THIS ‘N THAT: King Curmudgeon

"King Curmudgeon" This 'N That by Fred HIlton


story: Fred Hilton photo-illustration: Anthony Casto

The other day I was getting a haircut in Lake-Sumter Landing when an enormous truth dawned on me. My regular barber Bill had pretty much finished my haircut and was trimming my eyebrows. As the little bitty eyebrow hairs bounced off my cheeks, I had a sudden revelation: I really, really miss Andy Rooney.

We all remember rumpled, grumpy Andy Rooney, the world’s greatest curmudgeon. Every Sunday evening, as the clock on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” ticked down toward the end of the hour, we knew that Andy was going to come on air to whine and complain for a few minutes. If there was something you didn’t like, or thought was stupid, you could be assured that Andy would eventually grouse about it since there wasn’t much that he liked or didn’t think was stupid. We remember his words but what we really remember about Andy is his eyebrows, those glorious, marvelous, unbridled eyebrows. You couldn’t really look at Andy without focusing your attention on his eyebrows. They were the epitome of disarray — incredibly long with no two eyebrow hairs going in the same direction. Br’er Rabbit couldn’t have escaped Andy’s briar patch of eyebrows. Andy would have never let Bill the Barber, or anyone else bearing scissors, near his magnificent eyebrows.

Often, Andy said some things worth hearing, but to many people, his unkempt eyebrows distracted totally from his message and made him look like a resident of the Village of Stupid. My wife, who has a severe case of truth telling, made no bones about her disdain for Andy’s appearance. I sometimes think Howard Cossell learned how to “tell it like it is” from her. Her take on Andy Rooney: “He may be smart but those silly eyebrows make him look like a moronic derelict.” Well, she probably had a point, but I figured that Andy had been a war correspondent in World War II and was a buddy of Walter Cronkite. Either of those things would give him a pass in my book.

Every Sunday evening, Andy did indeed “tell it like it is.” Andy waylaid everything he thought was bubble-headed or pretentious. It’s a shame Andy never met my mother. He would have liked her. She was a dear lady but she never suffered fools gladly. As she got older, she didn’t suffer them at all. More than 40 years of teaching elementary school, usually to sixth graders, can make one pretty steely and outspoken.

A number of years ago, I was with her in the grocery store when three swarthy young men nearby started jabbering to each other in a foreign language. My mother marched over to them, stared them down, and said, “If you’d learn our language, you’d get along a whole lot better in this country.” There was a deathly silence. My life flashed before my eyes. I could see the headlines in the newspaper: “Sweet Little Old Lady and Her Fat Middle-Aged Son Stomped to Death in Aisle Three at Food Lion.” But it didn’t happen. I guess sixth-grade teachers project an aura of fear and respect in any country. One of the swarthy young men just mumbled, “We can speak English, lady,” and they slunked out of the store, muttering words that I didn’t want to know how to translate.

Andy would have enjoyed that. Wouldn’t it be nice if Andy (if he were still alive) could come to The Villages and tell off some of those people who annoy us?

I’d love to take Andy with me to Publix and turn him loose on that lady who gets into the express lane with 16 items in her cart when the sign clearly says you can’t have more than 10. Andy would raise his eyebrows and give her a quick lesson in counting while all of us in line behind her would applaud.

It would also be nice to take Andy along with me on my golf cart. I can see his eyebrows flowing in the wind. Andy could unleash his acerbic tongue on those smart alecks who go roaring around me in their golf carts. Look, I have a really big golf car, really old batteries, and I’m a really big guy. I’m doing the best I can. Andy would lay some harsh words on them and they would never pass me again. They wouldn’t even pass somebody in a Scooter Chair.

Also, I wish Andy had been with me that time when a guy was driving his golf cart in the right lane going around Market Square when he spotted a good parking place by the square and cut across the other lane in front of a car, nearly causing a wreck. Andy would tell him off. Wait a minute, that was me, wasn’t it?

I’m pretty sure that when I get my next haircut, I’m going to tell Bill the Barber not to cut my eyebrows.

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