Tag Archives: Cleveland Central Catholic

“The Vic & Paul Show” Plays the Best Location in the Nation…

This summer, July 12-15th at the 14th Street Theatre in Playhouse Square, I’ll be performing again in my beloved hometown — 36 years after my last turn on a Cleveland area stage as Broadway song and dance legend George M. Cohan in the Euclid Shore Center of the Arts’ Bicentennial production of George M!

I began my stage career as a freshman at Cleveland Central Catholic High School when director Dennis Behl cast me as Og the Leprechaun in the spring ’77 musical, Finian’s Rainbow.

Since I played football and wrestled, I was only able to do the spring play. (At Cleveland Central Catholic there was, thankfully, no dividing line between the jocks and theatre folk.)

In my sophomore year at CCC, the fabulous Mary Ann Zampino took over the Central Catholic theatre program – and I won the role of Coach Bart Bascom in You Were Born on a Rotten Day.

It’s still hard to imagine I wrestled at 126 pounds – and that Bart Bascom could wear such a tight t-shirt with complete confidence. (Those were the days, my friend.)

You Were Born on a Rotten Day was certainly not a classic theatrical property, but in the two years that followed, I had the opportunity to play two great American musical theatre roles: Marrying Sam in Li’l Abner (originated on Broadway by the famed Stubby Kaye) and, in my senior year, Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man.

Now, 36 years after playing the title roles in The Music Man and George M! – and, after a decade of work in Chicago theatre, a brief but memorable stint at Saturday Night Live, and a productive two decades in the television industry in Los Angeles, I’m thrilled to be returning to Cleveland with my very funny wife Victoria and my great friend and musical director Steve Rashid to perform our hit improvisational comedy revue The Vic & Paul Show from July 12-15 at The 14th Street Theatre in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square.

The Chicago Tribune calls The Vic & Paul Show “Old school sketch comedy done right” – so go to the Cleveland Playhouse Square website to purchase tickets for an unforgettable evening of comedy, music, marriage and martinis.

This is going to be a very funny homecoming.

To all my Cleveland family, friends, and fellow Central Catholic alumni – I promise you an evening of laughs well worth the 36-year wait.

And, hey! The Tribe’s in first place – so, it’s all good!

Here’s the whole “Vic & Paul Show” Summer 2012 Tour…

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Filed under Art, Comedy, Improvisation, Music

You CAN Go Home Again.

In his 1940 novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe’s protagonist, George Webber, is an author who writes a book about his hometown – and winds up pissing off his old hometown peeps to the point where he gets death threats. In the novel, Webber comes to the realization that, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

Over the years, the phrase “You can’t go home again” has entered the popular vernacular, representing the notion that once you move away from the place of your birth – especially to a bigger city — it’s impossible to return to your old stomping grounds and find satisfaction. Your fond, gauzy memories of the past will be disappointed by what you find upon your return.

Well, if Thomas Wolfe had come along with me on my trip back to Cleveland, Ohio this summer, he might have re-written his famous novel. You can go home again. At least you can go home to Cleveland.

I had two good reasons to return to Cleveland this past August. First, it was time to spend some quality time with my mother and sister – who still live in the same West Side neighborhood that I grew up in. Second, my high school, Cleveland Central Catholic, was hosting an alumni event, culminating in a football game on our brand new football field. (We never had our own home field when I toiled on the gridiron for CCC.) It was a happy confluence of events: a chance to see old friends and family.

The first impression I got as I drove my rental car into my old neighborhood on Cleveland’s West Side was that the ‘hood had seen better days.

In my youth “Old Brooklyn” was always a working class neighborhood – but that was at a time in the early 60’s to mid 70’s when the working class was more upwardly mobile. The sons and daughters of increasingly unionized factory employees, union steel workers and public school teachers were going to college in record numbers. And I was one of them.

I’ll spare us all the rest of my socio-economic rant. Suffice to say that, like all the big, brawny Rust Belt manufacturing cities that flourished for a hundred years on the Great Lakes, Cleveland has struggled economically in the post Free Trade economy.

But while it may no longer claim to be “The Best Location in the Nation” – or the largest city in Ohio (the former state capitol backwater, Columbus, now holds that title) — my hometown is a proud old metropolis with strong cultural institutions, from the Cleveland Orchestra to The Cleveland Playhouse, The Cleveland Clinic and it’s beloved Browns and Indians, long-suffering sports franchises with storied histories of heartbreak and glory. It’s the city of Bob Feller and Jim Brown.

‘Nuff said.

The neighborhood I grew up in from first grade until I went away to college is on the West Side near the Cleveland Zoo. My mom’s house is just a block away from the intersection of Pearl Road and State, near the bus barns. (When I was a kid, on a hot day in late summer, the old streetcar tracks could still be seen peeking through the receding asphalt, fanning out from the bus barns.)

A while ago, folks in my old neighborhood were given the choice of keeping their red brick streets or having them paved with asphalt. My mom’s block voted to keep their bricks. It was good call. Cleveland winters are hell on blacktop. Plus, the brick street gives my mom’s block character. Those bricks were unforgiving when you wiped out on your bike or during games of street hockey and “kick the can” – but they sure look good. Still do.

I took a walk around the neighborhood, down my own Spokane Avenue and along my old paper route on adjacent Henritze Ave. (Oh yeah, remember when ambitious kids could earn some cash and gain experience as young entrepreneurs by delivering the daily newspapers? Don’t get me started.)

My solitary ramble through this familiar landscape was revelatory. All along my street, and on my old paper route, I saw tidy, well-maintained, middle class homes interspersed with properties that had clearly seen better days. Yet, throughout the neighborhood, I saw people painting their houses and working on their landscaping. I also saw something you don’t see much of in my suburban neighborhood in Woodland Hills, California: porch life. People sitting on their porches and front steps, chatting with neighbors and watching the world go by. And, in this case, one strange, expatriate wanderer.

But at the corner of Henritze and West 41st St., I came face to face with a clear and undeniable sign of my neighborhood’s decline: a grassy empty lot that was once Memphis Elementary School. In my day, Memphis School was a vital center of activity in the neighborhood. I never went to school there, but I swung on its swing sets, took advantage of its summer youth programs, and played “strikeouts” against boxes drawn on its walls. And yes, I also learned to avoid the unsavory elements of “The Memphis Gang”. Now, all those childhood memories have been reduced to a patch of lawn.

When we first moved to Spokane Avenue in the early 60’s, huge, majestic elm trees on each “tree lawn” dominated the far end of our block – their branches reaching across the street to embrace each other. Riding down the street to Scott Tyndall’s house was like entering the forest primeval. Our end of the block had no trees. I remember when the city planted a little maple tree sapling in front of our house.

By the time I began high school, the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease had claimed the big trees down the block – and today, more than three decades later, our little Maple trees now dominate Spokane Avenue. And the tree in front of my house is one of the biggest on the street.

Ah, my house. I love this house. My family moved here in 1964 (or was it ’65?). I thought we’d moved into a mansion. Built in 1910, as was much of the housing stock in the neighborhood, it’s a 3-story, 1,366 square foot modest Victorian masterpiece – and it served our family of five very, very well. My mom still lives in this house, and she’s done a great job of fixing it up. Adding a bathroom downstairs was brilliant! Renovating the bathroom upstairs was also a great idea.

And leaving my old second floor bedroom untouched is all right with me.

Seeing it now, it’s hard to imagine all the things we did in my backyard.

It looks so small now – but, back in the day, my pals and I found plenty of room to play football (complete with NFL Films-style dramatic self-narration), recreate scenes from “Combat” and “Lost in Space”, play games like “Red Rover” and “Kick the Can” – and compete in our version of “Home Run Derby.”

“Home Run Derby” was played with a Wiffle ball. Teams were usually 2 versus 2 — or 3 against 3. The batter stood at home plate facing the back of the house. The pitcher threw the plastic ball – and the batter did his best to loft it onto the second floor porch (a home run) – or onto the roof (also a home run). However, if the ball was hit onto the roof, the fielders had a chance to catch the ball as it rolled off the roof. If they did, the batter was out. Batted balls that hit the house below the second floor were singles. Balls that hit the second floor were doubles. Balls that smacked against the third floor were triples. In every case, if the fielders managed to catch the ball as it rebounded off the wall – the batter was out.

We played “Home Run Derby” for hours. We broke a lot of windows, too.

That evening, I drove my rental car north to meet some of my high school teachers and friends at Sokolowski’s University Inn, a Tremont area institution that sits on the western rim of The Flats – the industrial flatland through which the Cuyahoga River winds to Lake Erie.

Across The Flats, in downtown Cleveland, The Jake was hosting a Cleveland Indians game.

Now, I know that a big insurance company purchased the “naming rights” to Jacobs Field — but I’ll start calling that great ballpark “Progressive Field” about the same time I refer to Sears Tower in Chicago as “Willis Tower”.  Which is never.

And speaking of “You can’t go home again” – tell that to former Cleveland Indians star and future Hall of Famer Jim Thome, one of eight Major League ballplayers to hit more than 600 career home runs. On the same weekend that I was returning to my hometown, Jim Thome was at The Jake playing his first game in a Cleveland uniform since the dark day in 2002 when he accepted a six-year $85 million offer from the Philadelphia Phillies.

The CCC welcoming committee in front of Sokolowski's. (Photo by Allen Clark)

As Cleveland’s baseball fans warmly welcomed Thome back to town, so too did the Cleveland Central Catholic community gathered at Sokolowski’s welcome the prodigal son who left in 1976 to go to Chicago and attend Northwestern University.

Among the hometown heroes I reconnected with that night were my former Social Studies teacher, the ageless Elda Borroni, my former Art teacher and beloved mentor, Ellen Howard (Ellen Fasko in those days), and my classmate and quirky, creative buddy, Dancin’ Dave Wicinski.

Me and Dancin' Dave, one of my best CCC buddies & a classic character. (Photo by Ellen Howard)

With Elda Borroni, a teacher who challenged me politically and intellectually -- and still does. (Photo by Allen Clark)

With Ellen Howard: my Art teacher, Yearbook advisor, mentor and lifelong friend. If you only have a few teachers like Ellen in your high school years -- you're damn lucky. (Photo by Allen Clark)

The next day, I brought my mother Mary and sister Nancy to the East Side campus of Cleveland Central Catholic for a back-to-school event for alumni – and a football game at my alma mater’s brand new football field. Before the game, we took a tour of the Forman campus (the former St. Stan’s High School) where I’d spent so much time during my high school years, especially at football practice and in the basement where the Art Department was housed.

I was thrilled to see some of the school calendars I helped create have been preserved and installed in the Art Department hallway. (Note the "Music Man" poster. I was Prof. Harold Hill in that production.)

I played football at CCC for four years as an enthusiastic but seriously undersized defensive back and running back. By senior year I was a starting cornerback – and the smallest player on the field in every game I played. And in all those years, we never had our own football field. Our varsity home games were played at Garfield High.

Now, thanks to the generosity and community-minded spirit of the Stefanski family and other CCC alumni donors, we have a splendid new stadium that has helped to rejuvenate a downtrodden, once-proud neighborhood. It’s truly amazing. It’s clear to see that Friday Night lights will be a big deal at CCC.

Check out the following game photos by Central Catholic’s talented official photographer, Allen Clark.

The Cleveland Central Catholic Ironmen won the game, too!

The new football field has truly transformed the whole neighborhood. (Photo by Allen Clark)

Over the course of the weekend I got to reconnect with my wrestling coach and all-time inspirational hero, Joel Solomon, his younger brother (and my football and wrestling teammate) John Solomon — and Martha Benek, the girl who played Marian the Librarian opposite my fast-talking charlatan, Harold Hill in “The Music Man”. Amazingly enough, Martha is now the librarian at CCC! (I have not, however, been selling marching band instruments from town to town.)

Harold Hill (Paul) and Marian the Librarian (Martha). She's really a librarian!

On Sunday, I drove out to Twinsburg, Ohio to spend a delightful afternoon with my former Scranton campus principal, George Costa — and his wonderful and witty wife, my high-spirited high school theatre director, Mary Ann Zampino.

George was the coolest principal you can possibly imagine – and “Zamp” cast me as Marryin’ Sam in “Li’l Abner” and honored me with the title role in “The Music Man”.  She was also the person with whom I performed in my first comedy revue.

How can you ever say “thank you” to such people? The only way is to see them more often — and share more than just memories.

It was an awesome three days in August spent with wonderful people in the Best Location in the Nation.

You can go home again.

And you should.

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Filed under Beauty, History

Baseball Season Opens: Of Mud Hens & More…

Baseball is back. Which means that, for some of us, the suffering has just begun.

But despite the travails and triumphs of the teams we follow with such passion each season, the classic American game that legend has attributed to Abner Doubleday — played with a bat and ball — is fundamentally a profound and simple joy.

My hometown Cleveland Indians opened this 2010 baseball season on April 5th in Chicago by scratching out just four hits in a 6-0 loss to the White Sox. An ill omen, to be sure. Three days later, 250 miles east on Interstate 80, it will be Opening Day for the Toledo Mud Hens.

For some, the Toledo Mud Hens are a team of 16” softball players who played from the mid 1980’s to the early 90’s in the Chicago Theatre League, led by their manager and sweet-singing slugger, Coach Tom “Wolf” Larson. (More on these Mud Hens later.)

But for the vast majority of those who follow baseball, the Toledo Mud Hens are a minor league baseball team that plays in the International League. The current Mud Hens are the latest of a series of pro ballclubs that have called Toledo home since 1883.

For many years, "M*A*S*H" star, Jamie Farr, was the Toledo Mud Hens most high-profile fan -- other than Wolf Larson, of course.

The name “Mud Hens” was bestowed upon the team in 1896, as one of the two parks they played in that year was located near marshland inhabited by American Coots, also known as marsh hens or mud hens.

Today, the team mascot’s name is Muddy, and the female mascot is named Muddonna. (Which sounds a bit sacrilegious to this former altar boy’s ears – but I’m sure the reference is to the pop singer not the BVM. Which should not be confused with the MVP.)

I find it particularly interesting to note that The Mud Hens have a connection to my hometown, though only the most trivia-obsessed baseball fan living beyond Northeast Ohio will be intrigued to learn that The Mud Hens relocated temporarily to Cleveland from 1914-1915. The move was made to ensure that Cleveland’s League Park would have a game every day – and thus help the Cleveland Indians to counter territorial threats by the Federal League. (Damn that upstart Federal League!)

Another Cleveland connection to The Mud Hens is even more surprising. When the team was playing in Cleveland, it took on a new nickname: the “Iron Men”. The nickname of my high school alma mater, Cleveland Central Catholic, is “The Ironmen”. This is the kind of information baseball fans love to exchange in the long pauses between pitches, between innings, and between hot dogs and beer.

No, Alex Rodriguez was never a Mud hen -- but in 2007, they did (with beak in cheek) offer free agent A-Rod a contract that included a bonus for hitting 75 home runs in ‘08 and leading them to 10 straight International League titles. Hank Steinbrenner, son of the Yankees owner, asked The New York Times: "Does he want to go into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee, or a Toledo Mud Hen?”

The Mud Hens may be a minor league team, but they’ve had a lot of major league talent over the years – and some legendary ballplayers have worn Mud Hens gear, including Addie Joss, Travis Fryman, Kirby Puckett, Casey Stengel, Jim Thorpe (yes, that Jim Thorpe), Frank Viola, and the great, drunken Chicago Cub’s slugger, Hack Wilson, who knocked in 191 RBI’s for the Cubbies in 1930 – a major league record that still stands. Click here for a complete list of Toledo Mud Hens alumni enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It should also be noted that Toledo is the site of a failed late 19th Century attempt to break pro baseball’s color line. The 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, was the only major league team with black players (Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother, Welday Walker) before Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers made history in 1947. Sadly, Cap Anson, the racist star of the Chicago White Stockings (alas, the modern day Cubs) refused to play on the same field as a black man. Though Anson relented when told his team would lose its share of the gate for an exhibition game against Toledo – Anson’s steadfast resistance to interracial play helped to draw an ignominious color line in baseball for another 63 years.

Now, back to 16” softball. Most of what you need to know about this wacky, egalitarian, and blessedly coed sport is encapsulated in this graphic from the website of the Chicago 16” Softball Hall of Fame.

Back in 1983, the Practical Theatre Company joined the fledgling Chicago Theatre Softball League, and someone — most likely Coach Wolf Larson himself — dubbed our team The Toledo Mud Hens. We played against teams from the Remains and Steppenwolf Theatres, among others. Bashing around the big 16” orb, a good time was had by all. And who can forget the time John Malkovich helped us to tackle Donny Moffat and give him a pink belly? But I digress…

Toledo Mud Hens on the stage of the PTC's John Lennon Auditorium (1983).

Jeff Lupetin. (Dig that crazy headband!)

These photos, taken in 1983, capture the distinctive batting stances of the early PTC Toledo Mud Hens. What we lacked in skill, we made up for in style. Of course, not all Mud Hens were without skill. Coach Wolf consistently crushed the ball at the plate and caught everything in centerfield within reach – and many that were far out of reach.

Terry Barron was a real honest-to-goodness shortstop that could field and throw with dexterity and flair. I witnessed Terry’s heroics many times from my post at third base. How good was I? Well, I still have a bent ring finger on my left hand from where I mishandled yet another bouncing, bounding 16” projectile.

Brad Hall, Casey Fox at the Bat, Isabella Hoffman

Julia Crowe, Jim McCutchen, Sally Nemeth

The Author, Stacy Upton, Shelly Goldstein

As Coach Wolf hits, note the all-star lineup of Hens on deck. (Photo by Jim McCutchen)

Over the years, players came and went – but Coach Wolf continued to hold the team together with the help of player-manager Ken Snedegar, and a new cast of Mud Hens clucked together into the early 1990’s. This edition of The Mud Hens was a winner. Heck! They even won league championships! And they had baseball cards, drawn by John Goodrich.

Here’s a select batch of some of Johnny B’s favorite Mud Hens cards from the six sets that he and Ken Snedegar produced. John tells me that many Mud Hen veterans have chosen the Paul Barrosse card from the first set (1985) as their favorite Mud Hen card portrayal of all time. It certainly captures my proficiency in the field.

For John, half the fun of the cards was the meticulous stats and “fun facts” on the backs, supplied by Captain Snedegar. You can see by the reading the back of Barb Reeder’s card in ’90 how far John and Sned progressed in their card-making, stat-tabulating craft.

Today, Coach Wolf is living in faraway Madrid, Spain – where I presume they have no 16” softball. Yet I know that, even in Spain, Wolf Larson is well aware that it’s baseball’s opening week – and that The Toledo Mud Hens will take the field to start the 2010 season this Thursday.

As for the Chicago Theatre League’s Toledo Mud Hens – they played in the league championship final on August 31, 2009. Does anyone know who won? Do we still know any Mud Hens on that team? Let’s hear you cluck, Mud Hens!

Now, here’s a gallery of classic Chicago Theatre League Toledo Mud Hens Cards, drawn by Johnny B. Goodrich.

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Divining Destiny from a Year’s Worth of Fortune Cookies

Growing up an Italian–American on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, I was wholly satisfied with my mother Mary’s glorious homemade tomato sauce, pasta, meatballs, and lasagna. As I was a third-generation American, our family’s traditional Italian diet had been augmented by New World culinary classics like steak, hamburgers, corn on the cob, and Kraft macaroni cheese – with a few exotic forays into Swiss steak and French toast. But, for the first 17 years of my life, Chinese food was essentially off my gastronomical radar.

As for fortune cookies, the first time they were brought to my attention was through the 1966 film, The Fortune Cookie, directed by Billy Wilder: the first movie to pair Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. As far as I can remember, the film had nothing to do with fortune cookies, but it did have something to do with Cleveland, which made an impression on me.

The opening scenes in The Fortune Cookie were shot at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium on October 31, 1965, during a game between the Browns and Minnesota Vikings. Lemmon plays a cameraman who gets injured when the Browns’ star running back, “Boom Boom” Jackson (modeled on the great Jim Brown) slams into him on the sidelines, sending Jack’s character to the hospital. The rest of the plot involves his scheming brother-in-law, played by Matthau, who engineers an insurance scam by getting Lemmon to pretend he’s paralyzed. I can’t remember if they ate Chinese food in Billy Wilder’s hilarious movie, but by my junior year in high school, I still hadn’t experimented with Eastern cuisine beyond nibbling some Chow Mein noodles.

Of course, while I had yet to enjoy a fortune cookie, I had been reading fortunes connected to a staple foodstuff for years. For as long as I could remember, Bazooka Joe comics always featured a fortune. In fact, Jay Lynch wrote many of these fortunes. (Maybe Jay will provide us with more detail on the evolution of fortunes in Bazooka Joe comics. Maybe he won’t. Jay is a mysterious man.)

I came late to Chinese food – and fortune cookies. It wasn’t until my junior year at Cleveland Central Catholic High School that I discovered the joys of Chinese cuisine. It had become a CCC theatre tradition to go to Chung Wah on the near east side of Cleveland, where my favorite teachers, Ellen Fasko (art) and Mary Ann Zampino (theatre), introduced me to the Cantonese food served there. I loved the atmosphere at Chung Wah, but I was ambivalent about the relatively bland Cantonese dishes. I dug the fortune cookies, though. They were tasty, and it was cool that there were fortunes inside.

The author (what's with that goatee?), Ellen Fasko, and my best high school buddy, Gary Swisher at Chung Wah on a break from freshman year at college. (1976)

35 years later, I am a dedicated Chinese food fan, though I’m still not big on Cantonese. I prefer hot and spicy Schzechaun dishes — and my passion for Thai food is rivaled only by my blood-bond to my mom’s Italian menu. I eat Thai food at least once or twice (and sometimes three) times a week. I also frequent Panda Express. I’ve cracked open quite a few fortune cookies, and over the years, I’ve thought quite a bit about the fortunes inside them.

Here, then, is a look a year’s worth of fortune cookies that I’ve collected. What do they say about me? And what do they say about the largely unsung and unexamined art of fortune cookie fortune writing?

“Long life is in store for you.”

This is a classic, all-purpose crowd-pleaser. Who can possibly be disappointed with the prediction of a long life? It’s the kind of fortune you keep in your wallet for a few weeks. You may not necessarily believe in the power of fortune cookie voodoo, but such an encouraging omen can’t hurt. This is a real fortune, folks. It makes a bold prediction. It goes out on a limb.

But I must caution weight watchers. No fortune cookie fortune has a chance to come true unless you’ve consumed the whole cookie. In this case, a long life is worth a few extra calories, isn’t it?

“You are original and creative.”

It may be nice to read such a compliment after your meal – but this is certainly NOT a fortune: it’s simply an observation. They are not called observation cookies. In this particular example, it can be argued that the cookie was correct in its assessment of my artistic nature. However, this next fortune illustrates the pitfalls of the observation cookie.

“You have a quiet and unobtrusive nature.”

Quiet? Unobtrusive? Sorry, but this is just not me. Not only is this NOT a fortune – it’s not even a correct observation. It’s a total waste of calories. I would much rather have gotten the weakest, most vague fortune — something like, “You will someday have a good experience.” Fortune cookie bakers should end this practice of making blunt assessments about the reader’s personality, and stick to post-meal prognostication.

“You will be rewarded for your patience and understanding.”

This is better – but only by half. It starts with a legitimate fortune (the prospect of reward) and closes with a snap judgment of my personality. But what happens if I’m neither patient nor understanding? Does that disqualify me from getting the predicted reward? The whole thing is a mess: too many moving parts. Why not simply state, “You will soon be rewarded” – and let the reader decide why he’s getting a reward. Problems arise whenever a fortune cookie strays from the role of sugary soothsayer.

“Soon, you’ll have a chance at a profitable transaction.”

All I have is a “chance”? What kind of limp fortune is this? To call the fortune writer cautious in this instance, is to be too kind. Whoever wrote this mealy-mouthed fortune has no faith in himself – or his reader. He promises nothing. Risks nothing. Says nothing. The word “profitable” is another dodge: a mere suggestion of how lucrative this possible transaction might be. The whole exercise is meaningless. It’s like Charlie Brown getting a fortune that reads, “Soon, you’ll have a chance at successfully kicking Lucy’s football.”

“Luck is with you now, act upon your instincts.”

This is not really a fortune, folks — it’s advice. Fortune cookies are no more advice cookies than they are observation cookies. This one combines an observation (“luck is with you”) with some advice. But, even here, the fortune cookie writer lets me down. Does he suggest something specific I might do to capitalize on my fleeting, momentary bit of luck? No. He just punts the ball to me: “act upon your instincts.” But he doesn’t know a damn thing about me! What if my instinct is to squander my luck? Now, I’d like to think I’m confident enough about my instincts to cash in on a lucky moment, but a non-fortune like this requires too much introspection.

“You will win success in whatever you adopt.”

Bingo! Here you go. This is what I’m looking for when I crack open a fortune cookie. I’ve just eaten a great, hot, spicy meal, I’m feeling full, and I’m in the mood for some good news about my future. I’m not looking for a philosophical brainteaser or well-intentioned advice. I just want a satisfying fortune clearly stated. And this one opens great (“You will win success”) – and closes even better (“in whatever you adopt”). I’m a winner, no matter what I choose to do! I can’t miss. In fact, I’m giving the waiter an extra five percent!

“7 10 18 26 32 37”

Many fortune cookie bakers have been printing lottery numbers on the back of their fortunes. I’m not a lottery player, so I’m not sure how to feel about this. I suppose for lottery players, this is value-added. Do these cookie bakers get a kickback from the state for encouraging the purchase of lottery tickets? And, if I don’t use them in the lottery, do these numbers suggest anything about my future?

The numbers do suggest a little about my past: I wrestled in high school at 126 and 132 pounds. But, other than that, these numbers mean nothing to me. Perhaps if you’re a numerologist, the numbers on the back say more to you than the words on the front of the fortune? I just don’t know…

“Your love life will be happy and harmonious.”

This is a great fortune. And, in my case, I firmly believe it will come true. Thanks to my wonderful wife, Victoria, my love life is happy and harmonious now – and shall no doubt be so for the rest of my days. But it’s nice to be reassured of that after a splendid lunch. Now, I imagine if you got this fortune in the middle of a rocky divorce, you might wince, suffering a pang of painful irony. However, someone in that sad situation might also see this fortune as a promise that his hopes for a happy love life will someday be fulfilled. It’s a fortune that can save lives. For me, it’s confirmation of what I already know.

And, continuing upon this theme…

“You and your love one will be happy in your life together.”

Gotta love it: more confirmation of life-long happiness with Victoria. This is a truly classic fortune – especially as it contains the kind of typo (“your love one”) that used to be a frequent feature of the fortune cookie. Back in my Chung Wah days, the fortunes were full of grammatical and spelling errors – owing to the fact that, for so many cookie bakers and fortune writers, English was, at most, a second language. But no matter how they mangled syntax and spelling in those days, they never forgot the fundamental mission of the fortune cookie. Would that all of today’s fortune cookie fortune writers respected the tradition established by their forbears: a delicious dessert packed with a prophecy.

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