Yeah I checked a Maya reference book I have and searched google, but not until I had a keyword did I really find what I was looking for. Because "polygon divisions Maya 2008" is too vague a search term to find anything.
Upon looking through the FAQ (after the fact) I noticed someone had the same problem, but called it history, while I was looking for subdivisions (not realizing it's part of the history) -
Q : My history dose not show up, after i have done a mesh tool modification? (or like you cant switch back to 0 in the polysmoothnode
A: This can be modified by typing in the command line the following info.
constructionHistory -tgl on;
This toggles the history construction back on.
So if I had read the FAQ I still wouldn't have known the answer to my question was right there.
Sometimes it really helps to ask someone... not because of laziness, but because someone more skilled than you can probably understand what you're asking, better than a search engine or manual. It's because of forums like this, where people are willing to help each other out, that I've been able to learn anything at all really. I try to repay the favor by answering questions too... only thing is I don't know most of the answers...