the summer of 1959, at the Feather River Inn near the town
of Blairsden in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern
California. A resort environment. And I, just
out of college, have a job that combines being the night
desk clerk in the lodge and helping out with the
horse-wrangling at the stables. The owner/manager is
Italian-Swiss, with European notions about conditions of
employment. He and I do not get along. I think
he's a fascist who wants pleasant employees who know their
place, and he thinks I'm a good example of how democracy
can be carried too far. I'm twenty-two and pretty
free with my opinions, and he's fifty-two and has a few
opinions of his own.
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 meals was deducted from our
check. I was outraged.
On Friday night of that awful week, I was at my desk job
around 11:00 P.M., and the night auditor had just come on
duty. I went into the kitchen to get a bite to eat
and saw notes to the chef to the effect that wieners and
sauerkraut are on the employee menu for two more days.
That tears it. I quit! For lack of a better
audience, I unloaded on the night auditor, Sigmund Wollman.
I declared that I have had it up to here; that I am going
to get a plate of wieners and sauerkraut and go and wake
up the owner and throw it on him.
am sick and tired of this crap and insulted and nobody is
going to make me eat wieners and sauerkraut for a whole
week and make me pay for it and who does he think he is
anyhow and how can life be sustained on wieners and
sauerkraut and this is un-American and I don't like
wieners and sauerkraut enough to eat it one day for God's
sake and the whole hotel stinks anyhow and the horses are
all nags and the guests are all idiots and I'm packing my
bags and heading for Montana where they never even heard
of wieners and sauerkraut and wouldn't feed that stuff to
the pigs. Something like that. I'm still mad
I raved on this way for twenty minutes, and needn't repeat
it all here. You get the drift. 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. A call to arms, freedom,
unions, uprisings, and the breaking of chains for the
As I pitched my fit, Sigmund Wollman, the night auditor,
sat quietly on his stool, smoking a cigarette, watching me
with sorrowful eyes. Put a bloodhound in a suit and
tie and you have Sigmund Wollman. He's got good
reason to look sorrowful. Survivor of
Auschwitz. Three years. German Jew.
Thin, coughed a lot. He liked being alone at the
night job--gave him intellectual space, gave him 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 wanted. To him, a feast. More
than that, there's nobody around at night to tell him what
to do. In Auschwitz he dreamed of such a time.
The only person he sees at work is me, the nightly
disturber of his dream. Our shifts overlap for an
hour. And here I am again. A one-man war party
at full cry.
"Fulchum, are you finished?"
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 this job."
"So what's wrong with me?"
"Fulchum, you think you know everything, but you
don't know the difference between an inconvenience and a
"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 separate 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 with a
truth so hard. Years later I heard a Japanese Zen
Buddhist priest describe what the moment of enlightenment
was like and I knew exactly what he meant. There in
that late-night darkness of the Feather River Inn, Sigmund
Wollman simultaneously kicked my butt and opened a window
in my mind.
For thirty 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, a lump in the
throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same
lump. One should learn the difference. Good
has put together another volume of bite-sized
inspirational whimsies. Drawn from his experiences
as a child, as a preacher, and from everyday life,
Fulghum's eye-opening (although never moralistic
or preachy) anecdotes are written in a comfortable
and unpretentious style, giving one the homey
feeling of sitting on grandpa's porch on a lazy
Sunday afternoon sipping iced tea. It is worth
taking the time to appreciate simple pleasures and
human kindness in today's hectic and stress-filled