Welcome to The Reheat, a space for Eater writers to explore landmark (and lukewarm) culinary moments of the recent and not-so-recent past.
Many of us find our lives taken up by jobs (horrible), laundry (bad), obligations to our loved ones (even worse), and maybe exercise. If only we didn’t have to tend to Google Sheets, we’d probably use our time to travel through France and write that food memoir, finally making it clear to our enemies that they should have never, never underestimated our talent. This fantasy of creative liberation is enticing, but with enough spare time, you may find that you’re less of an M.F.K. Fisher and more of an Andy Rooney.
His recurring segment on 60 Minutes, “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney,” which aired from 1978 to 2011, is a disturbing, if charming, vision of editorial freedom. Rooney, for whatever reason, was allowed to expound on any topic of his choosing, resulting in segments on “women’s hair,” “milk” (“I like half and half on my shredded wheat”), “the moon,” and “sleeping” (“I often fall asleep right at this desk”), as well as more serious subjects, like sexual harassment and “Andy’s Solution to War.”
Sitting in a cluttered office and wearing a rumpled suit, Rooney pontificated about nothing in particular with a kind of naive fluency that exposed every prejudice he held. (Some were bizarre and petty, as when he complained about how many women in his office keep bottles of water at their desks, complete with B-roll of said women typing away.) And, as a chronicler of the everyday, he had a preoccupation with food: His segments covered ice cream, tipping, and a topic called “Maybe I’ll Open a Restaurant” (tragically, I can’t find this one anywhere).
Andy Rooney was always dimly on my radar, as one of those celebrities you could know but choose not to, until a friend found his videos online. I was a comedy fan (sigh), but this was better than comedy, much funnier than anything anyone could do on purpose. By far, my favorite “Few Minutes” involved Andy making his way through a drawer of utensils from his kitchen. It’s just so clear that he had run out of ideas — something that seemed to happen to him every two or three episodes — and reached for inspiration toward whatever was closest to him. It’s an instinct that any creative person can relate to.
“I’m a sucker for any new kitchen tool,” he begins, and proceeds to pick up each utensil and describe what it does and why he doesn’t use it. The second contraption that the aged Andy shows us is a bread slicer — no longer necessary in the age of sliced bread. The third utensil? Another bread slicer.
On it goes. Andy considers a series of nutcrackers, can openers (“none of them work”), and more mysterious tools: “this is a nice one,” he says, holding up something that looks archaic and comb-like, “but again, I don’t know what it does — and again, I have two of them.”
The whole thing feels like a stand-up set where the punchlines almost make sense — and are better because they don’t. Grasping a honey dipper, Andy says: “Some of you probably know what this is: It’s for dipping honey out of a jar. Why didn’t the bees think of that?” What?
And, characteristically, Andy has some minor wisdom to share. His favorite knife, with a terrifying and rusty-looking blade that’s at least a foot long, “looks too big, but I have a theory about knives: It’s better to use a big knife even for a small job. This’ll carve a turkey or cut an olive in half.”
Maybe, like Francis Ponge, Andy was a poet of things. (Both Ponge and Rooney wrote about doors, after all.) Maybe whatever he was doing should have been shut down by the government. Either way, I admire him for carving out a space in the universe for his sometimes-inconsequential interior world, pickle picker, lemon rind scraper, bread slicer and all.