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?”

Advertisements

Hidden Treasures

We all have them. Those nameless, random mementos of past relationships. It might be an old sweatshirt, ticket stubs from a movie, a love letter, or even just a picture. Some of us have entire collections. Why do we hold onto them, years and sometimes relationships later? It’s because they remind us of times where, maybe for only a brief period, we were truly happy. That sweatshirt that smelled like the other person, sending us to sleep with a gentle smile on our faces. That movie where you first touched each other’s hands in the dark, feeling terrified and exhilarated at the same time, realizing that one simple gesture could say everything. That love letter that makes you shake your head in embarrassment from its contents, but reminds you of what it feels like to have another pour his or her soul onto paper just for you. That picture of the vacation you took that first made you feel like a co-adventurer in the world with another. What is yours? Or, maybe you’re like me and had a whole box. My treasure box. It held grandly written letters, photographs, dried flowers, and so much more. Mine no longer exists. It was the casualty of an old girlfriend who found it and didn’t understand that the box was not about those women of the past. It was about reminding me what young, stupid love could feel like. It was a staple to remind me to never stop loving with my heart, or to foolishly relegate the responsibility to my head.

Why am I writing this? Because that box has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve found myself weighing my heart against my head too often over the last few years. Too many of us do. We suffer heartbreak and put up walls. We become jaded and cynical. We run from feelings as if they’re the new plague. And why shouldn’t we? We’ve all experienced that sickness that comes with a broken heart or unrequited love. Wouldn’t it make sense to be calculated and rational, especially concerning that organ that is responsible for pumping the very lifeblood through us? In short, no.

A beautiful friend of mine met the man who would become her husband. He proposed three weeks in. Obviously, she turned him down. Still, like a madman, he continued to pursue her. Was he insane? Desperate? Foolish? No. He was a man who knew this was the woman with whom he could spend the rest of his life. The beauty of this story is multi-faceted. Not only did he not give up. She didn’t either. She stayed. And theirs was a marriage that inspires me still. She never walked across a parking lot…he always dropped her off at the door to walk through the rain himself. They danced. They laughed. They loved one another in a way that doesn’t allow room for the mind to ruin it. And he did, in fact, love her for the rest of his life.

I mention this because love like that does exist, even after years of marriage. The saying claims that love is blind. I disagree. Blindness is a handicap. Love is awake and dreaming. It should be approached that way. Certainly, dreams end. But, every so often, we can close our eyes and find that dream again. Think about your treasure box. Remember that, although life doesn’t always go how we hoped, we collect incredible memories not from what we were afraid to do or say, but from all those moments we were both stupid and intelligent enough to set aside the real world in pursuit of something bigger than we felt we deserved.

 

I wrote that last piece a few years ago. I decided to include it in this blog because I have started a new treasure box. I was looking through it just last night.

My daughter, in addition to being a budding writer, has taken a shine to drawing lately. I couldn’t be prouder. As Einstein once said: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.”

Madison gave me one of her drawings a few days ago. As is her fashion, she snuck it into my bedroom and set it on a table. I hadn’t noticed it until last night. It came from her imagination and found its way onto paper. That paper found its way into my bedroom as a surprise gift. Certainly, it is worthy of finding its way to the Treasure Box.

The best part about that box is that I can never open it without looking through it. It is filled with talismans of incredible power. Art work from kindergarten and ticket stubs from zoos. A piece of hair from her first haircut and teeth that fell out long ago. A corsage from a father/daughter dance and homemade Father’s Day cards written in jagged script with misspelled words. On and on.

To open that box is to be transported back through time in my mind and in my heart. But, just as surely, it sends me forward in time too. To sift through those items is to observe the evolution of a life well-lived. Who she was to who she is. And it leaves me wondering who she will be.

An artist, discovering the use of color and shading in college? A writer, penning children’s books as an adult? A veterinarian, smiling calmingly into the eyes of creatures she loves unconditionally? What atrocious hair styles will she come home with in the name of fashion? How often will her remaining teeth flash in smiles? Who will put a corsage on her for her first school dance? How will her handwriting differ when she signs her driver’s license?

Someday, many years from now, I’d like to go through that box with her. I will pull out those items one by one and explain their places. Each item a chapter in her story. I have a feeling the completed work is going to be a page-turner.

Your Turn

We’ve all done it. We sit around with friends or family. Maybe it’s around a dinner table. Maybe it’s around a fire with a few cocktails in hand. Maybe it’s in a bar with more than a few cocktails in hand. Yes, my friends and I really enjoy cocktails. But we sit with others and share stories. One story leads to another. That one leads to another.

If your friends or family are like my own, these stories often provoke laughter or thoughtfulness.

I’m a writer. I’m a story teller. My friends are very aware of this. Most of my stories and anecdotes have never and will never make it to this blog. Most of my friends have heard those stories and anecdotes a hundred times. I know this because I have heard even more times, “Oh, I know this one. You’re ridiculous.” And yet those friends stay for it because I’m telling it to someone new. The friends who have heard it sometimes even chime in. They have become part of the narrative.

That’s the elegant thing about telling stories. We can share them with the world and so the world then shares them with us.

The act of humanity’s story-telling has existed as far back as we have. Long before the written word, stories were passed down from generation to generation, whether it be through spoken word, song, or hieroglyphics.

The goal with my writing has always been to share a part of myself with the world. And the aim in that is to make others laugh or think deeply, if even for just a moment.

I think that is imperative for humanity to thrive.

The last few months have been a barrage of stories told through news outlets and social media. These stories include natural disasters, celebrity deaths, mass shootings, racial tension, and angry talk of posture during sporting events. Bitter words have been thrown around. Friendships have been ended. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness have abounded. So, this week’s piece is going to be a little different.

I want you to tell me a story. Whether you follow me on WordPress or Facebook, I want you to tell me a story. Comment with that story. I only ask that it be positive. Make me laugh. Make me think. Make me smile. Tell me about the funniest thing that ever happened to you. Tell me about the first time you fell in love. Tell me about the happiest you’ve ever been. Tell me about your family. Tell me about your friends.

I’ll read your story. Perhaps you’ll inspire me to tell another of my own. Maybe other readers will be reminded of theirs. Feel free to share this piece. That’s what story-telling is all about.

Pull up a chair. Grab a drink. It’s story time.

As is tradition, someone needs to start:

When I was 19, I moved into the first apartment I felt was really mine. I’d lived on my own in dorm rooms and other apartments, but I had never even bothered to decorate them to any extent. Sure, this apartment was in the “hood” and it was merely an efficiency, but it was mine. It was the first place I regularly shared my bed with a woman. Anna had a couple hours in the morning between classes at her community college. On those mornings, she would come into my apartment while I slept and slide under the covers next to me in just her underwear. Although there was sexual tension, we didn’t make love. Her body pulled back against mine, the feel of her skin against my chest, and the smell of her hair in my face felt more than comfortable. It felt right. In those hours those mornings, I became an adult. While she would breathe lazily against me before she dozed off, I began to understand marriage and love and companionship in a way I had never previously done. Existential realizations don’t always strike us like lightning. Often, they ease into us like oxygen.

Much later, in that same apartment, I was sharing my bed with a different woman. The goings-on were much more adult-oriented. There was no underwear. The apartment building belonged to my father. Thus, it was a lot like living at home, except Dad had a little further to go. He had a key and would often use it after a quick double-rap on the door with his knuckles. Immediately following my adult-oriented activities with Jill, as we lied in all our glory in the afterglow, my father keyed his way in after his quick knock. Jill, not a shy girl, merely looked at him and said “hello” while I lunged for the blankets to cover her. I never reached them before my father had mumbled a squeaky apology, exited the apartment, dove down a flight of stairs, and driven a block away. He and I have never since spoken of that day. I still have no idea why he came in the first place. However, he never did key his way in without a lot of knocks and an abnormally long pause. And I now know what my father’s face looks like when he dies a little inside from embarrassment.

Your turn…

Who Are You?

It’s that time of year. Pumpkin spice has come back full force. Like the unknown member of a 90s girl-group who was cut from the ensemble for being too annoying. She’s here. She has her own reality show. And every White woman in the United States is bingeing.

I’m not a huge fan of Fall. I love Summer. Sure, the changing colors of the leaves is beautiful. And I’ll admit that it’s nice not to step outside after a shower and immediately wonder if I forgot to dry myself completely because my clothing is suddenly sticking to me. However, in Central Illinois, Fall signals the end of sunny days and driving with the windows down. Soon, the only person being serenaded by my renditions of the Meghan Trainor songs playing on my daughter’s favorite radio station will be myself and my daughter, if she’s lucky. Sorry, random drivers stuck next to me at traffic lights, you will be missing out on something extraordinary.

The only saving graces from Fall are Thanksgiving (one of my favorite holidays) and Halloween (a holiday I have come to appreciate again in recent years).

I loved Halloween as a kid. The idea of dressing up as someone else held within it something magical. And let’s not forget about the deliciousness and danger of candy that, according to my mother, had an extremely high chance of containing razor blades and/or poison. I would either end up with a belly ache or spend my adult life like a villain in a Christopher Nolan film. “You wanna know how I got these scars?” So intense and exciting.

At some point, the idea of dressing up and asking for candy seemed childish. I stopped. Later, Halloween brought with it a disdain as I was bartending and hated having to ask patrons to remove their fake teeth so I could understand their drink orders. Or remove their masks so I could properly match them to their drivers’ licenses. Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the slutty versions of every character out there brought to me courtesy of Girls in Their Twenties. Nurses and police women and witches, oh my. But even that lost its appeal after a time.

Years back, I began to enjoy Halloween for a different reason. I had a daughter. And her choice in costumes has spoken volumes about who she is as a person. What I had not previously realized was that Halloween costumes represent who we are or who we would like to be. Sadly, this also means that some of my previous examples require nursing or criminal justice degrees and cosmetic surgery. Get to it, ladies.

My daughter, Madison, has always been a unique soul. It is hands-down my favorite quality about her. When she first started deciding as a young child what to be for Halloween, she stuck with what she knew. Cheer Bear cost me a small fortune online, but her ecstatic smile when she put it on made it well worth it. Next came the Disney princesses. Snow White and Belle hadn’t known beauty until they were represented by this little girl. She chose these because they were the characters in her books and movies. And then there was the shift. She moved away from cute and pretty to stronger female characters. Jessie from Toy Story, Batgirl, Supergirl, Princess Leia, and Rey from Star Wars: Episode 7.

This year, she wants to be a hot dog.

I love it. Weird, quirky, and hilarious in an off-beat way describe her personality to a tee. For me, this costume represents her as an even stronger woman. She isn’t looking for a prince. She can’t fly. She won’t save the universe from evil. She doesn’t need to. She has the power to make herself laugh, and uses this power without a care as to what is popular or “swag.”

I considered getting a costume for myself this year. But I don’t need one. While she’s in that costume, I get to be an unbelievably proud father. No accessories needed.

Cat’s In The Cradle

I’m a cat guy. It isn’t looked upon as favorably as being a dog guy. Dogs are man’s best friend. They’re loyal and submissive. And cats? Well, cats are just assholes.

I mean that with the utmost respect. I’m impressed with their callous nonchalance in everything. Dogs crave attention and love always. Cats crave it when and where they feel like it. When they require your attention, you damn well better give it to them. When they’re done with you, you’re dead to them. Who needs to pursue a relationship when you can come home to neediness, neglect, and emotional abuse, all rolled into a five-minute interaction with furry miniature demons? Honestly, walking through the door after work, I sometimes feel like an abused spouse who enters her home never knowing how many drinks Beaufort had earlier. What kind of mood will the hubby be in today?

I joke. Sort of.

I’d like to clarify that I do not dislike dogs. I like them quite a bit, actually. It’s just that dogs require much more upkeep than cats. I’m aware of the benefits of dogs. They give love unconditionally. They protect us fiercely. They’re genuinely happy to see us when we come home. My cats, subsequently, love me beyond measure when I’m opening a can of tuna or scratching that one spot on their bellies at just the right pace. A half-inch too high or too low, or if the scratching speed varies, I receive tiny teeth in my hand. If someone knocks at the door, rings the doorbell, or walks by the window of the apartment, the cats boldly and heroically run to the back of my bedroom to hide in the closet. When coming home after hours have passed, I am often greeted at the door by one or both cats, who then dismiss me when they realize I am not holding a can of tuna. However, my cats never need to go on walks and they poop in a box.

I recently re-watched the YouTube video Sad Cat Diaries. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you do. It’s brilliant and hilarious to both those who love and those who despise cats. The video had me asking myself how cats view the world. How intelligent are they? How do they see humans?

Most people, especially dog advocates, are quick to mention how much smarter dogs are than cats. The difficulty with finding a definitive answer lies in the inability to test cats as easily. Whereas dogs aim to please and obey well (and, thus, test easily), cats are aloof by nature and have very little patience for the shenanigans of humans. In short, zero f**** are given. In one study, evidenced by the few cats who were willing to participate, they showed intelligence levels equal to that of dogs. Other studies show that cats retain information better and for longer than dogs. As far as brain mass, dog brains make up 1.2% of their body mass. Cats brains only make up .9% of theirs. Although, when looking at the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex, cats have about 300 million as opposed to the 160 million of dogs. And the structure via brain-folding in the brains of cats is 90% similar to that of humans. Basically, cats are every emotionally-damaged and psychotic woman I’ve ever dated.

What I found most interesting is how it is believed cats view us. Dogs may not understand the word “human,” but they grasp that we are different creatures than them. They are dogs. We are not dogs. They interact with humans in ways unlike dogs. Behaviorally, on the other hand, cats seem to view humans as very large, dumb, clumsy cats. To cats, human beings are feline versions of Hodor. Just as with other cats, they respond to us by raising their tails, brushing themselves against us, and grooming us. Exactly how they treat their mothers. I considered sticking to Game of Thrones references, but I don’t believe Matthew Father of Kittens sends the right message.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to ask my cats if I have permission to use the restroom by myself.

Those Chains That Bind You

Fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” It’s a survival mechanism. Fear is designed to trigger the fight-or-flight response in animals. Fear is felt. Adrenaline is released into the body. The body then has the ability to act strongly or quickly. Fight hard or run fast.

I’ve felt fear many times in my life. When cornered at a fair by a fellow high school student who was adamant about going to blows with me, I felt fear and fought back hard. How it turned out is debatable. I concede that I got my ass kicked. My friends kept telling me that they were impressed that I didn’t get knocked out and was still standing at the end. Little victories, I guess. In grade school, when I was approached by Steve and his group of elementary bullies, I briefly tried standing up for myself by swinging the only kick I had learned in a Tae Kwon Do class I visited one time. After realizing that was the only move I had, we all came back to reality. Flight took over and I ran for my life. While bailing hay with my father in my teens, I picked up a bail and discovered a large black snake packed inside, the top half of its body sticking out and flipping directly in front of my face. Fight and flight worked together on that one. The strength with which I hurled the beast and his grass body cast was comparable to any feat of Hercules. The speed with which I ran the other direction while squealing was not. I know my father seemed to enjoy it. Looking back from the half-mile I had just run in 3.7 seconds, I very distinctly made out my dad doubled over, trying to catch his breath between the guffaws.

Hundreds of thousands of academic papers have been written on fight-or-flight. Scientists agree that these are the two responses to fear. This is survival instinct. We stand and fight, or we run away. Charge toward a cat. It will flee. Corner that cat. God help you. Then what of the opossum? Sure, the ugly little bastards have a terrifying hiss that is made worse by their beady, soulless eyes, but they’re also known to simply roll over and play dead. “Playing” dead might not be the correct term. The stress of confrontation sends their bodies into shock and causes a comatose state. They shut down.

It is this reaction to fear that too many of us struggle with in our lives, myself included. I’m not referring to those physical threats we perceive. Although, if you saw Taylor Swift’s response on Ellen, you might argue against that. I’m talking about the existential fear of failure.

It usually starts with a small, valid fear. Then it evolves into something altogether crippling. I watched it happen to my daughter this summer. In one of her early-season softball practices, she was hit by the ball three times. One of those hits left a pretty solid bruise. Naturally, she developed a fear of the ball. When at bat, her flight response kicked in and she would jump away from the pitches. She stood far away from the plate to avoid being hit. The problem is that good pitches were unreachable to her, even if she did take a swing, which was rare. When swinging, the effort was minimal. Thus, she was being struck out. Being struck out made her feel that she was letting down her team. That feeling made her doubt herself. A few weeks ago, I took her to the batting cages to practice in an environment where she didn’t have to worry about being hit by the ball. Unfortunately, I wasn’t thinking about her having open-toed shoes on and we weren’t able to use them. On our way back to the car, she told me that she was relieved because now she wouldn’t have to “embarrass herself by not hitting the ball.” I took her back today. We worked on her stance and her swing. Her first round, she hit a few. But I watched her heart sink with every missed pitch and my encouragement fell on deaf ears. Fear led to fear of failure. It took over. She had given up. She had shut down.

To watch it was heart-breaking.

But we’ll practice more. She’ll fail more. She’ll feel that failure like a shadow following her around. Though, if failure is shadow, success is the light. And shadows only exist if light is around the corner.