states. The ectoplasm evaded any sort of classification. It was fluid and frothy, an ultraviolet phlegm existing outside of space and time, a potential bridge between thoughts and the material world. McKenna knew that if he were to study the ectoplasm, it would have to be under the guidance of psychedelic mushrooms. He set to work. He guzzled mushrooms and dissected his feces looking for any traces of the metaphysical blue snot. In the midst of his experiments, he discovered a monstrous Amazonian mushroom growing on the dung of local Zebu cattle. It was taller and thicker than anything found in American soils. McKenna collected the spores and brought them back to the United States. In his disappointment over the failure to find the ectoplasm, he did not realize the gravity of his discovery of the spores, his microscopic gift from the jungle.
In San Antonio, Texas, renowned mycologist Steven Pollock was dissecting feces for a different reason. His greenhouse was overflowing with pickup-truck loads of horse manure, and his kitchen stove was jam-packed with large bags of broiling excrement being prepared as an experimental mushroom substrate. Pollock had recently received a spore sample from McKenna labeled “Amazonian.” He dusted the specks into a mason jar of manure and put them aside to grow.
After graduating from medical school, Pollock tried magic mushrooms and declared them the only effective medicine. He believed that they could be used to cure the world of all its ailments. He personally discovered the first psychedelic truffle in the fertile soils of Tampa, Florida, and unsuccessfully attempted to patent it as a cure for both autism and asthma. He wrote books and academic papers on the topic, and his spore company sold a wide range of grow kits and advertised monthly in High Times. His passion for mushrooms would also lead, sadly, to his murder. But more on that soon.
Let me quickly explain a few things about mushrooms. Fungi occupy the dankest, most mysterious of all the natural kingdoms. Their bodies are host to countless poisons and mind-altering drugs, most notably psilocybin. Unlike plants, mushrooms grow independent of the sun. Instead of from seeds, they grow from microscopic spores, which they ejaculate into the air millions at a time. In most states, it is not mushrooms that are illegal but psilocybin, and since the spores don’t contain any of that tricky substance, they can be legally sold through the mail and on the internet. This loophole is the crux of the magic-mushroom scene. The ad for Pollock’s company, Hidden Creek, ran throughout the 1970s. It featured a nude woman wrapped in flowing red silks under a giant mushroom cap along with the creepy slogan “The magic mushroom people who are forever keeping your mind... in mind.” With his kits, anybody could grow a psychedelic truffle the size of a baseball in the comfort of their own home. But Pollock made his real money selling more conventional medicines. He prescribed Desoxyn, Dilaudid, and Quaaludes to legions of dealers and junkies willing to pay a generously inflated price. He would move over $10,000 worth of prescriptions each day, making him San Antonio’s most notorious Dr. Feelgood. Every penny of his profits went toward mushrooms.
Pollock lived in a cross between a greenhouse and a fortress. His doors were made of solid steel, his windows were barred, and every square inch of visible space was lined with mason jars, autoclaves, microscopes, hypodermic needles, and thousands of fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms, pickled mushrooms, and mushrooms floating in jars of honey. It was in this setting that he cultivated the Amazonian spores sent to him by McKenna. After a month of watching fungal primordia slowly colonize the manure, Pollock was shocked and titillated to find the new mushroom was a towering monster like nothing the Western world had ever seen. Each one burst from its jar like a glistening Oscar Mayer wiener. At that moment, he conceived of a genetic experiment. He dared not tell his colleagues, but he had embarked on a quest of transcendent strangeness. Pollock wished to create the first penis-shaped magic mushroom.
Years passed as Pollock labored over the Amazonian, choosing genetic stock from only the thickest and healthiest specimens. His girlfriend from that time, who wishes to remain anonymous, remembers, “We hardly ever went out. Our dates were spent shaking mushroom jars early into the morning, and sex was often interrupted by technical raps about mushrooms.” With the magic penis on his mind, Pollock had no time to think about his own penis. But his hard work finally paid off, and on one glorious day his creation stood erect, staring him right in the face. He was ready to spread the news to other mycologists. He took a gleaming scalpel, circumcised the cap, and printed its spores onto an index card. He then slid the card into a glassine sleeve destined for Washington State, dropped it into a mailbox, and returned to his home. When he opened his front door, three men were waiting for him. They were holding guns.
On January 31, 1981, Pollock’s girlfriend sat irate, waiting for him to meet her for dinner. She was absolutely certain that he had forgotten another date because he was busy sterilizing mason jars. Eventually, she left the restaurant in a huff and returned to their home to find it had been ransacked. Broken glass was everywhere, and a fresh pool of blood was spreading across the floor. Pollock lay dead on the ground. He had been shot point-blank in the back of the head, his pockets razored open. The great Amazonian proto-penis lay beside him, engorged with his blood. The next day, the San Antonio Police Department switched off the power to Pollock’s home. His mushrooms began to fester and wilt. The police confiscated 1,758 jars filled with mushrooms and ten pounds of psychedelic truffles. They began transporting his life’s work to the local dump, gathering it into a heap, and setting it on fire. The investigation of his murder was quickly closed and chalked up to the drug-crazed behavior of Quaalude addicts. To this day, the murder remains unsolved.
At Pollock’s funeral, his breast pocket was filled with magic truffles and his arms were crossed over his chest. One hand held a mushroom collected in the Mexican village of Matias Romero, the other clutched the last surviving penis mushroom. It was sealed in his casket, accompanying him into the earth. His grave was left unmarked. He had given his entire life to mushrooms, but no one was sure exactly what his legacy would be. Later that week, an envelope arrived at the door of Washington-based mycologist Rich Gee. Inside he found a single spore print labeled “Penis.”
I went looking for Gee, but unfortunately he is the most mysterious name in the damp world of magic fungi. He’s like the Salinger of clandestine mushroom growing. He’s only given one recorded interview. He lives secluded in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. His one book on mushrooms was a big hit in the late 70s, selling 40,000 copies, but it reveals nothing about him. It doesn’t even have an “About the Author” page. I made numerous attempts to find Gee but failed repeatedly. I called all 16 Richard Gees in Washington and left them carefully phrased messages without using the word “penis” or “mushroom,” only to later find out that Rich Gee isn’t even his real name.
So instead I called Ted (not his real name), one of the first vendors to sell penis mushroom spores, and asked him where he got them. He said, “The penis came from Gee. That’s where everybody got it. But if you’re looking for him, you’re chasing a ghost.”
I asked, “Did Gee tell you where the penis mushroom came from?”
“Yes,” Ted said. “He told me that Terence McKenna developed it.”
So I called Terence McKenna’s brother Dennis and I asked him about the penis mushroom. He said, “Your information about the penis strain is news to me. This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
So then I called Ted again and told him that McKenna had never touched a penis and Ted said, “Well, why would Gee give credit to McKenna for his own hard work? That doesn’t make much sense.” And you know? Ted was right. It doesn’t make much sense, not unless somebody was lying, and I don’t think it was McKenna. I looked harder to gather up every piece of information I could find on Gee. I called up one of his former associates (another anonymousite, as one finds most people in the mushroom community wish to remain) who told me, “Gee cost me several thousand dollars in spores by telling lies and playing sick, demented mind games. He is a sociopathic douche.”
“But he developed the penis mushroom,” I said.
“Yeah… well, he redeveloped it.”
Gee studied the penis in total secrecy for decades, and in that time he perfected every aspect of its appearance. Not a word was spoken on the matter, and anyone who had heard of Pollock’s magic penis figured it was a casualty of the police raids. A lost mushroom. Gee self-published one other book, limited to a few hundred handmade copies. It doesn’t say a word about the penis mushroom, but the cover features an unmistakable image of a 20-gallon fish tank filled with what appears to be a cluster of X-rated sea anemones. And there it is, the first time the penis mushroom graced a printed page. Exactly 21 years after Pollock’s death, the penis had reached maturity. It was not long before other mycologists began to receive samples of the new mushroom from their mysterious friend. They had no qualms with taking it public.
Back in my apartment, I sat taking notes on my penis-mushroom experience. I must write in great belches, not to trickle nor too sticky, I communicate in a binary language of yawns and vomits: yawn, vomit, vomit, vomit, yawn, yawn, vomit, vomit, vomit, vomit, vomit, vomit, yawn. This went on for pages. Shortly after that, I collapsed on the floor and began screaming at the top of my lungs, speaking in tongues, and tearing off my clothes. I am told that after knocking over my kitchen table I fell unconscious. But my trip was not even close to ending.
This brings us to Professor Fanaticus. He was the everyman’s mycologist. Unlike the ivory-tower myco-intellectuals, Fanaticus wore sweatpants and watched TV. He was an autodidact, taught to shroom by his own volition. He let his laziness guide him, taking standard techniques and making them simpler, faster, and free from jargon. He dismissed his predecessors like Terence McKenna, saying, “He advocates drinking DXM syrup and talking to aliens. I am bored with these people who talk about an experience that can’t be described.” So Fanaticus avoided the metaphysical ectoplasms and dealt with the meat and potatoes of mushroom cultivation. By 2000, Fanaticus was a self-made mushroom millionaire. His spore kits were the top-selling brand in the United States, his signature strains the highest yielding and the most potent. His guides were considered foolproof. His personal technique guide, the PF TEK, has been downloaded well over a million times, making it the most popular book on fungi ever written. If you’ve eaten a shroom, you can bet information from the PF TEK was used to grow it. With three palatial houses and an instantly recognizable name, Professor Fanaticus was the king of clandestine mushroom growing.
In the spring of 2000, Fanaticus decided to test the effects of ultra-violet light on growing mushrooms. He filled his grow rooms with black-light tubes from the novelty shop Spencer’s Gifts. At first, the new method seemed to have no effect, but then, as subsequent generations were spawned, he noticed disturbing mutations. His tanks were full of discolored, deformed, and mangled mushrooms that looked like they had been doused with radioactive waste. Strangest of all were the crops of ghost mushrooms growing totally devoid of pigmentation—albino mushrooms. He’d never seen anything like it in a quarter century of shrooming. Days after the discovery, Terence McKenna died at age 54 from a malignant brain tumor. Once again, an ominous miasma was spreading through the world of fungi.
Fanaticus immediately discontinued his UV experiments, but it was too late. The DNA of his mushrooms had been tainted and all subsequent attempts to rescue his strains were useless. Luckily, he had backup spores. He started his collection again from scratch, but something was still awry. Fanaticus could not rid himself of the idea that the ghost mushrooms were a bad omen. While watching TV, he received a strange message from Sharon Osbourne. He felt as if she were speaking only to him when she said, “If things are going really good, watch out. Something bad is sure to happen.” Her words echoed in his mind. Fanaticus set out to create a veritable Noah’s ark of mushroom spores, taking prints of every mushroom he had ever discovered. He sent them off to be preserved in Europe just in case anything happened to him. Days later, police broke down his door and raided his home. They smashed aquariums, burned spore prints, and stomped mushrooms. They wanted Fanaticus to watch as his life’s work was destroyed. But they were too late.
Fanaticus was charged with conspiracy to manufacture psilocybin, handcuffed, and thrown in jail. A number of minors had ordered shrooms to their parents’ homes, which sparked an investigation of the Fanaticus business. His face was all over the news. In federal prison, instead of being sodomized and shivved, he was assaulted by the trip tales of his fellow inmates, who took turns telling him about their most mind-blowing experiences. On trial, he was flattered to find that the DEA used his very own PF TEK in their drug labs. Despite threats of 20 years behind bars, Fanaticus escaped with six months of home detention. With Fanaticus gone from the scene, a company called Sporeworks began to sell prints for a totally new strain of psilocybin mushroom. It went by the name Penis Envy.
Penis Envy became an unprecedented success—the number-one-selling mushroom strain for all American spore retailers. One vendor I spoke with could not praise it enough: “The penis is a solid ride from start to finish. It has a vibe unlike any other mushroom, very high energy, but you feel fantastic the next day… Oh yeah, and it looks like a dick!” In 2007, Sporeworks used the Fanaticus UV technique to produce a race of albino Penis Envy. Everybody wanted to get their hands on a penis, and reports began to surface of testicle-shaped mushroom mutations. The possibilities seemed limitless.
Prior to his death, McKenna proudly bequeathed his collection of rare books to the scholars who would follow in his footsteps. It was the druggy Library of Alexandria, with works on shamanism, alchemy, lepidopterology, and ethnobotany, as well as William S. Burroughs manuscripts and numerous other irreplaceable volumes of esoterica from around the world. Days after the Sporeworks albino penis mushroom was introduced to the market, a Quiznos employee in Monterey, California, neglected to turn off a light that was situated over a stack of highly flammable Baja-chicken-sandwich wrappers. In the middle of the night, the wrappers ignited and caused the Quiznos to burst into a fireball. The blaze spread to a neighboring facility, which housed the McKenna library. Everything was destroyed. Yet another casualty in the legacy of the penis mushroom.
Now we return to me, in the grip of half an ounce of penis mushrooms, paralyzed on my kitchen floor. A splendid vagina opened up in my chest. I clutched a mushroom and dildoed myself in the heart. My eyes rolled back into my head. I pulled the mushroom out, glistening, and plunged it back in. Deep inside me the fungus went, engulfed by my chest’s smiling labia. Fifty years of history began to rush through the thread matrices of the air: the Amazonian jungle, a blood-spattered mushroom in San Antonio, malignant brain tumors, and Baja chicken sandwiches. My eyes looked forward, dilating with delirious pleasure. I slid a second mushroom into myself and let out a guttural groan of satisfaction. Mutations, mystery, murder. The future of consciousness, the history of human evolution. One thousand ultraviolet tessellating penises ejaculating the black semen of the apocalypse, one hundred billion screaming spermatozoa fracturing white light into a sea of swimming rainbows. The omniscient penis of God. And into my yawning vagina it was swallowed. Not leaving a trace, save for a small drip of ultraviolet ectoplasm.
BY HAMILTON MORRIS