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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Me and Andy

Originally published November 7, 2011

I know, I know, it should be Andy and I, but as the Andy might have said, “If I wanted to say Paul and I, I would have said Paul and I. I know the rule and I broke it because it suited me, so sue me”. Best practices are to know the rules before breaking them. In this case I do. Mostly I don’t. Last time I diagramed a sentence was in junior high. Now they don’t even have junior high. Now they probably teach texting or even sexting. I’ve done the former, but not the latter.

I’m one of those that still believes phones are for talking and real phones have a cord attached to them. An exciting day for me was when I got my first cordless phone. I took a walk into the backyard and kept talking. What’s more I kept listening. I was actually able to hold a conversation without being attached to the rest of the world.

Cell phones, on the other hand are a different matter. For a long time I considered them a passing fad and an unnecessary luxury. Do you remember that they were originally called “car phones” and were the personal province of stock brokers and lawyers? Probably not. They used to mount on dashboards and were about the size of a home phone, they even had a cord! They were the essence of status. The next installment came with a should strap and was about the size of a WWII walkie-talkie. I’m guessing this was 1980-something and the digital revolution was still picking up steam. The Sony Walkman was cutting edge and joggers everywhere were thrilled. If you still have one, I’ll gladly take it off your hands. I have an anti-skip CD player I’ll trade for it. Deal? No?

OK back to the telephone. It was patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. There is a apocryphal story of its invention. Bell was in his laboratory when he spilled some acid. In his panic, he shouted into his prototype invention, “Watson, come here! I need you!” And sure enough his assistant in the next room came to his aid. This is probably not true, but I like it. Every great invention should have an apocryphal story. Even Archimedes jumped from his bath tub shouting “Eureka!” when he invented the wheel or one of those ancient Greek things, like algebra or hummus. Thanks to Archimedes, miners now have something to shout when they discover gold.

But I digress, again. What was I talking about? I think it was Andy Rooney , who passed this weekend. It is not my idea of a good Sunday to wake up to the headline, “Andy Is Dead”. There was no mistaking it: it could only be Andy Rooney, a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon and longtime commentator on 60 Minutes. Rooney lampooned the English language and the minutia of daily life like no other. He knew the value of a word misplaced, and he knew that an archaic term spoke to some viewers and perplexed others. Either way he had their attention.

He was a professional complainer and a hero of mine. Once in awhile he would wander too far from the reservation. A commentary on race offended the guardians of political speech, and as the usual suspects raised hell, Rooney saw the writing on the wall. More than one public citizen has had his career torpedoed by repeating publicly what is often said privately. While not retracting his words, he expressed regret. I was disappointed. I wanted him to make a noble stand against political correctness, but Rooney saw the wisdom of bending before breaking and lived to complain another day–many other days.

Andy Rooney had been a fixture on CBS’s 60 Minutes for decades. He could create a story from thin air. Nothing was too mundane. He could talk about paper clips and make it seem funny. I could tell you a few more facts about his landing on Omaha Beach and his first hand accounts of World War II, but they just wouldn’t capture the man. As it turns out, Rooney is a YouTube star. There are scores of Andy Rooney and psuedo-Andy videos online.

So here’s to the memory of Andy Rooney and all the wry smiles he gave me. He is one of my personal heroes, and I feel his loss like some felt the loss of Steve Jobs. We are all the less for it. I’ll remember him each time I whine about matters large and small and hope in some way he will look down and approve.

Andy Rooney died this past Friday at the age of 92. He worked for seven decades as a journalist in print and on television. His last broadcast was October 2nd. He leaves behind four children, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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