HE HIGHPOINT of my television week arrives just a little before 8 p.m. on Sunday evening. Harry Reasoner or one of the other members of the 60 Minutes team announces that it is time for "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney." The camera cuts away to a tousled middle-aged man, an avuncular Huckleberry Finn, who promptly begins to daydream out loud about the most unlikely subjects.
"I'm the all-American consumer. My idea of a good time is to go out Saturday morning to buy something with some of the money I've made. . . . I don't like obscenities and I don't use them. I don't even like to hear other people use them. This doesn't make me a wonderful person. We all decide which virtues to hold to and which to ignore. . . . Professional soldiers often say they hate war, but they would be less than human if they did not, just once, want to play the game they spent a lifetime practicing. How could you go to West Point for four years and not be curious about whether you'd be any good in a war?"
Rooney's foot-scuffing, down-to-earth editorials-- generally on such weighty matters as calendars, soap, fences and chairs--are nearly as much fun to read as listen to. This collection rounds up the best of his television work of the past 30 years, including the longer documentaries, "Mr. Rooney Goes to Dinner," "Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington" and "Mr. Rooney Goes to Work." Though their virtues are many, these pieces can best be described by words with "home" in them. Homespun. Down-home. Homey. Home-grown.
For Rooney's appeal derives largely from his persona as an ordinary guy, one harried by the oddities of modern living and mildly nostalgic for the "Our Town" America of old Andy Hardy films. As a result, his deskside chats marry an unruffled yet quizzical tone with a quiet advocacy of the traditional virtues of decency, hard work, tolerance and patriotism. Little wonder that Rooney's pictorial essays are among the best things on TV.
There, in fact, lies my only reservation about A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney. Intended for television, these pieces count on more visual accompaniment than an occasional still. I kept recalling the images that reeled by when I first heard Rooney talk about public art and bank names. I also found myself trying to hear his voice, for he shapes his sentences with brilliant pauses and a conspiratorial raised eyebrow.
But these are cavils. Better to have Rooney in print when we need him than to rely on television reruns.