All I Really Need to Know I Learned…

Playful essays by Mel Brooks, Ozzy Osbourne and others celebrating the Robert Fulghum best-seller, All I Really Know I Learned in Kindergarten, prove intrepid soul-searching isn't contained to the classroom.

from Reader's Digest | February 2012
  • Loading

    Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was a bestseller in 1988. Its simple message of sharing, kindness, and a work/play balance is, after all, the stuff of satisfying adulthood too. Of course, in kindergarten, we also threw blocks at each other's head, so intrepid soul-searchers Ozzy Osbourne, Patricia Cornwell, and Walter Mosley -- among others -- have sought inspiration elsewhere.

    Prison is no place I want to be.
    By Ozzy Osbourne
    When I was 17, I wanted to be accepted into a local gang. I ended up robbing a neighborhood shop and got caught. The court ordered me to pay the fine, but I didn't have the money. I went to my father, but he refused to pay it, so they put me in prison for six weeks. Being in prison surrounded by hardened criminals scared the piss out of me. It scared me straight, so to speak, to the point where I don't even like to tell as much as a small fib these days. Singer Ozzy Osbourne's new book is Trust Me, I'm Dr. Ozzy: Advice from Rock's Ultimate Survivor (Grand Central Publishing).

    ... At Starbucks.

    You can find community in a $4 cup of coffee.
    By Bryant Simon as told to Lisa Goff

    I visited more than 400 Starbucks in nine countries while researching my book Everything but the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks, and I was impressed with how much we all need a place to go where we feel like we belong — where we can connect with other people. I watched customers practice their orders so they could speak fluent Starbucks-ese. I heard baristas ask about their customers' weekends and aging parents. On top of that, I witnessed a few hookups and breakups and overheard a woman discussing a complicated divorce with her lawyer. Public spaces, it seems, are essential to private life in America. Bryant Simon is director of American Studies at Temple University, Philadelphia.

    ... from being a bit actor.

    The key to life is listening. By James Garner My first acting job was in 1954, in the Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. Most of the action takes place in a military courtroom. I played one of six judges on the bench. None of us had any lines. Being onstage without speaking for two hours every night taught me that the most important part of acting is listening. When you're not listening, you're daydreaming: "Where should I have dinner after the show? Maybe have a couple drinks first?" Before you know it, you lose track of what's happening in the scene. That's a problem with a lot of actors. They don't listen. You can see the vacant look in their eyes as they wait for their chance to talk. But if you listen carefully, you hear what the other actor is saying and you're involved. The lesson from Caine Mutiny applies to real life: A lot of us are so eager to be heard, we forget to listen to the other guy. But when you shut up and pay attention to people, it keeps you engaged, and you learn all kinds of things. On the other hand, you never learn anything while talking. Actor James Garner's autobiography is The Garner Files (Simon & Schuster).

    ... from cable news.

    There's a fine line between real and fake.
    By Beth Littleford

    My first big gig was as a correspondent on Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

    My job was to parody TV reporters and political pundits. As a result, I was often invited onto cable news shows as comic relief. But somewhere along the way, the lines blurred. On the day the House voted on President Clinton's impeachment, one show had me on alongside some real political heavyweights. I thought I was there to make Monica Lewinsky jokes, but instead I was at the center of a heated debate about the constitutional grounds for impeachment. After being browbeaten by the host and the other guests regarding the finer points of "obstruction of justice," I finally had to stop everything and say — on air — "You do know I'm not a real reporter." There was an uncomfortable silence before the host threw to commercial. I was never asked back again.

    Beth Littleford is a comedian and an actress.

    ... from watching Star Trek.

    Always stop to help someone in distress. And never wear a red shirt to work.
    By Dave Marinaccio, as told to Lisa Goff

    It's a fact: Every situation one might ever confront in life has already been faced by the crew of the Starship Enterprise NCC-1701.

    Throughout their long voyage, they've learned how to treat their friends, pick up girls, get ahead on the job, and bandage wounded silicon-based life-forms. So when I started my own advertising company, in the 1990s, I made it a point to follow Captain Kirk's example. The first thing I did was to learn to trust the people who work for me. After all, I can't fly this ship myself. Like Kirk, if someone is in trouble, I'm quick to help him — someday I'll be the one on the business end of a Salt Vampire or in trouble with Tribbles, needing a helping hand. No matter what the bad guys throw my way, I try to end each day with a laugh. If nothing else, it confuses the opposition. Should I encounter a strange new world, I explore it, even if I have to boldly go where no man has gone before. One other thing I learned from watching Star Trek: Never, ever wear a red shirt to work. The aliens always shoot the guy in the red shirt first.

    Dave Marinaccio is the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek (Crown Publishers).



    ... in World War II.

    Duck! By Mel Brooks Never stand up. That's what World War II taught me. Number one, you might be picked for detail. Number two, the Germans have a better shot at you. Even now, I'm in a perpetual crouch so that nobody picks me for extra duties. Mel Brooks is a screenwriter, an actor, and a director. Source: Esquire.

    ... from Stephen King’s The Shining.

    You don't go crazy overnight.
    By Marti Resteghini, as told to Lisa Goff

    Yes, a couple mired in marital un-bliss should find a way to regain their intimacy and spend more time together. Be that as it may, a six-month stay locked inside a secluded, empty hotel for the winter is not the best solution. Especially when the husband's a wacko.

    Jack was a dull and troubled boy long before he and his family checked into the haunted Overlook Hotel in The Shining.

    How could his wife not have noticed? If movies have taught us anything, it's that there are always telltale signs that your loved one is losing it (think every other movie shown on the Lifetime Channel). Since I do wonder just how Jack-like my husband and I would end up being if we were confined to the middle of a snowy nowhere for six months, I have taken the sage yet simple lesson gleaned from The Shining seriously: Keep close tabs on your spouse, or you might wake up one day next to a maniacal stranger.

    Marti Resteghini is editor-in-chief of KoldCast Entertainment Media.


    ... in the emergency room.

    Don't undersell yourself.
    By Andy Borowitz

    A few years ago, I went to the ER for abdominal pain. The desk where I checked in was called the "triage unit" — not the most comforting name for a unit — and they asked me to rate my pain on a scale from one to ten, ten being worst. Trying not to brag (I was raised in Ohio, where we're taught to be modest about all things, including abdominal pain), I said six. The result of that: I was ignored for hours, while the ER staff busied themselves with those liars who answered seven through ten.

    From now on, if I ever find myself in the emergency room, on line with the phone company, or arguing with my wife, and I'm asked to measure pain of any sort on a scale from one through ten, I'm answering 11. A squeaky wheel never says six.

    Satirist Andy Borowitz's new book is The 50 Funniest American Writers (Library of America).

    ... on November 22, 1963.

    Anybody can be replaced in under a second.
    By Walter Mosely

    I was 11 in 1963, and up till then, the single greatest event that I knew for the advancement of black people in the United States was the election of John F. Kennedy. We felt he was our president. That's because he seemed to be concerned about civil rights and integration. Just the fact that he would mention it was monumental because black America existed in prominent obscurity. It was like we were there, but we weren't there. So Kennedy was the most important thing to my young child's mind, so much so that I felt like he was a friend, a part of the family. Then, in November '63, he was assassinated, and it was the first time I had the experience of losing someone.

    So anyway, I'm a kid, right, and one of the things that happened in the ensuing days is that television as I knew it ceased. Every station, every hour of every day, was talking about the assassination. And there's only so much a kid can deal with that. But I was still watching because that's the nature of television: obsession. At one point, I see this really tall guy standing next to Jackie Kennedy. I turned to my father and said, "Dad, who's that?" And he said, "That's the president." And I said, "No, Dad. John F. Kennedy was the president." He said, "Yeah, and the moment he died, this man became president." And I just looked at him and said, "That fast?" And he snapped his fingers: "Like that."

    And I realized that's how important the most important man in the world was. He could be replaced in an instant. It was a lesson I never forgot. In fact, I was talking to a friend the other day. He was telling me, "I'm leaving my job, but I gotta stay because I have to help them blah blah." And I said, "You don't have to do anything. You leave, and they'll take care of their own business; they don't need you. You may want to stay. You may want to help them. But never make the mistake of thinking that you're so important that the world can't live without you, because no one is that important, ever."

    Walter Mosley's new book is All I Did Was Shoot My Man (Riverhead Books).

    ... from being a crime-beat reporter.

    Good ideas come unannounced.
    By Patricia Cornwell

    In 1980, when I was a brand-new police reporter at the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina, I broke my first national news story — and another reporter got the credit. Sometimes being cheated has its rewards.

    It was a sultry summer's night, and I was making my rounds at the police department when a sergeant slipped me a note: Three death-row inmates had hacksawed their way out of the Georgia State Prison and were believed to be hiding in the area. A fourth escaped inmate was dead. I investigated nonstop, but when the three escapees were captured, my byline was left off the story. Devastated, I turned my attention to the dead body. Police had yet to confirm he'd been murdered. I decided to find out. It was after midnight when I called the hospital where the body had been taken and began to quiz a nurse about premortem injuries and postmortem artifacts.

    "I don't know. His body's downstairs in the refrigerator," she said. "I haven't seen it."

    "If you could just take a look."

    "Well, I don't know ..."

    Somehow I persuaded her and stayed on the line rather breathlessly as I imagined her descending into the bowels of the hospital and pulling back the sheet. With the opening of that morgue's refrigerator door, Dr. Kay Scarpetta came to life.

    Patricia Cornwell's latest novel is Red Mist (Putnam), featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

    ... from doing stand up.

    There’s nothing constructive about criticism.
    By Craig Sharf

    I had been doing comedy for a couple of years when I performed at a restaurant in New Jersey. It was a small audience, and after a pretty laughless set, an older gentleman -- clearly not suffering from his obvious inebriation -- sidled up to me and pleasantly asked if I would care for some constructive criticism. I said I would. Wrapping an arm around my shoulder, he whispered, "You aren't very funny."

    So what valuable life lesson could I possibly have learned? This: If I was going to succeed as a comedian, I was going to have to do it without being funny.

    Craig Sharf is a comedian.

    Your Comments

    • Jean Turley

      Good for Ozzy!  I believe we can learn something from any situation we experience.  Some kids would have gotten angry or bitter, and blamed it on the “establishment.”  Instead, Ozzy  accepted his situation, and became a better man for it.  The rest of his life is a testament to all he was able to accomplish, because of his decision at that critical time in his life.  

      I had to think about this before writing this comment, because as my 6 children were growing up, I had a son that idolized you (KISS), and I didn’t think your group was anyone I wanted him to admire.  He had a poster of KISS on his bedroom wall, and I tried to talk him into taking it down.  I didn’t want your painted fierce faces, to be the last thing he saw before going to sleep every night. He grew up to be a good man, got a college degree, and has a family he really loves.  

      Reading of your experience and your decision is admirable, and I will forward this e-mail to him.  Thank you for sharing.  (I think you have the most beautiful wife, and bless her – she saw the good in you, instead of all the paint and hard rock music.)

      • Guest

        Not that this undermines your wonderful comment, Ms. Turley, but, just for clarification, Ozzy wasn’t in KISS.