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Fortune Factory

April 12, 2010

Once, I lived next door to a factory that produced fortune cookies and plum sauce on alternate days. The smells were similar but not quite identical, plum sauce days distinguished by a cloying aroma like prunes and burnt sugar. From my balcony, I watched shift workers crouch on the loading dock, tufts of hair jutting from beneath hairnets, aprons and pantlegs smeared with stewed fruit.

Fortune cookie days meant a more acrid smell, unquestionably “fortune cookie” but heavy and oily, a stink that betrayed the mass-produced secret of those fragile, future-predicting pods. Fortune cookies are far from delicious little snacks–I don’t know anyone who craves them or pops one open with a nice cup of tea. It’s the little slip of paper that whets your appetite and makes you crack open the shell, half-heartedly nibbling a shard of dry, eggy cookie before leaving the rest for the waiter to clear away.

Like the texture of the biscuit, the fortunes are rarely “quite right” either. A little threatening, a little ominous, sometimes completely stupid or obtuse. Rarely a prediction that leaves you better prepared to meet the challenges of your day, and often a sentence that sets you stewing — about who wrote that thing, about what it possibly means, about why everyone at the table got a good one except you. I love how fortune cookies  fuck with us, and I love how terrible they taste. Everything about them is supposedly auspicious, but instead, they mess with you a little. And that factory! A less promising place I’ve never seen.

Smoke breaks over, the workers would scuff their heavy boots over their cigarette butts then flick the dead ends into the street. Was there a little room inside where someone used a tiny paper cutter to slice the fortunes from a massive, repetitive sheet? A vault where rolls of fortunes were scrolled and stored? A press in the bowels of the building that cranked out new ones, invented on those smoke breaks while the night shift puffed and snickered.

“Ok, ok, listen up. I’ve got a really good one…”

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Kurt permalink
    April 12, 2010 5:32 pm

    Love this entry. Kim and I partake in fortune cookies weekly at the dumpy Chinatown restaurant we frequent after our ‘Jazz Hands’ dance class. Yes it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

    I agree that we’re only in it for the slip of paper, but am amazed that we always actually eat the thing. I’ve held on the fortune that says ‘Your path is the right one’ whenever I feel the need to feed my superiority complex.

    I was also reminded of this oddity that I came across randomly on a Montreal sidewalk after brunch one Sunday:

    I’d love to have one in my house. Dinner parties would never be the same.

    • welltailored permalink*
      April 12, 2010 5:45 pm

      I have seen video footage of the Jazz Hands evenings, and must agree: the only fitting accompaniment is a fortune cookie!

  2. foodandpassion permalink
    April 12, 2010 9:53 pm

    Oh, are you in for a treat with your latte at the clubhouse tomorrow…

    • welltailored permalink*
      April 13, 2010 8:40 am

      You weren’t joking! Orange blossom and black pepper fortune cookies containing quotes from philosophers?! Who knew such things existed?!

      • April 13, 2010 3:15 pm

        I took mine home and cracked it open over tea. It reads:

        “Love is visiting places deeply buried inside,
        places we had no intention to explore;
        and from where we never want to come back.”


        Now you would think that the organic prose and proper use of punctuation would leave me completely unfucked with, but instead I can’t stop thinking of the poor stooge with an English degree and a broken heart who works the creative night shift down at the plant for minimum wage so he can bare his soul to anonymous diners with personal, heartfelt messages that he composes one at a time by candlelight as the bakers pound at the door to the small, dark, room that he calls an office, imploring him to just get over her already and grab another scroll of ten thousand “optimistic and outgoing”’s from the vault so they can call it a night…

      • welltailored permalink*
        April 13, 2010 4:30 pm

        It’s all in the slightly unconventional placement/ usage of the semi-colon. In fact, that punctuation is the root of all fucking-with.

  3. lilboyblue permalink
    April 13, 2010 8:25 am

    The indomitable will of the fortune cookie. At least for me. To throw away a fortune or leave it undisturbed would tempt a fate so trite it would send me into a life of the boring. I must crack it, challenge and scoff at its validity. I won’t be at the mercy of an afterthought of an insatiable treat, yet clearly, I can’t resist…

  4. April 13, 2010 1:17 pm

    We weren’t allowed to read the fortunes growing up, so now I love to. Though I only really like the ones with Chinese phrases on the reverse to butcher.

    • welltailored permalink*
      April 13, 2010 1:27 pm

      “Not allowed”?! What is the story with that?

  5. Kim permalink
    May 5, 2010 5:02 pm

    So I’m trying to get caught up on my blog reading and I check this entry and I’m all like “Whoa! I’m going to eat a fortune cookie TONIGHT after my Jazz Hands class! That is a crazy coincidence! I must leave a comment!” So I click the Comment link and start reading the first entry and am shocked that one of your friends is also taking a Jazz Hands class and also frequents a dumpy Chinatown place for FC fun, cuz like, what are the chances that there’s a Jazz Hands class in Toronto?

    Then I realize that Kurt left the comment and I suspect that maybe I’ve been sniffing too many paint fumes this week.

    Anyways. I love fortune cookies. I even love eating them — it’s not just about the fortune, although that’s a big part of it. The best one I ever got was: “You are going to get some new clothes”.

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