I save the fortunes in fortune cookies. Idiotic, I know. Intelligent woman like me looking for a heads-up on what’s coming next in life — whatever life is left — on preprinted slips of paper inside tasteless little baked products loaded with sugar and preservatives.
For one thing, they’re not even “fortunes,” in the sense of purporting to predict the future. For that, you have to go to a gypsy woman with a crystal ball and allegedly occult powers on the second floor of some decrepit building with dark and creaky stairs, who you pay to search your palm for nonsense about your life line and heart line and the little grooves at the side of your palm that predict the number of husbands (or great loves) you can look forward to.
In my twenties, a Madame Magda identified three such grooves, at a time when I was still on husband number one. H#1 didn’t like the sound of that but was able to laugh it off as hocus pocus. Turns out she was right, though, at least about the number of husbands. Although if we also consider the great loves, that might, or might not, skew the head count somewhat, depending on how we define “great” and “love.” [Subject of another post, perhaps.] Be that as it may — and hocus pocus or not — after Madame Magda, I did occasionally take comfort in looking at the side of my palm whenever I became too deeply unhappy with the here and now. Unfortunately, the last time I looked I couldn’t find the little grooves anymore. They had disappeared in a mass of other probably age-related lines — which must mean I’ve used up my quota of husbands and/or great loves.
However Chinese restaurants never disappear. They are ubiquitous in every English-speaking country I’ve ever visited, and perhaps in some other places as well. They count among my earliest memories of eating out with my parents, in the days when the menus — whether in a borough of New York or a small town in Kansas — consisted exclusively of either chop suey (vegetable, chicken or beef), or chow mein, or egg foo yung, or fried rice, or barbecued spareribs, or one from Column A and one from Column B. (Sometimes there was also something called sweet and sour shrimp, too — very shiny and sticky.) Oh, and wonton soup. Somewhat later, as the menus flowered into multi-page reading experiences, the local Chinese restaurant became an always reliable venue for the mother who couldn’t face making another meal; somewhere for Jews to go on Christmas Day when every other restaurant in town is closed; a source of sustenance for the uncoupled, self-pitying and lonely, dipping forks or perhaps chopsticks into cardboard cartons in front of the television screen on Saturday night. And also occasionally a resource for the elderly, like Bill and me, fed up at the last minute with always eating healthy to stay alive longer and thinking, close to dinner time: “Ah, the hell with it; let’s phone Shanghai Park. They deliver.”
But sure as shooting, whatever “Chinese” you choose to eat and in whatever part of the United States you eat it, you can always count on the ending, whether of an in-restaurant meal or take-out: sections of cut-up orange to freshen the palate, to get juice all over your chin, and perhaps to soil your clothing, accompanied by a cellophane-wrapped fortune cookie (with “Fortune Cookie” printed on the wrapper) — one per person, unless the kitchen was very busy and someone made a mistake by giving you two! (Second bite of the apple, in case you don’t like the first “fortune.”)
I wonder who writes them. I’ve almost never had two alike, so they can’t be widely mass produced. I sometimes visualize some poor sap copywriter down on his or her luck and taking a temporary gig writing the insides of fortune cookies till something better comes along. (Per diem pay, probably.) There must be rules. No bad news, for starters. No one wants to end a meal by finding a prediction of sudden death from overeating delivered with the bill. The writer may comfort (always good), exhort (perhaps encouraging), offer bits of pseudo-wisdom. Or dish out praise. (We’re all fools for praise, even if it comes from a sweatshop for copywriters.) If any of you have the inside scoop on this interesting question, do let us in on it! I’m sure other fortune cookie eaters would like to know, too.
I also sometimes wonder — although not long or hard — how the “fortune” gets inside the cookie. It couldn’t be wrapped in wet dough or it wouldn’t pull out so easily after you’ve broken the cookie, or look so clean when you read it. But how do you insert an oblong slip of paper into a curled up fully baked cookie so that it won’t come out unless the cookie is broken in two? There must be some kind of patented machinery that someone has burned the midnight oil to develop. Unless it’s still done by hand — another wage slave sweating over a hot oven to stop the baking process when the cookies are half done, manually place the fortune on a cookie no longer wet but still malleable, then twist it into the desired shape and finish the baking.
Why am I wasting everyone’s time, as well as my own, with these ruminations? Ah, I know the answer to that one. It’s to put off the moment — which now has come — when we look at what I’ve been saving. At first, I only saved what I considered good messages that came from a cookie I had chosen from the two or four on the table. These, for instance:
You are never too old to dream. Dreams bring hopes.
Isn’t that nice? If you were in your eighties, wouldn’t you stick a “fortune” like that in your wallet for another day? Or:
Remember the birthday but never the age.
That one I consider cautionary: Do whatever you feel like doing (“Never remember your age”) but don’t engage in wildly risky behavior, such as skipping your flu shot, running in very hot weather — if you can still run, that is — or making a public fool of yourself by, for instance, getting a face lift when the rest of you is sagging. (“Remember the birthday.”)
I also like the cheery ones, even if I know they’re hokum. Since I chose the cookies that encased them without knowing what was inside, maybe they apply after all:
Your flair for the creative takes an important place in your life.
Who wouldn’t appreciate an observation like that, even if written by someone who’s never met you or heard of you? It really comes from on high, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?
Also quite soothing when I can’t think of something truly different to blog about is:
Fresh ideas are not always the best ideas.
That’s right! Nothing like tried-and-true to win hearts. I’m so lucky I have cats to fall back on, blog-wise.
A whole other category of little papers I see I have saved come under the “Fight On!” umbrella. It is somewhat invigorating to find one of these three pepper-uppers in my makeup box of a morning:
Success will not attack you. You must attack it.
Keep on charging the enemy so long as there is life.
The thought that leads to no action is not thought — it is dreaming.
But now we come to the questionable ones. First question being: Why did I save them? Answer: Because each was on the table after its surrounding cookie had been eaten (by another person) and I couldn’t bear to abandon it when it might come in handy some day. Mind you, these weren’t even my fortunes. But waste not, want not. (What they teach us when we’re young is hard to shake.) Anyway:
A smile is the most effective medicine.
Now what does that mean? Smiling at a sick or troubled person is kind and supportive, but it’s not going to cure the disease or chase the trouble. On the other hand, if this is a message about letting another’s smile medicate what ails you — it’s garbage. “There, there, it’s all going to be all right. (Smile, smile.)” When you know it very well may not be all right? And suppose no one smiles at you. Then where are you?
Here’s another that looks wise at first glance, but isn’t:
Ideas are like children: there are none so wonderful as your own.
It’s true we love our children more than anyone else’s. But that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize superior merit in another’s child. (Little A plays the piano much better than my little B; I might as well admit it, if only to myself.) As for ideas, I’m envious almost all the time of other people’s wonderful ideas that didn’t come to me first. On the other hand, if this “fortune” is attempting irony — or worse, sarcasm — that’s not why I paid to eat dinner! So anyone who wants either of these two spuriously gnomic messages is welcome to them. Just ask, and we can do a deal.
The last four I find in my current possession are soon going to fortune-cookie-message heaven, or the other place, unless someone can persuade me they have a place in my life:
(1) Be most affectionate today.
(2) Allow your confidence to carry you through each day.
(3) When three is a crowd, adding one will often thin it out.
(4) The one waiting for you when you get home will be your friend for life.
What can I say? I am affectionate? When I feel confident I don’t need fortune cookies, and when I don’t, what good is a message inside a cookie? Adding one to a crowd of three sounds to me like a rom-com that never made it? The one waiting for us at home miaows?
The real message that comes down to me from the heavens now that I have parsed out these remnants of dinners already digested, is that I should have swept them away with the paper plates. Or better yet, never said to Bill, “Ah, the hell with it. Let’s phone Shanghai Park.”
Green smoothies and chia seeds: It’s going to be clean mind in clean body from now on!