Friday, August 26, 2011

Andy Rooney's Eyebrows - A Mini-Rant

Andy Rooney = Grumpiness and social nit-picking
elevated to prime time art form.
I never thought I'd say that I really need Andy Rooney.

Oh, when he first popped up at the end of 60 Minutes back in 1978 I liked him well enough.

Andy was an amusing old guy.

He singled out absurdities in the consumer society including poorly designed or silly products and illogical ways in which we behaved.

He wasn't so much a curmudgeon with a scalpel edge as a dull paring knife. An everyday whiner like the rest of us.

And he came at his critique from the angle and predilections of the oldtimers, people who grew up in those white picket fence days of pure Americana and came of age during World War II and now they wondered what in tarnation was wrong with everyone with their Pepsis and loud music.

But Andy began to wear on me. He complained about the lyrics to Michael Jackson's song "Bad." Andy's great insight, which he shared with the 60 Minutes audience by writingon a chalk board  the entire lyrics to the song, was this: "This song is repetitious. All the Great Gloved One says over and over is...":

"I'm bad. I'm bad. I'm really really bad."

Andy missed the point. No one except him cared about the lyrics to this song. "Bad" was not the national anthem, It wasn't Cole Porter. An MJ song was for dancing.

After that I started watching Andy's eyebrows. They seemed to grow even as he spoke on TV. I decided that if they were a country they would need their own military and domestic staff, especially skilled Japanese gardeners.

And people were making fun of Andy on Saturday Night Live, a sure sign that, like Barbara Walters (Barbara Wa-Wa per SNL) he had ceased to be an innovative bit of TV programming and was now just another institution ripe for parody.

Nowadays I'm not allowed to watch TV, but even pre-VWP I had stopped getting off at the CBS whistle stop called 60 Minutes. I hear that at age 92 Andy is still doing his thing at the end of the show. If so, more power to him and it's time to make a small confession.

I do have a bit of an Inner Andy Rooney.

You see there are some annoyances that plague my life. They lead to my private pathetic whinings. Grumblings that won't make one iota of difference. Cranky old man mini-rant. I have three of them.

Two leaders of the free world meet to solve the global crisis.
1- People Who Greet Me With "Hey!"

What is going on here? This supposed salutation is nearly as bad as the absurd "Whas-up?" It used to be that "Hey!" was what you said when you wanted to get someone's attention.

"Hey! Your fly is unzipped!"

"Hey! You're about to press the wrong button and make the nuclear reactor melt down!"

"Hey! What's this quill in your bed? Last night when you were drunk did you have sex with a porcupine?"

Now this half-hearted exhalation of not exactly real verbiage is directed at me whenever an acquaintance sees me.

"Hey, Al."

"Excuse me?"

When I asked around, someone suggested to me that "Hey" is a Southernism. Southerners are famous for condensing language as if it takes the same BIG effort to speak as it does to set down the sweet tea, get out of the porch swing and amble out into the sunlight and see if that's a coon or a cat up in the tree.

Personally, I think "Hey" is ubiquitous in places other than south of the Mason Dixon Line. This makes it a national problem. Okay, I know we're not supposed to care about such matters in our democratic, it's-all-good, casual, rumpled shirts and pants, no pretenses society, but, "Hey!" think about it. This word doesn't sound very intelligent or articulate, does it? We already have a surfeit of wrinkled wardrobes (see any J. Crew men's catalog). Do we have to have wrinkled greetings?

Guess who has the gall to tar me with the gimmicky "guy"?
2 - Restaurant Servers Who Call Us "Guys"

This began not long after servers took to introducing themselves by first name. "Hello, I'm Courtney. I'll be serving you tonight."

That didn't bother me. Research shows that people leave a better tip when they feel like they're dealing with a person with a name, a life, and rent to pay and maybe even porcupines in their bed. I believe the server ought to make a decent living.

But do they have to call my wife, son, and me "guys"? We're not a football team ("You guys need to run it up the middle, then kick the field goal"). Strictly speaking, one of us is not even a "guy." The assumed familiarity is jarring, but worse is the style of it. "Guys" bespeaks beer, pizza, and a leather couch from Wal-mart, not fine dining.

The golden era: She knew to have a good
day (or not) without anyone commanding it.
3 - Cashiers Who Urge Me to "Have a Good Day!"

I've long thought that much of what passes for conversation in our society is just what I call "tail wagging behavior." It's how we approach one another and signal that I'm okay with you and I'm not going to bite and, all rightie now, I'm going to leave you.

"Have a good day!" is tail wagging behavior par excellence. It's a gray flannel piece of verbiage.

I've heard rumors (unconfirmed) that it was invented in a good manners factory in Peoria circa 1976 when someone realized that we had long ago become too secular to say goodbye to strangers with a simple "God bless!" or "God be with you!"

What should fill the gap? How could we show that we wished the person well?

Maybe "We salute you, heroes of commerce!"

No, no. There had to be something better and more bursting with imperialistic designs upon the emotional state of millions of strangers.

"Have a nice day!"

Although this has morphed into "Have a good day!" it remains stupid and intrusive and nonsensical. And I'm not even talking about how the cashier will say "Have a good day!" at 9 p.m. when I go to the store for ice cream and the day is essentially over, is it not?

The real problem is that every single day I'm supposed to have a good day? And what would that look like? What if I don't want to have a good day? Is America going to decline? Will the American Dream turn to nightmare?

Let me ask this: Is a good day for every citizen that necessary to one's health and welfare? Is my having a good day really the only option? Maybe I want to have an excellent day or a challenging one or even a bluesy 24 hours that has a lot of texture and sad songs and chocolate built into it.

So it's time to pose the following impertinent question. Why should a person whose chief retail skill is passing items over a scanner be told by his or her employer that they're supposed to attempt to make a contribution to my psychological state of mind upon leaving the store?

Also, not to be overlooked is what this phrase does to a person who is actually, perish the thought!, already having a bad day. I can't begin to describe the nails pounded into flesh feeling I had when this phrase was mindlessly trotted out everywhere I went the week my mother had died and I was trying to stagger my way toward her funeral.

A Solution?
I believe if we apply ourselves can nip these Andy Rooneyistic terrible tongue tropes right in the bud. It will involve some assertion and photocopying.

To lead to a utopia of sane speech, I have prepared a convenient form that you can distribute to key people you're about to interface with. If they can read words on a page, our problems may be solved. If not, try sending them a text or a tweet. Something has to be done! - V.W.


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