Swallowing My Fortune

Two nights ago I accidentally swallowed my fortune. Well, not my literal fortune- but I did swallow that small piece of paper that sits inside of a fortune cookie. You may be wondering how I could do such a careless thing? Well, allow me to explain. Please do not disregard me just because of my silly error. I have a story to tell and the ending will be pleasant enough to compensate for my lapse in mindfulness.

You see, I had not gone out for Chinese food in over a decade. It had been an even longer time since I have eaten a fortune cookie. I abstained from eating Chinese food because the high sodium intake and MSG that is added to the food causes my blood pressure to rise and my mind to get lost in a numb lethargy. I can’t think straight and I feel the pulsations in my body like a sailor feels the turbulent sea beneath his feet. So in order to avoid these traumatic side effects of Chinese food I have just abstained from eating.

But this does not mean that I do not crave Chinese food from time to time. Chicken chow mien, pot stickers and won ton soup are some of my favorite dishes and occasionally I will have a longing for all or one of them that causes me to forget about the traumatic side effects of Chinese food. The other night when I went to dinner with my wife I assumed that since I had not eaten Chinese food in over ten years I could afford a slip, a lapse in judgment, a high dose of sodium and MSG.

The meal was delicious but the moment I felt the lethargy come on I started to drink pints of ice water to keep my mind from becoming to foggy. I felt my heart begin to palpitate after I ate the lemon grass chicken but the dinner was so delicious that I was able to ignore my physical symptoms. I had food stains on my t-shirt (a sign of a good meal) and when the waitress brought two fortune cookies with the bill- I wasted no time in eating one. My wife looked at me like I had just told her an unbelievable joke. She said “you’ve got to be kidding me” as she cracked open her fortune cookie. I swallowed mine. “What?” I asked. “You just swallowed your fortune,” she said.

I took a deep breath and thought about what I had just done. How bad could it be to swallow a piece of paper with small amounts of black ink on it? I asked my wife if I could see her fortune and noticed that the piece of paper was not much bigger than my pinkie. No sweat, I thought even though I was slightly nervous when I left the restaurant that I could suffer some adverse effect from swallowing a fortune.

Surprisingly, for the rest of the evening I felt fine. My wife and I went out for a beer and we laughed a lot together (something that we do not often do anymore). My mood was unusually good and I told my wife several stories that I had never told her before. The high sodium content in the food and the MSG that I had consumed was not negatively affecting me in the least. In fact, I was feeling stronger, healthier, more satisfied than I ever remember feeling before. It was as if I was having an adverse reaction from the Chinese food. Except this time rather than feeling ill I felt high on life. My body in turn was singing the praises of my good mood.

That evening my wife and I made passionate love for the first time in over a year. We connected on an astral level that required us to leave our bodies behind. Our souls melted into one another and we slept wrapped up in one another’s arms with smiles carved into our faces. The following morning I awoke rested and rejuvenated. You must understand that this is highly unusual for me. Normally I wake up feeling like I was perpetually hit over the head all night long. My back aches. I am grumpy and I don’t want to talk to anyone. On this morning I got out of bed without a trace of agony in my lower back. I made my wife breakfast in bed, after which we made love again. After, I did something I NEVER do. I took the dog for a long walk before it was even ten am.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that yesterday was the best day of my life. I was more alive than I have ever been. My mood was positive the entire day through and I laughed enough to supply every member of my community with an ounce of joy. I painted, did yoga, sat for thirty minutes in meditation, did some gardening, wrote two poems, bought my wife flowers, filled up the refrigerator with groceries, sent my therapist a birthday card, took my dog for another afternoon walk, did laundry, changed the sheets on the bed, cleaned the bathroom, and mopped the floors. I have not been this productive in years. On a normal day- I am lucky if I do two of these tasks. What happened to me yesterday is nothing short of a miracle.

When my wife came home from school she was shocked to see the effects of my day. The house was clean, fresh flowers sat beside her bed, I was cooking us a decadent dinner and strangely of all I had a smile upon my face. “Wow honey! I love this you,” she said throwing her arms around me. “I love this me too,” I replied while directing her to the dinner table that I had set with candles, fine silverware and a bottle of organic red wine. “You should eat Chinese food more often,” she said and then we both laughed out loud. This was definitely unusual behavior.

After dinner that evening I noticed a pressure pushing against my stomach. This let me know that it was time to go to the bathroom. As much as you may not want to hear this part of the story it is a part of the story that must be told. As I sat on the toilet I had one of the smoothest, most prodigious bowl movements that I have ever had in my life. It was like I had done a colon cleanse. All the toxins that had burrowed themselves between my intestines came flowing out like water from the Nile. My body felt so effervescent that I felt that I might drift away. When I stood up I immediately felt the pain return to my lower back and the cynical heaviness return to my mood. I looked in the toilet at all that detritus and noticed a whitish fortune floating on top.

To spare my reader from any inappropriate details I will only say that I lifted the fortune out from the toilet and cleared off the print so that I could read what it said. I noticed that my chronic headache was starting to return and I suddenly felt a bit unwell from all the meat and wine I had just eaten. I looked closely at the fortune which said, “To know health, to experience health is a mans greatest wealth.” I was not yet able to make the connection between my day of vitality and health and the act of swallowing this fortune. Instead, I placed the fortune back in the toilet and flushed. I took a deep breath, came out of the bathroom and my wife took one worried look at me, dropped her smile and said,”oh boy- he’s back.”

The Karaoke Singer

I swore that I’d never sing karaoke. Never. I looked upon karaoke as a sin against the holly temple of music. A bastardization without conscience. Karaoke singers were desperate people who were all motivated by failed dreams. No, this would not happen to me. But then I found a part-time job.

I was bartending in a restaurant/bar that had karaoke every night after nine pm. Around eight forty-five in would wonder aging dancers, opera singers, blue-collar laborers, pale politicians and a plethora of other oddballs. The occasional college crowd would also wonder into the bar after nine, not as much to sing but more to drink and laugh at other people singing. I would pour all of them drinks and watch people congregate around tables where they would browse through large books that had lists of all the songs they could sing. The well dressed maestro of the karaoke nights was an aging opera singer who dressed in dark suits and had recently suffered a heart attack. He would sip his red wine and say through the microphone “welcome to karaoke nights at La Casa. Order drinks from your caring bartender Randall so you can get some liquid courage and come on up and sing your song.” Once I asked him if he could stand the sound of his voice coming through the large, muffled speakers and he said with a smile, “I love the sound of my voice.”

I always felt a certain resistance, disdain- a smile that did not want to be born across my face as I served these wayward souls their drinks. Slowly I would watch them trickle up to the stage where they would sing their favorite song in a lonely corner filled with shame and humiliation. But as the first hour passed and more booze was consumed, shame and humiliation turned into confidence, courage, laughter, momentarily fulfilled dreams and loud cheers. My ears ached, my love for music was severely challenged and I swore I’d never sing karaoke.

Secretly I have always wanted to be a singer. A rock star. I have dreamed about standing in front of thousands of people all of whom were being transported to a higher state of consciousness through my voice. As a child I would dress up like Michael Jackson and sing alone in my back yard where I would pretend that all the plants and trees were adoring fans. As an adult I rarely sing anymore- that is until I started singing at the karaoke bar.

I quit working at La Casa because I could not handle the many hours that I had to spend standing on my feet listening to various out of tune strangers sing Queen, Frank Sinatra, Britney Spears and Elvis songs until two in the morning. My lower back was punishing me for all the pain radiating through my ears and down my spine- so I had to go my separate way. On my last night bartending at La Casa, two aging dancers (who were without a doubt beauties in their day) dedicated a Wham song to me, “the quiet, handsome, sullen, long faced guy behind the bar.” They swayed their tight hips and fake boobs to “Careless Whisper” as they pointed their fingers at me and waved goodbye. Again, I swore I would never become a karaoke singer.

A few weeks ago my wife and I went into a Brazilian bar not far from our home, to have a drink. I had no idea that after nine they too had karaoke and as the host put a book on our table from which we could choose whatever song we wanted to sing- I looked at my wife and said “let’s go.” But she is more curious than I. Less threatened by karaoke and more accepting of all different kinds of people. She pointed out to me in the song book many of my favorite songs and dared me to sing one. I said “no way.” I said no way several times but my wife is a genius at getting what she wants. I did not consider that my constantly full glass of red wine were several glasses that my wife was secretly replacing with the empty ones.

My wife knows that I have a secret dream to be a rock star. She knows that I live a life of quiet desperation. I have not directly told this, she just knows. Women. She kept telling me that it would be good for me to sing in public. A kind of release, she said. No way. But the rust around my stubbornness was feeling loosened up by all the wine I was drinking. When I noticed “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” by Joy Division in the song book- I suddenly felt the desire to sing come over me. A possession of sorts. “What would it be like to sing one of my favorite songs in front of a crowd?” I wondered. Granted there where only six other people in the room but they all were singing tacky pop songs and I wanted to sing something good. Something with culture and soul in it. I would stand out by singing an obscure new wave song from the eighties and the crowd would take notice. They would appreciate my deviation from the norm and they would applaud. Loud. They would love me. I was a rock star that night- thanks to the liquid courage and my wife.

I do not want to go too much into my performance that evening because there was a lot of hesitation and fear. I was wrestling my demons. I pinned most of them down. Once I finally made it to the stage I was slightly shaking and I noticed that at first my voice cracked a lot. But once I got into the song- things changed. My voice lowered, my back straightened, my arms moved, my eyes opened and I was the living incarnation of Ian Curtis singing his own karaoke song. I sang several more karaoke songs that night and the host had a hard time getting the microphone out of my hand. It was a bit of a struggle. The crowd could not stop clapping.

I return to the karaoke bar two or three times a week. I make lists of songs that I want to sing. “Hungry Like The Wolf” by Duran Duran, “People Are People” by Depeche Mode, “Hold Me Now” by The Thompson Twins, “New Song” by Howard Jones, “Every Body Wants To Rule The World,” by Tears For Fears. These are just a few of the songs that I love to sing. I can sing these songs again and again- until the end of time. On the karaoke stage I am man not only acting out my rock star dreams but I am also reliving the best era of my life- the 1980’s. I dress just like I did back then. I wear all black, I aqua net my hair straight up in the air, I put on my clip on earings, black chinese flat shoes, black eye liner and I appear at karaoke nights like someone who has been transported forward in time. Sometimes I even wear my long black trench coat with a New Order patch on the back. Lately it has been too hot out for black trench coats despite the demands of style, so I just wear my black tank top, which displays my tattoo of Robert Smith’s (lead singer of The Cure) profile on my left arm. I stand on that stage without the shame and humiliation that I remember haunting those first few karaoke singers at La Casa. Fuck that. I do not have time for such life denying emotions. Instead I own the stage, just like I used to own my back yard when I would lip sync Michael Jackson songs. Even though there is rarely ever anyone in the karaoke bar- I stand on that stage as if it was a stage in a crowded auditorium. The host hands me the microphone, the lights go down and I watch the lyrics begin to walk across the television screen. I sing my eighties songs in front of large crowds of imaginary adoring fans. They are all listening to what I have to say. Wanting a piece of me. I am a young man again, with sweat drizzling across my face. I hold my hand out giving fans the opportunity to touch apart of me. I dance and sing my soul out until it is someone else’s turn to sing a song or it is just so late at night that the karaoke host is ready to pack up his stuff and go home. I never thought this would happen to me. Never. But it is one of the best things that ever did.

A Brief Update

I have received many kind and concerned emails and letters from readers of this strange blog asking where I have been, if I am all right and why I have not been writing new blog entries. I appreciate all of your concerns and I assure you that I am more than well. I am so well that I have little to write about at the moment and to be terribly honest I have not written in a many weeks because Spring has just sprung and there is not much more that I want to do other than sit in the grass, smell the flowers and listen to the birds sing. I also adopted a new dog recently who has been cuddling with me in the grass and causing me to say words like “sit” and “stay” much more than I ever thought I would. I assure you that once I adapt to Spring and have consumed all the sun, sounds and smells that my senses can handle- I will return to my desk where I will continue to compose my absurd confessional tales of self deprecation and the strange happenings that occur on this journey that I often refer to as “my life.”