The Best of Andy Rooney

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has asked state legislators to repeal a law mandating that the last teachers hired are the first to be fired. Bloomberg insists that hiring and firing should be based on performance, not longevity. Is there anyone but a bad teacher who would disagree?

There's no organization of significant size that wouldn't be better off if the least efficient people on staff were fired, with no regard for the order in which they were hired. (There are just three of us in my office and I hope I'm not the first to go.)

Because different people do different things well, there's always room for a lot of people with skills that don't overlap. I couldn't do what my boss does but he couldn't do what I do, either, so he's nice to me -- usually.

When I was in college, I worked at a paper mill in the summer and my friend Ring, with whom I worked doing odd jobs, couldn't spell his own name, Wallace Ringer. But Ring knew how to do a thousand things about which I knew nothing. As uneducated and ignorant of the world as Ring was, I learned more from him than from any of my teachers. I wish Ring had taught Latin.

One day, we were asked (told) to take down a huge generator that had been attached to a wall 30 feet off the floor of the mill. The generator weighed more than 1,000 pounds and I was at a loss as to how to start. Not Ring.Within a few hours, using ropes and chains, we had lowered the generator to the floor and Ring went to our supervisor to ask what to do with it. Ring was a genius in an area that doesn't recognize genius.

Over the years, I've known a thousand people who knew how to do something I didn't know how to do, and I always tried to learn from them. I wasn't always successful, but I tried.

I learned some very unusual skills during World War II from people who knew what they were doing, and did it while risking their lives every day.

I particularly remember an incident in Germany. When I first went overseas with the Army, I was assigned to a field artillery regiment. The job of rolling a 2,000-pound artillery howitzer into proper position for firing in the right direction took all the strength and skill our 8-man team could muster. I had to learn quickly how to get the job done. My superiors trained me on the job -- and they did a good job.

Once the howitzer was in position, four of us had to load a 500-pound missile into the breech. The field artillery was one of the least satisfying experiences of my life because we fired all the time at what we thought was the enemy, but never knew whether or not we hit anything.

After firing across the Rhine at what we thought were German positions, one bridge was left standing. The most frightening experience of my life was running across that wavering bridge with German artillery shells plopping into the water all around us. If one if them had hit the bridge, I wouldn't be writing this.

Several of us made it across the river successfully, but none of our troops had crossed and we were left alone with straggling elements of the Wehrmacht. We spent a bad night, but we'd been trained how to survive. The Fourth Infantry Division joined us the next day and we were safe. Once we crossed the Rhine, the Germans quickly retreated and there wasn't much opposition on the way to Berlin. We felt like we had won the war.

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