I tend to find fortune cookies disappointing. More often than actually telling me my fortune, they attempt to describe my personality, or offer advice. "You have many friends," they say. "You are too hesitant." They tend to be positive, but all too often acknowledge my more bland tendencies. “"ou are happy with what you have."
Or else they offer a supposedly helpful maxim, like the one I got in graduate school: "Beware of the man offering impossible things." Too true, fortune cookie. If only I had read you sooner. I keep waiting for the "Good fences make good neighbors" cookie.
Of course I have better luck--or perhaps fortune--than certain people, who have on more than one occasion opened an empty cookie.
But once, just once, I would like the little cookie to give me a fortune, a prediction, something to look forward to, something to worry about.
Recently, when the aforementioned fortune-free friend opened yet another empty cookie, I got a truly scary fortune cookie. This was not the kind of scared you are supposed to feel of the Bad Cookie, which prides itself on the poor fortune it offers. Bad Cookie makes such comma-splicing predictions as, "Don’t be hasty, tragedy will knock down your door soon." The more superstitious are spooked by that; the cynical will snickeringly click for another fortune. "You will soon be drowning in the great waters" or "A friend is a present you can buy yourself." Heh, heh, little cookie. That was a good one.
But not actually scary, not like my fortune was scary. I cracked my delicious vanilla-scented cookie open to find, "We are very happy together," preceded and followed by little smiley faces.
Who is this "we," I immediately asked? Yes, I was very happy to have been eating good Chinese food, something I cannot do in my small southern subsubsubsubsuburban setting. I was even more happy to be eating lunch with two friends who I cannot seem to see often enough.
The thing is, I did not believe that the we of the cookie was the we of the lunch. There was someone in the cookie intruding their we onto ours, someone I had not been aware of, who seemed to be very aware of me, happy to be with me. Very happy.
The little smiley faces made it worse. Do not worry, the fortune cookie person says: you should be smiling. We are very happy together.
Well, cookie, I am not smiling. I am hopelessly freaked out, and at every turn I look to see where you are now. Are you the guy sitting in the row of flight-waiting chairs in the airport or was that you lugging too many suitcases through the security line? Are you the couple who walk laps around my neighborhood every morning? Are you the woman at the grocery store who cannot imagine that someone else might need to move a cart through the aisle, or the befuddled man, comparing what is written on his list with what he sees on the shelf. The telemarketer calling to request a donation? Or the woman in the locker room who seems betrayed by her ageing body? Or the student walking between classes on his cellphone, stepping off the sidewalk as if the traffic were the Red Sea? Because if so, you have me fooled: you never look happy out there. None of you do.
I suppose you are more wily than this, cookie person, more aware but less noticed. Are you the one who sneaks in comments of self-doubt around my happy occasions? Who suggests that I am not working hard enough? Says that the dish could have done with a little less salt? That I should have gone out for a run?
If we are happy, cookie person, you could start noting that I could stand a break here or there, that the chapter I wrote is not bad, actually, and that people will think this stuff is important. You could say that I have worked enough for one day, and should go listen to some music, or read a few more chapters in my novel. Or you could point out that the chorizo with sherry and rosemary that I am making for the first time and for guests really smells amazing, and that since there is so much food without red meat it is OK to make this one dish even though two of my guests will not be able to eat it. You could tell me that my hair is looking pretty good, and that my dumpy sweater does not have to be glamorous.
Cookie person, we really could be happy together, you and I. We could be very happy together.