hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

June 13, 2012

Poor Tom's Almanac: No telling which fortune is right

Tom Vartabedian

My day started off like any other. Up in the morning, a quick workout, shave, shower and down to breakfast. My routine hasn't changed in nearly 50 years, except in isolated situations like early medical appointments or trips.

Like we do every morning, I grab the sports pages and my wife takes the rest of the newspaper. I was eye-deep into a Boston Celtics victory story when all of a sudden, a voice across the table piped up from behind one of the pages.

"You might want to hear your horoscope today. It doesn't sound very pleasant."

Truth be told, I pay very little attention to such predictions and I wasn't about to start now. Being a Libra (Sept. 30), I tend to have some balance to my life. I respond to situations with grace and am said to put others at ease.

In case you don't know, Libra is the only Zodiac symbol that's neither animal nor human — but surely that doesn't make me any less human. Between you and me, it's the most sociable of signs, so I really have little or nothing to worry about.

Until today ...

"Says you're about to miss your mark today," my wife proclaimed. "A necessary change of plans will cause you some stress.

"But listen to this. Instead of wasting energy worrying about a setback, process your disappointment quickly so you can set new goals and try again.

"You may not put much faith in these proclamations," she continued, "but I wouldn't ignore them. You never can tell."

Suddenly, my day was off to a bad start. Setback? Stress? Change of plans? Where was I headed, to the Looney Tunes bed? Better to crawl under it than on top of it. I needed a tranquilizer.

I share the opinion that fortune tellers somehow predict what you want to hear to put you in a better state of mind. Call it deception. Call it anything. But don't call it truth. Nothing deceives like a horoscope.

My sainted mother had two exceptional gifts. She could tell your whole life's story from a deck of playing cards and predict what the future held from the grounds in a cup of Armenian coffee.

She told fortunes over a lifetime and people actually placed faith in her predictions.

I tend not to patronize such poppycock. If the bluebird of happiness ever flew overhead, it would drop a bomb square on my noggin. News of an imminent lottery ticket winner would only be an exercise in futility.

If my lucky stars predict gloom, I turn to the sun and moon for guidance. No way will the sky fall on this fellow.

I once booked a flight to Chicago — my first experience flying — and purchased a $20,000 insurance policy before takeoff at one of those kiosks. Then I picked up a newspaper and just happened to glance at my horoscope. Horrors!

"A recent investment you just made will pay off big dividends."

Goodness, were we in for a crash? I broke out in a cold sweat and was never the same until we landed at O'Hare.

Later, I won an overnight trip in a church raffle. The hotel was a mile from where I lived — hardly the get-away you would expect.

At a Chinese restaurant, I cracked open a fortune cookie only to learn that any action I may take could be potentially dangerous. "Pray for guidance," it read.

Was mortal danger lurking in my home? Would I fall from the curbstone and break my ankle? Would a workout at the YMCA result in a ruptured artery? Was there a vicious dog hiding in the bushes ready to spring forth?

The only way I could get absolute safety was to hide behind closed doors and breathe no deeper than was absolutely necessary.

"It's almost noon and you haven't moved from bed," my wife said. "Get a life and never mind this omen. They're probably hundreds of them buried inside the fortune cookies."

At Christmas, we were gathered around the holiday table and out came the Armenian coffee cups for yet another go-around with my mother.

All the virtues were explored over the next hour — those of faith, hope and charity. Each cup showed its telltale contents.

An unwed niece bubbled over with enthusiasm when she learned there would be a man in her future. A married woman was told each of her children was destined for a successful career.

I asked my mother how much credibility she placed in these words of wisdom and she released a smirk.

"By predicting a happy life for others, I'm creating a better moment for myself. Believe what you want."

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Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.