Written in the Fortune Cookie of Life for Another Year
Zane’s godmother, Amanda, is half Jewish and half pagan. When we lived in New York, for New Year’s, whether that be Rosh Hashanah, solstice or Guy Lombardo playing “Auld Lang Syne,” Amanda and I went out for cashew chicken and sesame noodles. The end of one year, the beginning of the next, gave the fortune cookie mystical meaning. Being Irish Catholic, I love a good superstition, and so when the slip of paper read, “Love because it is the only true adventure,” I looked around for a year and a half and found Brian.
Small wonder then that Brian and I moved to San Francisco, the birthplace of the fortune cookie. Strangely enough, it was not Chinese. In 1914, Makoto Hagiwara, who designed the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, introduced a tea cake for the Pan Pacific Exposition, based on a Japanese tradition of random fortune called omikuji. The idea was so good that Los Angeles tried to claim credit for it.
Brian doesn’t try new restaurants. In a home full of hyperactive/ADHD boys, bipolar rescue dogs and a deputy sheriff husband with OCD, Brian’s psychological quirk is that he is willing to eat out at only one of four restaurants at any point in time.
1. The neighborhood pizza parlor. For the past five years this has been Bravo’s, where a very nice man named Laki has not yet figured out how strange our family is, and so he allows Aidan to eat raw pizza dough.
2. The fast food place. Do not judge. For two years, Aidan refused to eat anything other than Chicken McNuggets and chocolate milk shakes.
3. The upscale bistro that is vaguely gay, so that on Valentine’s Day we can make a reservation there and still claim to be in love, until one of our boys has a crisis (skinned knee or pulling a knife on the babysitter), at which point we make frozen pizza at home.
4. The Chinese restaurant that we take the boys to after soccer practice on Wednesdays.
Brian is like a swan: He mates for life. If he likes a restaurant, he keeps going back until it closes. In the case of category four, Brian and I ate at Yet Wah in Diamond Heights for almost 20 years, always ordering kung pao chicken with pork-fried rice.
On my 41st birthday, the fortune cookie read, “Your children will respect your wisdom.” I told Brian that I wanted to adopt.
The day that we lost the triplets, we got drunk at Yet Wah. Mysteriously, the fortune cookie was blank. The day that we adopted Zane, we took the whole family and sat around the big table where the dim sum came spinning around, and every fortune was favorable.
But all good things come to an end, and when Yet Wah closed during the financial crisis, we wandered lonely, without so much as an egg roll, for years, until we stumbled upon Win Garden in Glen Park. Dumb luck. We had an hour between Aidan’s tutoring and Zane’s basketball practice, and it was open, and before Brian could say, “We don’t try new restaurants,” I hustled the boys through the doors.
It did not have sesame noodles (no place in the city seems to), but the house wine didn’t take off the roof of Brian’s mouth, the pepper steak had real pepper in it, and we once again had a reliable source of honey asparagus.
Nowadays we get to the end of the meals, and Zane takes charge, deciding who gets which cookie based on whom he thinks it is pointed at. New Fisher-Paulson tradition: if we don’t like our fortune, we make one up. So when Brian asks, I reply, “Help! I’m a prisoner in a Chinese bakery!”
Aidan replies, “You will be hungry again in one hour.”
Zane replies, “Ignore previous cookie.”
And Brian sighs, “About time I got out of this cookie.”
This year was strange and difficult, with Grandpa Jerry and Qp both dying, the Mini-Cooper breaking down, and emergency therapy sessions happening. So after soccer, as we finished the sweet-and-sour shrimp, we worried about algebra assignments and Donald Trump. We weren’t wondering about Aunt Amanda celebrating the Jewish new year. We were barely thinking a day ahead, let alone 12 months.
Is there magic in the universe? Don’t know. What I do know is that somewhere, somehow, somebody slipped a paper into a cookie that randomly appeared on my dinner plate. The message read, “Tomorrow is limitless.”
Republished with permission from the San Francisco Chronicle.