Column: Mexico and the Magic Mushrooms

By Susan Parker
Tuesday January 09, 2007

It was going to be a long night. I was spending some time during the holidays with my friend Karen and a group of people I barely knew, including two hard-of-hearing 91-year-olds. There was a lot of shouting and repetition at the dinner table.  

“How do you and Suzy know one another?” asked Julie, the female half of the almost-centenarians. 

“We met in Aspen,” said Karen. It sounded more glamorous than it really was. 

“At a writing conference,” I added. “Can somebody pass me the peas, please?” 

“Suzy was in a class with a man I thought I knew, so I asked her about him.” 

“Did you know him?” asked someone at the far end of the table. 

“I thought so, but I wasn’t sure. It was his profile, and the way he chewed gum that got my attention. I asked Suzy to find out his name, and report back to me.” 


“Where’s the gravy?” I asked. 

“Oh, I knew him all right. Had an affair with him 20 years ago in Mexico.” 

“Mexico!” shouted 91-year-old John. “I’ve been there!” 

“You have?” asked Karen politely. 

“What hotel did you stay in?” asked John.  

“John,” lectured the woman across the table from him. “There’s a lot of hotels in Mexico.” 

“I know that,” said John, “but you never know, you know what I’m saying?” 

“I’m not sure,” said the woman. 

“What he’s saying,” said Julie, John’s wife, “is that he wants to know if he’s met Karen before.” She paused. “In Mexico.” 

We all looked at Karen. She smiled. “I don’t think we’ve met before, John. I’d remember you.” 

“And I’d remember you,” said John. He winked.  

Karen laughed. “As I was saying, I re-met this guy in Aspen and—” 

“These mushrooms are very good,” interrupted Julie. “John, aren’t these mushrooms good? Here, try some.” 

“I don’t like mushrooms, you know that,” said John. “But in Mexico—” 

“We’ve got mushrooms in our backyard—” said Julie. 

“In Asp—” said Karen. 

“-and the squirrels eat them,” continued Julie. 

“The squirrels?” asked John. 

“Yes, the squirrels,” said Julie, smiling. “You heard me. The squirrels eat them but I don’t think I could eat them, you know what I’m saying?” 

“Maybe not,” said Karen. “In Aspe—” 

“In Mexico—” interrupted John. 

“Forget Mexico,” said Julie. “My grandfather was in the Russian secret police.” 

“The what?” asked John. 

“The secret police,” said Julie  

“Will someone please pass me the mushrooms?” I asked. 

“… and the army,” continued Julie. “It was all the same thing back then. He didn’t have a choice. If they said you had to go, you went. So they told him to go and he went.” 

“Where?” asked the man sitting next to me. 

“Into the forest,” answered Julie. 

“Into the forest?” 

“Yes. They told him to go into the forest, to visit a house where some people lived. And he was scared because he didn’t know why he was being sent there but in those days when they told you to go—” 

“You went,” finished John. 

“That’s right,” said Julie. “They told him to go so he went and when he got there he opened the door and—” 

“And what?” asked Karen. 

“Every one of the family members was sitting around the dinner table and—” 


“They were all dead!” 

“Dead?” shouted the person at the end of the table. 

“Dead as doornails,” said Julie, shaking her head.  

“Why?” asked several people in unison. 

Julie looked slowly around the table at each one of us before she replied. We all leaned in forward so that we could hear her answer. “Mushrooms!” she said in a dramatic whisper. 

“Don’t bother passing me the mushrooms,” I said. “I’ve changed my mind.” 

John turned to Karen. “Where did you say you stayed in Mexico?”