Fortune Teller

I love a good Chinese buffet.

I hadn’t tried Chinese food until I was in my early 20s. After a particularly vivacious night of imbibing alcohol with friends, including a woman with whom I was secretly in love, the next day’s suggestion was to hit a Chinese buffet and eat away our hangovers. Now, I’d heard the horror stories. Some guy knew a guy who knew a guy who knew for a fact that a certain Chinese restaurant was shut down for violating every health code and two hundred kittens were removed from the premises. However, the request for Americanized Chinese food kept in steam tables and behind sneeze glass was proposed by the enamored. I figured if I was going to die from food poisoning brought on by a delicacy of cat, there would be no one better with whom to spend my last day on Earth.

Maybe it was the hunger brought on by the hangover. Maybe it was the company. But that meal was freaking delicious. Sweet and sour chicken, Lo Mein, Crab Rangoon. I was hooked.

I go to the buffet closest to me at least once a month. The employees are friendly. The atmosphere is welcoming. The buffet area is clean. The prices are very reasonable. And if the tragic rumors from naysayers are true and I’m eating cat, I at least have a backup cuisine idea when the zombie apocalypse occurs. Both of my cats are plump and well-fed. General Tso’s, get in my belly.

Me, I love the food. My daughter, she loves the fortune cookies a little more. She insists on cracking each of ours open to read our fortunes aloud. She gets a little sparkle in her eye every time. A peek into the cosmos. A tiny letter from the all-knowing universe. The last time we went together, her fortune told her she would come into money. She lost a tooth less than a week later. Boom! Nailed it.

While there is some debate on the origins of fortune cookies, they are an American creation. Most evidence points to fortune cookies being created by a Japanese company in San Francisco in 1906. Then why do we associate fortune cookies with Chinese food? Because during WWII, when internment camps were created for Japanese Americans, a Chinese entrepreneur jumped in and took the idea of fortunes on Japanese treats that were browner and larger, and decided to place them inside the smaller Chinese versions we know today. Thus, Chinese fortune cookies are a staple of those meals. Now they are created in mass quantity in factories with terribly generic “fortunes,” complete with lucky numbers. Plural. Five or six different numbers that are “lucky” and for which we should look in our daily lives. And sometimes those numbers work because we maneuver them to work.

Have you seen the film Number 23? In short, it is about a man’s obsession with the number 23. Go figure. He claims that the number is cursed and connects everything. I was born on September 14, 1979. September 14th. 9/14. 9 + 14 = 23. Yeah. I might be a demon. Ignore the fact that I disregarded the year I was born. It doesn’t fit with the theory.

And that is how fortunes and horoscopes work. We take from them what we will and discard the rest that doesn’t apply.

Horoscopes at least have a deeper history. Astronomers began looking to the stars and constellations as far back as Babylon. Babylonian astronomy bled over to Egypt, where it was modified slightly. That bled over to Greece, where it was again modified slightly. The Greeks created the basic version of what we now recognize as astronomy and horoscopes. That the alignment of the stars and moons and planets on the day we came into this world dictate what type of person we will become. Of course, being born and being a part of the creation of life are very different time frames, but it’s difficult to determine at exactly which point we became life, so we go with the day of our births. Never mind the 9- to 10-month discrepancy.

Today, there are entire collections of books on signs of the zodiac. Daily newspapers print vague and open-ended predictions for everyday people. Nearly a quarter of Americans check their horoscopes regularly. Some insist on reading them before making any decisions on dating, employment, or finances. I remember my oldest sister had a book back when I was in high school that broke down the personality of every sign in detail. So much so that each sign had three different categories, depending on where they fell within a sign’s time frame. I happen to be a Virgo III, in case you’re wondering. Was the corresponding “personality description” accurate? Sure. That’s the wonder of speaking in obtuse terms.

In 1948, psychologist Bertram Forer conducted a study. Forer had his students all take a “personality” test. After taking the test, each student was given the “results” from their answers. However, unknown to the students, the result was the exact same for each, pieced together from varied newspaper horoscopes explaining personality traits. The students were then asked to rate the accuracy of the personality findings on a scale of 0-5, with 0 being very poor and 5 being excellent. The average score rating was 4.26. Regardless of their birth dates, zodiac signs, genders, upbringings, or personal beliefs, the newspaper horoscope mash-up represented every student greatly in their own eyes.

I know all this. Yet, I still glance at my horoscope whenever I find a newspaper lying around. I still throw salt over my shoulder if I spill some. I refuse to open an umbrella indoors. And my heart sinks just a little if I break a mirror.

Why? Because I also know that this universe is so much bigger than me. There are so many mysteries that I do not or cannot understand. I, like so many other human beings, live my life on a just-in-case basis. But that same concept got me writing again. It is what allows me to see fascinating connections in most things. And it is what will push me across a room to approach a stunning woman entirely out of my league.

“So, what’s your sign?”

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