You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Did You Ever Wonder Why Some People Are So Grumpy?

Andy Rooney is retiring from 60 Minutes on Sunday. It's arguable that he retired years ago and CBS has just been videotaping him in his den, griping about whatever happened to be on his mind when he woke up from his afternoon nap. Still, whether in his den, his home office, or a Burbank studio designed to look like the workplace of a very cranky librarian who's just a few volumes short of signing up for next season's Hoarders, Andy could do one thing with alarming alacrity: complain the crap out of any given subject in Western civilization.*

Yes, it's true that he didn't complain all the time. It just felt that way. He was blessed with the build of great complainer: impenetrably thick eyebrows, hovering caterpillar-like atop eternally sad sack eyes; the steely demeanor of a senior citizen who's just seen the Blue Plate Special at their favorite restaurant go up for the first time in five years; a mouth so flat and expressionless that a ventriloquist would kill their dummy for it, and impatiently folded hands with fingers thick enough to strangle a full-grown moose.

I feel bad for the guy sometimes. Let's face it, where ever he goes, people are sure to assume he's in a bad mood. I'm guessing he doesn't get a lot of "Good afternoon, Mr. Rooney!" More likely it's exasperated queries of "What's bugging you today, Andy?" or impatient pleas of "Don't even start with me, Rooney," with a dab of the occasional sarcastic "Mornin' Sunshine!" He's the kind of guy who could deliver a short toast at a wedding, sincerely end it with "and I wish you both happiness and a long life together," and still have the bride flee from the room in tears, with her groom trailing her and shouting accusingly at Andy, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

This limited him as far as television went. He wasn't exactly going to turn up on the morning shows, chatting amiably with the cast of The View. A few moments opining about the general vapidity of morning television, and the cult of celebrity, not to mention the appalling decor, would have Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck joining together in a blood oath to slay him.

I've often wondered just what he does for a living. Complaining three minutes a week can't possibly bring decent money in, not even in the bat-crap insane financial world of network television.** Reportedly, Rooney writes a column for a Tribune Media Services. I've never read it, but I suspect these days it consists of whatever made him the most irritable that day. While it's what his readers would expect, I can't imagine a newspaper syndicate actually shelling out massive amounts of cash for Andy's extemporaneous thoughts.Still, Larry King had a column in USA Today that consisted more or less of his slightly filtered thoughts in any given five minute period of time. Perhaps automatic writing is making a comeback?

The most recognizable words from Rooney were "Did you ever...?" This was almost invariably followed a 180-second litany of gripes, moans, and slightly irritable blathering about everything from sports to shopping to religion. Whatever he had to talk about in segments, he was clearly not happy about it and you weren't about to disabuse him of the idea that he was not happy about it, you cheerful punk.

After 33 years, it's a routine that's more than a little over familiar. With the exception of the occasional controversial remarks, Andy was a predictably East Coast, secular, establishment curmudgeon. His audience was getting as tired as Andy himself looked.

Part of me always secretly hoped he'd come in to work one day, temporarily off his rocker (well, more so that usual), to spectacularly break up the monotony:

"Did you ever wonder about flying seahorses? How'd they get up there in the air and why won't they stop talking to me in Esperanto? I don't speak Esperanto. No one does, not even in Atlantis. And what about those top hats they wear? Why don't they fall off when the seahorses do loop the loops through the slats of my rocking chair? ****ing orange bastards! Leave my chair alone!!"
Well, perhaps it will be this Sunday. The guy's getting on in years so maybe he'll go out with a bang.

* It's even inspired a game (sort of).
** If there is such a market for high-paying jobs involving short bursts of public grousing, please e-mail me. I have a great deal of amateur experience.

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