Have you ever wondered what life would have been like without Andy Rooney? Not as good, I’m sure.
I used to watch 60 Minutes faithfully, mainly to catch Andy Rooney’s end pieces, as he called them. When I became less faithful to 60 Minutes, I would still try to catch the end pieces. As Andy might have said, that was easy because they came at the end. It wasn’t all that easy, though, and my efforts to get my Rooney fix tapered off, which made me feel guilty when I heard of his death last week.
Luckily, I have one of his books, Years of Minutes, which contains what he regarded as his best minutes from 1982 through 2003. This is the best kind of book to have since you can open it up anywhere and find short, bite-sized, pieces that don’t depend on what came before. They contain large truths about small things and leave you wishing you had said it first.
Andy opens 1984 by telling us he went to the Westminster Dog Show again that year. He said “Going to the dog show somehow eliminates the need I have to own a dog.” Bulldogs were his favorite. He said he would get another one if it wasnt so sad when they die. Me too. I plan to get one when I’m sure he’ll outlive me.
Leaving the apostrophe out of wasnt two lines above was not a mistake. Andy said he wrote things to read on television, so he saw no need for most apostrophes. He wrote for the ear rather than the eye.
Since we are in the middle of debate season, you might be interested in his observations on a Reagan-Mondale debate. He said President Reagan clearly won the handshake. He illustrated, Madden style, with an instant replay of the handshake: “Watch who gets across midfield first. See Reagan coming on. There he is, in good field position, over in Mondale’s territory.” He noted that Reagan drew his speech from the hip while Mondale drew from the chest. His comment on Reagan’s famous line about not taking advantage of his opponent’s youth and inexperience was somewhat surprising. He acknowledged that Reagan won points with it, but suggested that Mondale won almost as many with a winning smile in response.
Andy Rooney could put things into perspective, like jaywalking. He opened 1985 by noting that “Last year in Los Angeles, there were 818 murders and 313 of the murderers got away with it without being caught. During that same time, the Los Angeles police issued 40,747 tickets to people who were caught crossing the street illegally.
I think of Andy Rooney as the quintessential curmudgeon. He acknowledged that he was not considered a real friendly person and said he resented it. “The reason Im not considered friendly is that I only smile when I feel amused, pleased, or affectionate. I only say ‘thank you’ when I want to thank someone. I only say ‘thank you very much’ when I want to thank someone very much.” I think his curmudgeon-ness had something to do with his bushy eyebrows as well. I’m perfectly capable of matching him in the eyebrow department, but my wife won’t let me.
He gave an excellent lesson on eating ice cream cones. You make sure to pay in advance because it’s hard to make change with an ice cream in your hand. You “don’t get involved with anyone else because you can’t talk and eat ice cream at the same time. . . .No one with a beard should ever eat an ice cream cone.”
I have to take issue with him on one point. After telling us the proper way to lick an ice cream—you start at the sides and work up and you don’t twist your head or body but use your wrist—he gives bad advice. He said “being a licker is wrong. You bite an ice cream cone with your front teeth.” He couldn’t be more wrong about that. The licker—the tongue—is where the taste buds are. The teeth are where the cold buds are.
One of my favorites from 1986 is on Pill-Bottle Cotton. “Do you realize Ive been doing these comments on 60 Minutes for nine years now and havent once mentioned the cotton they put in pill bottles?”
From 1998, his piece on escalators resonated with me. “The idea of stairs that move up or down, carrying anyone standing on them, and then, folding into the floor when they get to the top or bottom is one of the craziest, most original, most work-saving inventions of all time. What brilliant nut thought of that?”
He didn’t mention this aspect of escalators, but I’ve always thought that watching your girlfriend ride up on an empty escalator would help you determine if you wanted a life-long relationship with her. The key is whether she takes a few steps on her own or just stands there to be carried up. That tells you a lot.
I don’t recall an Andy Rooney piece about carry-on luggage versus checking luggage, but there should have been one. That also tells you a lot about whether someone is marriage material.
I haven’t come close to using up my dog ears in Andy Rooney’s Years of Minutes, but this is already getting too long. Do yourself a favor and buy the book.