UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 06/2012
FUTURE OF FORTUNE COOKIE MAKER IN DOUBT
A spokesman for Ying and Yang Inc., makers of fortune cookies sold to many Asian restaurants, expressed disappointment over the judgment against the company that awarded $300,000 to Rupert Merryman, who claimed the fortune inside a cookie he was served at a Mandarin restaurant in Possum Grape, Arkansas caused the breakup of his 33-year marriage.
Daniel Whisperson, the spokesman for Ying and Yang, Inc., said the jury set a dangerous precedent in ruling for the plaintiff. The offending fortune in Mr. Merryman’s cookie read: “Don’t Delay. Take that trip now and reinvigorate your relationship.” In his testimony Mr. Merryman said he responded to that notice and surprised his wife Enid with a 10-day vacation in Rome where she met a young finger dancer on the Piazza Navona and ran off with him. Mr. Merryman held Ying and Yang liable.
“This case will further encourage those who would propel our litigious society onto the slipperiest of slopes, from which it will become nearly impossible to put the genie back in the bottle,” said Mr. Whisperson. “It isn’t much of a stretch to envision anyone finishing a plate of moo goo gai pan to rub his hands and think he can sue if he doesn’t like the fortune in his cookie. All of American industry trembles at this court’s decision.”
Mr. Merryman said he was satisfied with the award. “Because I trusted that fortune it cost me my marriage. The jury agreed that Ying and Yang could be held accountable and that’s the beauty of the American way.”
Asked if he remained in contact with his former wife, Mr. Merryman said he hadn’t seen her since she left their Roman pensione. “I expect she’s shining a flashlight on that finger dancer’s hands in the piazza as we speak, and probably getting fat as a tub of lard on pasta putanesca. But none of this would have happened if I didn’t believe that fortune cookie and Enid would still be fussing in the kitchen. Not that she was much of a cook, but at least she fussed, and it was me she fussed for, not some Italian gigolo.”
District Court Judge Albin C. Ancora called the outcome fair, and said, “American jurisprudence has made up its mind on this issue and put all fortune cookie manufacturers on notice that inserting cavalier slogans into their products that can cause harm to consumers, will not be further tolerated.”
A shaken Mr. Whisperson said the decision could signal the end of fortune cookies as we know them. “Ying and Yang might hang on with neutral slogans like, ‘Fire engines have loud sirens,’ or ‘Little puppies are cute.” But what’s the fun in those? A worst case scenario says we’re seeing the demise of an American institution that has delighted generations of restaurant customers.”
Mr. Merryman said while he sympathizes somewhat, he added that this wasn’t his first unhappy experience with a Ying and Yang fortune cookie. “A number of years back I cracked one of their cookies, and read: “The only way to catch a tiger kitten is to go into the tiger’s den.” Six years ago we went on a safari to India. All of a sudden I remembered the fortune and next day the guide pointed out a tiger’s den. The mama tiger was nowhere around, so I thought I’d catch me a kitty like the fortune said. In I go, and darned if I didn’t find three kits. They did a job on me and I’ve still got the scars to show for it.” He rolled back his sleeve revealing what appeared to be several healed striations on his forearm.
“I didn’t sue then because the fortune cookie wasn’t exactly wrong. I suppose that is the way you catch the kits. You get them in the den. Not wishing to make a big fuss, I figured I’d get some compensation for my stitches and shots so I wrote to Ying and Yang and they responded with a letter suggesting I leave capturing tigers to the professionals. They said they were sorry I’d been wounded but they denied liability. They sent along two boxes of cookies and wished me a speedy recovery.
“Like the man says, ‘Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on thee.’ What’s right is right, and finally somebody has to take care of customers who get injured. It’s not like we’re going around looking for misfortune.
“I mean we’re living at a time when everybody’s on some sort of spiritual quest. Street corner evangelists rope in a few, others get into astrology, and guys like me read fortune cookies. Same difference. We’re looking for answers to the curveballs life pitches at us. And if you’re going to offer up advice, you better be ready for the consequences.”
Mr. Merryman says the award will go a long way toward financing his co-ownership in a winemaking operation. “My cousin, Earle got this place up in Owyhee County, Idaho, and he makes wine out of milk. Calls it Bovino. It’s wine but also a dairy product with protein, vitamin D, and trace minerals you won’t find in fruit wines.” He smiled. “I’m an optimist who thinks everything works out for the best, and I know Ying and Yang is hurting now. But I’m not one to hold a grudge. Just as soon as we start shipping Bovino, I’ll send a complimentary case to those mucky-mucks at Ying and Yang.”
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