Moving to L.A. with my band in my early twenties, we stopped outside Albuquerque for lunch at a greasy spoon Mexican food restaurant. After the meal they brought us fortune cookies. How odd. I was superstitious about fortune cookies and believed that mine was the last one left on the tray. So after everyone else took one, I took mine.
“You have the reckless habit of trusting too much to luck.”
Let me tell you something of what I have learned about that fortune - clearly mine - written on that little slip of paper inside the cookie.
To tell this story, first let me rewind a few years. It was the summer between tenth and eleventh grade. It was hot as dickens. 100 plus temperatures for weeks on end were the norm. But the resiliency of youth makes one somewhat immune to such phenomena. The resiliency of youth does not make one immune to what consequences one may experience as a result of one’s youthful folly. I don’t mean so much the consequences of each act – but the consequences of established patterns of behavior. The result can often be the breeding ground for superstition.
For example, when I was about sixteen, I remember being in the car with two friends on the way home from a movie. Someone said “never pass a cop”. We weren’t drinking, speeding or breaking any another law, so why subscribe to something so irrational as “don’t pass a cop.” Well, we did pass the cop. And the cop pulled us over for a broken tail light. It turns out that Carl, who was driving the car, had purchased a decorative Samurai sword earlier that day. It was still in the bag with receipt and price tag. But it was over a certain length, and thus considered a weapon. Carl, who was eighteen, went to jail. Steve and I, still juveniles, were given a ‘complimentary’ ride home by the police. Ergo: never pass a cop.
The consequence, as such, was so minor, as to insure we learned no real lesson. Only that a superstitions was established. “Never pass a cop.” Consider another more dramatic misadventure from my high school years. Again, there were three of us. We were traveling in my friend Steve’s ‘custom van’. The van was one of those hideous icons from the late 70′s with a funky paint job, bubble tinted windows and wall to wall shag carpet. It was the coolest ride of anyone we knew. We decided on a road trip to College Station, Texas for a midnight pep rally. Carl was s freshman there while we were still in eleventh grade. As was our M.O., we stocked up with an ice chest full of beer and a big bag of pot. By the time we were passing through Bryan, Texas we all drunk and stoned. I was riding shotgun. When the cherry red lights of the police popped on behind us we were thrust suddenly and unexpectedly into reality. When they opened the sliding side door of the van, Marvin rolled out along with the “chink-a chink clink” of over a case of empty beer bottles. As they walked Steve around the back to a squad car for some intensive questioning, the young police officer took his eye off the ball just long enough for me to reach into Steve’s trumpet case and grab the bag of pot, which I stuck out the window and turned inside out into the dry Texas wind gusting along the highway.
For the next two hours the cops scared the hell out of Steve, threatening to take the van apart down the axle, to call his folks, to lock him up and throw away the key. They knew we had pot because of the reek of the van, as well as our considerably over sized novelty bong. Steve broke easily and told them what they wanted to know. And while Marvin gurgled drunkenly I confidently denied all. I knew there was no pot and that they would never find any. The entire Bryan police force showed up for the search. As it turns out, the consequence for driving drunk and underage with no hard evidence for a possession charge, is that they let you go with scarcely a slap on the wist. I’m sure today it would be a different story – or if we had been black or defiant. But we were polite, good ole’ boys (at least that was our pretense), so they sent us on our way. They even let us keep our beer!
And so what is the misguided lesson here ? It was the superstition that somehow I was immune from consequence if I simply ‘thought on my feet.’ That luck was on my side. That I could wing it and stay out of trouble because I was smart. In the wake of the myriad decisions, actions and reactions that dot one’s lifetime, I realize now that all my life I was ‘winging’ it – getting off easy, so to speak. I wish now that I had learned some harder lessons earlier in life. Instead, I always trusted too much to luck and laughed off all the near misses.
Now, I find myself a middle-aged man caught in a check mate of consequences, like unpaid debts that finally catch up to the cavalier spendthrift.
I’ve lost more than I can bear to account for to my careless whims and reckless ‘trusting too much to luck’ ways. Most significantly, I will now lose my life. There is no way out of a terminal illness. I cannot laugh or shrug off advanced stage cancer. It doesn’t leave any wiggle room. Advanced stage cancer cannot negotiated with. It may be slowed with excruciatingly unpleasant treatments that compromise one’s quality of life in every way possible, but it’s featured consequence will not be denied. At an earlier stage, if I had paid attention to the evidence that something was wrong, my cancer could have been arrested. If only I had seen a doctor when I saw the signs. If only… If only my superstitions had me pay more attention to that fateful fortune cookie rather than illusions of invincibility.