Off the Record

What the world needs lately is Andy Rooney.

Do you recall … Sunday evening, CBS football ends and “60 Minutes” begins?

Dinner is nearly ready, and the old curmudgeon Rooney is in the wings ready to punctuate the weekend with wit and observation.

Imagine, if you will, that Rooney has returned.

He’s hunched forward at his desk, his eyes twinkling under those bushy eyebrows, and he’s got a damn point to make.

In the foreground of his desk are containers of all sizes and colors.

In his scratchy, high-pitched voice, he reads the back of a container.

“Warning: This product contains chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Do not take internally. Keep out of reach of children!”

For those uninitiated or too young to remember Rooney, this television essayist delivered 1,097 short-form opinion pieces to conclude the award-winning electronic magazine “60 Minutes.”

Ratings—as consistently brilliant as they were—spiked when Rooney would appear at show’s end.

“Call me when Andy Rooney comes on,” one might hear from the yard, garage or basement.

Consumer goods were just a few of the props in Rooney’s toolbox. More sophisticated gifts were found in his intellect. He was funny, but not in a slapstick way, or unintentionally so, like our fearless president.

What ruled in Rooney’s cerebral view of the world were sarcasm, satire, lampoon, irony and cynicism.

Producers of “60 Minutes” lovingly produced a feature hailing their star before Rooney’s final show.

In it, Rooney’s son, Brian, called his father a “chronicler of the particular,” a man who could pen a lengthy 60-minute essay about doors or make an issue about why two elevators should never open on the same floor at the same time, ever.

Think about it.

Rooney loved to read from labels of everyday items like medicines, toilet paper and milk.

My fervent wish is that Rooney were here to read from the labels of disinfectants. My suspicion is that Lysol, too, would be an interested party, maybe even a commercial sponsor.

The Illinois Poison Center experienced an increase in calls beginning April 24 regarding the use of disinfectants to fight a virus, in this case, COVID-19, the coronavirus.

On the heels of our president remarking that injecting disinfectants into the human body could fight the current virus, inbound phone calls started up.

Lysol’s public relations engine revved up quickly as well, either to address what management regarded as a crisis or to join in the circus spotlight for the branding opportunity—before Mr. Clean did.

Lysol executives pointed out what a child would—the obvious—its product “should never be ingested.”

A clearly agitated Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, had to affirm the obvious during Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily briefing.

“Injecting, ingesting or snorting household cleaners is dangerous” and, without naming any self-absorbed source, dismissed the “myths, rumors and general misinformation” and went on to further plead.

“Please do not try home remedies that involve injecting cleaners or disinfectants,” Ezike said. “You could have very dire consequences.”

Damage control of another kind was playing out in our nation’s capital.

The (un)real source of the scientifically proven “untruth” claimed his suggestion of poisoning oneself with a cleaning agent was “sarcastic” and that he was trying to get a rise out of journalists, who were not swallowing any of it.

Video shows the modern-day peddler of “miracle elixirs” directing his comments at two uncomfortable medical professionals who wanted to be anywhere but in the press briefing room of the White House.

Most of us are still drilling down to discover the sarcasm in the president’s ramblings.

“I see disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning. Because, you see, it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs; so, it’d be interesting to check that.”

You can bet reporters with recording devices found that “interesting” and chose to “check” that, over and over, finally turning to each other as if to say, “He didn’t just suggest … ?”

Rooney probably honed his sarcasm shtick while in the service by reading Jonathan Swift and writing for Stars and Stripes, the G.I. newspaper that World War II Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to censor, forever securing Rooney’s affection and admiration for pursuit of the truth in matters large like war and small like, you name it.

Rooney was sheer genius at setting a sarcastic tone. My wife claims she “picked up on that kind of humor” seeing her father’s belly laughs during “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney.” The journalist forever looked rumpled, despite claiming that he ironed his own clothes and shined his own shoes.

One cannot fathom two people more dissimilar than our current president and our coveted hero, Rooney, which brings us around to sarcasm.

I doubt the president’s attempt at sarcasm would pass the Rooney smell test; rather, it might summon contempt—or vomit.

Unlike the president, Rooney could complete his essays in less than three minutes, chock full of sarcastic tidbits, jabs and digs.

His famous observations include these.

“There are more beauty parlors than there are beauties” and “If dogs could talk, it would take all the fun out of owning one.”

Rooney once set out to find out exactly how mixed his mixed nuts were.

Another time, Rooney took on the bottled-water industry. With plastic containers strewn all over his desk, he read aloud the label contents with great disdain, channeling his sarcasm with a befuddled look into the camera and into millions of living rooms.

Choosing ultra-pure Hawaii Water, Rooney read the peculiar claim—“sourced from a virgin rainforest”—followed by a high-pitched query to viewers. “When does a rainforest lose its virginity anyway?” Then, he precisely concluded that the packaging was costlier than the water. At the segment’s conclusion, Rooney had created and branded his own bottled water, drawn from the CBS hallway fountain and sold for 25 cents less than products were in the CBS cafeteria. His mug graced the label.

Rooney will not be back. His son crystallized what guided the man’s life in journalism until his death at age 92 on Nov. 4, 2011.

“If all the truth were known about everything, the world would be a better place.”

What the world needs now is Andy Rooney.