Bidding farewell to his 33 years on "60 Minutes" last Sunday, Andy Rooney departed from his trademark curmudgeonly complaints for some pearls of wisdom.
The 92-year-old's comments about writing and retirement were especially instructive when he noted that even at even at his age, writers don't stop being writers. Trading in his usual cranky persona for something more grandpalike, I particularly liked his observation that for columnists, there's always something to write about. This was heartening since up to that moment, I had been stumped.
It hadn't been writer's block, but the mammoth chore of readying our house for bug tenting that had kept my wife and me busy for the weeks leading up to last weekend. The usual, endless honey-do list was replaced in with something more akin to chain-gang labor. It entailed chainsawing, root pulling, Jackson chameleon relocating, food bagging, roof walking, refrigerator manhandling, potted-palm lugging and landfill visits, one after another.
For all my prowess, I still felt like a rank amateur when the Bug Man crew arrived Friday morning, piling out of their trucks like one of those clowns-in-cars routines at the circus. Once they started putting up the colorfully striped tent, they moved with military precision like a well-oiled machine, tossing huge rings of clamps onto the roof, then scrambling up their ladders like Cirque du Soleil veterans.
The tent was up for barely 24 hours, then it was time for Karen and I to do the heavy lifting all over again, only in reverse order this time.
Which left me pretty well exhausted by the time Sunday's sunset, all striped with turquoise, gold and purple, rolled around. We didn't have the energy to head back down the mountain to go to the fair, catch Maui Film Festival's George Harrison documentary at the MACC (I heard it was great), or even catch up on the weekend's new film openings.
The good news on the film front was last weekend's new releases barely cracked the top five at the box office. Instead, the good-hearted, uplifting "Dolphin Tale" rose from its third-place opening the week before to take the top spot on the charts.
Which left Andy Rooney, signing off. Instead of its usual adrenalized urgency, last Sunday's "60 Minutes' " stopwatch logo seemed to be ticking the moments away. And then they were gone.
As much as his comments were about his own accomplishments, his career was also a history of CBS News and the monumental way it changed the way our society communicates.
Rooney's career, evolving from writer to on-camera lovable grouch, began with his collaborations with Edward R. Murrow, whose personal integrity and courage were the bedrock that the network built upon as it blazed a definition of what journalism was to be in this brand-new medium.
Rooney was a colleague of Cronkite, Sevareid, Reasoner, Rather, Wallace, Safer, Bradley, Stahl, Hewitt and all the other great names associated with "60 Minutes" and CBS News as the medium matured into an electronic nervous system uniting the nation.
He was also a World War II veteran, a member of what Tom Brokaw labeled "The Greatest Generation." Rooney carried a notebook rather than a gun as part of the military press, a reminder that journalists are courageous adrenaline junkies as much as the guys on the front lines -they're just there for different reasons.
Like other young Americans who saw duty overseas in that war, it was the event that shaped and defined the man he would become. And its memories still blaze vividly more than a half-century later.
For all the great stories he has reported, all the provocative comments he has uttered over the decades, Andy Rooney's farewell seemed less about him than those 92 years around him.
While he and his fellow TV pioneers were challenged with the task of telling the stories as technicians wired the landscape, now the landscape has changed again. Instead of TV screens and a choice of three networks to inform the public to be responsible citizens of the republic, that fragile scanline consensus has now given way to an infinity of other screens, other technologies, other means of information, other definitions of "the news."
Over the last several months, I had been growing weary of listening to Andy Rooney opine about things like mail delivery, the demise of newspapers and the good old days in general.
But now, amidst talk of ending the U.S. Postal Service, with Kodak contemplating declaring bankruptcy, and the sad death of Steve Jobs, who had been instrumental in forging the technology that's making televison itself obsolete, I'm realizing Andy and I have a lot in common.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.