July 30
I'm a lawyer in my past life, who got the kids through college and decided to try something different and a little more fun. A used book store sounded like a good idea, so that's where I am for now. I just hadn't counted on a recession or E-readers and am a little afraid there's going to be a third act. In the meantime, I have plenty to read and a little time to write. Not a bad way to spend a day.


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APRIL 24, 2012 9:58AM

A Qualified Fortune

Rate: 25 Flag

When I was growing up, we went to Chicago for a long weekend every summer and ate at a Chinese restaurant. It wasn't the only thing we did, but fortune cookies and the improbable video phones at the Museum of Science and Industry are what I remember. 

It was the early 1960's and Chinese restaurants and buffets had yet to show up on the main streets of southern Illinois small towns like my own. The only diversity we had was our catholics and protestants. And our food choices were almost exclusively centered around meat and potatoes. The only Chinese cuisine I knew was the very occasional chop suey from a can at home and, later, chop suey from a can at the school cafeteria. 

It was an eye opener to walk into a Chinese restaurant with red lanterns and tassles, waiters talking in accents and wearing silk pajamas, Chinese families sitting at tables, and a menu with Chinese characters that I couldn't begin to understand. It was a window into a world I didn't yet know. A glimpse into a future. A step towards being worldly.    

I ordered chop suey. So did my sister. And so did our mom. It was all we knew. Dad had grown up in Chicago and was a little more sophisticated, although I use that word loosely. He ordered beef with broccoli, fried rice and egg rolls, and made sure that they brought us hot tea with those little handleless cups that I so wanted to take home. 

Almost as much as I wanted to order the fried ice cream for dessert. But dessert was never in our budget. And, after that first visit, I was okay with that. Because they brought us something even better at the end of our meal. They brought us our fortunes.  

I think my first one said something like, "Happiness is yours if you enter each room with a smile and a wink." I took it to heart and returned home and started walking into every room with a wink and a smile. I'm pretty sure that people thought I had a tic, but I knew I had a fortune. A road map to happiness. Straightforward and assured. Something that made me feel good and positive about myself. Something that a scrawny nine year old from a small town could hold onto.

Subsequent fortunes just buoyed my growing confidence. "Hard work will bring big rewards." I could do that. "Keep your family close." I've got that covered.  

I can think of only one other thing growing up that had an impact as great as my Chinese fortunes. It happened in seventh grade when our home room teacher was leaving to go to another school and gave everyone in class an award at the end of the year. Mine was for the "sexiest voice." I carried that certificate with the same confidence I carried my fortunes. I was 12 and didn't even need a bra yet, and on some level probably knew that this was a stretch. Yet, somehow I've lived for nearly 50 years believing I have a sexy voice--even though not a single other person has ever noticed it or commented on it. 

I stopped at a Chinese take-out last week and brought home some dinner. I ate my beef and broccoli and fried rice and dug out the fortune cookie from the bottom of the bag with an innocence a little more jaded than the nine year old me. Still, I looked forward to reading it. "The stock market may be your ticket to success," it said.

"What the hell?" I thought. "My happy future is now tied in with the stock market?"

 "And, even then, it's qualified? It's just a 'may be ticket'" 

"What happened to rosy futures that made 9 year old girls enter rooms with a smile and a wink?"

"Where's that big reward I've been working hard for."

"What's the stock market got to do with anything anyway? Can't you see I'm wearing a smile."

"Confucious would be ashamed!"

I said this all in a very sexy voice.  

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My first good laugh of the day!
Very funny post.

"The only diversity we had was our catholics and protestants. And our food choices were almost exclusively centered around meat and potatoes." Hi neighbor! No, not from small-town Illinois, but from that era and kind of place. I didn't eat chop suey or ANYTHING that wasn't meat&potatoes until I was in my 20s. (We didn't go to restaurants - too poor and too out of it - it wasn't a concept, plus there weren't any anywhere nearby and we didn't have a car). Tho we had a "Chinatown" of sorts somewhere downtown.)

But a few years ago I did get a somewhat amazing fortune in a fortune cookie. It was the famous (in some circles) saying of Aleister Crowley: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Holy cow! Aleister Crowley in a fortune cookie! And because this is Canada, and everything including fortune cookie fortunes has to be bilingual, there wasn't room - on the back would be nice - to put the rest of the Crowley saying, which is usually left off, and softens it a good deal, while at the same time mystifying it: Love is the law, love under will. It was a super 'fortune' - croggling to both those who know Crowley and those who don't!
My favorite Chinese food has always been Islamic Chinese from the western provinces... excellent ground lamb dumplings and lots of Indian and Persian influences... as far as fortune cookies go, I've never had much luck.
Dolly--I love bringing laughs.
Myriad--You've educated me. I had to look up Crowley, and I'd say fortune cookies have branched out a bit.
jmac--Your palate is clearly a little more refined than mine.
Love, love, love real Chinese food. What you get here is mostly Indonesian and it just isn't the same. No fortune cookies either!

Great post!
Blasted non-committal fortunes. Frustrating. That's why I have been opting for the almond cookies instead of fortune cookies as my Chinese take out dessert. Fun read! :)
I love the way you draw from childhood experiences and bring them back around with intelligence and humor. Keep them coming! r.
Fortune cookies are yummy. Rice cakes with almonds yummier!
Happy post. Jewish people love Chinese food. Go figure?
how does Chun King do it still
V--It isn't Chinese without the fortune cookie.
Pensive--I know. And my lucky numbers don't seem to do me much good in the lottery either.
Deborah--Thank you. Those are nice words to hear.
Ande--I'll take one of each please.
Damon--How were you able to pull that up? I couldn't think of it.
I hated Chinese food as a child because of all the mushy veggies in it. My only experience, however, was with the Chung King version. Funny and very evocative post. R
Ande, as Fran Fine says, kosher doesn't count for Chinese!
Very funny. I too grew up with ChunKing, but in grad school I met a husband and wife, one from China-Taiwan and the other from mainland China. James (his chosen American name) cooked REAL Chinese food. I have yet to find a restaurant with comparable food.
Amazing how believable those fortunes can be. Fun post.
Always tack on the words "in bed" to the end of any fortune!
You're a great essayist. You deliver a quality product every time. r
Gerald--And I hated asparagus as a kid because it was mushy. Little did we know.
V.--How long have you been waiting to be able to quote Fran Fine?
beauty--There may be nothing comparable, but it's pretty easy to find better than ChunKing.
Sarah--although I'm still waiting for my great reward...
itried--I've done that too. It's always funny.
old new lefty--Thank you very much.
I really enjoyed this. My husband's favorite fortune cookie message of all time, "You like Chinese food."
I can immediately put one thing right simply by making this comment:

You have a sexy voice.

Excellent piece, by the way. The fortunes in those cookies are definitely not what they used to be.
On a visit to a foodie friend of mine in Manhattan many years ago we were trying to decide what to eat and he asked "Do you feel like Cuban-Chinese?" There really is such a thing, and not just one but at the time a number of such restaurants up near Columbia.
Bernadine--A fortune that makes you laugh is almost as good as one that promises you riches.
Brassawa--You've made my day.
Very funny, it´s true, it doesn´t cost much, and it makes your day. It´s positive thinking with customer loyalty in mind and also on paper, quite unique.
Con--A sort of fusion restaurant taken to the extreme, I guess.
workstudio--And much better than dinner mints.
I always assumed that you had a sexy voice, i dont know why....
something in the eyes...
ha. catholics and protestants and meat and potatoes...
sounds like my folks...watching them adjust to the new
cultural circumstances was comic.....
"we only ever tried that chinese food once, james," mom
would say," i like to do something different once in a blue moon.
Oh, but your father hated it , so we never went back."

I got them to like Mexican...tacos......"Oh it feels like my sinuses are getting a good workout! so spicy!"

I saw this really
funny short film once...in the basement, of the restaurant,
bunch of tech geeks research u
and write an appropriate fortune...
Love the sound of that sexy voice:)
James--Sounds like we had the same parents. Maybe that's why I like your posts so much.
John--Laughing...(in a sexy voice)
This was so delightful. And I loved imagining what it must have been like to discover a Chinese restaurant for the first time. Here's hoping the next time you get a fortune cookie, you get a much better fortune than that silly stock market one!
"The stock market may be your ticket to success," -- in bed. (someone had to do it)

I'm right there with you. The modern generation of Chinese Fortune Tellers, who foresee the future in short phrases, have become very materialistic. The sell-outs.
Delightful. I take those dumb cookies seriously too. I hate to say it but I do think they figured you had a tic. Hell with them.
Now get thee to the stock market. I would, sadly.
Alysa--I'm hoping the next one sees travel in my future. Paris, maybe?
Stim--Sadly, it's hard to make the stock market sexy--even "in bed."
fernsy--Straight to the stock market I'll go--right after I make my first profit from the book store.
I really enjoyed reading this! Would you believe that a couple of weeks ago, I got a fortune cookie that said, "You are going to travel far away." How did it know?
Jennifer--You got the fortune I wanted! I'm missing my grandson in Benin.
I remember those cans of chop suey. How did we down them? Lots of bamboo shoots and waterchestnuts in glop. Nice memory!
This is charming. I also love fortunes and even horoscopes that say positive and extremely general things about my wonderful self. Senior year in high school, in not quite as flattering a way, I was voted most likely to end up in jail--well, that never happened, so there ... except that one time ...