Who writes the fortune cookies, anyway?

A few months ago, for reasons that I do not recall and could probably never explain, Amanda and I stopped at one of those crappy little Chinese Restaurants stuck between a dry cleaner and a dollar store in some out of the way run down strip mall in Andover.1 We were very hungry; I remember that. We ordered the usual: Egg foo yung for Amanda (I personally don’t know why anyone would eat that) and Kung Pao chicken and something noodly for me.

We were expecting to be satiated by the food, but to be made somewhat ill from the low quality ingredients and poor cooking one usually finds in a hole in the wall Chinese takeout place. Amanda, of course, would hardly notice because she is a born and bred Minnesotan which pretty much disqualifies her from identifying quality Chinese food. (I hope she doesn’t read this particular blog post!) But seriously, we do have a bit of a difference in opinion on what constitutes good Chinese food, and this opinion does seem to be shaped by our regional origin. My opinion is, of course, more correct, not because I grew up in Albany, New York (where there was exactly one Chinese restaurant at the time) but because I lived for 17 years in Boston, where Chinese Food is as good as it is in, say, San Francisco.

But then we ate the food and it was shockingly good!

So one day when conditions were just right for ordering pizza, we ordered Chinese food from Wok 88, the aforementioned hole-in-the-wall. This time we ordered something different, and it was also outstanding. Since then we’ve ordered food from this place a few times. I am very impressed.

But then the unthinkable happened.

One day they delivered the food (by this time the delivery guy knew Amanda quit well … she always deals with the food delivery people when we order out because I don’t like strangers … so they spent some time catching up on the news since the last delivery, etc. etc.). We ate the food. It was great. Then we opened the fortune cookies.

Amanda and Julia got these fortunes:

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Totally appropriate. Amanda was in the middle of negotiating a new jot at her high school, and we all know that School Administrators need to be handled firmly, so her fortune, the top one, was appropriate. Julia was in the middle of developing strategy for a debate at school, where strength of purpose and energy of will would be just the thing (her team handily won the debate, by the way).

Then, I opened mine and it was this:

i-52a15304bbd6a3e7019f971b9c770e4f-cokie_02.jpg

I got the editing error. And I know exactly what this was.

Do you remember my friend Lynne? I’ve mentioned her a few times before. We met in South Africa and were instantly thrown into a very difficult situation in which we needed to rely on each other’s comradeship and willingness to watch each other’s back over a stressful three week period. In the end, we would hate each other or be best friends forever. As it turns out, it was the latter, but even after that first period traveling together in the wilds of Africa, our relationship still had more room to develop. So, when this IM conversation happened with her …. well, it was interesting:

Lynne: “So, what’s the evil plot?”

Greg: “Huh?”

Lynne: “The ‘evil plot’ you mention in the email? Am I in on it or am I the subject of it!”

Greg: “Huh?”

Lynne: “Look at the email you sent me. Down at the bottom.”

It turns out that I had left the following sentence fragment at the bottom of an email I had send her the day before:

implement evil plot

You see, I had many things to say to Lynne in that email, so I made a list. The last item on the list was a quick note I jotted down to remind myself of something. The phrase “implement evil plot” was meant to remind me of an idea having to do with how to get an extra free plane ticket. The details are unimportant. But somehow a bunch of blank lines came to exist above the mnemonic phrase, and when I finished the email I forgot it was there.

“People try thing, because they just don’t want it enough” is clearly a note some cookie-author wrote to remember an idea that might have made a brilliant fortune. But then s/he forgot to turn it into an actual fortune. But it never got erased. Somewhere down the line, a file consisting of a string of fortunes meant to be printed up and stuffed into cookies (how do they do that, anyway?) was passed on and this item never noticed, perhaps for the same reason that my evil plot was neither erased nor converted into meaningful prose about airplane tickets. The printers printed it, the cookie-stuffers stuffed it, and it ended up as my fortune.

I’ve never been the same since.
________________________
1To be absolutely accurate, I don’t remember what the restaurant was stuck between, but you get the idea.

milk
dishwasher det.
rat poison to kill neighbor
bread

Comments

  1. #1 pierre
    February 23, 2011

    I think “implement evil plot” sounds like a mighty fine way to end all emails. Someday someone somewhere might actually heed the advice

  2. #2 Crudely Wrott
    February 23, 2011

    I get takeout from an excellent Chinese restaurant here in the Dayton burbs. It’s a family operation and I often am greeted by the young son of the owners. He does his homework in the shop and keeps the floor swept. His English is, well, enthusiastic if not phonetically correct. I gave him a bivalve fossil a while back.

    Anyhow, the fortunes I have received over my last two visits —

    The only good is knowledge. The only evil is ignorance.

    and this one

    You are capable, compentent, creative, careful. Prove it.

    The older I get, Greg, the more I love such trivial truths — because I understand how seriously a younger one might take them.

    I think tonight I might order the Happy Family Chef’s Special. Chicken, beef, shrimp, pork and crab with sauteed vegitables in a savory brown sauce. And I have another fossil for the boy.

  3. #3 D. C. Sessions
    February 23, 2011

    Some fortunes can change your life. I’ve always regretted losing the greatest fortune ever, and am constantly tempted to go back to PF Chang’s to see if I can get another like it:

    “In two hours you will be hungry again.”

  4. #4 Fortune Cookie Writer
    February 23, 2011

    You will turn left when leaving the restaurant, travel two blocks, and stop at an ice cream shop for dessert.

  5. #5 cairne.morane
    February 23, 2011

    I’ve found that the quality of those small Chinese take-outs varies tremendously*. The one closest to our house was awful for many years and we had to drive to the next town to find anything decent. Then they changed owners and the cooking improved dramatically. Now they even sell scallion pancakes which we hadn’t had since the one down the road from our old apartment closed up.

    I like getting the cookies with more than one fortune in them. Do I get both or do I have to pick one?

    I also like Kung Pao. I’m sure it’s very wrong, but I like it anyway.

    Mike.

    * And of course it all depends on what you consider good in Chinese food.

  6. #6 JB
    February 23, 2011

    I’ve always enjoyed sitting around after a convivial Chinese meal as everyone reads their fortunes aloud. I usually improve on mine.

    “On your way home you will run over and kill a small child.”

    “People with your condition sometimes go on to lead happy, productive lives for many weeks.”

    “It is good to have eaten well. You will never be this happy again.”

  7. #7 Crudely Wrott
    February 23, 2011

    How ’bout a fortune that reads simply, “Never mind”?
    Or, “It doesn’t matter”?

  8. #8 Sam N
    February 23, 2011

    I thought it was just a grammatical and perhaps translational error, meant to be:

    “People try things because they just don’t want them enough.”

    Which is to say if you wanted it enough you would do it, not try it. You know, like that Yoda quote, “do or do not, there is no try.” Well something along those lines…

  9. #9 Drivebyposter
    February 23, 2011

    Maybe YOU should write fortune cookies and include how to get free airline tickets.

    That would be a VERY fortunate cookie to get.

  10. #10 Rorschach
    February 23, 2011

    I was once told by a fortune cookie “You will receive a delightful cake.”

    I never got the cake.

  11. #11 JrzyGirl
    February 23, 2011

    When I was a very poor graduate student who never spent a penny on my wardrobe, I got a fortune cookie that read: “You will receive some new clothes”. It seemed like such a bizarre, non-fortune-cookiesh fortune that I actually saved it. The next day (honestly!), I was visiting a friend who pulled out a dress and said, “I was at a garage sale last weekend and got this for you!” It was a great dress (fit perfectly!), and I carried that fortune around in my wallet for years, if only to remind myself how wonderfully weird our universe can be.

  12. #12 tybee
    February 23, 2011

    friend of mine swears he got a cookie that said “Jesus has been watching you and boy is he pissed”

  13. #13 stewart
    February 23, 2011

    When I was proposing to my now wife on a daily basis, she received a cookie with the message “Accept the next proposal you hear”. She did.

  14. #14 Clam
    February 24, 2011

    After getting all upset about Libya and Wisconsin and U.S. wingnuttery, you’ve just cheered me up and made my day! Thank you!

  15. #15 Keith Hammerbeck
    February 24, 2011
  16. #16 Greg Laden
    February 24, 2011

    Thanks for the link. The way the fortunes are made is equally interesting.

  17. #17 john
    September 14, 2012

    man, that was a really long read. no offense, but get to the point next time

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