OF NECESSITY

May 1, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     Years ago, decades actually, this once young man watched as an older fellow carefully straightened bent nails taken from discarded wood. “Why,” I asked?

    The man said he would reuse them, but I wondered why he bothered, since an ample-sized  box of 10-penny nails (three-inch pieces) then cost about 89 cents and could meet home use for a very long time.

     I missed the point, literally. It was “Waste Not, Want Not,” and it was the attitude that counted. And what came with the exercise.

    Now, older myself but not always wiser, for I still don’t straighten bent nails though the cost for a box of 10ds is now about $8, I did find myself in the attitude lesson recently. Of necessity.

     I was into a home improvement project, the sort that seems to come in retirement like bills long overdue, when I needed a caulking gun. Did not want to run to Beckerle Lumber yet another time (my average home repair/renovation seems to be two trips a day, at least), so I grabbed the caulking gun I had in the garage.

     It was caked with old caulk though only about a year old, and the advancing mechanism was frozen. I had once again failed to clean the gun immediately after use, something my grandfather, or the fellow who straightened bent nails way back, would not have avoided.

    After the last use, I figured I would just buy another gun, for about $4. But here it was eight hours into a project, and I was too bone-tired to go to the store. So, I played old-fashioned. Sitting down, half for rest, half for concentration, I carefully and slowly peeled the old caulk off the gun and then cleaned the metal with a solvent and oiled the advancing mechanism.

     Not only did the gun work, but it performed better than when I bought it. There was real satisfaction, too, in not only saving a few dollars and avoiding another stress-filled trip on ever-busier roads, but in silently meeting the approval of the oldsters who “wasted not, wanted not.”

     I may never buy another caulking gun. I like this one too much now.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

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PULL-CHAIN LIGHTS

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     Many of the older homes I walked into as a youngster had one- or two-bulb ceiling fixtures in the middle of the room, operated by a long pull chain that hit any tall fellow in the head. These lights, the fashion of the time when electricity first came to old houses in old villages, were literally illuminating after gas jets, but they were awfully harsh, directing shadows on people and furniture, as in the film noir treatment of a Raymond Chandler mystery.
    So it is that I have erased any trace of ceiling fixtures in every home I’ve owned, save the kitchen. And even there task lighting not only makes for better veggie cutting but sets the mood. Kitchens, like living rooms, bathrooms and certainly bedrooms are all about mood.
     My Spring Valley, N.Y., grandfather had a wonderful “standard lamp,” which others call floor lamps, but the British moniker sounds more accurate since movable lighting became common fare almost as quickly as did ceiling fixtures. My grandfather had his placed next to a large and comfy chair, and the 100-watt bulb seemed to provide the sun’s touch for any a youngster’s reading of the Saturday Evening Post or a New York City tabloid.
     His lamp, like the original ceiling fixtures, had a pull chain, not a twist knob, not a push-pull contraption, both of which you always seem to fumble for in the dark, almost knocking over the fixture.
    No, a longish pull chain with a glass bauble at its end, which swung and hit the lamp’s upright pole three or four times. It was easy to locate because of the glass and the chain itself. Its action was smooth, and during the 15 or so years I sat next to that standard lamp, the chain never failed.
     There was certainty in its action, yes, and also sureness that I would soon be comfortable in a chair where while others in the family talked, I could get lost in a tabloid or magazine.
    Contrast this pull chain, which turned on a world of delight, to the dangling one from ceiling fixtures that cast harsh light, the mysterious mood of which was dreary.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier version.

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GOODNESS OVER ALL

April,17, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     In this especially crazy world right now – “fakakta,” as the Yiddish word well describes, with media focused on the horrors of the war in Ukraine, the killing of children, the raping; in a moment when high inflation is threatening virus recovery; in an hour when corporate profits rise 25 percent in tragedy, calamity, sorrow and greed, the wonder is why the gods just don’t shut down the store and end the earthly run.

     Who can fathom the reasons why? What can be seen however is proof positive that if the world goes up in smoke and flame, there should be a safe space for:

 * Brave Ukrainians fighting against harm and death to save their nation and culture.

* The Polish people, once under Nazi and then Soviet horror who continue to welcome Ukrainians fleeing from madness.

* The long line of women standing before a Russian embassy in seemingly bloodied underwear, hands tied with rope, bags over their heads, protesting the Rape of Ukraine but also the rape of women everywhere before, now and, horribly, after.

* Subway riders and others in New York City who helped each other after a sick person terrorized a Brooklyn train, shooting at random in the haze of smoke bombs.

* People who quietly give to others in need without seeking attention – “paying it forward.”

* Anyone who sacrifices for others; anyone who fights against abuse, greed, indifference.

     Of course the listing of goodness could go on and on; the point is that when this earthly existence ends, whether the planet disintegrates by humankind or nature, the record will clearly show that there was more good than bad. And those who did the right things will exist forever, or there is no reason in all this.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

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THE ‘RIGHT-TIME’ D.A.

April 10, 2022

By Arthur H.Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

    Take a “country” boy who earns a law degree and throw him into an emerging suburb with the first wisps of urban-like crime, and you have someone who calls himself the “Hayseed D.A.” Only the fellow proves no country bumpkin. Or maybe he was one, because rural folk can have a real knowing, sophisticated eye. 

     Robert R. Meehan, raised in the pre-war and wartime era in the Village of Suffern, N.Y., knew old-style downtowns, schools where underpaid teachers had second jobs, where few locked house and car doors, where the look in someone’s eye guaranteed the handshake deal.

     As Bob Meehan matured from high school football player to college and then law school graduate, through Navy service during the Korean War and back into post-war Rockland County, N.Y., he remembered the values of his upbringing.

     In time, he would win a very close 1965 election for district attorney and serve through 1974. Bob would later become a County Court judge and acting New York State Supreme Court justice though from his writings in a book now assembled by Kathleen Meehan Do, one of his daughters, he preferred the D.A. post.

     It is easy to see why. The book is an accident of luck but perhaps intended by the gods. In 2017, long after her father’s 2004 passing, Kathleen came across a bag of her dad’s papers held by her Aunt Carolyn, wife of Tom Meehan, the famed Broadway book author (“Annie,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray”). In the bag with legal pads and assorted papers was an unpublished 1978 manuscript, “The Hayseed D.A.”

     Seems Bob Meehan had sent it to prospective publishers, but though it was deemed story-worthy, it was too rough and needed serious editing.

     That became Kathleen’s devoted job since she is a professional writer with heavy experience in Albany and Pennsylvania. Her mission was aided by sisters Mary and Pat and others but surely by the spirit of her father cheering her on in what was more than a family mission and certainly not an effort by the former district attorney to shine a spotlight on himself.

     Kathleen Do’s careful editing in this book published by State University of New York Press brings to readers fascinating stories of detective work in key cases, including the now 50-year-old tragic Congers school-bus crash that took the lives of five Nyack High School students. It is an inside look at how justice is pursued, how a careful D.A. can win cases, how mercy also applies. It is country values mixing with urban-like realities. It is a district attorney for the right time in a growing suburb.

     The book is a good read, and to fully appreciate it, the final chapter, “Annie,” is especially recommend as it captures the essence of a country-raised fellow sharp in understanding law, full of compassion but also seeking justice, a boss loyal to staff and in deep humility grateful to them.

     “Confessions of a Hayseed D.A.” takes Rockland County justice from the semi-rural age into the beginnings of suburban, even urban-like crime and punishment. Editor Do has put context and interpretation into the coming of age of both a county and an idealistic legal defender and prosecutor. Yet in all her editing and assembly, Robert R. Meehan’s voice is paramount, a tribute to both father and daughter.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who covered Bob Meehan’s career as a photographer and editorialist.

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LIBRARIES

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     This is National Library Week, an annually booked observance that is seemingly unnecessary for readers since every week, even every day, celebrates the great adventure of not only running eyes over words but going to the places where they rest on shelves for the next visit to someone’s lap.

     Reading is fundamental, as the old ads noted in encouragement against ignorance and for success, and it is also a trip. Every short story, novel, essay, non -fictional piece has its rhythm, taking readers down lanes, up hills, into valleys, turning right, left, stopping at intersections, braking, accelerating. From your comfortable chair, or just sitting on edge on a wall, you get to “hear” the music of the individual writer. You will love, like some authors; others not. But you will be forever changed even in some small way by the read, by the acquaintance you have made with the writer.

     Yes, you buy books in stores big and small, from Barnes & Noble to the great marvel of Jack Dunnigan’s Pickwick Book Store in Nyack, N.Y., its jammed shelves beckoning like a bakery full of cookies and pastries for a child. Celebrate these places. Buy from them.

     But also visit, often, the library down Broadway in your community and be welcomed by tomes great and small, tended to with the understanding that only librarians can give, as mothers and fathers to these books, displaying them with paternal pride, keeping them safe, allowing them to visit their friends – readers – but eager for all these words to return, tucked in again on mahogany shelves.

     National Library Week – the birthday celebration reminding us of all the journeys words can take us on, available for free booking anytime.  

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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GIFTS, ALL

March 27, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     The Irish carry words in their pockets as others do coins. Even the spare change can become a short story or novel.

     This essay is written after the Feast of St. Patrick and all the religious/cultural moments, parades and green things and the proclamation that on March 17 “We are all Irish.”

     Well not the day after nor the one before. God did not make everyone Irish for the same reason she did not color everyone this or that, or have all speak the same language or look alike. And, of course, not every Irish man or woman can write from the soul and the tears of everyday living.

       But more than enough do, and that is the gift to humanity, for we all need the narrators and explainers to understand this mortal coil, to get through it all and to exhilarate as well.

     Leave it to others too to show their particular artistry, culture, talents and great giving to the world. And may we all celebrate in the differences for would we want to eat off the same menu every day of our lives?

     This piece may be for the Irish in their March month, but really it is for all of us, however we hail.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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ELAINE

March 20, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

      The passing of a friend leaves a space in life’s puzzle that you just keep staring at. Where is that piece – was it misplaced? The blurring of reality and the unreal continues as the waves of grief truly wash again and again.

     Way back in November 2005, I received an email from Elaine Muise Calabro in Grand Junction, Colorado. I worked with her brother Ken at the former Rockland Journal-News in Nyack, N.Y., and given the growing internet, she found my name and the link to my weekly newspaper column.         

     That email led to a polite answer, and then an equally polite response from Elaine and then very close to 6,000 emails. She wrote, I responded. She wrote again. Every day.

     This was not about romance, those many words, but about sharing thought on families, spouses, children, politics, humanity, jobs. I guess we were pen pals.

     On Thursday, March 3, this year, the email from Elaine Muise Calabro, once of Congers, N.Y., once a third-grade teacher at Link School in New City, N.Y., read: “Will let you know what the oncologist says. Probably not until Saturday; I imagine we will have a lot to process, and I will be quite tired tomorrow.”

     That was the last of nearly 6,000 emails from Elaine, with nary a day missed between us over almost 17 years. She passed just 8 days later, after having been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer even though a mammogram months before revealed no problems.

     Elaine’s quick passing was, I hope, a blessing since she may not have suffered so very long. 

    Oddly, perhaps, but maybe it was the angels guiding, we had, just before she became ill a few months ago, written each other about how our mutual passings should not be observed by any service though we each believed in God. But our churches were – are – the trees, nature, humanity, paying it forward but trying not to let anyone know.

     Elaine’s obit read:

“Elaine Muise Calabro passed away peacefully March 11, 2022, at the age of 78, in Grand Junction, Colorado.

     She is survived by her husband of 52 years, Michael; children, Carrie and Chris; granddaughter, Jade; and great-grandson, Carter. She was preceded in death by parents, William and Florence Muise, and brother, Kenneth.

     Elaine was born in Oakland, California, and moved to Congers, New York, at the age of four where she lived until moving to Colorado with her husband in 1969. During her life she was a third-grade teacher, a writer, an elementary school substitute teacher, a book editor, an innkeeper, and a librarian. A long-time volunteer in Grand Junction, she volunteered with the National Park Service Trails and Rails program on Amtrak between Grand Junction and Denver, HopeWest Hospice, and joined her husband setting out American flags around Grand Junction on holidays.

     She was an avid traveler, reader, paper-crafter, baker, and lifelong baseball fan. Her core values were centered on compassion and education. She was a devoted mother and wife, and had a great sense of humor.

     In accordance with her wishes, there will be no service.”

*

     Life comes and goes so very quickly. Its duration can be a blessing for many, as Elaine Muise Calabro’s e-mails were for this writer.

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KEEPING IT SIMPLE

March 14, 2022

Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

   It may seem hilarious and even back-woodsy, but there was a moment, a long one, when at 2 a.m. in a diner, say Hogan’s in West Nyack, N.Y., you instinctively pulled up your feet as the cleanup guy came by, splashing bleach water at the terrazzo floor. Hey, if he hit your shoes, they were washed too — for free.
     Hogan’s, the old one, the place that looked like Edward Hopper’s image of a diner, was not fancy, although the food prep, short-order mostly, was so well practiced a craft there that it could have been cordon bleu. Hogan’s was not fancy – it’s clientele would not have that. It was a down-to-earth, comfortable joint, and joint was OK. It connected the dots in your life.
     Sometimes I’d hit the place after my photographer shift at the former Rockland Journal-News in nearby Nyack. I might sit at the counter, where stools were placed on a bulkhead, so you didn’t worry about the floor guy. Other times I was too tired and needed a rest, so I took to one of the 8 or 10 booths along the defining front windows of the railway car-like diner.
     Also at about 2 a.m., the waitress would come by and swing a fresh bottle of ketchup across the table, and you hardly noticed that either, reflexively reaching for it with left hand while grabbing the near-empty with the right and then swinging that back to her in a return shot. You did this with the sugar, too. It was diner-polite, you see.
     This was life in an old diner, and if you were a regular like me, you were family, so you helped out. You may not have known the cook, the waitress, the floor guy by name, but a wink or nod was all you needed to keep in touch anyway. Diners weren’t much about talking.
     Ketchup was a quality marker in the old diners. Hogan’s used fresh stock to refill, but some others watered the mix. Aficionados, and they went to old diners, too, understood that ketchup, a freshly filled bottle, had to be slapped at the bottom to get the flow going. Or you could use the old slide-in-the-table knife trick. If a full bottle poured easily, it wasn’t choice.
     Like everything else at Hogan’s, the ketchup passed mustard. In that, and in the place itself, the new day’s anchor was set at its mooring for night newspaper stiffs like me

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

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WE ARE ALL UKRAINE

March 7, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     The Ukrainians of my small village in New York shed tears in 1941 when the Nazis occupied their native land during their death march to the Soviet Union. That was yet another horrible chapter in the long history of independence-proud people, attacked and occupied so often over centuries for economic, power-grab and prejudicial reasons. Now, 81 years  after World War II, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is intent on eliminating Ukraine.

     The Spring Valley of my youth, my father’s time, too, included a wonderful  section of Ukrainians, Germans, Polish, Irish and others. If you could open the windows and amplify the voices inside homes on West Street, Church, Cole, Decatur, Herrick, you would hear a league of nations in a symphony of dialect. 

     My recollection is that all got along, in the multi-national neighborhood, in the Spring Valley schools. When war came to Europe and then the world in 1939-’45, all Valley families saw sons off, fathers and mothers worked in defense and other industry, volunteers served at home in paper and scrap metal drives. And all joined in shedding tears and exclaiming at horror as the newspapers and radio reported on the Nazi occupation of Ukraine and other nations, on the Pacific destruction too.

     When World War II ended, the West Street neighborhood increased in size with families leaving destroyed Europe. Again, as I recall, there was harmony even among people whose ancestors might have fought one another.

     Now, in the present invasion of Ukraine by the Russian leader – not the Russian people – there are more tears on West Street, Church, Cole, Decatur, Herrick. Yet the strength that came in shared humanity during the long-ago Second World War surely is re-affirmed. We are all Ukraine, in Spring Valley, in the world.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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FITTING IN

February 28, 2022

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

I think doors have a way of fitting in, just like long-gone Uncle Jack in town for a comfy visit. He gets that way fast. Or people who initially stand out and are somehow morphed into the crowd, hopefully adding to the whole. It’s as if the universe has a carpenter on staff who, in the secrecy and dark of night, planes here and sands there, making adjustments to assure a fit, whether it’s doors or people.

Some time ago, I replaced six interior doors in my 1973 home with more stylish, six-paneled molded ones. Now, this house, like me, has lost its plumb and level a bit in its years, so just one factory-produced door fit without having to trim an edge, more deeply mortise a hinge or move the height of a lock.

The refitting took time, and when the work was done, despite the usual mistakes and miscalculations by this practiced but non-pro carpenter, and with almost a full vocabulary exercised in the cursing language that is always in my tool kit, the doors looked just fine and worked fairly well. Not perfect, you see, since they were not the original doors, which had been fitted to the jambs on an assembly line, but replacements made by another manufacturer decades later. Sizes were off, as they often are. So was my work, a tad.

It has taken time since installation to give a nudge here and there to a few doors, and the house moves a bit. That has required further adjustment to the doors.

All is now fine, yet something else is happening. Last night, I went into my office area and flipped the door closed, as I did with the old one. It smoothly went into position, as easily as would a machinist’s pin in a milled location. This is not my “fine” carpentry at work, though. I really believe the doors feel at home, that they finally fit in.

They are now part of the house, as its predecessors were for so long. I miss the history of those doors, two of which were on my sons’ bedrooms, with their signs and posters affixed, different in each season of growth. But today is today, and the hope is the doors will also open to tomorrow.

I am grateful that they fit so well. It must be the finish work of the unseen night carpenter, not me.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

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