The Best of Andy Rooney

"All the things I want I've had -- true love and change of weather," wrote the great E.B. White.

I've had true love and a change of weather, but I've yearned for many more things over the years. Some I've had, some I haven't. Desire can drive you crazy and, more often than not, it makes no sense. The trick to happiness is adjusting your desire to the realities of your life, and that's hard. If you can't have what you want, it makes sense to want less.

When I was a young boy, about 8, what I most wanted in the world was a pair of high-topped shoes that had a place on the side of one shoe that held a small pocketknife. The first Christmas I asked for them, I didn't get them. I was upset. My mother didn't think I should play with knives.

Two years later, I wanted a BB gun called a Daisy Air Rifle. I didn't get that, either. My mother didn't like guns. When a 14-year-old boy in our town shot and killed a friend by accident, my mother remarked that the boy's parents should be charged with murder.

When I was 16, I got my "junior license," which meant that you could drive during the day. Once I had my license, I wanted a car, of course. I was almost 18 when Uncle Tom gave me his old Dodge sedan, which must have been about my age. It was a real clunker but I loved it and it gave me a freedom I'd never had before.

I soon tired of that old car. It's a sad fact of life that gratification is usually the death of desire. Once you have the object of desire, you don't want it anymore.

For years I wanted a little sports car with lots of power. That was slow coming, too. In 1966, I finally got what I wanted, a Sunbeam Tiger, British racing green, with a Ford V8 engine under its bonnet. I still own it, and it weakens my theory about gratification and desire because I like having it today as much as I did the day I bought it.

One of the great satisfactions in my life is having enough money to go to a good woodworkers' store once in a while and buy a new chisel, a good plane, or even something major like a drill press or a lathe. These tools are nothing I need, but something I want.

I've read all the negative essays on how materialistic our society has become, but I still take satisfaction from spending money I've made for something my heart desires.

It takes so long to make the money compared to how quickly you spend it that you can't think too long about what you're doing or you'd never buy anything. You can't start equating the cost of an acquisition with the number of times you have to get up early in the morning and go to work to make the money to pay for it.

I once had the all-American-boy urge to own a motorcycle. During World War II, I acquired the abandoned motorcycle of a German POW. Then years ago, I bought one of those little motor scooters. While visiting Paris, I noticed everyone seemed to have one and they seemed like such a good idea that I wanted one, too.

I drove my motor scooter for about a year until it was stolen. It was great fun to go so far on so little gas. But fortunately, I had gotten it out of my system by the time the scooter was stolen, so I didn't need to replace it.

What I'd most like now is to start a second life as an infant knowing all the things I know today as an adult. I wouldn't be asking for a BB gun -- I know that.

This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published April 7, 1998.

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