The Brooklyn Legacy: Sparse Writing Now Found in Sugary Confections

“The only real love… is self-love.”

I have three hundred fortune cookie fortunes at home in a scrapbook. I don’t know why I collect them. They mean nothing. They’re apparently written with no purpose than to get a laugh. To this day, the fortunes haven’t uttered a single prediction that’s come true, nor have they really given me a piece of wisdom that is useful. But that’s okay.

“Ignore previous cookie.”

The vast majority of fortunes are made in Brooklyn, New York. I love New York. There’s not many people that go there to hang out in front of a fortune cookie factory, but I have. They make 5 million fortune cookies in this Brooklyn factory. Every day. This is it:

cbk 3

“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”

I asked for a tour. I travel a lot and see some strange facilities, and just wanted to have a look at this one. The funny thing is, you never see fortune cookies in there. There’s machines and people and dough, but the final product is never visible. There’s just boxes at the end of the process, filled by magic and loaded onto trucks.

cbk

“Three can keep a secret, if you can get rid of two.”

I guess, with aspirations all writer-ly and the like, I was curious about who constructs the fortunes, and honestly, I wanted to get a sense of how many of the 5 million fortunes per day were original. I won’t spoil that secret, but you’d be surprised. On the former topic, are there rooms full of people sitting down and writing fortunes? Wizened old folks peering into the fairy land of sage nomenclature? No, just a few people in a small computer room that’s open to an alley. There’s two coffee makers, a printer, and a fan that’s dusted over. Most of the writers surf the internet. They don’t eat cookies.

“Vampires will soon strike you if you don’t order again.”

People don’t necessarily read short stories or novels or bits and pieces of fiction much anymore, at least it seems that way. But they do read slips of paper they find in their food, especially if they’re stuck in twisted-up bits of vanilla cookie that offer everything you need to know about life in 15 words or less. I wonder, honestly, if fortune cookies are the bestsellers of our generation, the carriers of our dreams and the most penetrating means of conveying insight and observation nowadays. I wonder if this is our new fiction.

“Put me down and run to the gym.”

But you have to laugh too. If you made it this far into this narrative, you’ve read the equivalent of 30 fortune cookies. The average North American makes 30 trips to a Chinese restaurant in less than a year. I’m not fooling you here: I have a feeling that there’s infinitely more wisdom in those fortune cookies than there is in this post, so maybe there’s something to it all. Maybe I’ve got the writing format all wrong, and instead of longer pieces I should be pushing for shorter – much much shorter.

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not why ships are built.”

I’m sure I’d seem a bit trite to suggest that fortune cookies pre-dated and possibly predicted our Twitter existence, but you don’t really create the modes by which we collectively express ourselves. You only build on them. I mean, we can fight this if we want, like people fought rock’n’roll or grunge or rap. The alternative is to crowd into that little room off the alley, dust the fan, slurp the coffee… and get to work.

“The fortune you seek is in another cookie.”

Yeah. I’m not sure that truer words have ever been spoken.

118 thoughts on “The Brooklyn Legacy: Sparse Writing Now Found in Sugary Confections

  1. I love this post, Trent. I happen to think it’s so cool that you collect fortune cookie slips, I’m going to start doing it now. I don’t get fortune cookies too often though. They seem to be more out there, really nonsensical these days, as if to say, no, you’re not supposed to believe this one.That’s brilliant you suggest that cookie fortunes were the first Twitter. Perfect! This must be tweeted. 🙂

    • Why thanks Amy… I think there’s some kind of contest to make the most non-sensical wink-wink-nudge-nudge cookie these days. But still, I live for those moments when I get two fortunes in one cookie, and they’re actually different. One of these days, I’m going to have to play the lottery numbers too. Ya never know.

  2. This is awesome, Trent. I don’t collect fortunes, but I’ve saved a few that I found funny. I wonder if they’re also in your collection? I’ve received one that said I was going to buy some new clothes, and one that advised me to eat my spinach so I’d grow big and strong like Popeye. And also one that told me to come back later, because the fortune cookie was sleeping (and yes, fortune cookies need their sleep, too).

      • Not at one time, but I’ve received that one about buying new clothes twice. (Maybe it was hinting at my outdated wardrobe.) And I love spinach, so of course! 🙂

  3. 5MM a day? Whew! That’s a lot of cookies. I used to tour plants too when i was driving – most people are pround of where they work and will give a tour for the asking. I’ve never seen a fortune cookie plant though. So cool. The liturature of tomorrow.

  4. Seems like fortune cookies used to have actual predicitive statements in them whereas now they are usually just pithy sayings. Or maybe I’m just on a bad streak lately. 30 times a year? That’s over twice a month. I wish I could go out for Chinese that much. I wish I could go out for Chinese every day. If all I ever ate was breakfast, Chinese, and Mexican, I’d be happy. And probably obese.

  5. Trend, I love this too. And you may have started a fortune cookie fortune keeping trend!

    I have kept a few particularly good ones. My very favorite I got the night before I started my current job, where I do medical research and writing: You will do well in medical research” it said. Of course, it didn’t state whether that would be as a researcher or a subject … But I decided it was the former — I’ve been there over 11 years!

  6. Confucius says, “this post be wise”. Well, no he didn’t but I did. :0)

    I don’t collect my fortunes in a scrapbook, rather I keep them at my desk. I remember one fell out of my wristlet at the supermarket and the lady chased me down. She said that I must have been keeping it for a reason.

    I hope you are doing well.

    • I trust your wisdom more than Confucius’, Jaded. He’s just some guy (did he even exist?) from history.

      That’s sort of a funny scenario with the grocery store… I think there’s a story in there somewhere.

      Hope you’re doing well too – got anything for us to read anytime soon???

      • I wrote (loose term) on stories that must not die’s blog Topics were karma and poopy beds, devils night (Detroit tradition) and supernatural happenings. Feel free to pop over.

        Wise and me is an oxymoron. If you are able to see the fortune cookie place in San Fran, it will be awesome to read about it.

  7. During a trip to San Francisco some years ago we strolled through Chinatown and discovered a fortune cookie factory. Did you know you can buy a bag of freshly baked cookies sans fortunes there? You can. I did. Those cookies ruined me for all fortune cookies since then. Damned fresh and tasty bastards, they were.

  8. Those are wonderful! That is a great story, and I love the fortunes you chose to include. I don’t seem to get many cheeky ones (like the self-love!) but I will definitely pay more attention now 🙂

    • Heya Ann… I picked the best ones, to tell the truth. There are some so incomprehensible that there must be something wise in them somewhere… but I can’t seem to find that kernel of truth.

      Let me know if you run across any good ones.

  9. Fortune cookies have a mythical, magical quality about them. We are expecting deep truths to be revealed but it’s just a cookie. My daughters have a few fortunes in their sock drawers. It’s perfectly normal to keep them.

    My favorite fortune ever:

    “You will be hungry in one hour.”

    You don’t post often but when you do…oh, mother of Jesus…you hit a triple. Thank you for not wasting my time.

    Were you in Brooklyn recently? Whatcha doing in my back yard?

    • You’re too kind, Mark. I’m often in NYC for work, though less this year. There’s so much to do down there, but I miss it right now, as it’s been a while.

      You will be hungry in one hour… that one has NEVER turned out true for me… maybe because I pig out at the buffets too much.

  10. Surpise!! 😀

    “the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time”

    Not in a fortune cookie but it should be. John Lennon quote

  11. I think it’s so cool that you actually asked for a tour and that you have a genuine curiosity about things. I never even open my cookies. What does that say about me? Nice to see you being creative, Trent. Enjoyed this.

  12. I like this one, Lewin.

    I think it’s because of the voice, the simplicity, the earnest wryness.

    I miss fortune cookies. One of the perils of being celiac, sadly.

    I think I can almost hear this one out loud.

    Glad you posted.

  13. Trent! It felt like you were gone for years, which sounds like hyperbole, but is it, if that’s the way it actually felt?

    I always read my fortune cookies and have to have the cookie that is closest to me, or is the first one I touch out of the bag – that’s how I know it’s mine.

    I recently read an article that claimed short stories were back, people were buying them up on their eReaders, and they were the path to riches (okay I made the last part up, but not the first part).

    • Yeah, gone for a loooong time… hey, you’re one to talk! I just dive into the mass of cookies that spills out and grab the nearest, then hope for the best. I always read the fortune before eating the cookie – that brings good luck, you know!

      Short stories are back??? Whaaaaat…. that would be cool, it’s still my favorite writing format. Forces you to watch your words. The road to riches… yeah surely not, but I can see in this day and age how shorter bits of fiction could be attractive again. Maybe it’s a renaissance!

  14. What a wonderful idea! I’ve never even considered going somewhere like that and asking for a tour. Am I right in guessing that they didn’t let you take any pics inside? We order Chinese food about once a month and I just now realized that the fortune cookies are sitting on the counter unopened from the last few orders. Why on earth would we have stopped reading our fortunes? I’ve quite enjoyed your post but now I’m worried about my future. Maybe I should go crack open a couple of cookies.

    • Yeah, no pics allowed. That’s pretty standard, though. Don’t worry about your future Michelle, sometimes it’s better not to know your fortunes – but not eating fortune cookies??? For shame!!

  15. Finally got to the bottom of this. Now I forgot why I was going here. Oh. Yeah. I really enjoyed this post. I like that it wasn’t just a here’s the facts about fortune cookies. My daughter never eats them but loves to open them for the fortune. I never eat them to speak of, but used to bring them home if she wasn’t with me so she could have the pleasure of opening them. Daddy’s do that kind of thing, you know.

  16. Thank you for reminding me how good you are. Funny thing was, in my time away, I just randomly thought of you and your writing style. It’s the way you make sense. I increasingly tire of truly-meaningless drivels.

    I think it scares me more than you of what reading is today and the future. It’s a lesson I learnt early in online writing. No matter how good, people first -almost automatically -scan the whole piece to see how long it is. The patience to read pretty much anything, no matter how short, is becoming shorter.
    This horrifies as well as amuses me.

    Thanks much, dear Trent, for this.

    P.S. please, don’t even ask where I have been. I think I just need to write more, if I want to. I really could. But I try hard to make time to write post-worthy pieces that’d not bore my readers. That though, is often a hard thing to be sure of.

  17. Haha…this is a good one! I am another that doesn’t open the cookies. I actually have a ginormous bowl of them in my pantry. So, in honor of your post….I am now going to the pantry….clop clop clop…opening the door…squeeeeeak….rusting in the bowl….crinkle crackle crinkle…and grabbing one…clop clop clopping back to my chair….re-seating myself in my groaning chair….and popping the cellophane (I do love that part). Okay….drum roll please….this is what it says

    “you don’t become a failure until you’re satisfied with being one”

    Well…alrighty then! I think I’ll stick to keeping them in a bowl. And by the way, since it was open I ate it. Now, owning to the fact that I have no freaking clue how long that particular one has been in there, I’ve scientifically determined that fortune cookies reach a peak level of ‘stale’ and go no further. It was a deliciously stale as the last one I ate probably a year ago. 🙂 Schweet

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