The Augur

Prophecy… The Wonton Food Corporation…Oedipus…Limericks…

“Your Eyeball Will Meet The Tongue It Has Been Waiting For.”

I read and re-read the slip of paper I had plucked from the fortune cookie that sat on the tiny decorative plate in front of me, thinking the message must be some fashionable and kinky version of “You Will Find True Love,” or just a fortune cookie writer having a little fun with the wayward and lost.

It had been a strange night, culminating in my sitting at this karaoke bar off Buford Highway at 3:00 in the morning. I was listening to a hilariously awful rendition of “Calypso Blues,” the Marvin Gaye version, sung by a young asian fellow whose grasp on the english language was questionable, but who, because of the relentless conga drum that pounds through the song, had whipped himself into an atonal frenzy. He gyrated on the tiny stage like Elvis Presley chewing on an electrical wire, and I was impressed. The Happy Pagoda Chinese Buffet and Karaoke Bar was open late. It was the last stop before home. There was a restaurant on one side and the karaoke bar was on the other. I had spent some time on the karaoke side drinking a Kirin Ichiban and listening to off-kilter renditions of “Ain’t No California,” by Mel Tillis and “Hot Rod Lincoln,” by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, when that abyssal drunken feeling of hunger kicked in, as it usually does at that time, and I adjourned to the dining room to eat some greasy noodle dish with something mixed into it that I hoped was chicken. I paid the bill and that was when the waitress dropped off some orange slices and the fortune cookie. “Your Eyeball Will Meet The Tongue It Has Been Waiting For.”

I put the slip of paper in my pocket and then pulverized the cookie itself, swept its dust into my hand and dumped it into a nearby teapot. There are a few reasons I’ve always been a little distrustful of fortune cookies. The first is that it just seems like a bad idea to have something inedible purposefully put in the middle of something that is supposed to be eaten. Whether it is a rock, a golf pencil, a crushed cigarette, fake eyelashes, or a piece of paper that vaguely predicts your general condition or immediate future, to have to concentrate on not eating something while eating something seems like more trouble than it is worth. Another reason is that the cookie itself, both the consistency and the lack of flavor, doesn’t seem like something suitable for ingestion in the first place. It is brittle, tastes somewhat artificial, and has a shape that is better designed for packing a box full of fragile contents scheduled for rough transport.

On top of that, I’ve always been cautious of having my future explained to me. Ever since I heard about poor old Oedipus, who was told he would murder his father and marry his mother, and who, understandably alarmed, took the necessary precautions to travel as far from his home, his father, and his mother as possible. On the open road, he gets into a scrap with an anonymous traveler (road rage, could happen to anyone), kills the bastard and then starts dating an attractive older woman (he’s lonely, what are you going to do). Then comes the, “Oh, I’m adopted. Shit, let me guess..the traveler was.. egads…and my wife is…dagblast it all…”

A cruel joke, since the oracle’s predictions would not have come true had he not bothered with the oracle in the first place, and that’s why I don’t trust oracles, seers, sibyls, prophetesses, augurs, or tiny pieces of paper packed in stale cookies. They all suffer from the same thing. Oracle Vanity.

“I’d rather be right in my prediction than save you any undue suffering. I’ve got a reputation to uphold. No refunds, sucker.” That’s the attitude of your rank and file oracle, rest assured. I do not want to pry open a fortune cookie only to read what is printed on the paper and then have to gouge my eyes out and roam the earth. That is not the life for me. The final reason that I am afraid of fortune cookies is because just a week or so ago a worker from the Wonton Food Corporation, one of the biggest producers of fortune cookies in the United States, was found dead in the giant cookie mixer. An investigation is pending, although I suspect his fortune was something paradoxical and cruel, like Oedipus’s. “You never fail to satisfy. Particularly the guests of the Happy Pagoda Chinese Buffet and Karaoke Bar off of Buford Highway in about two weeks when they accidentally consume you.”

I pictured it with all the lucidity afforded the clinically insane. “Calypso Blues,” banging away in the background, party of four seated around the large dining table with the lazy susan in the middle, opening their fortune cookies while the waitstaff looks on approvingly.

“Mine says I will find wealth.”

“Mine says I possess great gifts.”

“I’ve got a pinky toe and a tuft of hair.”

“Mine is staring at me.”

Then comes the horror, the screams, and the retching. A mad dash for the restroom, the front door, anyplace. Tainted fortune cookie to match “Tainted Love,” which just happened to be the next song up on the karaoke side.

The threat of contamination is just something the modern human must live with, be it food or love or art or whatever. Anything born pure will eventually be set upon by some poisonous influence. The trick is to avoid it or just build up a tolerance to steamroll it with a superior defense system.

“Let’s dance,” she said, grabbing me from out of nowhere, a girl much drunker than I was and with the frivolous vigor of youth. Before I could pose any objection or ask her name or if she planned to lick my eyeball, we were whipping around each other, tripping and flailing all over the dance floor, using each other’s drunken momentum as a counterpoint to our own, which prevented us from careening into the nearest wall. Our tainted dancing was an added point of amusement to the “Tainted Love” song that was being muddled by the singer on the stage. We swung around each other, narrowly avoiding what would have been a pretty serious collision, when she posed an interesting question.

“How do you eat your fortune cookie?”

“I don’t.”

“I tell you there is no right way and no wrong way,” she said. “I know most people just crack it open, pull the paper out, read their fortune and then sit back and eat the cookie shards, mulling it over.”

“Yes.”

“Boring. Watch what I can do.”

She led me over to the corner of the room, right outside the entranceway to the kitchen. Disappearing for a moment, she returned with a handful of fortune cookies. She crammed all of them into her mouth, chewed them up and swallowed the huge mass, paper and all. Then her eyes rolled into the back of her head, her body started to convulse and a minute later she stuck her tongue out at me. At the tip of it was a collage of all the fortunes she had consumed, rearranged to form some type of super-readout. It said:

“There once was a man with true grit,

whose limericks he would never submit,

when asked “why?” he said with a sigh,

‘Damnit all, I just can’t keep from trying to get as many words into the friggin last line of the whole fucking thing as can possibly, possibly fit.’”

I lifted it delicately from her mouth, added it to my pocket.

“Does that help?” she said. Every writer should be so lucky.

More Alembics to come.

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