I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can say with confident conviction that I love Chinese food. Oh, I know what some of you might be thinking…The stuff that we eat in America isn’t even really Chinese food, you know. I am well aware of this truth, and I’ll tell you that unless it still has a head on it or is still moving when they bring it to me on the plate, I’ll usually eat it. So, yes, I love all kinds of fusion cuisine be it Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese–the list goes on and on.
The one thing I can say I have fallen out of love with, however, are fortune cookies. I used to eagerly await their arrival at the table when I was a kid. The waitress would bring them out at the end of the meal on a tiny tray, and I would follow a specific ritual for selecting, opening, and eating mine. I think some of it might have been generated by urban legend or things I was told one was supposed to do with the tawny, brittle oracle, but most of it was a product of my own overactive imagination.
I would never go for the first cookie I saw; neither was the one closest to me the one I was “meant” to choose. I’d usually spin the tray and grab one at random. So there was some chance to my selection, but I had a hand in it as well instead of simply taking what I was dealt.
I then carefully unwrapped the cookie, checked it for imperfections such as a crack or (gasp!) a hollow center lacking the necessary strip of paper. Once I was assured that my cookie had arrived parcel post from the Szechuan universe with all its parts intact, I proceeded to open it by attempting to pull the two halves apart at the seam rather than cracking it in half vertically. Often, I couldn’t do it, but when I could, I just knew that the fortune was an accurate one.
Now, any fortune cookie aficionado will tell you just how truly gauche it is to eat your cookie before you read your fortune, to shove it in your gaping maw and masticate it briefly before sending it down to join the rest of the grub in your already painfully full, distended abdomen.
For me, eating the cookie was the proof that I accepted said fortune, that I agreed to abide by its command or advice. If I chose to leave the cookie on the table after reading my message, it meant I was choosing to bite my thumb at the universe instead. It could take its tiny note and shove it as far as I was concerned.
For someone who put so much thought into a nearly tasteless piece of baked dough, you’d think I’d be more forgiving. However, whoever manufactures these things now really needs to step up their quality control standards. (I think it’s likely some place in New Jersey. Nothing good comes from there.)
Back in the day, the fortunes were just that….fortunes. You’d get messages that told you something relatively specific that would likely happen in your future. For instance:
The project on your mind will soon gain momentum.
A new business venture is on the horizon.
Tell them, for it will soon be too late.
You will receive a gift from someone you care about.
People in your surroundings will be more cooperative than usual tomorrow.
Impossible standards will make life difficult.
You can fix it with a little energy and a positive attitude.
There you have it! Each one of these examples, while some are more specific than others, was a bite-sized augur, a prognostication of upcoming events in my pre-teen life. They were exciting and fun, and I loved reading them, collecting them, and even writing stories based on their messages.
Nowadays, however, “fortune cookie” is a bit of a misnomer. I got one at lunch this week, read it, and was flummoxed. I thought it might have been a random gaff, but two cookies later, I had to admit that fortune cookies were no longer fortunate. Look at the three I pulled.
The top one is the first one I pulled. I consider myself a fairly deep thinker and critical reader, but that statement makes no sense to me at all. I firmly believe that is, in fact, impossible to do. I’m calling this one, and all those like it, “conundrum cookies.”
The second one sounds like something my dad would have said to me when I was practicing my French horn for an upcoming audition and had finally slammed headfirst into wall of frustration. Many cookies fall into the category of “sage advice,” and while it might be good to note their wisdom, they are not in any way, shape, or form considered fortunes. Hence, they are “admonition cookies.”
The third one, I’ll call it the “gumption cookie,” reminded me of those motivational posters that were huge back in the early nineties. You know the ones…
If the advice in these posters were water, they were just a shade shallower than a half-full kiddie pool. It was something bosses hung in the office hoping to increase positive vibes and employee enthusiasm. However, they mostly made us want to snatch them off the wall set them on fire, Hendrix style. In fact, the demotivational posters that followed them are the ones that have survived in popular culture. What does that say about us?
So my beloved fortune cookies are now nothing more than crunchy carryalls for pablum. They, like the Happy Meal that actually came in a box and the opportunity to ride a bike without being legally required to wear a helmet are things of a better yesteryear, I suppose.
How about you, dear reader? Anything from your childhood been destroyed lately? Do you want to bemoan the loss of better times with me? How about your recent fortunes—were they as insipid as mine? Tell me about it in the comments!