Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fortune Cookies, Debbie the Cat, and the Buffalo Sabres

When you believe in things

That you don't understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition aint the way.
      -“Superstition”, Stevie Wonder

The Marciniak ranch is well known as a center of culinary excellence in the Western New York region. Born of a need to cater three meals a day for eleven and the magic of Food TV, techniques have developed and flavors previously unknown have been vaulted to the forefront of contemporary cuisine from our humble and inadequate four-burner stove. Greats such as Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and the grossly underweight Giada de Laurentis have seen their exquisite recipes, albeit tweaked to reflect Buffalonian modesty, presented to eager children with hypersalivation issues at regularly scheduled intervals. That being said, when there’s a few rubles in the coffers, we make a bee-line for the China Star, purveyor of fine Oriental take-out.

After the delectable cartons of General Tso’s chicken, shrimp lo mein, mei fun noodles, and such are exhausted of their high-cal, sodium-enriched contents and the satisfying release of gastric air is complete (forcefully if you are male, by our experience), the obligatory fortune cookies are dispensed. It is a tradition repeated often at Sterling Avenue estates, and shared with many, both the lay and ordained. Fr. Dennis Mancuso, an aficionado of (in his words), “vast quantities of Chinese food” (spoken with a definitive Monty Pythonesque accent) has shared this epicurean explosion more than once and can verify that the experience is just shy of gluttonous. Nonetheless, if gluttony is achieved, he is more than happy to offer the sacrament of reconciliation at a moment’s notice. After a few more dumplings. Others of lesser fortitude have run from our home clutching their offended, weak stomachs while vowing a return to boxed macaroni and cheese and to never stray. Not the Marciniaks. We’ve got gullets of steel. Szechuan’s not Szechuan unless it leaves welts on your tongue.

Of all the possible difficulties of these events (perforated ulcers, colonic inflammation, barking at the sidewalk), only one has emerged: fortune cookies. One guest is offended by them. As the children crack their little cookies tasting faintly of flour and corrugated cardboard, she looks suspiciously at the my wife and I. She relates the messages, such as “Industriousness will mean success” or “Happiness brings long life” on the tiny strips of paper baked in the cookies as on par with tarot cards, palm reading, and black magic. To our westernized American kids from an age marked by technology, unprecedented information access and a window on every corner of the world via the simple act of typing on a keyboard, this attitude is seen as relevant as Greek mythology. Our guest, an Eastern Catholic (a tradition that, in personal interpretation, has been known to express itself occasionally in superstitious practices) has grown to believe that the insidious nature of the occult as expressed in superstitions is never innocuous and to be avoided even in its most benign forms.

It would be my nature at this point to argue that the superstitions of the ages are circling the drain, so to speak. Are there any educated individuals who really believe black cats are unlucky (if so, please don’t tell my cat, Debbie. She’s quite sensitive)? Is the act of walking under a ladder really a harbinger of evil, or just an opportunity to have paint drip on your head? Does breaking a mirror really cause seven years of bad luck, or just a risk for a bad hair day? As I access the suffering of the world on the very screen upon which I prepare this essay, is it reasonable to wonder if the victims of violence and misfortune throughout the planet may have perhaps stepped on a sidewalk crack, or bragged of their youth? I think of Jesus questioning whether those killed in the collapse of a tower were more sinful than others; he recognized the danger of man judging cause and effect in unexplained suffering, and the negative consequences this can have among the faithful. Death and suffering, misfortune and tragedy are the wages of sin. These wages are distributed among us all, a reality that cannot be diminished by adherence to superstitions.

As sure as our bodily death is, our eternal life is another matter…the God of our fathers has given us an example, a guide and comforter, and a mother. Jesus, whom we emulate, the Holy Spirit who guides and encourages, and mother Church in combination with our Blessed Mother’s gentle hand can lead us to salvation. Superstitions cannot. They deny the power of God and place undue regard for meaningless objects and actions. Satan loves that. Why, then, do we have them? Why do we adhere to superstitious practices in direct opposition to the reality of God’s saving grace? Perhaps it all comes down to trust. We just don’t have enough. We need concrete assurances that God just doesn’t seem to provide; places like Lilydale, New York, crawling with “seers” and psychics and, unfortunately, Catholics seeking their assistance, rely on our lack of trust for their livelihood. So does Satan.

Let us pray for trust; trust in a God who loves us, who has sent His only Son, who by His life, death and resurrection purchased for us the rewards of eternal life; trust in the Holy Spirit and the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church He leads.

Now, on a lighter note, I am going to put all this into immediate practice by uttering taboo words equated with a perennial jynx. Here goes: STANLEY CUP. There. I said it. Those horrified by that statement in the Buffalo area may now re-read the above essay. STANLEY CUP, STANLEY CUP, STANLEY CUP!

Go Sabres!


  1. Ok, I've had to reread this a few times to tie it all together and see exactly how you got from one point to another.

    I wish I had the gut of steel. My dad had it and two of my siblings do, but not I.

    Superstitions have just changed in the modern times for westerners. I think we are in a period of flux right now where the old ones die and new ones will soon emerge. It remains to be seen. In the orient and in the sub-Sahara and even in the Pacific, superstitions are still very much part of everyday life.

    And this last paragraph is where you lost me and I had to try to make order out of the apparent insanity you manifested. I was worried about you until I saw that you had put "on a lighter note" to qualify your pretended delusion. Because we all know that there can only be one Eastern Conference champion, and since the Washington Capitals will be claiming that title, any other supposition is mere SUPERSTITION...

    Welcome back, again, my wacko friend.

  2. Indeed, it was a winding trail I followed for this particular post...
    I agree that superstitions continue to thrive throughout the world, but my premise is that in our Western society I would think they should be fading...I would be interested in some emerging superstitions; any ideas?

    Finally, as in all superstitions in which man believes in something that bears no truth in reality, I am amused at your hockey opinions. Silly, silly man.


I am always interested and appreciative of your comments and thank you for taking the time. God bless you.