My FAVORITE Robert Fulghum essay.....What's yours?

Kelly G

It's like herding cats!
12 Years
Mar 19, 2008
Tampa (Wesley Chapel), Florida
My Coop
My Coop
I posted this in another thread as a response to something someone wrote, but I think it deserves a thread of it own. I read this 20+ years ago, and it has stuck with me all these years. I re-read all his books time after time. I never tire of them and there is always something new to learn.

What's your favorite of his essays?

Here's mine:

Sigmund Wollman's Reality Test
by Robert Fulghum

"It was the summer of 1959. At a resort inn in the Sierra Nevada of Northern California, I had a job that combined being the night desk clerk in the lodge and helping with the horse-wrangling at the stables. The owner-manager was Swiss, with European notions about conditions of employment. He and I did not get along. I thought he was a fascist who wanted peasant employees who knew their place. I was 22, just out of college, and pretty free with my opinions.

One week the employees had been served the same thing for lunch every single day. Two wieners, a mound of sauerkraut and stale rolls. To compound insult with injury, the cost of the meals was deducted from our paychecks. I was outraged.

On Friday night of that awful week, I was at my desk job around 11 p.m., and the night auditor had just come on duty. I went into the kitchen and saw a note to the chef to the effect that wieners and sauerkraut were on the employee menu for two more days.

That tore it. For lack of any better audience, I unloaded on the night auditor, Sigmund Wollman.

I declared that I had had it up to here, that I was going to get a plate of wieners and sauerkraut and wake up the owner and throw it at him. Nobody was going to make me eat wieners and sauerkraut for a whole week and make me pay for it and this was un-American and I didn't like wieners and sauerkraut enough to eat them one day for God's sake and the whole hotel stunk and I was packing my bags for Montana where they never even heard of wieners and sauerkraut and wouldn't feed that stuff to pigs. Something like that.

I raved in this way for 20 minutes. My monologue was delivered at the top of my lungs, punctuated by blows on the front desk with a fly swatter, the kicking of chairs and much profanity.

As I pitched my fit, Sigmund Wollman sat quietly on his stool, watching me with sorrowful eyes. Put a bloodhound in a suit and tie and you have Sigmund Wollman. He had a good reason to look sorrowful. Survivor of Auschwitz. Three years. German Jew. Thin, coughed a lot. He liked being alone at the night job. It gave him intellectual space, peace and quiet, and, even more, he could go into the kitchen and have a snack whenever he wanted to - all the wieners and sauerkraut he wished. To him, a feast. More than that, there was nobody around to tell him what to do. in Auschwitz he had dreamed of such a time. The only person he saw at work was me, the nightly disturber of his dream. Our shifts overlapped an hour. And here I was, a one-man war party at full cry.

"Lissen, Fulchum. Lissen me, lissen me. You know what's wrong with you? It's not wieners and 'kraut and it's not the boss and it's not the chef and it's not the job."

"So what's wrong with me?"

"Fulchum, you think you know everything, but you don't know the difference between and inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire - then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy."Learn to seperate the inconveniences from the real problems. You will live longer. And will not annoy people like me so much. Good night."

In a gesture combining dismissal and blessing, he waved me off to bed.

Seldom in my life have I been hit between the eyes so hard with truth. There in that late-night darkness of a Sierra Nevada inn, Sigmund Wollman simultaneously kicked my butt and opened a window in my mind.

For 30 years now, in times of stress and strain, when something has me backed against the wall and I'm ready to do something really stupid with my anger, a sorrowful face appears in my mind and asks, "Fulchum. Problem or inconvenience?"

I think of this as the Wollman Test of Reality. Life is lumpy. And a lump in the oatmeal, and lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same lump. One should learn the difference. Good night, Sig."

From: Uh-Oh: Some Observations from Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door (2001), p. 146

All his essays are GREAT! I love them! And, by the way, this is posted here with his permission - all he asks is to be given credit for his work.
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Head of the Night Crew for WA State
11 Years
Jan 27, 2009
One of Robert Fulghum tales that has always stayed with me was a story about how he was having coffee one morning and observed a neighbor on her way to work. She stepped out of her home and walked into a spider web. She of course lost it and had to go back and change clothes and what not. That is when Robert Fulghum mentioned the other victim of the event. What was the spider thinking, and how did she feel about the loss of her's entire mornings work. Since reading that I have always considered what it means to be animal, and what what they think or feel about my actions.

This is a serious paraphrase of the actual tale that I read, but it has been a lot of years.


Aug 24, 2009
BC Canada
I also think he is great. I love his " All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten"

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.
ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do
and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not
at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the
sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don't hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don't take things that aren't yours.

Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.


Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life - learn some and think some
and draw and paint and sing and dance and play
and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,
hold hands, and stick together.

Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup:
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody
really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even
the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die.
So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books
and the first word you learned - the biggest
word of all - LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation.
Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any of those items and extrapolate it into
sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your
family life or your work or your government or
your world and it holds true and clear and firm.
Think what a better world it would be if
all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about
three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with
our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments
had a basic policy to always put thing back where
they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you
are - when you go out into the world, it is best
to hold hands and stick together.

Robert Fulghum, 1990.
Found in Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, Villard Books: New York, 1990, page 6-7.


9 Years
Sep 15, 2010
I've never read any of his work before. Its so logical I think a lot of people in this world could do with applying these thoughts to life. How much better it would be. Thankyou for posting these Im off to google to find some more.

Kelly G

It's like herding cats!
12 Years
Mar 19, 2008
Tampa (Wesley Chapel), Florida
My Coop
My Coop
It's so interesting...and I'm glad you posted this. I read this too...but I like your interpretation of it....when I read it, all I related too was the woman needing to restart her day because of her run-in with the spider!

That is (of course!) another one of my favorites, too! It's the one that hooked me first...Women's Day magazine ran this when the book was first published, and I ran out and purchased the book immediately.

I also like the follow up essay he did on this - it was so touching...and a reminder we that we have it better than many others. Start reading at page 103:

Here is his list of books on his website that he's written:

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