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…”