SYMPHONY

Truth in Fortune Cookies
(11 Pages in Typescript)
 
 
 
 

                When a person's feeling down, put upon, discouraged, there's nothing like a good hot meal to put things back in perspective, so I decided to go to the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant and order some takeout. I cut through the alley between the movie theater and the five-and-dime, picked my way through the backstreet parking lot, and, from the rear, approached the mini-mall that houses the Great Wall. There would be a wait while my food was prepared, so I decided to sit at the bar and have a beer. On the television behind the bar, in a corner, a baseball game was underway. The sound was off, but closed-captioning allowed me to understand what was being said. After the owner of the restaurant, prowling about in the dozy silence—it was early and the place was empty—produced a beer for me, I studied the words.
                He aloud only two runs in ate innings, and struckout sex. We're going to half a new pitcher, Terry Mnaxdkxsyl—Damskydlx— who's present lee heated out of the ball pin. We'll be write back after this.
                I can understand that modern technology doesn't always function perfectly, still I wasn't in a mood to waste time on this. I decided to find something else to occupy my attention. On my left, at the end of the bar, I noticed a large glass bowl filled with fortune cookies. I figured they were going to give me a cookie anyway, so wouldn't begrudge my taking one now. Being as inconspicuous as I could, I sidled down the bar and as though pulling out a raffle ticket, reached in the bowl and grabbed a cookie. I returned to my stool, split the cellophane, extracted the cookie, cracked it, and read my fortune.
                You will never be lo mein on the totem pole.
                After the afternoon I'd had, that lifted my spirits somewhat, it constituted a glimmer, at least, of validation. If I could be favored with a second piece of good news, I reasoned, maybe I could put the day's sour feelings behind me. As the owner had gone into the kitchen—and in any case, I'm sure, wouldn't have begrudged my taking two fortune cookies—I again crept down the bar, reached in the bowl, and returned to my seat with my booty. I extracted the cookie and, feeling a little like I was rolling dice at Las Vegas, squinted at my fortune.
                Maybe, after all, these things positively are not expressive. Well, I couldn't argue with that. On the other hand, it left me in a kind of limbo: I had been hoping for something more definitive, more tangible. Stuffing the cookie shards, wrappers, and two fortunes in my pocket, I made a third assault on the fishbowl. I was beginning to develop a rhythm, have a sip of beer, open, extract, crack, and read. For the third time, I did so. Single-sentence extrapolations rarely conduce to fireboned pleasures.
                Fireboned pleasures? I was just trying to get past an unpleasant afternoon, I wasn't even concerned with pleasure. I left the wrapper and crumbs on the bar—1 reasoned that if anyone saw a crumpled cookie, he'd figure I'd taken only one—and attacked again. The rhythm was becoming mesmerizing. Refreshment, extraction, perusal.
                Foment the differential love-match equinox. Accept the nominal screaming vice, and relish.
                I had been working on the differential love-match thing, my entire life. Still, I was looking for something more specific. I felt the cookies had a message for me, that somewhere among them there was an inspiration, guidance for the future, something to pin my hopes on—a special insight about me. Despite mixed success so far, I was determined to learn what it was. I glanced up at the words streaming along the top of the television screen.
                Well, with Jack's son, we'll have the dying run at the pleat, and remember, Billy Mnaxdkxsyl—Damskydlx—has great speed, and is always a threat to steel. I was talking to Jack's son yes today, and he told me something I didn't no. He likes to bole. Do ring the off-season, he spends much of his tine bawling. He's pretty good, I here.
                Just as the proprietor was reemerging from the kitchen, I had an inspiration.
                Excuse me! I called to him. I have a thing about fortune cookies and, as you know, you can't buy them locally. Is there any chance you'd sell me the entire bowl?
His eyes got squinty, he laser-beamed them from the bowl to me, and back.
                Yes, that bowl at the end of the bar, I said.
But the Chinese are very pragmatic, when it comes to money.
                Could do, he said.
                How much? I asked.
                Fortune cookie not cheap, he replied. I give you for eight dollar.
                I had been hoping to come in at three or four, but I told myself that if I didn't have a second beer, I would still come out about even. Feeling like an animal that has cornered its prey and is now focused on the kill, I went and seized the bowl and brought it back to my seat.
                Bowl not include, said the proprietor.
                Oh, of course! I said. I understand that.
                I reached in the bowl and pulled a cookie out. I took a sip of my beer, cracked the package, extracted the sliver of paper, and unfolded it.
                Look for ground chance farm warnings.
                Well, I'm always looking for such things, I reassured myself.
                Still, something in this made me vow to look more intently.
                Next.
                Remain deep steward of potential possibility, with figurines of conscience.
                That sentiment was sort of formidable, and I wish it had been fleshed out a bit. I decided I would think about it later. Next.
                Trust to deep-trust instincts in their deep-thrust trustingness.
                Quite a mouthful, but okay, okay. There was a certain ring of truth to it. I got the gist. Then?
                Don't hold back. Lap it up in this time of greed.
                I declared that one null and void. The very thought was reprehensible, repugnant, sick. Not funny at all. So, onward.
                Liquidate the semi-soft vegetable matter, quickly.
                I suppose that meant my brain, maybe it meant my entire body. Either way, it was something to think about. Next contestant, enter and sign in please.
                Marine eyeglass repair undermines salesman's antique costume. Was I losing my eyesight? I took a sip of my beer and tried again.
                Hardballing the rollerbox will not cleave the daintymeat.
                I left that one alone, it was a bit more than I could handle. I breathed deeply, and wished myself better luck next time.
                Finger-pointing skynuckles predetermine other significant anomalies.
                I was starting to feel like I was on a downward spiral. But chin up, up, up!
                Seed-spotting razorplanes constitute significant deviationist tendencies.
                Now that was too much. I was beginning to get irritated. And rightly so. Nothing for it but to go on.
                Next.
                When making bets, be on your bets behavior.
                Okay, stupid pun, still I felt I was getting somewhere. Cross your fingers.
                Foliate the percipient, incipient predetermined ruckus.
                Foliate. A clue. at least. Deal me another card.
                Calcify the elusive amalgam, and hope.
                All right, all right. Hope. I obviously understood that. Then it occurred to me that I had not been turning the fortunes over to discover my lucky numbers. Now I did so, and a lucky thing—so to speak—because my lucky numbers were 41, 37, 6, 22, 79, 63, 4, 16, 86, 9, 29, 47, 2 , 71, 52, 13 (!), 62, 98, 11, 17, 34, 95, 12, 35, and 67. This largesse, this bounty, this wealth of riches considerably lifted my spirits. Perhaps it had not been such a lost and depraved day, after all.
                A waitress materialized out of the stillness, eyed the mess that was piling up in front of me on the bar, and asked if I was ready to order. As she reached for the second beer I ordered, I hastily glanced at the menu. I had other, more important business, and wanted to get back to it.
                Yes, please, I said. I would like an order of Sweet and Sour and Hot and Sour and Sweet and Cold and Cold and Hot soup, and an order of Moogoo Sushi Pepperpot Stew in House Special Stolen Dandelion Sauce with Succulent Bamboo Crunchies and Diverse Other Crispy Mysteries.
                A voice in my mind began to sing that old chestnut, From Sea to Chinese Sea.
                After a final glance at the ragged pyramid of cellophane, paper slices, and shards of baked dough on the bar, the waitress turned about and disappeared into the kitchen. Don't scowl at me, I felt like saying. I'm the Cookie Man. I will take care of you when you are old and infirm. Then, as the double doors to the kitchen swung to and fro, I heard her call, okay, gimme the Number Four! And put some sneakers on it!
                Then it was back to work. Sip, savor, extract, crack, and read.
                Horticulturized woodwork often deflowers ambiguity. That, itself, had a touch of ambiguity to it, so I let it pass. Next.
                Motorcade anxiousness debilitates paisley textures.
                I've often experienced motorcade anxiousness while behind the wheel, and a consequent blurring of color-field attention, so I understood that one completely. The puzzle was beginning to come together. Next.
                Whammyducks do not equal true ducks. Beware.
I think I had whammyducks as a child, but I'm not sure. But don't lose courage. Onward.
                Birthday coming up ahead sometime, formidable future. This, too, was reassuring. My birthday was only four and a half months away. Salted peanuts in the shell couldn't have been more fun.
                Angst-driven doo-wop is not sufficient for platitudinous comparisons.
                That was exactly my sentiment, regarding doo-wop. Wherever I was going, I was on my way. I could feel it.
                Certain things demure. Impossibility. Do not. (Or something.)
                That one had a definite or-something quality to it. But a job just begun....
                Semioperational discretionary systems do not support occupational romance.
                Romance! What romance? That was precisely my problem! Next.
                Generative stovepipes debilitate cerebral garden districts.
                I stared at that one for a long while. I was beginning to feel like I was sniffing glue. Next.
                Seraphic monocones browbeat hazy wooflers.
                Okay, okay, I was just on a bad run, that's all. I'm a card counter, but I had lost count. Everyone makes mistakes, live with it. But I felt my luck was about to improve. So here we go, baby, roll the bones and crack 'er open.
                Look for a materialization from your past to metastasize in the future.
                No surprise there. I knew, very well who that was.
                Suddenly I was accosted by an ear-splitting noise. The waitress had reappeared, and was vacuuming the floor. Trying to disguise her real intentions, she gradually made her way to the bar area, and began vacuuming beneath my stool. When I looked dawn, I discovered to my horror that there were slivers of paper, slices of shiny cellophane, and fortune-cookie pieces all over the floor. But I was determined. I was going to learn my fate and fortune if it killed me. I smiled at the waitress defiantly, reached in the fishbowl, and opened the next.
                Nominal birthdays coordinate consequential interlinks.
                Ah, the birthday theme again. I was nearing the motherlode, I could sense it. I half expected the next fortune to tell me who was going to send me a birthday card, and who wasn't.
                Next.
                Frontal nudity scores negatively in parochial sports emblematics.
                I was starting to get worked up, when— Creationist theories of laminated furniture do not. help in the countdown.
                I had not hit the jackpot, after all. So, onward.
                Intrepid sylvanates berate decrepit flavonoids, be mindful.
                I'm mindful about many things, and I decided I could be mindful of that, too. Next.
                I can't take it, I can't take it! I'm a prisoner in a fortune cookie factory!
                Finally, a human voice. A real voice. A cry from the deep. This was definitely something I could relate to. I felt for whoever had written those words, I really did. I imagined him surrounded by almanacs, thesauruses, collections of wisdom, and laboring over his creations in a dimly lighted basement, or hot, stifling sweatshop, in Chinatown.
                The waitress turned her vacuum off and set the wand down and evaporated into the kitchen. After a few minutes, she returned with a brown bag, neatly folded and stapled, and set it on the pile of debris I had created. Pointedly, menacingly, she slowly nudged it toward me. Even now, however, I refused to be intimidated. I waited for her to accept defeat in her little game of intimidation, and reached into the bowl.
                So we can discuss this at your earliest convenience, please call 886-6197.
                Now, that was a bolt out of the blue. Who had written that? The prisoner? I would have been more than happy to call him—by now I had plenty of things I wanted to clarify—but without an area code, how could I do so? I stared at the fortune and hoped it wasn't, indeed, the prisoner, languishing in his basement or sweatshop. Next.
                Will you please take a message to my cousin in New Jersey? This was followed by a long passage in Chinese that concluded with what I inferred was an address. Things were getting more personal than I had bargained for. Still, I hated to discard that one. It was as if I had found a message in a bottle, and because I was going to toss it on the bar and walk away, the addressee would forever after endure a life of suffering. (I was still drinking my second beer, so I knew the message hadn't come from my bottle. To tell the truth, Chinese restaurants are not ordinarily places where I lose my inhibitions.)
                Just three more to go.
                Sedulous stalemates quantify bionic functions.
                Much too inscrutable, here at the end of my quest. Next.
                Burundi is another matter entirely.
                I'll say it is. I've often said that myself. Still, I would have welcomed a little more enlightenment.
                The waitress was back in evidence now, vacuuming the floor beneath my stool, her wand knocking roughly against its legs. Suddenly something about all this didn't feel right. I quickly finished my beer, opened the last wrapper, and cracked the cookie.
                You will die soon. Maybe tonight.
                That was it. I glanced at my check, threw some money down on the bar—including the eight dollars I had spent trying to cheer myself up—and helping myself to ten or twelve takeout menus, thanking the waitress profusely, and vowing to be back soon, jumped up and ran out screaming.

 
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