Jan 31, 2006

Writing folded fortunes

He read all the signs on the way home on the subway. Watching for 10-word sentences. He tried to clear his mind, he inhaled, and started to cycle through the catagories the way he had them listed in the word document at work: Love, Luck, Riches, Success, Power, Wisdom.

He tried to focus, then unfocus, then focus, the way you when you're too tired to see anymore, and he rubbed his eyes. They hadn't hired him because he was a poet. They hadn't hired him for insight, for having some knack for simple sentences or for knowing anything special about Love or Luck or any of those. He was, after all, an accountant. Before this he'd been shipping lumber from Oregon and Washington to China and before that he'd worked in a bank then he just got this job. At the fortune cookie factory.

He worked here for a year, and then for a second year and then in the third year he noticed all the fortunes. Focused on them, the little stips of paper with lotto numbers and fortunes, folded up inside the cookies. Even when people didn't eat the cookie, when they just cracked it open and left the shattered shell sitting next to the silverware and chop sticks, they read the fortune. People eating alone would read them, maybe smile, and maybe put them in their pockets. People eating in groups would read them aloud, compare them, and pass them around. They made four million fortune cookies a day and each cookie had a fortune folded inside. Sometime soon after he noticed this he read a subway sign that read Beware of odors from unfamiliar sources, and he smiled and thought it would make a good fortune.

That day he asked. No one had ever thought to ask before but he asked. First he found the president and then a manager and then the guy in shipping and recieving on the floor. Where do the fortune's come from? he said. Who writes them? The president said he didn't know but the manager might, and the manager said he didn't know but called over the guy from the back. The guy from the back was behind the boxes, when they called him, working through a shipment of dough and sugar. He had a pen tucked up in his NY ball cap and a box cutter between his lips. When he heard them he stood up, his head coming over the stack. He took the box cutter out of his lips and he said Same fortunes we've always used. Old Chinese sayings or something. Come in from the printer on Tuesdays.

That was 15 years back, when they gave him the job. They gave it to him because he asked about it. Not about the job but about the fortunes. As soon as he asked, too, everybody wondered. Later though, he would say they picked him because a fortune cookie fortune writer must have a simple mind. They knew, he would say, that I could only think one sentence at a time.

He did think in straightforward sentences, these days, but that came after he started writing fortunes. His thinking pattern seemed to slow, as he wrote, to narrow into single-phrased sentences. First he filled up one note book and then a second one and then in the middle of the third he started thinking that way, in insights and forsights and without ever thinking a paragraph or an extra clause. He wrote fortunes at night and between spread sheets and on the subway and at lunch and sometimes he'd walk around the floor between the rattle of the machines and the heat of the ovens. People tried to help him, at first, come up with submissions. But after a while they stopped or he asked them to stop and eventually people just forgot. When someone asked him what he did, too, he would say what he'd always said ever since he'd graduated, he'd say accountant. He didn't know why but there was something shy about it, like he was afraid the whole thing was a really silly affair. So he never said anything about it but it had changed the way he thought, the way he walked down the street, the way he always carried a notebook and was looking for a sentence to say something about Love, Luck, Riches, Success, Power, or Wisdom.

He began to wonder too if he'd find a single sentence, if that's what he was looking for really, in this secret obsession. Some sort of perfect sentence, a sentence that would stand out or sum up or capture fortune whole. In mid flight, like a bird grabbed out of the air.

That was 15 years. It was a little ecentricity and an obsession. For 15 years he filled notebook after notebook with fortune after fortune and then today it had stopped. It took him two subway stops to think of the phrase writers block and by then he was so tired he stopped. He put the notebook away. He took his glasses off. Folded them into his pocket and watched the graffiti on the walls without focusing, just seeing the colors.

On the way walking home he stopped at the Chinese resturant at the intersection and ordered just the won ton soup and he sat there watching people, waiting for them crack their cookies, waiting for that moment when they read it silently and then say hey look. He just sat there, sipping soup and sipping tea and watching to see people read their fortunes.