THE FINKELSTEIN

November 27, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     You walked out the door not as a different person but with an added layer, as if you had visited a kindly elder who told you what you did not know. You had more chops.

     That was often the experience in the small hometown library, the Finkelstein, in the childhood village of a certain time in Spring Valley, N.Y., then with a population of 4,500. It was eons ago, and while time brings the memory of Hallmark moments that were less so in fact, there can be no denying this quite small library was an oasis as we grew.

     In use, it was really one big room with an equally beautiful downstairs that seemed for meetings and storage only. The Finkelstein was a 1941 family gift to the village and its people, especially the children. The library’s architecture, inside and out, was classic Jeffersonian, quite elegant and welcoming. You felt invited and dressed up even if you didn’t have a nickel in your pocket.

     But you did have a library card issued by Ellen Heitman, longtime librarian, and that was your passport to this oasis of imagination.

     Rainy days, hot summer ones, boring days, school term paper days and the ones when a walk to the Finkelstein and the promise of seclusion in an utterly quiet room, perhaps seated on the window bench looking toward the Ramapo mountains meant respite in the tugs and pushes of growing up.

     You could always count on adding to your being, your soul, after visiting the library and its books. The Finkelstein was a small place but with many windows and doors opening to endless vistas.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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‘OUT OF SORTS’

November 20, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     There is a hot-metal printer’s expression – “running out of sorts” – which means the typesetting supply of a particular letter, punctuation, character, etc., is low. In civilian terms, if we don’t feel 100 percent, we are out of sorts. An apt comment for these worldly times.

     Thing is, the printer can usually hop to another “job case,” another collection of the sorts or type needed. An apt correlation for these days, too, because somewhere – usually under our noses – there are the “sort” of people we all need to restore the equilibrium or bring it in the first place.

     If you don’t have that sort of hope, we might just as well close shop and do like the Nazis did in destroyed Berlin as the Russians came – go hedonistic in wild parties. But the best pleasure always comes from being with the right sort because it puts you back in the best of sorts.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

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IT’S LIFE

November 15, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     These virus-changed days have many office workers toiling at home in PJs, unlike the cubicles of 2020 and, blessedly before that regimented isolation, the large open room filled with desks, in turn overflowing with individual collections of paper, coffee cups, stick-it notes, Rolodexes and assorted family photos. Just like the old Rockland Journal-News city room in Nyack, N.Y.

     I was one – also blessedly – of the longtime Damon Runyonesque newspaper characters as a photographer, writer and editor, working alongside truly gifted people,  who in their natural questioning, even irreverent ways, sought the “who, what, when, why, how and where” of local stories. One of those ink-stained stiffs – the term is lovingly applied – was the late Nancy Cacioppo, a general assignment reporter and then history and arts writer.

     After retiring to Cape Cod, Nancy generously schlepped back to Rockland County and introduced me at an event. In her address, she noted some of the seemingly strange moments  encountered both in the city room and by me as a staff photographer. I say “seemingly strange” since, in the news business, the characters that are the information gatherers magnetically attract the characters that live among us. So, really not strange.

     I offer some of the anecdotes related by scribe Cacioppo:

     There was the day that some hard copy got stuck in the pneumatic tubes up to the composing room and came out as confetti, and the time when someone planted a dead mouse in the tubes sent back to editorial.

     We had a tile floor that was cleaned weekly at 4 a.m. A crew would arrive and mop bleach-laden water all over the floor. The staff, busy at their typewriters, would simply lift their feet. We had our nostrils cleared in the process, never missing a beat as we wrote.

     There was the night the police radio call out of Orangetown had cops collaring two burglars on Van Wyck Road in Blauvelt. The crooks, who were from Queens, weren’t too sharp, claiming they were just lost, looking for the Van Wyck Expressway near Kennedy Airport.

     Our colleagues were also memorable. Among them was one managing editor, a brilliant writer and layout genius, who kept a bottle of homemade moonshine in his desk; a scribe who had to sit outside in his car wrapped in a blanket evoking his muse before he could write a story; a reporter who paced the newsroom before he got the “lede” (first paragraph) right; and a scribe who typed all her notes from shorthand before she wrote her story. (It was her way of assuring accuracy.)

     As a photographer, I went to an artist’s home off South Mountain Road in New City to shoot a picture for a story. Her young son opened the door and asked me to sit on the sofa. Twenty minutes later, I asked where his mom was, and he said, “She’s taking a bath, and you will just have to wait.”

     Another time as a lensman, I was puzzled after finishing one pre-publicity shot when the lady of the house asked me to call her dog in since, she told me,  “he only answers to strangers.”

     You can’t make these things up. It’s life.

      The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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FOR ELECTION DAY 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     A long-ago story, Election Day 2022 relevant. 

     In spring 1960, the General Organization of Spring Valley High School (N.Y.) held its presidential election for the next school year. There were two candidates, both capable of filling the student government office. One was more popular than the other but each had supporters. There were debates between the two, and each candidate had a chance to present a platform. 

     The platforms were typical school-type political promises, such as more school activities and concerts and better food for sale at football and basketball games. 

     Time was set aside for voting, and a real voting machine was brought in to allow sophomores, juniors and seniors to cast ballots.

     Finally, Leland Rickard-Meyer, the longtime principal, opened the back of the voting machine and read the tally. There  were 202 votes for the winner and 198 for the loser.

     The winner’s hand was raised, and the loser shook his other hand. Both candidates remained friends. There was no election challenge, no tears with cries by election deniers. It was a damn good example for students learning about participatory democracy.

      It is a lesson still to be learned today in this great experiment called democracy, ongoing since 1776. May whoever wins Tuesday take up the sacred challenge to keep elections free and fair and fully accessible.

     Final note: the fellow who won, Fred Yatto Jr., had just two months in office, passing away at 17 after heart surgery. The guy who lost was a pallbearer. That was me.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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AT THE WINDOW

October 30, 2022_ 

By Arthur H.Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     Our America, at times wonderful to the point of tears – emotional, caring, giving – is also in its citizens’ fear as mean as can be – from want, loss, uncertainty in great and challenging change. We then fall back on  the temptation that is prejudice, born of frustration, deliberate ignorance and survival. Those who would “lead” only for themselves and their agenda quickly seize the moment and become false pied pipers.

     Such a time is now, as it has been before – in the Civil War, in lynchings, in mass immigration, in urban flight, in the present fear of a world collapsing about us in every which way.

     Yet, standing at a window with both light and dark, we can see possibilities of the future as well as failures of the past. If we open the  window, what will we let in?

     Our nation is 246 years young, an experiment described by founder Benjamin Franklin: “You have a democracy, if you can keep it.” Speaking after a session of the Constitutional Convention, his seeming intent was that democracy is fed nutrition by citizen participation – compromise, tolerance, a get-it-done-for-the-betterment-of-all attitude. Or we lose democracy.

      Time to open the window.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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THE PORTRAIT

October 23, 2022

By Arthur H.Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     A face is the door to someone’s being, the eyes the hallway to the soul. It can be a journey never forgotten.

     As a photographer – I was on staff for a newspaper – while the job ends, the skills do not nor the creative pull. My one big regret is that I did not have enough assigned portraits.

     We took many “mug shots,” which were standard head photos of students in sports, politicians, people iin-the-street interviews, but it was rare when you could sit someone for a portrait.

     Yousuf Karsh, the famous photographer, perhaps best related a story about getting inside a person at a portrait session. He was assigned to take a photograph of Winston Churchill in Canada during World War II. The busy prime minister wanted this done quick and puffed away on his signature cigar in a signal to Karsh to click the shutter and be done with it. But the photographer knew he had not yet seen the real Churchill, the bulldog patriot of the free world, the fighter. Karsh grabbed Churchill’s cigar, startling him and bringing to his face fighting spirit. It is a masterful portrait.

     Taking a photograph of someone  depends on the chemistry between the subject and the photographer. That can be instant or acquired in trust over time. In a way, it’s like kissing in mutual attraction. That can be almost instant or later. If pushed, you never get down the hall to the soul.

     There is another way to take portraits, and that is not in a formal sitting with lighting and background tailored to the moment but in candid work. Finding someone staring out a window, that special light joining her face, her eyes fixed in a journey of thought, that can be a real portrait.

     You just have to be there, unobtrusive, ready with camera.

     A portrait session, a candid opportunity as well, can leave you emotionally involved. That happens when you near someone’s soul. And you never forget.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                        -30-  

AMERICAN STORY

October 17, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     America needs a good story, from sea to shining sea, in the hustings, in the gothams, on the farms, in the mountains and valleys, in the panhandle and among the poor, the rich, the in-between, the Republican, the Democrat, the independent, among all of whatever ethnic, immigrant or native background, among those of pessimism and optimism, among the prejudiced and the clear-thinkers.

     We are but one people, forged in both violence – the chasing of the frontier, the Civil War, world wars, survival – and compassion – the tears and neighborly comfort in storm and other loss. But we are also argumentative – the debate of 1776 and what sort of nation we must become and maintain – and we are fixed in our ways – the country fellow who dislikes cities; the urbanite who can’t sleep without the cacophony of car horns and fire truck sirens.

     Now this nation, shuddering in 2022 at brinkmanship from extreme, polarized political belief that seeks no compromise, heads for Pottersville, the dismal town in “It’s a Wonderful Life” that runs on greed, villainy, corruption, hedonism and suspicion when it should keep the sign at “Bedford Falls” where family support, the laughter of small children, the warm smiles of an honest working man who needs dental work prevail amongst real, challenging everyday worries.

     All is not hunky-dory in Bedford Falls, never will be. That’s the point. You have good days and bad days, Just like America.

     That’s our story. We must re-read it.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                           -30-

THEY ‘SUNG’ FOR US

October 9, 2022

 By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     There is no workplace rhythm – this necessary, life-sustaining tempo, this melody, this song – without the interplay of people. Bosses, the ordinary grunts, specialists, the guys and gals who do the job, or who do the job better than others, the slackers, the prima donnas, the ego-feeders and the ego-needers, the rear kissers, the independents, the saints, the sinners, the long-termers and the in-and-outs – all are essential to what makes a particular shop or store or business sing its anthem. Success, the name and reputation, the lasting memory jam on this music.

     In the old-style newspaper business, my craft, when editors “dummied” or sketched pages of stories, photos and graphics on style sheets that printers would try to follow in the upstairs composing room or the “backshop,” usually making corrections that resulted in a much better newspaper, we editorial/city room  types soon learned to “make a friend of a printer,” for you were sunk if you did not. No matter how accurate you thought your story lengths were, or how tight the pictures were cropped, and especially if you believed your headlines would fit the column space, once you stood next to the printer, that compositor making up your page in cast hot metal, you soon realized you weren’t worth a pot of ink.

     That’s when printers like Tom D’Auria and “Big John” DeSevo saved your ass, particularly on deadline. Tom, who was close in age when we worked together in the 1970s, and Big John, who was a bit older as we toiled in the 1970s-’90s, were originally linotypists or typesetters at a country, then suburban, newspaper named the Rockland Journal-News, in the 1950s and ’60s. They also did page makeup, placing type cast from molten metal into “chases” or forms, with photographic and advertising “cuts,” locking that heavy mass  with a special wrench and then sending the form to a “mat” maker. The mats were filled with cast lead in half-cylindrical shape to be placed on rotary presses for printing at 53 Hudson Ave., Nyack, N.Y., then in a facility in West Nyack.

     That precision work gave way to photo-offset printing in the 1970s, and Tom and Big John became “paste-up artists” who laid down columns of type, photos, graphics and ads on full-size heavy-paper sheets, which were  photographed to produce offset printing plates made of tin. It was a less precise process than hot type and eventually was replaced by computer design direct to printing plate, the standard at newspapers remaining today.

    In their time, printers like Tom and Big John, the former always making a joke and the latter puffing away on a cigar and working quickly, were your friends in composing, deftly trimming stories, rearranging the layout to make it jump, helping fill out headlines, etc. They assisted you in making deadline and getting the work done in what is the daily birth of a newspaper.

     Both Tom and Big John were affable, two of the songbirds in the wonderful rhythm of the old and then changing newspaper composing room. Their banter, their yells for trims, for more type, set against the clank-clank of the Linotypes and then the whirring of the offset cameras, gave cadence to a craft.

     Few who read the old Journal-News out of 53 Hudson knew Tom D’Auria or Big John DeSevo, for as in most jobs, the staff was unsung. Yet like the mason who sets the first block best, the foundation for any one day’s newspaper was assured by their presence. Gone now, both of them, as surely as is their style of newspaper composing, but I can still hear their music.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is adapted from earlier writing.

-30-

TRUST

October 2, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     A fall ride in early evening on a wooded parkland drive when the quiet is uninterrupted, when the moon is full and car lights seem unnecessary, when the engine purrs in low revolution, when the conversation between two is also at momentary idle, the emotions full, this is when trust is there that heaven exists.

     The quiet will end, the car will rev up with the next hill, the talk will resume. This is when utter simplicity is worth more than riches.

     Language is vital in relationships, but words are just one of the instruments. Body movement, eye contact, facial expression and silence are communicators, too.

     Things to do, mutual interests, your own space are also in the vocabulary of relationship of any sort. But the most important is being comfortable – no worry of pleasing, having to give the right answer, sitting up straight, whatever. No need to prove oneself. The trust is there.

     Not unlike the fall drive in early evening in wooded parkland, the quiet as mutually comfortable as a shared, cozy blanket.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                   -30-

ON THE ROOFTOPS

September 25, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
ahgunther@yahoo.com

 In the early Gotham years of the 1900s, and into that century until about the time of the great post-war escape to the country, a Sunday gathering of women on tenement rooftops to hang washing was more than ritual. It was social. It was cathartic.
     There are "Ash Can School" paintings of this, the wash whitened by bleach and red-hand scrubbing in sinks used for cooking, too, or in shared hallway baths. 
     Women, hard-worked day-in, day-out, gathered in sympathy and short weekly escape on the rooftops, breezes from the East River, the Hudson or the Battery drying not only wash but long hair let loose like the women's emotions. 
     There was understanding among them on these Sundays for a time apart from husbands, children and dark, sometimes windowless rooms. The rhythm of the week, dreary enough, was broken in common with other women.
     Conversations had, secrets shared, words only spoken in this Sunday society.  Laughter at absurdity.
     It was city life in a moment of time, an encounter group of sorts, reaffirmation of sisterhood.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

                           -30-