Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rooney Meeting Lasts Minute--Lifetime

By Lisa E. Crowley
If Andy Rooney wasn’t late for his presentation during a journalism conference in Hartford, and I wasn’t late for Andy Rooney’s presentation during that conference in Hartford, we never would have met in a cramped elevator.
Of course I was late…I often am.
During one of those late-Lisa moments I nearly backed into Andy Rooney in a hotel elevator.
Along with doing whatever else to be late for his program, I ran back to my hotel room to get Rooney’s book, “Not That You Asked,” printed way back in 1989. The conference Rooney was speaking at was sometime between 2000 and 2002. I can’t remember exactly.
Anyway, late as usual, I squeezed myself into an elevator packed with people heading down to the lobby about 8 floors away.
I didn’t look at any of the people as I got in. I just wedged myself in, trying not to run over the people who were already in the sardine can. I faced the closing metal doors--we were so tightly packed my nose practically touched the doors--and wondered how much of Rooney's presentation I might have already missed.
As I was thinking to myself, it dawned on me the whole car was silent.
I thought that was odd since it was full of people. At least 20, maybe more. We were packed in row after row, back to front.
But no sound. No talk. Usually somebody says something to somebody, even if it’s “excuse me,” for stepping on feet or bumping each other as the car moved.
Nothing but silence.
While thinking this, I got a nudge in my side from one of my fellow reporters. I looked at her and she cocked her head and eyes to the small, older man in the gray suit directly behind me.
I swiveled my head and immediately recognized Andy Rooney.
My eyes opened wide and so did my mouth.
I bellowed: “Hi Andy Rooney! Guess I’m not late for your talk,” and nearly elbowed him in the gut as I maneuvered in the small space to face him.
That would be my luck--break Rooney's rib with an elbow trying to say "Hi."
He cracked a smile and said, “No, guess not, but I am.”
God knows what I said after that, something like it didn’t matter if he was late, or sorry, didn't mean to almost put you in the hospital.
For the ride down to the lobby, Andy Rooney and I were best buddies.
He asked me where I was from and I told him outside of Boston.
Rooney said he loved visiting Boston, and that his daughter Emily worked in the city.
I was happy to tell him I knew of his daughter Emily Rooney from WGBH, Boston’s public broadcasting station.
He was obviously proud of Emily and happy to know I knew her work.
He knew the Patriot Ledger, where I was working at the time, and we had a grand conversation in that 45-to-60 second time frame as the elevator headed to the lobby.
Rooney’s crusty, grumpy TV personality was nowhere to be found.
Curmudgeon my eye—try cream puff!
On the ground floor, Rooney pointed to the book under my arm, which of course I had forgotten about, and he asked me if I’d like him to sign it for me.
“You won’t have to waste time in line later,” Rooney said, knowing hundreds would be lined up after his talk for autographs—the only time I got a hint of his cynical side.
When I passed the book to him, his famous bushy brows rose up in surprise, when he saw it was more than 10 years old.
"That's an old one--everyone's got the new one," he said, adding I must have dug into the attic for that old relic.
I said no--it's on my bookshelf next to the AP stylebook and Molly Ivins' "Molly Ivins Can't Say That--Can She?"
He smiled and said, "that's good company."
As he opened the cover to sign it, Rooney asked what I wanted him to write. I said I didn't know, but whatever he wrote to make it out to my then-boyfriend,(now husband) Tom, who was the one who bought, read, enjoyed and kept the book since 1989--seven years before we started dating.
I was just an emissary on this one.
Rooney chuckled and said something like I picked a smart man with good taste.
He signed the book: “To Tom, not Lisa from Andy Rooney.”
We shook hands, exchanged farewells and he went to give his talk, and I found a seat in the conference room to listen.
Because I was late there were only seats in the back and except for a few shoulder movements and some gray hair, I couldn't see a thing.
And, yes, I did not have to wait in line for more than an hour to have him sign Tom’s book.
I pretty much got way more than I bargained for that day. Thanks Andy Rooney for that moment and so many others—funny, sad, insightful, and all of the other adjectives used to describe your one-of-a-kind commentaries on 60 Minutes.
Farewell Andy Rooney. The Crowley household will miss you.

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