Here's to your good fortune and peace around the world

Friday, January 11, 2013

No, this isn't a late column about New Year's resolutions. If it were, I would be breaking one of my annual promises: to stop prevaricating. Or maybe I mean procrastinating. What strange words those are. I'm not entirely sure which one I wanted. Go ahead and look them up. But you get my drift.

This column is about how we measure everything these days. We are told the smartest students are halfway around the world. We are told Cape Girardeau is on a list of best places to live. We are told the crime rate is going down. This week we were told that the survival rate for many types of cancers is improving tremendously, even while more and more of us are getting cancer. Investing gurus tell us the stock market is good. Or not so good. Or bad. Take your pick.

One gauge of the human condition that I have been paying particular attention to for several years is the quality of fortunes on tiny slips of paper inside Chinese fortune cookies.

First off, their very name implies that what is written on the little pieces of paper will be a fortune. In my book, if someone tells my fortune, I learn that something good, not so good or bad is going to happen to me. And I'm not just talking about the stock market. The best fortunes would say something like "Unexpected wealth will soon be yours." Or "An old friend will contact you." Or "Your health will take a turn for the better."

These, in my opinion, are decent fortunes for those brittle, odd-shaped morsels called fortune cookies.

By the way, while we are talking about Chinese cookies, let me conduct one of my highly scientific polls. How many of you break open the cookie, read the "fortune" and then throw away the broken cookie? And how many of you eat the cookie regardless of staleness or lack of taste?

Back to those "fortunes." Maybe you've noticed, as I have, that what is written on those pieces of paper in no way tells you what is going to happen. Instead, the so-called fortunes have turned into goofy sayings.

Let me give you an example from a visit this week my wife and I made to one of Cape Girardeau's many Chinese restaurants. This was my "fortune": "You are interested in higher education, whether material or spiritual." Folks, I am not making this up. I have the little piece of paper, and I will gladly show it to you if you ask.

My wife's "fortune"? "The important thing is to never stop questioning." Oh, come on!

And now the makers of fortuneless cookies are using the other side of the little piece of paper to help us learn to read Chinese. So I can tell you that "bean sprout" is douya. You're on your own as far as pronunciation goes.

And my lucky numbers are 45, 14, 10, 41 and 24.

OK. Let's review. Apparently, these "fortune" cookies are (excuse the obvious) smart cookies after all. Obviously, I am interested in higher education. Why else would I have told you how to say "bean sprout" in Chinese? Douya.

And I just know one of you is going to call me in a few days and tell me you went to the casino and placed modest wagers using the numbers 45, 14, 10, 41 and 24 and walked out with a boatload of money and you are so grateful to me and to this column that you are giving me at least half, if not more.

That, friends, would be the result of a real fortune cookie.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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