The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Dec. 17, 2005.)

Some things -- and people -- age well. Some things -- and people -- just get old.

It's not easy to say exactly what makes one old chest of drawers a valuable antique and what makes another a piece of junk.

One of my favorite chores is going to the dump in my hometown on Saturday morning. Throwing stuff away that's cluttering up your house or your garage is a cathartic experience that feels good -- but in addition to that, it's always interesting to see what other people throw away.

I don't like to have anyone see me do it, but I sometimes come home with more in the back of my Jeep than I took to the dump. Last week, the man in the car next to me was throwing out a piece of furniture that I couldn't identify. While he took one piece of it to the discard pile, I inspected another piece still in the back of his car. It was the top of some kind of table made of a single pine board almost 40 inches square.

Any board 40 inches wide came from a huge tree probably 100 years old, and the table itself was probably almost 100. When the man returned to get it to throw away, I asked if I could have it. I now have a beautiful old pine board that will have a new life because I will refinish it and turn it into something else. I feel good about saving it from being incinerated.

What started me thinking about this subject of old or used things was nothing as attractive as an old board. It was a banana peel I saw this morning that someone had thrown in the street near where I park. Considering how attractive a banana looks sitting in a bowl of fruit along with some oranges, apples, pears and peaches, it's interesting that it turns instantly into so disgusting a piece of garbage once the edible part is removed. There's absolutely nothing aesthetically attractive about a banana peel.

Some of the used or secondhand cars you see for sale in lots with prices written on their windshields aren't much better-looking than a banana peel. On the other hand, I drove past an old-car show a few weeks ago and they had some antique beauties that were better-looking than the day they were made. What makes one old car junk and another collectible?

The clothes in my closet fall in two categories. A few of my good old tweed jackets made from material woven in Scotland or England have gained charm and character with age. They don't look seedy; they look well worn.

On the other hand, a lot of my old clothes ought to go. I'm running out of hangers and some of the suits hanging from them were mistakes when they were new and they've aged badly. I'd throw them out, but it hurts too much when I remember what I paid for them.

Some of my old books are ragged from the number of times I've thumbed through them looking for favorite passages. I've written remarks and notes in the margins and on the blank pages at the beginning and end. They're a mess, but they look beautifully familiar to me and I wouldn't trade them for brand-new copies with pristine dust jackets.

I don't know why it is, but old and new both seem more interesting than middle-aged. I have five pairs of middle-aged shoes I'll never wear and never throw out.

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