customs/rituals, folklore, food, good luck/bad luck, Uncategorized

“Next Time, Order the Shrimp!” Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Bowl of opened fortune cookies.  Photo by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Bowl of opened fortune cookies. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Even though most of us are aware that fortune cookies are a faux Chinese custom invented in the U.S., we wait in suspense to open these rice cake treats when dining in Chinese restaurants.

Especially for children.  For a while, my husband and I fooled our offspring until they learned to read.  The toddlers would excitedly hand Harold their cookie fortunes and invariably he would pretend to slowly decode them and then intone, “Honor your father and your mother, and you will have good luck.”  We couldn’t get away with that for long.

In Los Angeles, I frequently visited Chinatown and once stopped in at a Chinese Fortune Cookie factory.  The process intrigued me  — batter automatically poured onto small circle griddles and when the fragrant aroma indicated that they were cooked, they were mechanically folded into fortune cookie shapes.  The process mesmerized me, yet I can’t remember at what stage they inserted the fortunes.

Most of us are familiar with the old fashioned predictions, “You will soon take a long journey,” but fortunes like the irreverent one in my title, “Next time, order the shrimp,” cause a vision of Chinese fortune cookie writers going off the deep end.  Or perhaps, the new kinds of fortune cookie writers are simply more daring and realistic.

“There is no problem.  It’s only your stupidity.”

“Keep it simple.  The more you say, the more people won’t remember.”

Even though wer realize that the fortunes are just hokum created by some anonymous writers, more likely based in Brooklyn than Beijing, we have hopes that a startling pronouncement will elate us and renew our optimism about the future.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  That’s why we scan our horoscopes, have our palms read or tarot cards interpreted.

Even on the brink of 83 years, I confess that I still look forward to reading my fortune and grab the cookie that conveys that it is destined only for me.  So far, I have avoided selecting this one of the contemporary variety.

“I cannot help you, for I am just a cookie.”

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes that at almost 83, tomorrow still holds promise.

able/disabled, driving, independence

You Still Drive?

Routinely, my physician asks, “How did you get here today?”  When I tell him I drove to his office on my own, he asks with astonishment, “You still drive?”

Norine STILL behind the wheel.  © Norine Dresser, 2013
Norine STILL behind the wheel. © Norine Dresser, 2013

Perhaps, as he reviews my history before stepping into the examining room, he notes my age and assumes that I am no longer capable behind the wheel. He has no way of knowing that in my 81 years I have received only two moving violation tickets.

I took an AARP refresher course to convince my family that I was still a competent driver. Image my consternation when the instructor admitted that he was blind in one eye, had lawsuits pending regarding vehicular accidents — in one he backed into a woman pushing a baby stroller — and best of all, he had Alzheimer’s.  After eight hours of his teaching, I felt as capable as a NASCAR driver.

Still the association of age with loss of driving skills is worrisome.  While leaving a manicure shop, the technician called out, “Someone picking you up?” I assured her I would be just fine driving myself.

I am ambivalent about being old.  On the one hand, I try to dress stylishly and keep my hair up-to-date.  And I must admit that I was flattered when my new physical therapist expressed surprise at how I looked after he first checked my medical history listing all my ailments and surgeries.  I wasn’t nearly as decrepit as expected.  On the other hand, I relish the senior citizen perks at concert, theater, and movie venues.
Once I had a university student who was a newcomer from China.  He worked nights as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown and told of a puzzling event that occurred there.

One evening a middle-aged Anglo couple placed their dinner order and expressed surprise at how quickly he brought them the food.  My student explained, “We always serve the elderly first.”

Immediately, the customers called over the manager to complain that being called “elderly” offended them.  After apologizing to the couple, the manager called his waiter into the other room and scolded him for calling the couple “elderly.”  My student was confused for in his culture the elderly receive the highest respect.  He could not understand why anyone would reject being held in high esteem. 

Norine Dresser