Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Grumpy Old Man’s Minutes Expire

Did you ever wonder when you were going to get your fifteen minutes of fame? I have. And I’ll bet Andy Rooney did, too, before he got his. During his life, he enjoyed a full sixty minutes of it. Now that his time has run out, does that mean it’s my time?

I’m feeling a little grumpy. Perhaps it’s because Andy’s gone. Listen closely, and maybe you’ll hear his voice whispering in my ear. 

It bugged the heck out of me when I heard someone on CNN say that Andy Rooney was the nicest and most hard working man in the world. Do you ever wonder why people feel like they have to talk so glowingly of the dead? I mean, how hard could it be to write one five minute essay a week about half the weeks in a year? C’mon. I work all day in an elementary school, and then I write essays after work or on weekends. I’ve always suspected Andy was just as much of a curmudgeon as his essays make him out to be. He was a writer, after all, and writing has a way of bringing the truth out of people—well, some people. After all, somebody has to write all those lies politicians who disagree with me are always telling.

I met him in an airplane once. He would have denied it. He did deny it. We were on the same flight flying into Atlanta. He was sitting a couple rows behind me in coach, wearing a baseball cap. The tell-tale eyebrows told all.

Why do we have the urge to say something to famous people or ask them for autographs if we have the opportunity? I was eating at a good seafood restaurant in Charleston, WV once and saw Ed Bradley, also of “60 Minutes” fame, eating dinner with someone. He was in town for a big story, I forget which one, but I’ll bet they used the word hardscrabble in it. They always do when talking about our lush, verdant state. I found a scrap of paper, walked to his table, and told him something inane about enjoying his work. Then I asked for his autograph. He graciously signed and I returned to my table, feeling somewhat embarrassed for interrupting his dinner. I wondered why I’d asked for the autograph; I don’t collect autographs.

On the plane, I told my wife to look back and confirm that it was Andy Rooney. She thought it probably was, but how are you going to know for sure unless you ask? So after we landed I waited as he shuffled up the aisle (this was only a year or so ago), and I asked him, “Are you Andy Rooney?” He scowled, just like Andy Rooney would, and gruffly replied, “No!” and continued walking, looking down. Perfect, I thought. I just got the brush off from Andy Rooney.

I admit, I haven’t been a faithful viewer—does it bother you as much as it bothers me that you never know when “60 Minutes” is going to start because of the football game or the golf tournament? But in his final essay, which I made sure to watch, he talked about how much he resents being approached in public. He considers encroachments on his space and time rude, and he is rude back. He proudly said he’s never signed an autograph. Thankfully, I hadn’t asked for one.

And it turns out I’m right that his famous irritation was no act. I heard his daughter saying that Andy was, in fact, exactly like the person who expressed his pet peeves to the nation all these years. She said people assume he kept the household in stitches with his sense of humor. However, she suggested there’s nothing funny about an irritable man when you live in the same house with him.

But in truth, he lived a long, productive life as a journalist and writer. A special he produced at CBS, “An Essay on War” that was critical of the war in Vietnam was not allowed to air. So he went to work for PBS for awhile. He was also one of the few mainstream critics of the invasion of Iraq. He had served in World War II, a war of which he was also skeptical, though once he arrived and saw it with his own eyes, he supported it. In telling those truths, he makes up for some of the times he offended people with his lack of empathy.

Though I don’t believe it, and probably Andy wouldn’t have either, I can’t help but wonder if he’s at the Pearly Gates right now giving God an earful. Goodbye, Mr. Rooney, rest in peace.