Weekend whimsy

I wrote this piece several years ago after waking up with a phrase stuck in my head. Last night I ordered in Chinese food and seeing the fortune cookies reminded me of this piece. So, here’s a bit of whimsy for a social distancing weekend. Enjoy (and the egg rolls are delicious).

Cat

Found in A Fortune Cookie
Cat MacDonald
© 2008 cam

I’d found a flyer from a new Chinese restaurant in my mailbox and decided to give it a try, so ordered in some food. One of the first things I discovered was they made the best lemon chicken I’d ever tasted. When I was done, I picked up a fortune cookie and cracked it.

“The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale.”

That’s what the piece of paper inside that fortune cookie read. Even upon a cursory examination I could see this was not your usual “Good fortune is on the way” type of saying usually found in these things. And they normally had the name of the company producing them on the bottom. Not this one. Other than the cryptic sentence, the slip of paper was blank. Even the cellophane wrapper, which usually had the bakery’s name on it, was blank. Nothing looks quite so bare as a clear piece of cellophane that normally has writing on it. So, there was no clue as to where this profound observation arose.

This one was far more inscrutable than most. Any more obscure and it may as well be written in Cantonese for all the sense it was making. “The end is either a whale from hell, or an estate sale.” The end of what? Life? The universe?

“ A whale from hell”. I suppose defining that could depend upon your point of reference. I mean, if you look at literature, the end for Captain Ahab certainly was a “whale from hell” named Moby Dick. And, I suppose the Pequod could have been sold at an estate sale later. But, in that case, “the end” would have been both a “whale from hell” and “an estate sale” so, I don’t suppose that was what the writer of this mystery had in mind.

Or, if you turn to films, there was a movie called “Orca” with Richard Harris and what’s-her-name, Bo Derek, wasn’t it? From what I can recall, that was about a killer whale that terrorized and I think destroyed a fishing village in Newfoundland. A killer whale could certainly qualify as “a whale from hell”

But, somehow I don’t think the slip of paper meant anything quite so obvious. There was just something, oh, I don’t know, weird about that particular fortune. In any event, by the time I’d opened the cookie and read this, I’d had too much to drink, so I tucked the slip of paper into my purse for later consideration.

The next morning, when I pulled my car keys from my purse, out fell the fortune. I unfolded it and read it again. Still read the same: The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale. Still made the same lack of sense it had last night. And today I didn’t have the excuse of alcohol to fall back on.

For some reason, words from that little slip of paper kept cropping up in the documents I handled at the office, or in conversations I had with others. I put it down to the fact I was thinking about that weird fortune. “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” is so odd it stuck with me. I tried to put it out of my mind.

I succeeded in doing so until the drive home that evening. Sitting in traffic near an intersection (construction had reduced the road to one lane and of course there was a collision in that lane), I passed the time idly looking at the people walking past me and the various shops. The car ahead of me inched forward and I followed suit. My new vantage point brought the intersection into range and with that, a limited view of the cross street. My attention immediately focussed on one particular storefront – the restaurant I’d ordered from the night before.

Although I am not normally impatient in traffic – all that does is raise my blood pressure and if it takes a few minutes more to get home, so what, I’ll arrive safely and as relaxed as dealing with the road warriors will allow – I now couldn’t wait for traffic to crawl forward again. Finally, I reached the intersection. Just past the corner was a municipal parking lot (the ones the city runs that only charge an arm, not an arm and a leg), pulled in and parked. Making certain I still had the fortune with me, I walked to the restaurant.

The place wasn’t anything special, just a little hole in the wall, with two or three small tables. Obviously most of their business was take out or delivery. I walked up to the counter, where a clean-cut young man was talking on the telephone. He acknowledged my presence, then continued writing what was apparently an order.

I took the time to look around the shop while I waited. The decor was nothing special and no doubt was a better reflection of the owner’s taste than an attempt to cater to the clientele. No fancy fans on the walls, or posters of pagodas or the Great Wall. Instead I was treated to a varied collection of cityscapes, seascapes, and posters for rock concerts. The most Oriental thing on the walls was a photo of a customized Honda.

Ambience was provided courtesy of the local soft rock station.

He finished taking the order and walked it into the kitchen, where I could hear him talking with someone, presumably the cook. Then he returned and smiling, asked in good English how he could help. I couldn’t place the accent, but it definitely did not sound like English as spoken by most Chinese who, especially if they’re from Hong Kong, tend to have British accents.

I explained that I had ordered food from them the previous night and gave my address. Seeing the look on his face, I hurriedly told him the food was great and that I would be ordering from them again, but I did have a question for him. Pulling the slip of paper from my wallet, I placed in face down on the counter and continued.

“Could you tell me where you get your fortune cookies” I asked as I picked up the fortune from the previous evening, then continued “because I’d really like to have this one explained to me.” I showed him the slip and watched his face change to a look of complete puzzlement as he read the words I’d memorized “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale”.

“You got this in a fortune cookie with your order last night?” he asked.

“Yup.”

“Do you mind if I take this for a second. I want to show it to my Dad in the kitchen. Maybe he can shed some light on it, ‘cause I haven’t a clue what the hell it could mean.”

I agreed and he excused himself.

The sounds of food preparation ceased shortly after that and the radio was turned down. I could hear a dialogue in what I presume was one of the Chinese dialects, of which I could make out only the English wording from the fortune. The volume of voices dropped to the point where I couldn’t hear anything. Finally, the young man said “Fine then. You figure it out.”

He returned, shaking his head and carrying the slip of paper. “My Dad has no idea either. This came from a new supplier and he’s contacting them now.

“Could I have your name and number and I’ll make sure to let you know. This one has me buffaloed as well. I mean, usually you get the ‘fame or fortune” kind of sayings in those things.”

Just then an older gentleman came from the kitchen “You’re the lady with the odd fortune?” again in oddly accented English.

I nodded.

“I just telephoned our supplier. The number’s out of service.. Why you didn’t try to contact them directly last nigh?”

“Oh! I couldn’t. The cellophane wrapper was completely blank. No names or any identifying marks. And, as you can see, there’s just the fortune on the slip of paper.”

The two men looked at each other. The son turned toward me. “Would you mind if I kept this? I’d like to put a little more time in on it. It’s such an odd observation that I can’t believe there’s not a deeper meaning to it.”

I waved agreement and he put it in the till. The older man said something in their language and his son nodded.

“My Dad just said to ask you if there’s anything you’d like – on the house – for all your trouble.”

“Sure. I wouldn’t mind an order of your lemon chicken if it isn’t too much trouble. It was the best I’ve had.”

As I left with my chicken (and rice – they insisted it had to have rice with it) I glanced back through the window to see them arguing. I say “arguing” because the older man was waving his hands in an angry manner and his son was shaking his head vehemently.

The next day, I was once again caught in traffic at the same place and I glanced across the intersection. The store was gone. In fact, the place looked as if it had been vacant for some time. And with it, the slip of paper with the arcane fortune printed on it.

I never did find out what “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” meant. I still eat Chinese food, but the lemon chicken isn’t as good, and I no longer open fortune cookies.

Found in A Fortune Cookie
Cat Howard
© 2008 gch

I’d found a flyer from a new Chinese restaurant in my mailbox and decided to give it a try, so ordered in some food. One of the first things I discovered was they made the best lemon chicken I’d ever tasted. When I was done, I picked up a fortune cookie and cracked it.

“The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale.”

That’s what the piece of paper inside that fortune cookie read. Even upon a cursory examination I could see this was not your usual “Good fortune is on the way” type of saying usually found in these things. And they normally had the name of the company producing them on the bottom. Not this one. Other than the cryptic sentence, the slip of paper was blank. Even the cellophane wrapper, which usually had the bakery’s name on it, was blank. Nothing looks quite so bare as a clear piece of cellophane that normally has writing on it. So, there was no clue as to where this profound observation arose.

This one was far more inscrutable than most. Any more obscure and it may as well be written in Cantonese for all the sense it was making. “The end is either a whale from hell, or an estate sale.” The end of what? Life? The universe?

“ A whale from hell”. I suppose defining that could depend upon your point of reference. I mean, if you look at literature, the end for Captain Ahab certainly was a “whale from hell” named Moby Dick. And, I suppose the Pequod could have been sold at an estate sale later. But, in that case, “the end” would have been both a “whale from hell” and “an estate sale” so, I don’t suppose that was what the writer of this mystery had in mind.

Or, if you turn to films, there was a movie called “Orca” with Richard Harris and what’s-her-name, Bo Derek, wasn’t it? From what I can recall, that was about a killer whale that terrorized and I think destroyed a fishing village in Newfoundland. A killer whale could certainly qualify as “a whale from hell”

But, somehow I don’t think the slip of paper meant anything quite so obvious. There was just something, oh, I don’t know, weird about that particular fortune. In any event, by the time I’d opened the cookie and read this, I’d had too much to drink, so I tucked the slip of paper into my purse for later consideration.

The next morning, when I pulled my car keys from my purse, out fell the fortune. I unfolded it and read it again. Still read the same: The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale. Still made the same lack of sense it had last night. And today I didn’t have the excuse of alcohol to fall back on.

For some reason, words from that little slip of paper kept cropping up in the documents I handled at the office, or in conversations I had with others. I put it down to the fact I was thinking about that weird fortune. “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” is so odd it stuck with me. I tried to put it out of my mind.

I succeeded in doing so until the drive home that evening. Sitting in traffic near an intersection (construction had reduced the road to one lane and of course there was a collision in that lane), I passed the time idly looking at the people walking past me and the various shops. The car ahead of me inched forward and I followed suit. My new vantage point brought the intersection into range and with that, a limited view of the cross street. My attention immediately focussed on one particular storefront – the restaurant I’d ordered from the night before.

Although I am not normally impatient in traffic – all that does is raise my blood pressure and if it takes a few minutes more to get home, so what, I’ll arrive safely and as relaxed as dealing with the road warriors will allow – I now couldn’t wait for traffic to crawl forward again. Finally, I reached the intersection. Just past the corner was a municipal parking lot (the ones the city runs that only charge an arm, not an arm and a leg), pulled in and parked. Making certain I still had the fortune with me, I walked to the restaurant.

The place wasn’t anything special, just a little hole in the wall, with two or three small tables. Obviously most of their business was take out or delivery. I walked up to the counter, where a clean-cut young man was talking on the telephone. He acknowledged my presence, then continued writing what was apparently an order.

I took the time to look around the shop while I waited. The decor was nothing special and no doubt was a better reflection of the owner’s taste than an attempt to cater to the clientele. No fancy fans on the walls, or posters of pagodas or the Great Wall. Instead I was treated to a varied collection of cityscapes, seascapes, and posters for rock concerts. The most Oriental thing on the walls was a photo of a customized Honda.

Ambience was provided courtesy of the local soft rock station.

He finished taking the order and walked it into the kitchen, where I could hear him talking with someone, presumably the cook. Then he returned and smiling, asked how he could help in good English. I couldn’t place the accent, but it definitely did not sound like English as spoken by most Chinese who, especially if they’re from Hong Kong, tend to have British accents.

I explained that I had ordered food from them the previous night and gave my address. Seeing the look on his face, I hurriedly told him the food was great and that I would be ordering from them again, but I did have a question for him. Pulling the slip of paper from my wallet, I placed in face down on the counter and continued.

“Could you tell me where you get your fortune cookies” I asked as I picked up the fortune from the previous evening, then continued “because I’d really like to have this one explained to me.” I showed him the slip and watched his face change to a look of complete puzzlement as he read the words I’d memorized “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale”.

“You got this in a fortune cookie with your order last night?” he asked.

“Yup.”

“Do you mind if I take this for a second. I want to show it to my Dad in the kitchen. Maybe he can shed some light on it, ‘cause I haven’t a clue what the hell it could mean.”

I agreed and he excused himself.

The sounds of food preparation ceased shortly after that and the radio was turned down. I could hear a dialogue in what I presume was one of the Chinese dialects, of which I could make out only the English wording from the fortune. The volume of voices dropped to the point where I couldn’t hear anything. Finally, the young man said “Fine then. You figure it out.”

He returned, shaking his head and carrying the slip of paper. “My Dad has no idea either. This came from a new supplier and he’s contacting them now.

“Could I have your name and number and I’ll make sure to let you know. This one has me buffaloed as well. I mean, usually you get the ‘fame or fortune” kind of sayings in those things.”

Just then an older gentleman came from the kitchen “You’re the lady with the odd fortune?” again in oddly accented English.

I nodded.

“I just telephoned our supplier. The number’s out of service.. Why you didn’t try to contact them directly last nigh?”

“Oh! I couldn’t. The cellophane wrapper was completely blank. No names or any identifying marks. And, as you can see, there’s just the fortune on the slip of paper.”

The two men looked at each other. The son turned toward me. “Would you mind if I kept this? I’d like to put a little more time in on it. It’s such an odd observation that I can’t believe there’s not a deeper meaning to it.”

I waved agreement and he put it in the till. The older man said something in their language and his son nodded.

“My Dad just said to ask you if there’s anything you’d like – on the house – for all your trouble.”

“Sure. I wouldn’t mind an order of your lemon chicken if it isn’t too much trouble. It was the best I’ve had.”

As I left with my chicken (and rice – they insisted it had to have rice with it) I glanced back through the window to see them arguing. I say “arguing” because the older man was waving his hands in an angry manner and his son was shaking his head vehemently.

The next day, I was once again caught in traffic at the same place and I glanced across the intersection. The store was gone. In fact, the place looked as if it had been vacant for some time. And with it, the slip of paper with the arcane fortune printed on it.

I never did find out what “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” meant. I still eat Chinese food, but the lemon chicken isn’t as good, and I no longer open fortune cookies.