Saturday, November 5, 2011
A Few More Minutes with Andy Rooney
I'm having a trouble imagining a world without Andy Rooney. It's kind of like trying to imagine Star Wars without Yoda. How else are we supposed to move on with our lives while having to put up with its everyday absurdities, banalities, and garden variety foolery? Did I just write the word "foolery"?
Andy worked almost right up until the end. As writers we never retire. But he did give up the TV gig with 60 Minutes only a month ago, which should serve as a sort of be a warning to those seniors who insist on working well into their golden years. Don't give up the day job!
I can just picture this week's A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney if only we were to be graced with one more. He'd appear in the crumpled up suit he pulled out from under his bed, even though God would probably offer him a nicer choice of threads. He might look a little younger, maybe because he wouldn't be in pain. Old age is often accompanied by aches and pains. He might bear a little more of a smile. His eyebrows might be trimmed. But I think otherwise, he'd be the same old crotchety Andy. The subject of his spot would be "Retiring."
"It's not retiring that's hard," he'd write. "It's the dying part of retirement that is."
He might say that had he known he was gonna cash it all in within a month of retirement, he would have negotiated a better end-of-career bonus with the network. He would have coined this as a "Sure to Perish Immediately Upon Retirement" clause or something like that. Then he might have mentioned other famous men and women who have "retired" and died soon after. Since I can't think of anyone famous who has died very soon after quitting their job, I can tell you that I've had a couple of uncles who retired from the construction business and died within a year or so. It's a warning for my dad who at 76 is still putting in a full week. Keep working!!!
Andy was an everyman's writer in that he didn't believe in writer's block anymore than a plumber believes in plumber's block. He once wrote: "Writers are repeatedly asked to explain where they get their ideas. People want their secret. The truth is there is no secret and writers don't have many new ideas. At least, they don't have many ideas that a comic strip artist would illustrate with a light bulb over their heads."
Andy's ideas came from the everyday. Like procrastinating before getting to work. Or having to deal with pulling out all that cotton filling in your plastic bottle of Advil. Once he wrote about how the French had expelled something like 47 then Soviet spies that year from France. "That's a lot of spies," he wrote.
I mean, how can you not smile and laugh a little on the inside when you read that?
I've met Andy on a few occasions, most of them having to do with a private high school we both attended up in Albany called The Albany Academy. I attended the place in the 80s and Andy in the 30s. The place has changed a lot in the many years since I moped around its marble halls. But back in the early 80s it wasn't much different than the school that Andy attended. It was a military country day prep school that prided itself on discipline as much as it did sports and the arts. We wore military uniforms and ate not in a cafeteria, but a "buttery." Also, Andy played left guard for the football team and so did I. We played the same position and we were both under five feet, eight inches. We took a lot of pounding in those four years, but we gave a lot out too. Maybe that's why we became writers. All that head banging will prevent you from looking at the world in a conventional way.
I guess I've known Andy my whole life, having first taken notice of him when 60 Minutes would pop on the TV after the New York Giants football games. Even if we were bummed out about the Giants losing a barn burner to the rival Dallas Cowboys in the last minute of the last quarter, and even if we were in a black mood over having to go to school or work in the morning, we could always count on Andy gracing the screen in his wrinkled suit. You'd wait for the topic of his "few minutes" with baited breath. When finally he'd come out with something like, "It costs us almost a quarter for every mile we drive a car," we knew we were in for something special about something not so special. And that getting up in the morning and putting on your socks one at a time, wasn't all that different from the life he was living. Andy was just a regular guy in possession of an extraordinary talent.
I'm going to miss Andy Rooney and his words and his unconventional wisdom about the conventional. I'm going to miss running into him and having to remind him of my name and what I do for a living. That stuff never bothered me because I was such a fan with a little hero worship sprinkled in. Did you know that during World War II Andy spent about an hour hiding in a ditch alongside a road that had been strafed by German planes along with Ernest Hemingway? How many people can brag about something like that? But Andy would be the last guy on earth to talk about Papa. He'd be more apt to comment on how every buffet you dine at no matter how nice the facility always offers you Sweedish meatballs. He'd write about how you couldn't resist the Sweedish meatballs even after some of the gravy got on your tie and stained it. He'd show up on TV the next week with the same tie and the same stain. It would become a heated topic of discussion. A philosophy. A reason to carry on in the everyday.
Enjoy the afterlife Andy.
Keep being you.