“It has something to do with karma or purgatory or one of those doctrines. I think maybe it could be Lutheran,” said my brother Pat, as we sat in the city's newest Somalian diner. We were eating something that might have been yams.
“Patrick, I very highly doubt that either karma or purgatory is a Lutheran doctrine,” I countered. I only call him 'Patrick' when I'm irritated.
“Tom, you only call me 'Patrick' when you're irritated. What's wrong?”
I twiddled a piece of yam on my fork and said nothing.
“Heeeeeeyyyy...little brother...heeeyyyyyyy...c'mon...remember what I used to do to you to get you to talk when you were pouting as a little kid? Do I need to do that right now?”
“For God's sake, Pat...you are not going to give me a 'swirlie'. I don't even think they have indoor plumbing here, anyway.”
“No...I was talking about the way I would tempt you with a fortune cookie...remember? I would write little fortunes and stick them in there to cheer you up...remember?”
“Pat, I only remember the one time you scared the hell out of me with one of those. I thought there was someone in the crawl space the rest of the night.”
“Well, Mister Smarty-pants,” he said, reaching into his jacket, “it just so happens that I have one of your favorite fortune cookies right here.”
“Really. This is a cast-off fortune cookie. An abandoned fortune cookie. I might call it a left-behind fortune cookie if it wouldn't remind me of those hideous Kirk Cameron movies so much.”
I studied the fortune cookie in his hand carefully. It looked fairly normal, aside from a baked-in UPC code and a little bit of pocket lint. There was no sign of tampering, however.
“So you didn't actually prepare the fortune in this one, I assume?”
“Well,” he said, blushing just a bit, “I helped out with it...it was kind of a fringe benefit.”
“What do you mean by that, pray tell?”
“Well, Tom, you remember that project I did in China last year? The building that's shaped like a huge waffle iron that houses employees from the factory where they make all of those miniature waffle irons that are given as souvenirs to tourists who visit the factory where they make the full-size waffle irons?”
“I do vaguely remember that.”
“There you have it,” he said, popping a little bit of yam into his vinyl-lined vest pocket, “right next door to that place was its sister factory – it was this place where they made, of all things, fortune cookies. As a little bonus they let me come in and write a couple of fortunes for them. It was something I've always wanted to do.”
“We all have our dreams, I guess,” I said with some condescension in my voice.
“Hey, I seem to recall that in grade school you wanted to be an Ethel Merman impersonator when you grew up, so I don't think you should talk.”
There was an uncomfortable silence for just a moment. I broke the tension by calling for another plate of yams.
“Anyhow, here you go,” said Pat, handing me the fortune cookie, “see what you think. I wrote it just for you.”
I took the fortune cookie from his outstretched hand and turned it over a few times. It cracked open with a small puff of dust and the faint odor of fish. I pulled the grease-stained slip of paper out of the pile of cookie shards in my palm and read aloud.
“'Esittänyt, että porsaankyljys on joku indeksoinnin tilassa.' What the hell is that supposed to mean? And is that Norwegian or something?”
“It's Finnish, actually,“ said Pat, “this place was making fortune cookies for the Scandinavian market, as it turned out, so everything that I wrote had to go through translators.”
“So some guy translated it from English into Finnish?”
“Well, actually the operating system that their computers used was a little old, so we had to make a couple of adjustments. I wrote it in English and then some guy used a book and a quill pen to translate it into Mandarin. Then a Mandarin speaker put the whole thing into a PC to translate it into German, as it wasn't set up for Finnish. So finally they had a German guy who was there on a work scholarship translate it into Finnish. He was really good at it, though...at least when he was sober.”
“So what does it say?” I asked.
“It says 'You are loved by friends and family, and that will make your dreams come true.'.”
“Well, that certainly IS nice, Pat, you know, I kind of feel better already. Thanks!”
“No problem, Tom,” he said, putting his napkin on the table and gently patting his vinyl-lined pocket. “I have to run...do you mind picking up the bill?”
“No problem, Pat...I managed to sell a dirty limerick to 'Better Homes and Gardens' this week, so I'm pretty flush.”
“Thanks, Tom...the next round of yams is on me. See you later for cocktails?”
“Sure Pat...see you at Limpy's.”
With that he headed out the door and I settled up with the waiter. I picked up my little Finnish fortune and headed out the door onto the street. It was a lovely day and I decided to walk the few blocks to my office. On the way I happened to pass a Scandinavian paper goods store and remembered that I needed to pick up some new adding-machine tape for my secretary. I popped inside and strolled over to the adding-machine tape aisle.
“Can I help you?” asked a slender man with silver hair and a strong Finnish accent.
“Well, I just need to get some adding machine tape...but, say, is that a Finnish accent that I detect in your voice?”
“Yes, indeed it is...I just moved here from Helsinki last year.”
“Well, that is truly interesting,” I said, “I just had the most interesting discussion about Finnish fortune cookies..and in fact I bear in my pocket a truly uplifting fortune of my brother's own creation.”
“Aha,” said the silver-haired Finn, “I happen to collect fortune cookies! I would love to see the fortune that you carry!”
“It is most uplifting,” I said, handing him the slip of paper.
His eyes danced over the tiny slip, and his mouth turned into a frown. “What is this supposed to mean?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, “it speaks of love and of dreams, doesn't it?”
“Only if you are slightly deranged,” he said. “or if it is some kind of code.”
“What does it say?” I asked, breathlessly.
The slender Scandinavian looked at me with piercing blue eyes and revealed my fortune: “Put down that pork chop, for there is someone in the crawlspace.”