There’s a fungus among us

There’s a fungus among us – and this is a good thing. The big mushroom festival comes to town this weekend at the Oakland Museum. Having hunted mushrooms in the wilds of Mendocino, recently, I’ve developed a fondness for fungus that goes beyond their puffy little caps and stems. A mushroom foray, as one local put it, is the last real treasure hunt. After the rains, the little brown bodies push their way up through the forest floor. Hidden amongst the bark and leaves – the tender shoots thrive in their own little microcosms. In Mendocino County, people take mushrooms seriously, often unwilling to share their secret sites. But every November they hold an incredible 12 day Wine and Mushroom Fest, with guided forays and tastings and talks by experts like Charmoon Richardson, who, as a youth, had an epiphany under a tree and decided to dedicate his life’s work to the fantastical fungi. The whole town comes out for this event. An eclectic mix of Mother Earth’s finest – artists, chefs and hippies. Like a perpetual progressive dinner, they move from elegant Inn to Inn feasting on mushroom pate and Chardonnay. They board the Skunk train and ride deep into the Redwood Forest for an all day symposium, where the smell of grilled Portabellos is enough to drive a sane man wild. Some of the Mendocino mushroom artists will be gathering at the Oakland Museum this weekend. Taylor Lockwood is one of them, a man who’s captured a magical kingdom of mushrooms on film. His photographs are a treasure and make you realize just how entertaining Mother Nature can be. The ultimate artist, she cleverly covers the earth with an endless array of eye candy. Feast your eyes on a thousand different fungi at the Oakland Museum this weekend. And let the rains begin!

Saying goodbye: A Montclair institution has passed away. The man who cut thousands of heads of hair over the last 45 years, succumbed to a stroke last week. Mel Serreira had just turned 76, according to fellow barber Rocky Becker. He worked almost until his death, with a loyal following at Montclair Barbers on Mountain Boulevard. Now that Mel’s gone, Becker says he’ll probably take over the shop. Rocky is great and has his own claims to fame – as the longtime barber for Raiders owner Al Davis. But Mel will be missed. He was, in many ways, Mr. Montclair – with memories of the village that went back decades. Rest in peace, Mel.

Scoring with kids: While the Oakland Raiders are out scoring touchdowns, the wives are quietly racking up points of their own. Oakland mom Kelly Powers tells me the Raider’s Wives Organization brought two SUV’s full of toys to her house last week – for the kids at Hawthorne School in the Fruitvale district. These are 1500 at-risk kids who would otherwise get very little, if anything at all at Christmas. “The last time we brought things to the school, the parents were crying,” Powers says.

Party Time: Glenview’s Mary Miles knows how to spread the holiday spirit. Each December, she has a big holiday party for her day care kids and their families. Hosted by the Dimond Rec Center, the kids get pizza and other goodies as they sit in a circle and sing holiday carols. Mary says a record number of kids came this year, and you could tell by the twinkle in her eyes that she was the “mother” of all of them.

Stage Kids: As many as one hundred children try out each year, but only seventeen get picked for the annual production of The California Revels at the Scottish Rite Theater. Rehearsing for the last two months, the kids (age 7-11) play pilgrims on a journey from France to Galicia, a Celtic town in Northern Spain. It’s a huge time commitment but the kids get wonderful theater instruction and Oakland gets a great holiday show this weekend and next. For more information call 510-893-Yule.

Looking skyward: Stars seem brighter in the cold, dark skies of winter. Spend a night this holiday season at the Chabot Space & Science Center, gazing skyward as you ponder our place in the universe. There are some wonderful planetarium shows this time of year, and holiday concerts that rock the Rotunda. In fact, a membership would make a great holiday gift. Then you get free unlimited admission and other perks. The website is cool, too, at

Have Tummy/Will Travel: Oakland native Dennis Cavagnaro has been playing Santa for the last 15 years, and making a pretty fat paycheck. But what’s a jolly old elf to do – when the economy heads south? “I’ve only got 2 jobs so far this season,” he says, “and I’ve been advertising in Parents Press for 2 months.” Cavagnaro says he looks the part, with a rich red suit and a “tummy like a bowl full of jelly”. He’ll come to your house (not through the chimney) and call your kids by name, just like he does with his reindeer. He’ll even bring in a sack full of presents, if you leave them outside for him. So, if you want to put the Ho Ho Ho back in Christmas, give Dennis a jingle.


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