Robert Fulghum wrote a wonderful book called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” It’s about the simple rules that people learn in kindergarten for how to act and be and treat others, and how those rules are really the wisdom we need to live a good life. It’s a great book. Read it right away.

Unfortunately, I didn’t go to kindergarten. My younger sister went, so the reasons I missed it always seemed vague to me. I was a squinty little runt then, so perhaps my parents wanted to hold off and give me from age 5 to age 6 to fill out. But the fact is that I didn’t go, so I didn’t learn any of that important stuff that Mr. Fulghum wrote about in his book.

Instead of spending that year in kindergarten, I spent it at home annoying my parents. That may be less socially acceptable, but I maintain that it was not time wasted. I learned lessons just as valuable as any that kindergarten could have taught me. These are the things I learned:

Persistence pays off. You can ask for something more times than someone else can say no without bursting a blood vessel.

Don’t get caught.

When the beatings are taking place, be somewhere else.

Playing outside is always more rewarding than working inside.

If you just lie, you will always get caught. If you tell most of the truth, you will often get away with it.

Be nice to the dog. He’ll hang out under the table, and you can slip him the food you hate.

Crying to get what you want is only successful in proportion to how cute you are.

Any number of things can be temporarily hidden while you make your getaway.

You should always share while people who have power over you are watching.

There’s always someone stronger and smarter than you. You have to be sneakier and more ruthless.

When you’re in trouble, your peers make valuable allies and convenient scapegoats.

When you have time, imagination, and people to target, there’s no such thing as boredom.

Sometimes you have to accept that the answer is, “No.” You do not have to accept that the answer is, “Never.”

Indulging in too many good things will make you puke.

If you want something, always ask first. If that doesn’t work, then you can employ other methods.

Anger is normal and acceptable for human beings. Force feeding someone a Tonka truck is not.

Stealing something (like a cookie) always makes noise, even if you don’t think it does.

They can make you go to bed, but they can’t make you stop asking for glasses of water.

And finally, never underestimate people’s capacity to forgive you, even when you absolutely don’t deserve it.

When did politics become more important than sex? Every person I know isn’t just talking about politics, they’re breathing fire about it. I’m not apolitical. I have opinions. But politics has become like a demolition derby, except that all the cars have slush funds and great hair. Every political party conjures an ocean of facts and evidence to prove it’s right, and I’d almost prefer that we could just tell them to bring us the Holy Grail and then we’d listen to them. Honestly, if I could figure out which party was lying to us the most, I’d go to their headquarters, ring the bell, and leave a flaming bag of dog shit.

I took my pathetic political ignorance to the wisest man I know, Fat Mike, the owner of Fat Mike’s Rib Shack. It was 112 degrees in the shack, and Fat Mike was sweating like a horse after the Kentucky Derby. I bought a pound and a half of beef brisket and asked him to explain politics.

Fat Mike waved his flyswatter like a magic wand and said, “Bubba, the problem is that the thing people think is politics ain’t really politics. It’s actually policy. Whatever you think and want—that’s policy. The way you get it—that’s politics.” He nodded at me in dismissal and turned away to stir up two gallons of iced tea with the long end of a framing square.

I cleared my throat, and when Mike glanced around I gave him a look of gaping incomprehension. “All right, I see you’re slow,” he said. He flopped his sausage-like forearms on the counter and deigned to continue. “Imagine that you’re two years old, and you’re at the grocery store. You see some piece of crap plastic toy car, and you decide you need the thing. That is policy. Since your mom ain’t dumb and knows the car will fall apart after ten minutes in your destructive hands, she says no. You don’t like it, so you pitch backwards on the floor in the middle of the store and shriek like your testicles are being torn off. I mean, dogs in the street are dropping dead.” Mike leered at me and slapped the counter, smearing some barbeque sauce. “That’s your way of getting what you want, Bubba. That’s politics.”

Mike turned back to his iced tea and dumped in eight cups of Imperial Pure Cane Sugar. I waited, pondering what he’d told me. As Mike ambled back to the counter, scratching a hole in the belly of his stained wife-beater undershirt, he said, “Damn it to hell, are you still here?” I thought about the futility of telling him I was a customer, and instead I nodded. Mike shook his head and said, “All right, since you’re so particularly dim today, let me break it down for you. Policy and politics are important, ‘cause we got big problems right now. But if you don’t keep the two separate in your mind, it’ll hose you up every time.

“Before I found sanity, I had a corporate job,” Mike said. I would have been less surprised to hear he’d been a millionaire Cambodian transvestite. “A lady I worked with got an impossible project. Some people wanted it work, some people hated the idea, and that was policy, all fine and swell. But the Big VP who hated it the most got himself made sponsor of that project. However, my friend’s own boss VP wanted that project to work real bad, and he had some pull.”

Mike sniffed a pan of peach cobbler, poked his finger in it, licked the cobbler off and nodded. “My friend was real smart and worked damn hard. Whenever the Big VP screwed her over, she went to her own VP, and he’d give her some good advice. She’d go follow that advice, but that son of a bitch Big VP would just screw her up again. The project was going nowhere, and everybody was getting pissed at my friend.

Finally, my friend’s VP told her to just fire the Big VP as her sponsor. I tell you, she was pretty shocked. She didn’t realize she could do such a thing. But the project was going in the ditch, so she went to the Big VP and fired him. You cannot possibly imagine the shit storm that fell on her then. Everything happened to her except getting turned into a pillar of salt.”

Fat Mike leaned back against the far counter and jostled an aluminum tray, spilling a good trickle of bean juice down his Bermuda shorts. He said, “My friend’s career was ruined. She’d have to move to Guam to get a job washing the cafeteria tables. She went to her own VP weeping to ask what had happened and whether he could help her. He laughed at her and said, ‘I guess you won’t be on the Big VP’s Christmas card list.’ You see, her own VP never had given a crap about the project. The whole time he was just using her to make the Big VP look bad.”

Mike tapped a Camel out of its pack and lit it with a shiny Ronson. He sucked in a drag as if it was his ticket through the Pearly Gates and said, “That, Bubba, is politics.”

They don’t look so vicious now. Wait until they grow up and start taking PAC money.


Even from a young age, I have always been ambitious. At 4 years old I elevated my sights far beyond those of my peers. When other children were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, they said things like an astronaut, or Superman, or a professional basketball player. I, on the other hand, wanted to be a buffalo and go out in the backyard and eat grass.

Now here I am years later, striding through the prime of my professional life. By the measures common to my people, to my family and others I know, my professional accomplishments have been reasonably successful. Yet when it’s quiet and drowsy in the evening I reflect that there’s very little grass in my diet, and I almost never buy shoes more than two at a time. Clearly I am the most abominable sort of pathetic failure.

Despite great amounts of retrospection, I can’t chart that point at which I strayed from the path of my true ambition. I just drifted off course like a drunken conquistador who lands in Inverness and insists on converting the Loch Ness Monster to Catholicism. Sure, it’s a lofty goal and a hell of a challenge. But somewhere along the way the point of the whole thing was lost.

My professional life is doing okay. I’m not bitching about my job. I’m just perplexed by the disconnect in my aspirations that has evolved over the years.

I went to work for myself when I was young. I’d like to observe something about working for yourself. It absolutely ruins you as an employee who works for other people—especially in a corporate environment. I am in no way kidding about this. You will forever be comparing your boss’s decisions with the decisions you would have made instead. If you’re an arrogant ass-jacket like me, you will usually think that your decisions are brilliant. You will always struggle between your conviction that your decision would have been perfect and the reality that it was not your damned decision to make.

When I went to work for myself, that would have been the perfect time for some ambition realignment. Yet I did nothing of the kind, and I can fault only my own weakness. I had allowed myself to be intimidated by the measures of my people. You see, when you’re four and want to be a buffalo, it’s charming. When you’re in fourth grade and want to be a buffalo, it’s an unacceptable life goal that raises concern and derision. I tend to learn things quickly, and I learned this lesson pretty darn snappy. From that point onwards I understood that my life would be a lot easier if I provided a more acceptable answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My acceptable answer became, “I don’t know.” That remained my answer throughout my entire school career. And interestingly, that answer was invariably considered to be acceptable by everyone who ever asked the question.

Now if I were a bitter sort of person I could claim I was the victim of a certain prejudice against the buffalo lifestyle. I could also claim that such prejudice is anti-God, or at the very least anti-religious. What’s true for lilies should be true for buffalo, correct? Matthew 6:28 says, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” I’ve never seen a buffalo toil, although if I had to chew cud all day I’m pretty sure it would be an ass-whipping. Nor do the lovely beasts spin, and so what if they’re not dressed like Solomon in all his splendor? I’d like to see Solomon stand around all day in a blizzard on the Montana plains without calling on the Power of the Lord to keep his dick from snapping off like a popsicle.

But in the end I’ve fallen back on more conventional work that doesn’t require skills such as Comanche evasion and advanced grazing strategies. Because if I were to be completely honest, at some point between the ages of 4 and 20 I realized that not only do buffalo “toil not, neither do they spin,” but also they, “drive not, neither do they have dental care.”