Madame Esmeralda reminds me never to lose hope that magic can happen.
The story of Madame Esmeralda begins in earnest in the early 1990’s at the Musee Mechanique in San Francisco, California, although my fascination with these fortune-telling machines began when I was a little kid. I’d seen many characters in these “booths” over the years and I marveled at the hand-crafted personality and individuality of every one.
The Musee Mechanique is chock-full of all kinds of mechanical amusements (I love all things mechanical) and I was thrilled to discover multiple fortune-telling machines there. I have spent many blissful hours in this museum, plugging change into slots to watch incredibly complex and hand-crafted characters and settings show and do all kinds of marvelous things. In the afterlife, I’d love to haunt the museum and forever watch people enjoying these machines!
I get a curious feeling around these fortune-telling “booths.” There’s an air of mystery, of suspense, of chance, of the unknown. The characters inside suggest mystery, and of course movies like “Big” have enhanced the mystique. Standing in front of one, quarters in hand, I feel a strange sense of unreality, like I could be in a movie myself. Will the fortune card contain a unique and perfectly timed insight that solves everything? Will the mechanical voice say something eerie and personal that’s totally off-script? Will the glass eyes light with a fire that burns into my very soul? The kid in me pushes the quarters into the slot….
….and the adult in me is usually somewhat disappointed. The cards are mass-produced, and most of the time they contain a mildly amusing prediction, like horoscopes, applying to a broad range of situations.
But every now and then, there’s a card that makes an impression on me: something timely, or relevant, or helpful, or that speaks to me in some way. These are the cards I keep. Even though I know it’s probably a mass-produced coincidence, I still can’t help but wonder if something….somewhere….somehow….timed my visit with the specific fortune up next in the stack. Sometimes…I think something did.
I keep opening this window of opportunity every time I meet Madame Esmeralda, or Zoltar, or the wizard, quarter after quarter. I can’t help myself. And maybe that is the most important thing: to keep opening that window. To keep believing in magic, to keep having faith. I never, ever want to lose that magical fascination with these mechanical oracles from the universe of amazing things people have made with their hands.