And Now, A Few Last Minutes With Andy Rooney

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Andy Rooney passed away Friday at the age of 92.  I would not say he was my idol.  It is hard to idolize a curmudgeon who became famous primarily by writing short humorous essays complaining about the thousand slings and arrows of modern life.  But as an amateur practitioner of the genre, I can say that Andy Rooney is one writer who is indispensable.

One of Andy Rooney’s last published books was Out of My Mind, a collection of short humorous pieces complaining about a variety of ailments, such as unreliable repairmen, deafening loudspeakers at the Super Bowl, and the semicolon; he really had it out for the semicolon.  These are just a few of the many enemies, real and perceived, against which Andy Rooney led his charge.  As a service to the reader, the pieces in the collection were organized by topic.  I guess it as important to organize your complaints as it is your socks or silverware.

Andy Rooney explored modern-day annoyances the way Shakespeare explored the human soul.  Nothing was left unscathed by his irascible tone.  Degrading airport security measures, unconscionably priced concessions, opaque tax laws.  But amidst all of the complaining and wishing, Andy Rooney’s writing is full of acceptance for the ways that life had changed since he was a boy in the mid-14th Century.

He accepted the changes in the English language: “High School English teachers are still insisting on ‘dived’ instead of ‘dove’ and ‘hanged’ instead of ‘hung.’  They’re fighting a losing battle.”  He accepted changes in our healthcare system:  “[E]veryone wears a stethoscope.  They used to be doctors, but now even the people who empty the wastebaskets wear stethoscopes.”  He even accepted that the America he loved was not number one in everything:  “Not only is French food better than ours, but so is their national anthem.  But that’s as far as I want to go being nice to the French.”

True, a lot of his writing was more complaint than humor.  He even complained about the word “humor” (“I wish we spelled it the way the British do: H-U-M-O-U-R.  It’s a better word with the ‘U’ in it.”).  After reading a dozen of his essays in a row, one might wonder, “Does this guy like anything?”  But he was doing us a favor.  By diligently highlighting the empty half of every glass—and suggesting the suspect who likely drank from it last—Andy Rooney was showing us that he too shared our pain, and that laughing about it was not only possible, but necessary.

Of course, it was not always easy to tell if he was laughing or just insane.  “What I want for my president is the smartest person in America,” he wrote.  “Forget whether that person is experienced in politics.”  He suggested that they design cell phones to “emit the pleasing sound of a solid brass knocker on a solid wooden door,” and that the President should appoint “a Secretary of Time” to shift doctors’ office hours to weekends.

But the piece that stands out the most for me is titled, “The History of History.”  In it, Rooney observes that his children know more about World War II than he did about World War I.  He attributes this disparity of knowledge to the fact that there are more and better records of World War II, particularly film.  He ends the piece with a wish:  “I hope that when future generations are exposed to the history of our era they get something besides Iraq, Watergate and Monica Lewinsky.”  And they will.  They will get a lot of complaining about our era.  But thanks to Andy Rooney, at least the complaining will be funny.

15 thoughts on “And Now, A Few Last Minutes With Andy Rooney

  1. Good take Mark. I seem to remember an Andy Rooney audio book in my life somewhere along the way but must not have listened to it. He was iconic no matter what anyone thought of him.

  2. Beautiful, Mark. I remember watching Andy Rooney as a child before cable tv and computers. We small town folks in the middle of nowhere had lots of sacred cows, and we didn’t know much about what happened beyond the next section road. I enjoyed what I learned from him about my world, and I appreciated his willingness to poke fun at it. Thank you for your post.

    1. Good point. His work overseas during the war, writing for the Stars and Stripes, was a key step in his career, and he reflected on his wartime service often. I remember a broadcast earlier this year, when Andy Rooney told a story about how King George VI – the subject of the King’s Speech – came to greet some troops, including Andy and his friend, who had a bad stutter, and how an international incident was barely avoided.

  3. I loved that bastard. I have been trying to write something in his honor. I’m glad you did. This is fabulous.

    I do think it’s fascinating that he died right after he retired. It makes perfect sense though. What else could he do? What was he without his typewritter and his audience — much as he complained about folks.

    1. Thanks Renee. I just knew I wouldn’t feel right unless I gave some kind of send off. When he started on television 33 years he was already close to what most consider retirement age. For him writing was truly a labor of love. That kind of dedication is inspiring.

      And his Giants just won in a last minute thriller. Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s celebrating.

      Sent from my iPhone

  4. ” life had changed since he was a boy in the mid-14th Century.”
    Haha! Funny article. I really don’t know much about him, this was fun to read.

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