Sometimes, anyway. If you’ve ever had a fortune cookie in the past, you know there are times when the folded strip of paper hidden inside isn't so magical. On those occasions, it offers statements that appear to have been written by the Sphinx from Mystery Men: “He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions”, “When you care for what is outside, what is inside cares for you”, those kinds of things. Not that the Sphinx didn’t offer some real wisdom in that movie. “We are Number One. All others are Number Two, or lower”, is as true today as the day it was written.
You and me, we're Number One. Those other guys, well....
I always feel a little thrill of excitement when I break open a fortune cookie. But when yesterday’s bit of pulp said, “A clever crow will always paint its feather black”, I was lost. I didn’t have any idea of what the saying meant, much less what it was trying to tell me. Glynn, eating a handful of candy corn – purchased at 50% off at Target, the day after Halloween, so it's not the freshest -- although, with candy corn, does it matter? – couldn’t tell me, either. The fortune cookie he’d opened had promised, “A wise man cherishes health over fortune”, a real snoozer. He crumpled up the paper because, by golly, he wasn’t in the mood for health-talk. Glynn intended to chase his supper with kernel-shaped discount candy, regardless of what the Chinese soothsayers had to tell him. His fortune could have read, “If you eat candy corn tonight, every tooth in your head will fall out”, and he’d have opened the bag, anyway. He might have brushed his teeth a little longer after, I imagine, but an eerily-appropriate cookie warning wouldn’t have stopped him from digging in. When it comes to terrible candy (he also loves Circus Peanuts. Circus Peanuts!), he’s a believer in indulging his joy.
Me, I wanted to know what my fortune cookie was trying to say. Not just to me, but at all. When the Good Witch stopped by, she read the slip then confessed she didn’t know, either. Then she focused on the over-sized bag of candy in my honey’s hands.
“That’s not a food,” she told Glynn.
“It has ‘corn’ in the name,” he pointed out.
G.W. said, “It’s neither corn nor candy. It’s an abomination of everything that anyone with taste buds holds near and dear”, which is exactly what I’d asked her to say but – and this is disheartening – he only laughed. I bet Glynn haunts the candy aisles next year, too, the minute the Target crew grabs its discounting sticker gun.
After G.W. left, I went online to see if anyone knew what my fortune cookie meant. As it turns out, I’m far from the first person to ask. Over the years, that very saying has appeared in Chinese restaurants from coast-to-coast. There are pages of people wanting to know what the saying is supposed to mean. I think I may have found the answer.
“A clever crow will always paint its feather black” appears to be based on an old folktale. (Are there any new folktales?) In the story, a crow and a peacock are buddies, hanging out in the jungle. At that time, so long ago, both birds were white and, as happens so often in the deepest, darkest jungle, they came across a container of magical paint.
The crow wondered, “What should we do with this paint?”, while I wondered how the crow knew what paint was. The peacock didn’t have any idea of what to do with the stuff, so he kept quiet. (Peacocks, you probably knew this, are male. Peahens, not as cute, are the females.) Pondering over the subject, the crow soon declared, “We’ll paint our feathers, the boldest, most beautiful colors!” and the peacock agreed with her.
Who knew that painting feathers was a good idea? The crow, that’s who. So she went to work, taking her time and doing a masterful job of decorating the peacock – and painted the peacock exactly as we know them today. The peacock, delighted with his new coloration, had observed the crow closely...but just didn’t feel like making as much effort. He splashed some black all over his friend and called it a day.
Well, his laziness ended THAT friendship, I’m telling you now. The peacock didn’t care. He couldn’t wait to show off his feathers to all of the other birds in the jungle. He strutted about until everyone was tired of him. They remained amazed by his colors, however. After a while, the other birds started to ask, who did the paint job?
When they found out the crow was the artist, she was viewed with new respect. She was the one given all kudos and, when the crowd noticed the color of her feathers, they lauded her for her modesty. The peacock, infuriated by their behavior, left the jungle, never to return. The crow still lives there today, admired and appreciated.
It turns out, regardless of species, most chicks appreciate a little black dress.