WASHINGTON, November 7, 2011 — I don’t know about you, but I’m going to miss Andy Rooney. Not that I saw him all that often in person.
I always made a point of catching his “60 Minutes” segment so I could hear the cagey curmudgeon’s complaint of the week. My wife Geri and step-daughter Sunny can attest to this. My response was often, if not usually, “finally, someone says what I think!”
In those minimal cases where I disagreed with his viewpoint, I allowed that he was just having a bad day (with Andy Rooney the difference sliced thin).
Actually, my in-person exchange with Mr. Rooney was completely by happenstance. In truth, I can’t honestly say I met him. After all, can you imagine anyone meeting the famed “kvetch-meister”? Can you picture his having to say, “Hello, my name is Andy Rooney” and holding out his hand for a good shake? Everybody knew him. People were, in fact, always telling him he was Andy Rooney.
On the street, in a restaurant, at a ballgame: “Hey, you’re Andy Rooney!.” “Thank you, I was wondering” he might say; “my wife forgot to sew my name tag on my sweater this morning.” He could be sarcastic, sure.
But if he weren’t, we would think we were dealing with a look-alike imposter. Imagine coming upon a stocky white-haired gentleman with eyebrows like Fuller Brush samples, and hearing him say, “My, what a perfect day, how would you like an autograph?”
“Call Homeland Security!” someone might shout. “There’s somebody here impersonating one of America’s most iconic celebrities. It must be part of some nefarious plot!”
My “Few minutes with Andy Rooney” happened when I walked into the Washington, D.C. office building where I was employed at 1275 Pennsylvania Ave. This building often appears on news broadcasts with camera shots down Pennsylvania Avenue from Freedom Plaza.
Upon my returning to this building from a government agency, I saw a stocky gentleman at the end of the street-level corridor. Although immediately recognizable, the surprise visitor looked rather out of place. After all, he was supposed to be in my living room on Sunday night on a TV screen. This was not my living room, nor a television screen, nor was it Sunday! Also he was not sitting behind a desk; he was standing.
I leaped into the conversation and began talking with Mr. Rooney and the guard. I didn’t say, “You’re Mr. Rooney, aren’t you?” I knew he was. And I knew he knew. Nor did I say, “Hello, sir, I’m Vance Garnett.” I knew who I am, and I knew he didn’t give a darn, nor should he have.
He was interested in knowing more about a construction project going on just across the street. He was asking regarding some particulars, such as how the noise level might be affecting the employees of our building.
The new construction was going to be called the Ronald Reagan Building in honor of our 40th president. At present, it was simply a very large hole. Excavation had been going on for about a year, and I had watched it daily from various conference room windows as an endless parade of trucks lined up in the middle of the Avenue extending from the Old Post Office Building to the excavation site.
Rumors abounded and much speculation flourished. This Federal Triangle building was to be the most expensive federal building ever constructed in D.C., and it was to be second in size to the Pentagon.
As I shared this information with Mr. Rooney, I sensed he was interested, but it seemed as if he was also expecting something.
I asked him, “Is there anything I can help you with?”
Eye-to-eye, he said, tilting his head toward the guard, “I’m trying to get up on the roof of this building. To see the project across the street from above.”
“That should be no problem at all,” I assured him. Then turning to my security friend behind the desk, I asked, “Right, Calvin?”
“I’m just waiting for a call back from Bob to get an official okay,” he said.
A cameraman who had been completely upstaged by Mr. Rooney’s presence stood juggling a large camera on his shoulder. He whispered to Andy that Dan Rather was supposedly on the way but running late. A few minutes later the phone rang. It was Bob, and he gave the go-ahead for a security officer to accompany Mr. Rooney and the cameraman to the rooftop.
Mr. Rooney was escorted to an elevator which would take him and the cameraman to the top floor, with a one-flight walk-up from there to the roof. I rode along as far as the 7th floor where my office was situated. Mr. Rooney continued on.
There are certain men of whom it may be said, as Voltaire said of a Supreme Being: “If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him.” There are a modest number of such men and women. Hemingway comes to mind, for one. Rooney was decidedly sucha person.
I seldom missed an Andy Rooney segment after that chance encounter. And when last I last saw him on that occasion, he was going up.
Maybe he still is. Or maybe, by now, he’s reached his destination.
In any case, I’m not sure he’ll like all those gold and pearl accoutrements. I can hear him now: “Remember when gold used to be valuable? Here they’re using gold for sidewalks. What I’d give for some good old-fashioned concrete.”
Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as Paul Harvey, William Safire, and Shirley Povich. Vance calls himself “a lover of all things Washington.”
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.