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;"What's his name?" Jessica clenches her movie brain. "There's Big Daddy, Big Mama and Gooper …"

;;Such is the midlevel of our collective queer-brow that we're already discussing the specifics of Tennessee Williams as translated into doe-eyed studio film. I've invited Jessica to join me tonight as a Parker Posey to my Jami Gertz in some snippy, brunette repartee, the sort that should naturally occur at early evening downtown art receptions. Somehow, we've stubbed our shared conversational toe on Paul Newman's whiskey "click" in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, that singular moment when drinking makes sense and everything else falls into place. But clicks just keep getting harder to find, and just about the only friction my $7 glass of organic chardonnay seems to elicit is taking place well beneath my brain.

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;"You're not going to talk about your digestive system again," Jessica's eyes mechanically roll.

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;"No. Never."

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;Instead, tonight's thrust and its resulting goo comes in the form of the reproductive system. Jessica's sporting a low-cut dress worn all Lisa Ling over jeans, and if she even slouches she'll have an art opening all her own. Appropriately, we're downtown at what might be known as either the Gallery at Avalon or the lobby of DMAC for the latest paper bag mushroom exhibition (ahem) from fungal eccentric Doug Rhodehamel. This time, he's celebrating his 25,000th scrunched brown bag by creating what must officially be referred to as "the world's largest paper bag mushroom."

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;"How big is it?" I nudge Doug.

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;"About 8 feet," he tape measures. "If you measure it from the base. I'm not saying that the size of a man's penis has anything to do with the size of his mushroom, but I do have an 8-foot mushroom."

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;Snark! Anyway, it's a polite affair for such an overt dalliance with sexual metaphoria, as a smattering of hipsters ebb and flow in no particular direction. There are mushrooms reproduced everywhere, some mounted on blocks being sold as commemorative mushrooms, others crammed into a garbage bag for a forthcoming mushroom raffle. Doug has clearly been preoccupied with his mushroom for some time.

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;"Aren't mushrooms asexual?" Jessica thinks out loud.

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;"No, they're very, very sexual," I wink.

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;The whole torrid fungal situation is tied into Doug's latest abstract ambition, the Spore Project, "a national effort to promote both creativity and funding for art in the classrooms," and "a web-based teaching tool developed to inspire children to be creative and have fun at very little cost." At least that's what the pamphlet says. God willing, all the mushrooms will come out across the country on Oct. 20, 2006, Paper Bag Mushroom Day. Oh? Somebody in this room is crazy, and I'm afraid it's not me.

;;Maybe it's Jessica. She reminisces that when she used to be a wild and crazy single gal, she and her roommate used to call themselves "spores," perhaps referring to the intermittent absence of mushroom-like protrusions in their lives. My mind is drawing a picture of girl parts with mold on them.

;;A mouthy party girl called Alena walks in the door with three mushrooms precariously perched on top of her head, like that's OK. I ask her if they're incidental growths or something that she put some thought into.

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;"I'm the fun girl!" she squawks. "Geddit? Fungi-rl!"

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;"We're sp-whores!" her friend Jen fingers even further. "Spuh-whoooores! Ha!"

;;And … scene. Jessica and I grab a handful of wasabi peas from a paper bag and make a hasty exit in order to avoid fungal indoctrination. We have somewhere else to be, anyway: a little place called Fertility.

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;"Whatever you do," Jessica warns, "you are not allowed to use the words ‘magic' and ‘mushroom' next to each other."

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;We'll see about that.

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;About 500 mushrooms away at Pom Pom's Sandwicheria, another art opening is in full boredom swing with Brittany Cabral's takes on what, um, women do littering the walls. I'm hoping for some serious smut, something a little less figurative than, say, mushrooms. Something involving jars, formaldehyde, ovaries and a Damien Hirst aesthetic. I'm also hoping for a sandwich.

;;What I get is none of the above, nor an "I got teabagged at Pom Pom's" T-shirt hanging up in the corner. Jess and I set into the sort of chatter that one does when soundtracked by "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega. ("DNA remix!" we ID in unison.) Our eyes shift from the "mixed media" works to the mixed messages of the artist's blouse. Jessica says something about a "surplice wrap," and all I hear is "surplus rack." Either way, we're bitches. Quicker than you can say "magic mushroom," I'm in a conversation with Cabral and her striped rack about just what links her collages of eggs, snakes, peacocks and girls with big noses.

;;"I like to use eggs," she grosses me out, before dwindling into some discussion of imagery as it pertains to science fiction and religion, because she's from Virginia. Jessica and I pull away and fall into a sangriaed extrapolation of crème brûlée and blowtorches, which is very sexual if you think about it, and wonder aloud whether or not I'll be able to get a column out of any of this. Then my phone rings.

;;"His name is Brick," Alan returns a drunk call I put in earlier. "Paul Newman's character is called Brick." Like this, here on my ankle.

billymanes@yahoo.com

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