The Day I Got Real

By Robert Fulchum

Taken with the unkind permission of Readers Digest Magazine

When I was 22 I had a job in a resort hotel that combined being the night receptionist and helping the horses at the riding stables. The Manager and I did not get on. I thought he was a fascist who wanted peasant employees who knew their place. I was just out of university and pretty free with my opinions

One week the staff had been served the same thing for lunch every single day. Two frankfurters, a mound of sauerkrat and stale bread rolls. To compound insult with injury , the cost of the meals was deducted from our paypackets. I was outraged.

On Friday night of that awful week, I was at my desk and the man who did the books overnight had just come on duty. I went into the kitchen and saw a note to the chef saying that frankfurters and sauerkrat were on the staff menu for two more days.

That did it. For lack of any better audience, I complained to Sigmund Wollman the night auditor. I declared that I was going to get a plate of frankfurters and sauerkrat, wake up the owner and throw it at him. Nobody was going to make me eat frankfurters and sauerkrat for a whole week and make me pay for it and I didn't even like frankfurters and sauerkrat enough to eat them for even one day and I was packing my bags. Something like that.

As I threw 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 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 liked- all the frankfurters and sauerkrat he wanted. To him, a feast. More than that there was nobody around to tell him what to do. In Auschwitz he had dreamt of such a time. The only person he saw at work was me, the nightly disturber of his dream.Our shifts overlapped by one hour. And here I was, a one-man war party in full cry

" Lissen, Fulchum Lissen me, lissen me. You know whats wrong with you ? Its not the frankfurters and kraut and its not the boss and its not this job". "So whats wrong with me?" "Fulchum you think you know everything, but you don't know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire- then you've got a problem. Everything else is an 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"

Seldom in my life have I ever been hit between the eyes so hard with the truth. There in that late night darkness Sigmund Wollman simultaneously slapped me in the face 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 imagination and asks "Fulchum, Problem or inconvenience?" I think of this as the Wollman Test of Reality. Life is lumpy. And a lump in the porridge , a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same lump. One should learn the difference. Goodnight, Sig.