Diary of a Kombucha

by Mike Albo

Sunday March 3, 1996

Two weeks ago Greg's over-exuberant neighbor Joyce gave him this big, smelly pancake in a Ziploc bag. It swam in an amber liquid and she told him it was a mushroom and that by following careful instructions and drinking the liquid, he'd get clear skin, more energy, high spirits, and healthy hair .

"This is your Kombucha," she said. "It gives birth once a week. As its caregiver you are to give the baby back to the earth or give it to a friend." Joyce has babies all over her apartment, floating in fish- and punchbowls.

"You have to give it a name," she said, "like Alice or Holly or Digby." Greg named his Vance.

Although the thought of it makes me queasy, I can't pass it up—now that I think about it, I always have vague symptoms of everything. I am getting my baby next week.

Wednesday March 6, 1996

My roommate Virginia is going to do it with me. "It better fucking work," she said. "I'm sick of barely noticeable homeopathic stuff. I don't care if it hurts me. I want to feel it in me like a tank tread."

I found three books on Kombucha. All I want to read are happy promises, so I instantly hate Kombucha: The Essential Guide ( Botanica Press, 1995) by Christopher Hobbs because it tries to be sober and canonical about the mushroom. Instead, I read The Tea Fungus Kombucha (Ennsthaler, 1985) by Rosina Fasching, with its magical, Renaissance Festival tone, and the joyous, gushing The Essential Kombucha (The Kombucha Network, 1994) by Andra Anastasia Malczewski.

Of course there's a Kombucha Home Page, which has an anonymous article, describing the original Kombucha users as "[from] an area in Russia called Kargasok, where the people are a dairy and vegetable eating populace who cherish family ideals and traditions. Liquor and smoking are excluded from their lifestyle. A common outlook shared by the inhabitants is not to let life pressure them."

Of course Kombucha experts are vaguely Christian in that diaphanous, New Age kind of way. I wish they'd like me but I know they wouldn't. The Kombucha FAQ says, "Ask your Higher Self, pray to God, ask for guidance from the Holy Spirht, use your intuition or do whatever you feel comfortable with, but whatever you do, "Know Yourself!" Tune into your body and feel what is best for you. Remember too much of a good thing is not always best."

I want to drink it like Gatorade.

And, of course, like echinacea, bergamot root, garlic, curry, and Richard Simmons, the Kombucha has been around for centuries. And everyone in Santa Cruz and Northampton is drinking it.

It means something, though, that the news of it has reached my circle of friends. Now is our chance. Maybe we're not "hearty, outdoor folk," maybe we don't "cherish family ideals," but at least we're fun to be with.We are a folk full of casual smoke, Carmex, blurty stories, AIDS panics, genital warts, crabs, simpler psychedelic mushrooms, clothes from "Everything In Store Ten Dollars", superstore coffee, and free promotional CDs! We praise each other in exaggerated ways and drink all night! If Andra and Christopher and Rosina and Anonymous saw their newest users, they would flinch while grinning.

They say it's difficult to care for Kombucha, they say it's easy. Kombuchas, apparently, only thrive in a certain, controlled habitat, a glass bowl covered by a T-shirt in a dark space. In the books, they cover their bowls with chopsticks and lay riffled all natural cotton over them. You lay your baby down in sugar, water, and tea. In one picture, Andra uses a swirly Stevie Nicks belt to keep her cheesecloth taut. The fungus just sits there and marinates and ferments the stuff and then, after seven days, you drain the liquid and drink.

Friday March 8, 1996

Spent the day finding supplies for the fungus. My feet are killing me. I'm in a foul mood, my head hurts and I definitely, definitely have chronic fatigue syndrome.

Ran into that asexual guy Roderick in front of a huge selection of puffy plastic toilet seat covers. I told him I was getting a fishbowl for my Kombucha mushroom. "Oh that thing," he said. Brian Katz's mother has been drinking Kombucha for years, that guy in that band says his girlfriend does it, Will says they sell "Bucha Juice" in Portland and everyone drinks it. Jason says everyone at Planet Hollywood is doing Kombucha. Oh goodie, that's encouraging.

Why hasn't anyone told me about Kombucha until now?

Saturday, March 9, 1996

The Mushroom cannot survive in or on anything plastic, and I know why. These three scientists on NPR's Science Friday were discussing xestrogen, the substance in detergents and pollutants that mimic estrogen and has caused alligators and salamanders to have overduplicated genitals and useless penises. They mentioned, in weird, spirited, optimistic tones, our normal horrors: lead in the air, lakes so polluted they catch on fire, crop dusters of pesticide, sick fish, low sperm counts, prostate and breast cancer. But then one doctor said, "Plasticizers and Monimers are estrogenic, too!" and cited a recent discovery by one scientist that the breast cancer cells she had isolated were multiplying in the fuming plastic petri dish they were in.

My life is plastic. I wear polyester; I use Saran Wrap liberally; and I have plastic dinnerware, Tupperware and tumblers. In college alone, I drank so much keg beer out of plastic Super Big Gulp cups that I can't believe I haven't already developed a sister vagina.

I'm going insane. I'm obsessed with my health, with microbes, with the detergent of everything, mimicking estrogen that fumes from plastic, and all I can hope is that the Kombucha will save me.

Sunday March 10, 1996

I just ate a huge plate of sautéed livers at Manatus. I don't know why.

Greg gave me my Kombucha and I decided to call it Par-Lot, after this play Julie wrote about a magical plant. Virginia says it looks like the scary chunk of flesh that you are unsure of in slasher movies. "Wha—is this her butt, or...What kind of madman are you?! What did you do to her?!"

I boiled the water, steeped the tea, added the sugar, and sterilized the glass jar for Par-Lot. I talked to it the entire time, and I laid it softly in its brown bed. Nightie Night, Par-Lot.


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