Fortune has its cookies to give out………….A Coney Island of the Mind
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —Lawrence Ferlinghetti
My ongoing push and pull of art and money had me brainstorming business ideas over Chinese food. At Hong Fat’ sometime in the eighties, a gang of witty friends were breaking the cookies we never ate but always read. Over a mountain of crumbs and corny predictions, we hatched the concept for Divines. The product was a re-invention of the fortune cookie — filled with poetry and dipped in Belgium chocolate. The plan was for the first cause-related marketing business to support the arts. Divines was packaged in a foot-long triangular box airbrushed like a prism by my friend Dennis. We organized the start-up like an art project, vision first, logistics later, and soon Divines was making waves in the bonfires of the investment climate and selling well at Dean & DeLuca’s. Cynics or sophisticates, the appeal of a poetic fortune was widespread, especially dipped in chocolate, milk, white and dark. Copper cauldrons of melting chocolate simmered on my stove, with friends coming in after work, late nights dipping and writing poetry. My house was quite popular with hungry kids as well. My children woke smelling of chocolate.. After Bloomingdales and Balducci’s placed large orders we moved production off the island to a commercial chocolatier.
My sister had access to both culinary resources and celebrities and often donated her paycheck from E.A.T. to keep our budding enterprise going. She introduced Divines to Andy Warhol who in turn became a big fan and threw a party with Divine, the John Waters star, who became our mascot celebrity. Allen Ginsberg and Gwendolyn Brooks were among the many poets who contributed. Jackie Kennedy threw a party for Lawrence Durrell at Gotham Book Mart featuring Divines filled with Durrell’s inimitable mysticism. Multiple successes led to offers to take the company public. My father reading his paper on his daily L.I.R.R. commute, shrieked when he saw Divines featured in the New York Times. L.F. Rothschild funded the first round. Friends were rounding up investors. Two million dollars were on the table. We had start-up thrills. Create more fun products. Raise more money for the arts. Hire artists. Financial independence. All sounding like good fortune. Our office in the Cable Building puffed with sweet anticipation. That was Friday before Black Monday. On Tuesday our L.F. Rothschild check for $125,000 bounced, freezing our accounts, catastrophically halting production at high season with the squeal of brakes sliding into an unavoidable collision.
Divines washed out in the stock market crash of October 1987. We were drained and couldn’t raise a dime in the post-crash climate. The business lost the holiday season with thousands of poetry fortunes waiting, and eight thousand pounds of unmelted chocolate. Our last ditch effort to salvage our investment was Lucky Wang, fortune cookies with condoms. The dirge of deaths from unprotected sex and the specter of the AIDS plague left a gloom deeper than the stock market crash. We ran out of funds before we could perfect folding the hot cookie dough without melting the rubber. We folded.
On February 22, 2021, news of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s death at 101 was not a shock but a hole in the sky. Some people achieve god like qualities while walking around like mortals made of humble clay. Lawrence was a fixture at the cash register at City Lights Bookshop for decades, so any literary pilgrim would encounter his direct connection to the spirit of place, he was the guardian of the temple he created.
I was teaching a class on artist/activism when the text came with the news. Lawrence could have been the role model for everyone from Ai Wei Wei, son of an exiled dissident poet to Dave Eggers, leading the way for creating “Impossibly Beautiful Spaces for Young Minds on Fire”. Lawrence animated the role of poet warrior with audacious, original crusades for free thought, free people and free pursuit of what you damn please. Like Neruda, Ferlinghetti was a bard of imagination in public life. Bravo Lawrence, your words, your painting, your courageous defense of poets and poetry, hospitality to generations of readers and writers. You are instantly missed, and will always be here.