An open letter to CBS:
What is it with car keys? They all have a chip in them these days — and I don’t mean a chocolate chip, which might come in handy on long drives if you don’t have a sour stomach all the time like I do. No, they have those modern computer chips, which means that every single time you misplace your keys in the icebox or behind the toilet, like we all do sometimes, you can’t just go to a hardware store to get a new copy made, even if you can find an actual hardware store anymore and not one of those do-it-yourself super chains like Home Depot where grown men walk around in aprons. Instead, you have to go to a dealership to get your key “programmed,” which is a fancy word for charging you an arm and a leg for something that once was inexpensive, just like greeting cards, which used to cost a nickel and were from husbands to their wives or children to their parents, but now cost five bucks and are in categories like To my yoga instructor on the death of his goldfish. Also, roses come in many colors, not just red, and violets aren’t blue at all. They’re purple. But what are you gonna do? I need a nap.
* * *
Consider this my audition to replace the beloved, venerable, esteemed national treasure, Andy Rooney, who began to putrefy 20 years ago though everyone had to pretend not to notice, like when the archbishop of Canterbury farts.
I know I might be too young and sprightly for the job — I turned 60 this month — but hear me out. I can be very, very crotchety. I view all of modernity with suspicion bordering on paranoia. And my acquaintance with popular culture is so thin that I no longer know who any of the people are in the first-name-only headlines on the gossip tabloids. I used that line in my column three weeks ago, word for word, but I don’t care, because I’m a tired old hack with no standards left, if I ever had any. Believe me, I’m your guy.
I have to admit that I always enjoyed Andy’s segment at the end of “60 Minutes”; it gave me comfort because — let me be frank about this — at my age, a man hears footsteps. Many young, talented writers are coming up in the humor business. They are hungry, and, as products of the Internet age, they are willing to work for what I spend on prostate medication. Plus, these youngsters are on the ball; when they walk into a room, they still remember why.
So, I am insecure. But then I’d see Andy, with his neck wattles and old-man teeth, blathering on about how cars really should still have running boards, or how today’s fancy detergents don’t do the job as well as a poultice of lye and pebbles, and I’d feel at least an illusion of job safety. Here was one authentically old person with the courage to hike his pants up to his nipples and growl and grumble into a microphone week after week, like he owned the place.
And, to tell the truth, that’s where I have just a little pause about all of this, CBS. Because Andy did seem to belong on TV — he held on not just because he was stubborn but because he was indomitable. We always reserve a place of genuine affection for the old performer who just won’t go away. (Remember Sophie Tucker? No? Hmm. I do.) We want to think that these obstinate old souls are onto something, that we can defeat the relentless onslaught of time — ideally, by perseverance of talent, but, if need be, by sheer cussedness alone.
And now as Andy shuffles out the door into winter, some chill creeps back in. I feel a little sniffly.
Which reminds me, none of these modern medicines wards off a cold better than gargling with salt water and lemon.