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Don’t You Just Hate Stuff?

I don't know if you watched the legendary Andy Rooney's farewell segment on the October 2 edition of "60 Minutes," but in case you missed the 92-year-old essayist's touching retirement speech, I've taken the time to transcribe the final words. It's the culmination of 62 years with CBS and 1,069 commentaries. In the waning moments of his career, Rooney graciously showed his appreciation to all the fans who watched him over the years, laughed with him, and complimented him in person, and he signed off with the following words of affection: "If you do see me in a restaurant, please just let me eat my dinner."

Fade to black, end of career. That's it. Let me eat my dinner, people. And get off my lawn while you're at it. Can we talk about how great that is?

As a newspaper columnist, I view Andy Rooney as a sort of spiritual godfather. For decades, he did exactly what all of us do now: he complained pointlessly about inconsequential stuff in that awful "I don't actually know what's going on here or how it should be fixed, but I'm an ordinary American and my opinion deserves to be heard" mode of writing that we commentators employ in order to gain the allegiance of other pissed-off, uncomprehending citizens. An inveterate complainer, Rooney was constitutionally incapable of offering any insight into anything, but he was a master at articulating what everybody else in his demographic already thought. If CBS had given his job to any other wild-eyebrowed, incurably crabby grandfather in America, "60 Minutes" would have closed no differently at all; we would have listened to the same rants about technology, contemporary music and politics.

I recently reviewed a few of Rooney's segments on YouTube. The first one was about sleep: Rooney likes to sleep for seven hours a night, thinks he could manage eight, is annoyed by people (like babies, I guess) who sleep for nine or more - it's too much! The next one was about the USPS's proposed reduction in service: Rooney doesn't like the idea one bit, because getting hand-written letters is nice, and e-mail stinks! Next up, Rooney thinks it's a crying shame that newspapers are going out of business, because he has fond memories of delivering papers for $1.35 a week during his boyhood in Albany, NY. Finally: what's the deal with modern art? It's ugly, and I don't get it!

Rooney doesn't have anything to say about why, exactly, modern art is bad, or how newspapers might regain readers, or how the postal service could stop losing money without closing branches. He's just, you know, annoyed.

I don't think Andy Rooney was all bad - sometimes, his heavy-handed "Average Joe" act gave way to a more genuine humility, and he had a sense of humor (not a good one, but he deserves credit for it all the same, I guess.) For a Methuselah,* his politics weren't so bad, notwithstanding some doddering, foolish remarks about gays and Hispanics.

In his last appearance, Rooney gratefully acknowledged, "I've done a lot of complaining here, but of all the things I've complained about, I can't complain about my life" - which of course is untrue. In one memorable essay, he whined that CBS gives him too much vacation time, the segment was called "My Lucky Life," but it's cool if (to some degree) he recognizes how fortunate he is to have become wealthy and famous by doing something that pretty much anyone could have done just as well as he.

For all his centuries of life, he is, in some sense, a very modern kind of celebrity: famous not for being talented but for being untalented - and, therefore, "relatable," like Carson Daly or the cast of "The Real World." His opinions were predictable and meaningless enough to blunt their anger; he never surprised you or made you think - he just validated your own idle, irritated thoughts by putting them on TV.

Rooney would probably decide to hate Facebook and Twitter if he knew how to use them, but really he was made for the Internet, where self-indulgent complaining about everyday life, lazy confusion ("I don't get why . . ."), and forced observational humor ("Have you ever noticed [insert really obvious thing]?") reign supreme. Basically, his whole career was one long Tweet.

Perhaps, like Jordan, he'll unretire a couple times before he leaves for good. Sure, he's old and old-fashioned, but I think his time is now.

* Methuselah: used to describe an extremely old man. From the Old Testament, a patriarch supposed to have lived 969 years (Genesis 5:21--27) who epitomizes longevity.

Tagged: generation y, Gen Y