By Scott Sullivan
Don’t you hate columns that start “Don’t you hate”? Pick your poison. We all hate, say, robocalls. So how come there are so many?
I call folks who lean on tropes like these faux curmudgeons. A real one would stand up for bureaucrats, boors, irritating aunts, maybe even lawyers for performing a real service. If we agree on a common enemy, we overlook how much we hate each other.
My parents loved the late TV writer/commentator Andy Rooney. “You know what bugs me …?” he’d start, then rant about annoyances like shrink wrap and sports team mascots.
We all want to live a long life but no one wants to get old, he’d note. How does that work? Like marriage. Just because I love you doesn’t mean I don’t want to kill you. And vice versa.
Getting old lets us cut strings that made us feel like marionettes. Think political correctness is bad? Try corporate. When my Dad retired, his long-repressed calling B.S. kicked into overdrive.
A trope is a common or overused theme or device, cliché, bromide, chestnut … Some folks rely so much on debunking them they don’t realize how dependent on them they are.
A friend professes to hate Donald Trump so much she’s obsessed with being appalled by all that he does or says. It’s like stalking almost. Who wants to be cared for that much?
Free thinkers must tether themselves. We’re loose in the void without friction otherwise. Dad retired but was yoked to his past, wife, kids, vision of the future … When he spouted off we forgave his excesses as best suited us. His and Mom’s votes most elections canceled each other out.
I was and still am the firstborn. “I didn’t get old on purpose,” said Rooney. “It just happened. If you’re lucky it could happen to you.” He died at age 92. I wish my parents had been so lucky. I’d still have someone except me to suck the life from. Think losing illusions is bad? Try scapegoats. Good luck if you don’t find new ones.
Mom was a born contrarian, skilled at applying the needle gently. Dad, a made one, lacked her finesse but loved being upended. Those who float pride most desperately realize somewhere inside they most need it punctured. Freed from the guilt/obligation of being Always Right, Dad could laugh at himself. Mom made sure of it. As my brothers and I grew less scared, we did it too.
The Oedipus myth — kill the father, mate with the mother — is repelling literally. Metaphorically it’s essential. Men must replace Dad or never command our own lives. To keep the life wheel spinning, we must then replace Mom with a partner who can nurture our kids and, oh yeah, us too.
I’m not sexist; women can have an Electra complex. The ancient Greeks knew about our LGBT friends too. Art and ideas sustain humankind more than flesh and bones.
Andy got going on cotton in pill bottles, he was unstoppable. Why is it in there? Should you put it back once you take the pills out?
He didn’t go into childproof bottles only children can open. But he did call Eli Lilly to ask why the cotton. He was, after all, an esteemed veteran journalist who had flown beside Ernie Pyle in World War II bombing raids over Germany and been one of the first Americans to behold Nazi concentration camps. Questioning corporate compared to that was a breeze.
Andy would hold up a Maalox bottle. “The bottle comes in this box,” he’d say. “You take the bottle out of the box, take the cotton out of the bottle; and they’d just used the box and not used the bottle, look at this! All these pills would have fit into the box and they’d have had room for three times as much cotton. It’s enough to give you an upset stomach …
“I bought this box of Johnson & Johnson cotton,” he’d go on, “just to see how they were selling cotton, and look at this! It’s mostly paper. You don’t run into the cotton till way down here.
“Well, that’s my report on the cotton in pill bottles,” he would say.
As firstborn I felt I was Dad’s biggest disappointment. Now I know that was too grandiose. He loved to read but did not “get writing. “Why not do something practical, son? Make money?”
I’d peck out something on the typewriter he had got me — about, say, how the local state rep’s entry “brought a welcome note of levity” to the senate race — the sheet would be gone the next morning from the roller and I’d find my ditty in that night’s newspaper.
I got my first anonymous hate letter from a John Birch Society member after that one. This particular buffoon didn’t get elected, but plenty more have run and won since. I can see now why Rooney never ran out of topics. All we run out of, if we love life enough, is time.
For all he gave me I can’t forgive him. He was — and still is — my Dad.