The Best of Andy Rooney

Old friends may be the best friends, but new friends you don't know very well are good, too. They're not only good, but they can be less trouble than old friends. You know how it is with old friends.

New friends, by which I mean friends with whom you have no serious relationship, make life pleasant. These people are passing-on-the-street friends, elevator friends, small-business friends like the girl at the checkout counter. It would take a week for me to count all the minor friends I have and then I'd forget quite a few until I saw them again. So would you.

From day to day these acquaintances are important to how I feel about the whole world. If all I did was read about people in the newspaper or watch them on television, I'd always be depressed. Coming in contact every day with good people who are minor friends renews my faith in mankind a faith that was destroyed the previous evening watching television news, where most of the people were bad, sad or dead.

You gain and lose these friends all the time. I lost two this week when the man and woman who run the dry cleaners where I've been going for seven years, sold the business and moved to Florida. I'll never see them again and I'm sorry because it was always a pleasure to leave a piece of clothing with them or pick one up. They did their job, I paid them, we smiled, exchanged a few words and I left. Taking a freshly cleaned and pressed suit from the cleaners whose proprietors are minor friends is one of life's small pleasures.

The beauty of friends you don't know well is that you have no obligation to them except to be pleasant, and they have none to you. You don't worry that their mother is dying of cancer because that's not something they talk to you about. It doesn't matter to you that they're having trouble paying the rent and they wouldn't dream of mentioning it to you. You don't burden minor friends with major problems. Each of these friends is different and each contributes to your day in a different way. They make the world seem civilized.

Freddy is the doorman in front of a building I go in all the time and my relationship with him is different than my relationship with the dry cleaning people. They didn't care about sports events. With them, the talk was mostly about the weather or how often the streets were dug up in New York. With Freddy, all we ever talk about is sports.

"How do you think the Giants looked the other night?" he asked me recently.

"OK," I replied.

I don't have real conversations with Freddy. Anything we have to say gets said as I move past him. We have our meeting of the minds and then we both proceed to the next event in our lives. It's pleasant, it's not taxing and it doesn't cost either of us anything.

I often take a taxi. There are 11,000 cabs in New York City, so the chance of getting the same one twice, even if you take a couple of hundred cab rides a year, is slight. Nonetheless, there are several cab drivers I've had half a dozen times. We're friends. They may steal or cheat but I only know their good side and I like it that way.

"Last time I had you, you were going to the airport. You were making a speech in Cleveland."

I had all but forgotten Cleveland, but that cab driver, who in all likelihood has never been to Cleveland, hadn't forgotten. We are minor friends.

Minor friends seldom disagree. They never fight. They don't borrow money, have each other over for dinner Saturday night, or argue over whether the current President is the worst or the best President the United States ever had. I've never exchanged a discouraging word with my minor friends and if they were all I ever had to deal with, the sky would not be cloudy all day.

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Aug. 21, 1994.)

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