The recent passing of Andy Rooney just four weeks after his final appearance as a regular on 60 Minutes compelled me to write this piece. I have known Rooney since I was a toddler. At the time of his death, I had not spoken to Rooney in a number of years, my Father having passed on in 1983. But there are many memories of Rooney that remain very vivid to me to this day. They are bittersweet memories. While Rooney was unquestionably my Father’s favorite person on the planet, he was not mine. Nor did he seem to like me much, if he had any opinion at all.
Andy Rooney was my father’s best friend. They met in prep school at the Albany Academy, forging an almost immediate and lifelong friendship. They were the starting guard and tackle on the football team. After Prep school, they went on to attend Colgate together until World War II changed many people’s plans. Rooney joined the Army, writing for Stars and Stripes, while my Father became a B-17 bomber pilot in the Army Air Force. After the War, both of them came to live in Manhattan. My Father took over his Father’s liquor store in Sutton Place, while Rooney got his journalistic career going. Andrew and his Wife, Marge, settled in Peter Copper Village on First Avenue in the 20’s. My Mother and Father took an apartment in 405 East 54th Street, across First Avenue from his shop. As kids began to enter the picture, both men decided to move to the suburbs, ostensibly for the better school systems. We bought a house in Port Washington, out on Long Island, while Rooney settled in Rowayton, CT. Even after the move, the two families saw each other. My Father met Rooney for lunch fairly often, and they spoke on the phone almost daily.
Although 60 Minutes called him Andy Rooney, I never heard either of my parents call him anything other than Andrew. So for the duration of this piece, Andrew he will be. As much as he liked my Pop, he disliked my Mother. My Father internalized everything, seldom saying anything incendiary until he would explode at some later date, for no apparent reason. Everyone liked my Pop because he always had the proper, expected response. My Mother was the polar opposite. She was highly-opinionated, extremely intelligent, bitingly sarcastic and confrontational. She almost never raised her voice, and never swore. But arguing with Helen was like walking into a buzz saw. Andrew was very much the same kind of person. As the years have passed and I’ve had time to think about this, it seems to me much of their mutual antipathy was rooted in their innate sameness. Alcohol played a role in all of this as well. While it would be silly to blame booze for the frequent arguments, it was as if there was a pile of dried kindling in the room with an accelerant poured over it. Some evenings no spark would hit the pile and the evening would be civil and pleasant. But all too often it did not end that way and a blaze ensued. The more rounds of drinks, the greater the chances of an unhappy ending to the evening. There was a period where my Mother and Andrew did not speak for years.
Andrew made his own ice cream from scratch, and to this day I have never tasted anything as good. My memory may fail me, but it seems the first time I had it, it was peach. This was an almost religious experience. He was an avid New York Giants football fan and had season tickets both at the old Yankee Stadium and later at the Meadowlands. He took my Father fairly often. Andrew drove a little two-seater, an MG or Triumph, and with great enthusiasm. And speed. My Father was terrified of Andrew’s driving and would come home pale and white-knuckled. My Pop loved his football and hanging with Andrew, so the drive was the price of admission. He toughed it out.
I went to college in Miami, determined to become a journalist. While I hardly broke a sweat in most of my classes, I actively pursued two unpaid internships for academic credit. I worked for both the Miami Herald and Channel 10, Miami’s ABC affiliate. I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. As Graduation approached, Channel 10 expressed an interest in bringing me on full-time. I was thrilled. But my Father suffered the first of several heart attacks and everything changed overnight. I had to go home and run the family business, something I had sworn I would never do. In retrospect, I was probably selfish; my Pop had not wanted to get sick. But I was not happy and I do not hide it well. When my Father had recovered, he returned to work. He had a staff he trusted, and I began sending out resumes to media companies in New York. I must have sent out a hundred of them without so much as an interview.
I returned from lunch one afternoon and my Father told me that an interview had been arranged with Andrew at CBS. I was ecstatic. For the days leading up to the interview, I edited and re-edited my resume and rehearsed good answers to questions I might be asked. I bought a suit, shined my shoes until they reflected like a mirror, and cut my hair corporate-short. It was hard to tell if I was more excited or nervous; probably equal parts both.
The big day came and I entered Andrew’s office over on West 57th Street. I had just sat down and had not even said a word when Andrew lit into me. “You’re not my friend. I’m your Father’s friend” he hissed. “Why should I pull strings for you when I don’t do that for my own children?” This was true. His son Brian, about my age and also a journalist, had had to start out in the Midwest someplace and work his way from there. He has established a terrific career in L.A. and deserves a ton of credit. Rooney went on to accuse me of looking for shortcuts through connections rather than earning my station in life. I listened as long as I could take it, and then stood up and walked to the door. Before I walked out, using some rather coarse language, I inquired why he had agreed to talk to me at all. This was a complete waste of time for both of us. I was angry and humiliated, and this episode bothered me for a long time.
Again, the passage of time yielded clarity and understanding that had eluded in the moment. I realized this had nothing to do with me. Andrew could not say no to my Father, his best friend. I would have liked to tell Andrew that I had not asked to speak with him, that I understood his principles. I never got the chance. I’m hoping my Pop told him at some point.
The last time I saw Andrew was in 2004 at a Giants game in the Meadowlands. I looked to my right and he sat alone, looking cold and hunched over. I just read in his obituary that his Wife Marge had passed in 2004, and it occurred to me that maybe it had just happened recently when I ran into him. He looked devastated. I went over and said his name. Without looking up, he gestured to keep walking. Rooney never much liked strangers approaching him. Then I told him it was Bill Judson. He looked up, smiled and shook my hand. We made some brief small talk and I told him my Mother was terminally ill with emphysema. He told me how sorry he was and I asked him to give her a call, writing her number on a scrap of paper. I don’t know if he ever called her. Maybe he’d seen enough Death. She didn’t mention his having called. She was dead a few months later.
When I think of Andrew Rooney, the most prominent thing that comes to mind is the completeness of his friendship with my Father. In 1983, when my Father was close to the end, my girlfriend Susie (now my Wife) and I would go up to Lenox Hill Hospital every night after work. Andrew never missed a night; like clockwork. He had worked a whole day and had a long commute home ahead of him, but he would not go home without visiting my Pop. As you grow older, you watch friends drift away as circumstances change. You come to realize that while once you thought you had lots of friends, ultimately you are blessed if you have one or two. The real friends finish the race. They walk the walk. Well, in his very distinct way, Rooney walked the walk. Andrew Rooney was funny, interesting and lived his life on his terms. You didn’t have to like him, but you had to respect him. But his greatest trait to me was his absolutely unwavering and total commitment to the few he called “friend.” My Father was lucky to have had him.
For those of you who enjoyed this article, please read Andrew’s piece Jud written just after my father’s death. It is in Rooney’s 1984 book “Pieces of My Mind” in the Chapter called Passing. The piece is short, emotional and to the point. Very much like Andrew Rooney.