Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Sunday, November 9, 2003

All you really need
to know is hard to recall

It's hard to believe that it's been 15 years since author Robert Fulghum reminded us that all we really need to know to live safe, happy and fulfilling lives we learned in kindergarten.

Fulghum's book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," was so pure, so simple, so obvious-after-the-fact that millions of Americans smacked themselves in the forehead and thought, "Damn! I could have written that!" No one ever smacked themselves like that when "War and Peace" came out.

Fulghum's point was that if adults remembered the simple things they learned in kindergarten, their lives would be better. Things like "share everything," "don't hit people," "put things back where you got them from," "clean your own mess," "wash your hands before eating," "flush" and, my favorite, "take a nap every day."

I saw him on a recent talk show, and he says the 15th-anniversary edition of his book has a lot of new stuff. That's good, because times change. Most kids learn all that flushing and washing-your-hands stuff in preschool. By the time they get to kindergarten, they are taking calculus and premed. I haven't read the new book, but I assume it has relevant suggestions for today's realities such as "don't hit people unless a unilateral pre-emptive strike is called for" and "put things back where you got them from, hopefully before your neighbor realizes that you took them."

I went to kindergarten in Morocco, so I don't think I learned everything I needed to know there. For instance, I learned to take care of a goat, but that talent hasn't really come in handy in later life. Ditto on learning how to count to 10 in Arabic. All I need to know about scorpions I learned in kindergarten, none of it good.

Where I really learned all I need to know was working at Steven's Super Service gas station in Aiea in high school. I learned, for instance, that when a car full of mokes pulls up in a clearly stolen car and demands gas, you give it to them. I learned that working at a gas station for two hours BEFORE school really sucks. I learned that you never "cool off" a hot engine block by spraying it with water after filling up the radiator. (That's a keeper.)

I learned some philosophical things working at the gas station. I learned that cleaning bathrooms, especially after the boss has taken his morning constitutional, is nasty business. Any education you can get that will assure you can get a job that doesn't involve cleaning someone else's bathroom is worthwhile.

My boss knew he was teaching me things when I worked there. It would be just him and me opening the station in the morning. It would be pitch black. He'd stick a cigar in his mouth and start slowly eating it. By the time we had put out the oil cans, swept the place, cleaned the bathrooms and everything else, the boss would have chewed the cigar down to just a stump. Then we'd sit down and look out at Pearl Harbor just as the sun came up. The boss would light what was left of his cigar, take a drag, exhale and say: "Charley Boy, go to school. Study hard. Don't come like me, working from sunup to sundown."

I heeded his sage advice and have tried to avoid work whenever possible. Thanks to Steven's Super Service, I became a columnist.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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