Southern Gothic Fortune Cookies
By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Whenever we have Chinese food, I wait for the last fortune cookie, my passive destiny. Fellow diners have encouraged me to go first, thrusting the dish of Cellophane-wrapped futures in my direction, but I’ve always politely deferred to those bold enough to claim their fates, accepting whatever’s leftover. It’s a throwback to my Southern rearing — good things come to good girls who wait for everyone else to go first. Yet I yearn to spurn that demure thing, that what-may-I-do-for-you accommodation. Of course, I also have a Scarlett temper, so I vacillate between scolding myself for being volatile and for being putridly nice. I am a secret feminist failure, and I’m reminded of it regularly.
I recently received a phone call from a former colleague, definitively foe, not friend. When he announced himself, I shifted into automatic Southern manners mode, something we are taught from our earliest days of cotillion: Cover the effrontery of any boy’s faux pas with the proper accessories of a lady, a gracious gesture, a superficially personal question, if necessary, a short discourse on the bane of the 17-year locust; do anything but overtly acknowledge his indiscretion. Our white cotton gloves protected us from the testosterone-laden perspiration dripping from our adolescent dance partners’ palms. Our feigned stumbles concealed the swift brush of dandruff shards from their shoulders. Our averted eyes and cookie commentary shielded us from the ripe and ready pimples on their fuzzy chins.
And my “What may I do for you?” masked my rage at the impudence of the fellow's contacting me.
He emitted a weighty “Ahhh,” and launched into a boring story about a seminar he’d attended with other very important people where he’d learned that the words I just uttered are the mark of a superior professional, a serious leader who succeeds by actively seeking to serve others, to give of himself in search of solutions. I silently noted the continuation of the caller’s insensitivity to gender inclusiveness, but he was, as always, oblivious as he prattled on. He was so grateful to have worked with me, he reminisced wistfully, allowing us a moment to savor choice morsels of collaborative success. There were none, as far as I could recall, so my moment was spent gazing through the porch door to the hummingbirds dancing with the hibiscus. Although, I did recall his previously finding me such a valuable colleague that he helped usher me out the corporate door, albeit not wearing but, at a very minimum, lacing up the steel-toed clodhopper that left the bruise on my curriculum vitae.
Yes, he continued, I was such a serious, effective person, he said with emphasis, speaking of which, he needed to move on himself and he’d like to pick my brain, my being such a fabulous writer, and his, as inspiration would now have it, wanting to be a writer of sorts himself.
I could have suggested he take a long and uncomfortable ride on the corporate carpetbag he rode in on, but I did not. Instead, I succumbed to my ladylike roots and offered up my best guidance for nearly an hour. I responded to his ill-defined, unreasoned objectives with Kindergartenly kind words of acknowledgement, then redirected him to reflection and examination. I threw in a little internal and external analysis, because I’d been taught to always offer more, without actually using that word. I was, for one brief hour, the good girl, the serious person he wanted me to be in order to access my goodies.
And when we hung up, he surely walked away with warm and rising hopes, and I stepped outside to bellow to the hummingbirds and citrus trees what I thought of the man in the most gutturally obscene terms, dredged from the dankest bars in which I’d ever swilled the Devil’s juices.
So, with the mores of a Southern belle and the mouth of a mud wrestler, I guess I’m really not such a serious person. Sure, I can be sardonic, occasionally touching, sometimes clever. Serious, though? Not if I won’t even call a jerk a jerk.
Maybe I need to consider the mud wrestler. I could be more like her, I suppose — I wish! I could be like her, if I weren’t who I am, so genteel, so uncertain, so stubborn, so angry, so foolishly waiting for that last fortune cookie. And it always tastes like shit.
I wonder what Scarlett would do?
©2009 Kit-Bacon Gressitt
(Photo by ZZeller via Creative Commons License.)