It's 2003 and I am stuck in the bowels of Verizon's IT department, in a g-d-awful boring job. I've been working for various IT departments in Corporate America for 20 years and writing jokes for imaginary stage performances on the side. With a house, a husband, and two millennial children who need to be fed a constant diet of pizza, smoothies, and games for their Xboxes, Game Boys, and PlayStations, I am resigned to staying put. October marks my 47th birthday. I only have 20 more years of this corporate drudgery, I reason. I am coming down the home stretch.
One morning, I come up with a phenomenal business idea, which will propel me out of Verizon and make me rich and famous: I'm going to start my own line of custom corporate fortune cookies. I will write up work-appropriate fortunes and stuff them into homemade fortune cookies, to be handed out as party favors. But, here's my brilliant spin: On the back, instead of "Speak Chinese" it will say "Speak Yiddish." I call my new enterprise "Work Favors the Fortune-ate." Instead of the morning marathon of packing the kids' backpacks, getting myself out the door to work by 8:03 a.m., and applying my makeup in the car at each red light, I will sleep in, then waltz out at 10 in sweatpants for coffee. Instead of shopping at supermarket sales, I will luxuriate in Balducci's, buying cantaloupe-sized grapefruits and grapefruit-sized oranges. I will get a driver to take me all over the city to lunches, dinners, and galas in my honor. I will visit production plants across the country, speak about my rags-to-riches endeavor on the morning shows, and take a real family vacation to the Fiji Islands and Japan, not just a quick road trip to Cape Cod. Most important, I will buy a whole GameStop store for the kids, so that they will shut up about what they "need" next.
I arrange a prototype run by scheduling a mandatory team-meeting-slash-luncheon-slash-dessert-swap for the week before the December holidays. There are 22 people on my team, so I create my first line of 24 Verizon IT-friendly fortunes.
I type up the fortunes, using the same rose-colored font and style of type used in Chinese fortune cookies, and print the fortunes, front and back, on my color printer. I cut them into little strips of paper, and they look perfect. For example, one says, "HTTP 404: Not Found." And on the back, it says, "Schmear: A spread or a bribe." Another says, "Talk is cheap. Often cheaper on nights and weekends." On the back: "Chutzpa: Nerve."
Now I need to figure out how to make the cookies. I find a recipe online that seems impossibly easy to do, uses everyday ingredients, and sounds delicious. I can almost taste the success emerging from my oven. The night before the meeting, I throw pizza at the kids for dinner and lock them in their rooms by 8 p.m., giving me a full 12 hours before my 8 a.m. meeting. The recipe calls for baking the cookies for five to 20 minutes. I'll do 12 minutes. At that rate, I figure, I can bake four cycles of six cookies each. I'll be done in 48 minutes, then I can work on the actual meeting agenda.
It's difficult to smooth out each round into a four-inch circle. After 25 minutes of mushing and pushing, I settle for three-inch circle-like masses. The first batch goes in — and comes out crumbly and overdone. I try for eight minutes. I get one cookie out, fold it — it works! I slip the little fortune in and drop it into a muffin tin.
I go to pick up the next one, and it cracks in my hand. I taste a crumb, and it's yummy. I pick up the pan, forgetting my oven mitts, singe my fingers, and drop the pan on the floor. As I soak my burning fingers, I recalibrate. I will bake the cookies for six minutes, and I will only bake three cookies at a time. It is now 11:30 p.m., and I've made exactly one cookie. At this rate, they'll be ready for the spring company picnic.
By 4:30 in the morning, 22 fortune cookies are done, although a stiff breeze would break half of them. The paper fortunes have turned translucent from the grease. They look like rice paper, not office printer paper. I gingerly place them in a Rubbermaid tub, cloak them in a tea towel, and carefully transport them to the office, where they join the other treats in the conference room for our holiday dessert buffet, which is a force to be reckoned with.
Amy, who's missed all of her work deliverables all year, has turned out 100 chocolate snowballs with perfectly crisp outsides, covered in powdered sugar snow. Sandy, who works so hard in the office I never imagined she would set foot in a kitchen, has fashioned perfect miniature green wreaths out of Corn Flakes and Red Hots, with bright green icing. Janet shows up with sleighs made of Christmas candies. She has driven through three states to get here, yet her sleighs are fastened by melted peppermints, with such expert engineering precision they could tackle a sleigh ride in a blizzard. And Joey produces his "remarkable" chocolate pecan cookies. He's been touting their remarkability all fall, but there isn't actually anything remarkable about them. They're just cookies (no humor or education or brilliance in his cookies). In the middle of this fabulous buffet is my Rubbermaid container with the stupid, cloaking tea towel.
At dessert time, I whip off the tea towel and declare: "Time for dessert." Everyone is filling their plates with the other desserts, but no one is taking a fortune cookie. I walk around with the bin to each person and say, "Here, take one." Everyone politely takes one. They work for me. They have no choice. But no one is eating them.
Read the rest of this story at Narratively.