A few words of wisdom, from cookies to cough drops
In the early 1980s, curiosity moved me to plunk down $17 for a tall tin of Forbes Capitalist Cookies filled with sayings from eccentric multimillionaire Malcolm Forbes. The editor and publisher of Forbes Magazine preferred to call his Capitalist Cookies “fortunate” cookies rather than Fortune cookies, a dig at a magazine competitor of his.
These may have looked and tasted like fortune cookies, although they weren’t quite what you’d anticipate after moo goo gai pan at your favorite Chinese restaurant. Each saying featured a copyright date of 1978, which made them stale, to my thinking, so I teasingly dubbed them “an unfortunate lot” in my 1981 newspaper article.
Faster than greasy spoon takeout, a personal letter arrived from Forbes in which he conceded he had challenged his copyright lawyers and lost. He included an inscribed copy of his book, The Sayings of Chairman Malcolm, the expanded version of his cookie quips. The inscription? “With only slight hope these won’t give you further indigestion!!”
His letter noted: “Needless to say, I read with hungry interest your feature and quickly discovered you sure do know how to crumble unworthy cookie stuffings!”
Regardless of their age—and what in 2019 would be dubbed cultural misappropriation by Forbes—fortune cookies frequently hold sage insights. This was true for the ones from flamboyant Forbes, who, among other colorful ventures, held world records for piloting hot-air balloons. He also had a massive collection of Harley-Davidsons and took that distinctive rumble on the first-ever motorcycle tour of China.
Here are a few gold nuggets attributed to Forbes:
“When you cease to dream, you cease to live.”
“Anticipating is more fun than recollecting.”
“The best vision is insight.”
“The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.”
“Whoever coined the phrase ‘smart ass’ has got to be at least half right.”
Forbes died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1990, but not before his $2 million 70th birthday bash in Morocco where he flew in 1,000 guests, including Donald Trump, Julio Iglesias, Liz Taylor, and Henry Kissinger. A fitting swan song for Forbes, author of another book called They Went That-a-Way, amazing accounts of how 175 famous people died.
Tough to figure what Forbes might think of ending a modern-day Chinese meal with a fortune cookie that makes lottery number recommendations or marketing ploys. P.F. Chang’s restaurants offer this fortune: “Your confidence will lead you to the right choice.” On its flip side, there’s a plug for how well P.F. Chang’s slow-braised spare ribs go with a cold beer. Fortune cookie heresy?
Move over, Malcolm! Some tea bag tags now feature wisdom from Virgil and Aristotle.
What about cough drops with wrappers that boast “a pep talk in every drop”? These include “Get through it” and “Put your game face on” and “You can do it and you know it!” Shades of a rabid coach, but maybe it’ll cure a cough.
Even some Dove ice-cream bar sticks advise, “Take a moment. Enjoy what you have.” Sounds like the life of Malcolm Forbes.
Annie Culver developed a knack for unearthing oddball characters and improbable events as a staff writer for various newspapers. In the early 1990s, she went to work for websites where she wrote sassy essays aimed at women, then she morphed into a writer for several universities in the Northwest. She is retired, yet she still enjoys freelancing.