Yesterday on the sidewalk outside my apartment I found a plastic wrapper containing the broken crumbly remains of a cookie. Inside the wrapper was a thin white slip of paper: the infamous fortune that swirls like a snail inside cookies of this nature. I smooshed the wrapper around and read these words:

“Someone in your life needs a letter from you”

I don’t know what’s involved—cosmically speaking—in the transmigrations of fortunes. My issue is that clearly this fortune first belonged to another person. A person who somehow dropped it, by accident or choice (and I can only presume the difference would matter). Either way, this act subsequently enabled me to become the fortunate son, which is a lot like the CCR song, only without concern that it’ll be used in a messy Tom Hanks movie.

Clearly, the here calculus gets fuzzy (lost fortune cookie + moderately obscure Forrest Gump soundtrack reference + a band of brothers who hated one another = ???), which means that it’s possible, if not outright likely, that what’s about to follow is an exercise is cosmic absurdity. Fortunately, I’ll never know. But, in the Kevin Spacey spirit of paying it forward, here’s my letter. To someone. In my life. Who needs it.

Last night I walked out of a bar. Standing on the sidewalk in front of my friend’s car were a young man and woman. The young man was pointing his cigarette at the young woman and saying,

“I’m more relaxed than you are. I’m more relaxed than you are. That’s from The Big Lebowski.”

“Calmer,” I said, and nothing happened.

“Calmer!” I repeated, more emphatically, and as he turned toward me I watched him blink quickly, as if his comprehension was somehow tied to the rapid movement of his eyelids.

He did one of those drunken wavers where his torso moved in a flimsy circle while his feet remained planted, like a poplar tree being pushed by a strong wind.

“‘I’m calmer than you are, Dude,’ not more relaxed. Come on, man—get it together, would you?!” I barked.

Bark may seem like a strange verb, but I really did bark this at him. Likely I sounded angry and annoyed, even though I was neither. It simply seemed important that I correct him with a certain definitive brio.

Again I looked at him, a drunk-dopey kid in his 20’s wobbling under the bright white light outside a bar. I have a theory that the reason guys, especially younger ones, are so strongly inclined to remember-&-recite movie quotes is because finding our own words to express our own selves is a difficult, scary, and challenging act of self-revelation. For that reason, it’s much safer and infinitely less vulnerable to mouth things we already know others will find amusing. Quotes become a currency of sorts, and we trade them among ourselves like marbles. You can earn props for all sorts of things—accuracy, quickness, arcana, and so on—and it’s likely that you’ll never have to worry about forming or expressing an original thought of your own.

In case this idea sounds dour, let me clarify that I like marbles. I’ve also been rescued from difficult social interactions with other men an incalculable number of times by sharing an appropriate quote. This economy has its value and its place.

(The theory can also be expanded and applied to explain why so many men know so many sports statistics; as with the movie quotes, sports provide both refuge and conversational content. Put a group of men together and it’s likely they’ll yabber baseball stats and movie quotes; at the end no one may know much intimate detail of another, but it’s highly probable they’ll have gotten along just fine.)

Looking at this guy I wanted to tell him that the route to getting that girl interested in him was not via misquoting The Big Lebowski. It wasn’t even through properly quoting the movie. For a moment I thought to suggest that he ask her a question and at least pretend to listen to her response. But all that seemed beyond my bounds, so I kept my mouth shut and opened the car door.

Behind me he said, flatly, drunkenly, and seemingly to nobody in particular,

“It’s not that you’re wrong, Walter, it’s just that you’re an asshole.”

Likely he meant nothing by this outburst, although possibly he was right: maybe I was being an asshole by correcting him. At least this time the quote was accurate. Whatever he intended, I laughed.

And that, Dear Someone, is my letter to you. I now pray that you go forth and pass it on to Someone else in your own life who needs a little of the good light shined upon them.