I’ve met many famous people in my life; some of them have been wonderful (Musicians Carlos Santana, Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna; NY Giants Quarterbacks YA Tittle, Charley Connerly; the toughest man to ever play the game of football, Defensive Master Dick Butkus; and the incredibly gracious and fun ex-Cleveland Browns Quarterback Otto Graham- possibly the greatest QB ever to play the game, along with his lovely wife…who gave me an insight into the game I love so much over several scotches and several hours. All of those sports figures were at the top of a hotel in San Fransisco after they attended a charity event and my friend his then-wife and I got to hang out with them for a few hours. What a memorable evening…and of course the batteries in my camera died and the hotel gift shop was closed. I’ve met Bruce Springsteen a couple of times as he lives in my area and I ran into him on line to get a beer at a bar we both happened to be at in the area and he just started talking to me. Great guy). Others have not been so nice (Sportscaster Sal Marciano, and Ray Davies of the Kinks come to mind immediately). There were a couple I was in awe of (Cleveland Running Back Jim Brown and Musician Quincy Jones).
And then there was Andy Rooney.
Many years ago, I was the Assistant Manager of a Branch of Chase Manhattan Bank At Columbus Circle. I got to meet a lot of famous folks; the aforementioned Jim Brown and Quincy Jones among them; but Andy was just a regular guy who’d come in from the CBS Offices just down the block and deposit his paycheck. No Direct Deposit…he took a check. Maybe he didn’t trust technology, who knows…but ever two weeks we’d see his slightly rumpled figure and eyebrow (singular) pop in to do some banking. One day he needed something, and He and I introduced ourselves. The request was simple, “Did you ever notice there’s no Deposit Slips at the ATM when you really need them?” was his question. And yes, he asked/observed that EXACTLY the way he would have told it on TV, and it took all my control not to laugh in the face of this great man. And that was only because he was right; it was a Rooney observation; and he said it like Andy Rooney could only have said it. I told him that I’d make sure we’d stock things up and it wouldn’t happen again.
A few weeks later, he came into the Branch, saw me and pulled me aside and said, “Ken, I was here last night at 2am and there were Deposit Slips. Thank you.” And I said that it was a pleasure and he made a great point, and from then on we’d see each other every while and stop and chat. He told me to call him Andy, and I still called him Mr. Rooney regardless. There was just no way I could have possibly called a man with his journalistic background and history by anything other than his surname. Once in a while it was crazy conversations about the winter; other times it was about an event of the day that he was fuming about (or I was). I told him my background was in Journalism and that’s what my BA was in; he told me to get the hell out of banking while I was still young enough and give it a go as a writer. He freelanced for a year or two after his stint in the Army reporting for Stars and Stripes, sometimes under enemy fire and had won a few medals for bravery. He loved Eisenhower because he never believed in censoring Starts and Stripes whereas today everything is sanitized for your protection. He was a nice guy. He was also a great tipper for the Teller Staff; because when Christmas time came, they all got cash envelopes that were supposed to NOT be taken, but how do you say “No” to Andy Rooney? There would be a show on about it in a matter of days. The Tellers loved him; we all did (Nipsey Russell could be a pain in the ass, but I got along like a house on fire with him…but he was stingy with tipping those guys). Andy was just a nice man who’d also occasionally talk a bit about WW2 as that was an interest of mine; but he’d have to stop because he reported on the Battle of The Bulge and the Liberation of Buchenwald. Which I completely understood…but he was a font of great information.
Andy Rooney passed away today at the age of 92; ironically, the age I see myself exiting this plane of existence. And somehow, I will always remember one of his last words when he was leaving 60 Minutes for good and “retiring”…and that’s what I’ll leave you with today:
“Writers don’t retire…” – Andy Rooney
Rest in Peace, Mr Rooney.