Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Why do they put cotton in pill bottles?

"I don't know anything offhand that mystifies Americans more than the cotton they put in pill bottles. Why do they do it? Are you supposed to put the cotton back in once you've taken a pill out?"

Ah, Andy Rooney, it's real easy to make fun of him. Norm MacDonald and Joe Piscopo each lampooned him on Saturday Night Live. Heck, Andy used to poke fun at himself.

"I try to look nice," he said. "I comb my hair. I tie my tie. I put on a jacket, but I draw the line when it comes to trimming my eyebrows." 

Yes, Andy did indeed have bushy eyebrows. He often complained about cereal boxes, the air inside cereal boxes and minutiae that annoyed him — and presumably should annoy everyday Americans. He was kind of like Seinfeld without the crisp delivery.

I guess I'm thinking about Andy Rooney, who's been gone for 12 years, because I'm lamenting our previous media world where we all just figured 60 Minutes was as legitimate of a news source as we could find, next to our local newspapers. Reminiscing about Rooney, and his eyebrows, makes me ponder life without newspaper columnists.

We're basically living without columnists, and I suppose we're surviving. If anything, I miss local columnists — especially the quirky ones. 

Now, you may say, hold on a second. There are plenty of legitimate columnists out there. What about The New York Times with Frank Bruni, Paul Krugman, Thomas L. Friedman and their cadre of mostly white men? However, I don't know. There is no one in 2023 I care to read regularly, except maybe Terry Pluto — Cleveland sports columnist.

Back in the day, I used to love Cleveland's Bill Livingston and Bud Shaw in sports and Michael Heaton and Jane Scott in entertainment.

When I was in the Queens office of Newsday, I worked in the same newsroom as stalwart Jimmy Breslin. He might be the epitome of news columnists. New York also had a list of popular sports columnists when I was there with Mike Lupica of the Daily News arguably at the top of the heap.

When I got to Long Beach, Doug Krikorian and Bob Keisser did an excellent job in sports with Tom Hennessey and Tim Grobaty (who recently announced a semi-retirement at the L.B. Post) doing the same in news. Even though Grobaty is hanging in there, it's been so long since we've had the gift of reading local columnists like we used to. With the demise of local news, we also lost our columnists.

Looking back on it, these columnists comprised quite a boys club — not a lot of diversity there. To me, the best ones were the ones that didn't take themselves too seriously.

Take me on a reporting ride of folks camping outside Best Buy at 4 a.m. on Black Friday. Report the glee of buying a VCR at half price. Compare the whole experience to a pilgrimage. Instead of trekking to Lourdes, go to aisle 6 with drastically discounted CD players. Make fun of the guy who bought something called a "Garmin" — like that's going to work.  

Quirky, slice-of-life columnists, AKA humorists, had fun, knowing very well that while they had a platform to do meaningful reporting and commentary, they also were limited by their perspectives and resources. They could make it all work, as long as we laughed.

Some wrote three, four columns a week, and I'm talking about the time well before the Internet and cell phones. Their main tools for research were their Rolodexes, landlines and maybe microfiche. Eh, what did they really know?

Still, I was a guy who dutifully read them and aspired to be one of them. Dave Barry, syndicated out of Miami, was the king of the humor column. Heck, he even won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1988. 

Barry is a celebrity, and that's tricky for me. When a columnist got on TV, I lost interest. Print, baby, print. I just wanted to read a column; TV news, or sound-byte commentary, never really worked with me. 

The format for humorists nowadays is basically toast. So much is a meme or Tweet. Maybe I can seek out individuals who are still writing meaningful stuff and are funny, but who exactly is that? Let me know if you know.

The Internet columnist (even though that really isn't much of a thing) is more interested in attracting clicks, building a brand and being a capitalist. I'm not interested in being one of somebody's million followers. Hard pass.

As I lament the loss of local columnists, perhaps I'm just getting older and tapping into my grumpy Andy Rooney side. Andy offered these words of wisdom back in 1988:

"The third rule of life is this: Everything you buy today is smaller, more expensive and not as good as it was yesterday."