The Poundstone Report

Twenty years ago I didn't know that British people always use those accents or that lip balm is addictive.

In this suitable-for-framing 20-year anniversary edition of Mother Jones, some of the greatest thinkers, philosophers, and artists of our time have been asked the question: "What are the lessons of the past 20 years?"

It would have been nice, I think, to include the insights of some intellectuals here on the back page as well, but I found that I had learned so many lessons myself in the last 20 years (age 15 to 35), there simply wasn't room for anyone else's lessons.

1975: I am much less mature than the kids on "Welcome Back, Kotter"; my parents are somewhat insane; I can kill a fly by clapping my hands five inches above where it's sitting; rejection is very attractive.

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1976: "Bicentennial Minutes" on TV are a big turnoff to the study of history; I can hold 12 empty coffee cups by putting a cup handle over each finger and thumb and setting two more in my left hand. 1977: I am somewhat insane; "What goes around comes around"; the Marx Brothers are very funny; three kitchen chairs pushed together can make an excellent bed.

1978: Florida sucks; if one person asks you for water you may as well bring it to the whole table or they'll ask one at a time and slowly suck the life out of you (this lesson was taught to me by Patsy, who trained me to work the graveyard shift at the International House of Pancakes in Orlando, Florida); if a character at Disney World faints, they can't take his head off until he's behind the scenes.

1979: Everyone's parents are somewhat insane; bus stations are located in the armpit of every city; holidays are no time to visit the family; the lessons of the fruit fly experiment from high school biology will have no application in my adult life, either.

1980: Johnny Carson wasn't doing those jokes off the top of his head; money is at the bottom of everything in California.

1981: There is absolutely no relationship between what goes around and what comes around; the brush that runs along the perimeter of the floor attachment on the vacuum cleaner pushes dirt away from the sucking chamber--for best results, trim brush.

1982: I learned no lessons in 1982.

1983: The "Welcome Back, Kotter" kids were played by adults; there are no depths to which someone will not sink; there is no such thing as an honest auto mechanic (if you have one that you trust, either you're wrong and you're being ripped off, or the mechanic is willing to be honest with you because he has plenty of cash from ripping off others); rejection is very, very attractive.

1984: Kids don't belong on airplanes; always keep Pop-Tarts in your carry-on bag; British people use those accents all the time; everyone is somewhat insane.

1985: Lip balm is addictive--it soothes your lips for a second and then it peels them off; spend the buck for the cart at the airport; hippos are so large they have to be in water to have sex.

1986: First class on an airplane is not as good as a whole row in the back; nasal spray is addictive--it eases congestion temporarily and then doubles it.

1987: People were paid to scream for Elvis and the Beatles; when employees aren't doing their jobs well, a pay increase will not guilt-trip them into improvements.

1988: Two triangles, pointing to each other with a vertical line in between, mean close the elevator doors; Walt Disney wanted Bette Davis to play Mary Poppins.

1989: The Greatest Show on Earth is an incredibly bad movie; the Otis Elevator Building in Dayton, Ohio, has only one floor.

1990: The dealer almost always has 20; including band in a school's curriculum was the marketing brainchild, long ago, of a seller of band equipment--the National Association of Music Merchants celebrates his birthday as a deeply religious holiday.

1991: Barbara Bush used to start the applause for George Bush's speeches (if you look closely at Elvis concert footage, that was her, too); a dishwasher makes an excellent filing system; the elastic goes out in Carter's high-waisted cotton briefs after about seven years, but you can still cut it and tie it for each use and get a good two or three more years' wear out of them.

1992: Some people look good in anything; I am not at all like some people; Lauren Bacall doesn't actually take Royal Caribbean Cruises.

1993: People who have jobs, kids, and sex can't possibly have time to read; my kids are the rare exception to the kids-on-the-airplane rule; "The Price Is Right" set is not that nice close-up; a phone in the bathroom reduces stress; "Rotate the tires" means moving them to different wheels; it's OK not to answer the phone.

1994: Most people on welfare couldn't plan far enough ahead to scam the government, even if they wanted to; it's OK not to answer the door; never try to make a sleeping baby more comfortable--they like their heads falling off.

1995: Sleep should be considered in any scheduling; it's OK, even advisable, to lie to yourself; done correctly, almost nothing is more satisfying than vacuuming; it's OK to hide in the closet; rejection is incredibly attractive.

I'm sure that I learned more than this in 20 years, but this is all I remember. What do we learn from that? I should have taken better notes.