THE GIFTED BILL CUNNINGHAM

June 27, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

Photographers, the inspired ones, the gifted, are observers who emphasize the essence of their subject, who snap the shutter as reporters of an expression, an event, an emotion, yes, but who, because of an innate sense of knowing the right angle to set the composition and how to get the subject involved (or not), tell in pictures what others say with words. Such an artist was Bill Cunningham, the legendary  New York Times “street photographer,” who for decades caught Gotham’s fashions on the sidewalk and pavement as well as social, philanthropic and fashion events.
Cunningham, who passed last week at 87, still toiling for his paper, was not a trained photographer, for the gift is not always tied to degree, but a man who left Harvard to make ladies’ hats and to work at an exclusive dress shop in Manhattan. He may not have known it, but he was preparing for his later photographic career.  Knowing line, form, the cut of a stylish garment is very much like the photography that captures the motors and the souls of the living. It is the essential that was sought, and it is there to be seen by the right observer, for we all are of one design or another, with particular line, form, the cut of the jib.
Bill Cunningham offered two weekly photo columns, “Evening Hours,” which reported on New York’s social scene, and “On the Street,” which was perhaps his best work. He had a certain charming, non-invasive way of seeing the running motor — the reason to be — of the woman or fellow stepping off the curb into the busyness of a city.
While clicking away on the street beat, Cunningham became a trend-spotter and so probably set the tone for fashion editors and fashion houses. He was the messenger, noting and reporting on the self-made fashions of stylish New Yorkers that would set a trend, or which already had.
The Times may well not continue “Evening Hours” and “On the Street” because, just as you cannot replace a columnist of a particular style with a fellow instructed to be a clone, Bill Cunningham’s  photography was inimitable, unique to himself.

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com

WHEN YOUR FATHER BECOMES YOUR DAD

June 19, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

Father’s Day is a time for special reverence, especially when your dad is gone. It’s almost easier then, sad to say, because you don’t readily recall the difficult moments. All children have them with their fathers. All fathers have them with their children. Maybe even more so if there is a son.
My own Dad, gone a little more than a year now, is terribly missed, for while we often got under each other’s skin, he always had my back, and I, somehow, became the responsible son, enough so that he began to think of me as being like his own father. There aren’t enough tears of gratitude for that sort of full circle. In the final years there was a mutually satisfying dialogue and companionship. It was a road that seemed destined, and I am grateful. Yet even if we had not turned to the same path, there was one moment in my life that made my father my Dad.
Think of your own father, be it the dad of a son, now man, or a girl, now woman. What was the special thing he did that made you forget his justifiable admonitions as well as his warts?
Someone I once had the pleasure of talking at length with about all manner of things — to the point that the conversations were both quite satisfying and most revealing of her character — found her father to be a constant light in her life. He was gifted with a responsible, achieving, quite loving daughter who constantly made him proud. And she had a father who made sacrifices for her. He did many things, but one special moment came when this camera buff sold equipment that must have been difficult to come by so that he could build his daughter a playhouse in the backyard. Her father was her Dad in that moment and many others.
In my own life, the moment came in the second grade, one-third completed in Nanuet, N.Y., where we had moved just a year earlier and the rest of the school year in nearby Tallman. This fellow — me — did not adjust well and was held back in June. My father, who was not a shouter or an in-your-face fellow, politely but forcefully pleaded with school officials to give me a break. He knew his son was capable of the work required.
Yet those were different days, and the school officials did not reconsider. Years later, my mother would tell me what my father did. In that moment, my father became my Dad.

    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

BULLIES IN DARKENED ALLEYS

June 13, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

The terrible news that a gunman walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and destroyed 50 people, leaving 53 others hospitalized in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history has to bring national tears and renewed debate on selling automatic weapons so freely that sick minds can become executioners.
Whether that happens is as uncertain as the outcome of this presidential election in which so far basic civics history seems lost to the ages, and so few know our Founders’ actions and desires — how did we get here? What does the nation stand for?
It is certainly not intolerance of people based on sexual orientation. If we do try to learn and understand our history and the great journey this democracy-in-training embarked upon almost 240 years ago, we can see that we have come so very far. While it  will never be far enough for crazed, sick gunmen,  it can be more than far enough for national empathy and increased tolerance. Fifty people dead, and that means 50 funerals, hundreds of relatives and friends in lifelong mourning, cheated of friendship, companionship, love. The nation, the world without 50 achieving souls. And such a very deep wound to the national body. What shame we have.
Yet we have progressed against intolerance, however unsteady the footing may be in this election where jingoism, platitudes, sentences without depth, irrationality all fuel the fires of prejudice. How many more Orlandos can be born of this?
Or does this democracy-in-training, this national body of advancing humanity turn the tide? Can we pull the trigger against the bullies in the darkened alleys?

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.
    

‘TRIUMPH DES WILLENS,’ AGAIN?

trip65 copy

June 6, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

NÜRNBERG, Germany — This once-again beautiful city in the center of Deutschland, removed for more than 70 years now from World War II bombing and almost complete devastation, is both typically German and Bavarian: There is the no-nonsense, can-do, will-do national work ethic and the good and smiling personality of the region. A recent visit while seeing family made me wonder how ever there could have been such disaster here, but also reaffirmed the salvation of humanity in what became the judgment at Nuremberg. Perhaps this visit was a lesson for America today.
Nürnberg, just 110 miles from Adolf Hitler’s populist-energized beginning in Munich, was the “unofficial” capital of the Holy Roman Empire, a once vital trade center and the prime site of the German Renaissance. Its rich history centers not only on culture but on law and legislature, fitting for its role in 1945. The city went to the dark in the huge, mass-emotional Nazi rallies so well captured in Leni Riefenstahl’s  brilliant but chilling 1935 propaganda film “Triumph of the Will.”
Allied carpet bombing took out much of Nuremberg in the war, including most of the medieval city. Yet the Palace of Justice, the Justizpalast, survived, and it was chosen by the Allies for the now-famous Nuremberg Trials. In 1945 and 1946, German officials accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity stood before an international tribunal. Courtroom 600 is still used, fittingly, for murder cases. It was also appropriate that the Justizpalast
was chosen since Nuremberg was where the Nazi Party passed law stripping Jews of their citizenship.
Today, a visit to Nürnberg brings so little of the past to mind. Much of the city has long been restored, though not all of the medieval section. There are public squares where regional produce is sold, restaurants, stories, museums, offices, homes and all that makes for a vibrant community. Life is worth living in this beautiful center, and visiting it and its fine people made me once again proud of my German heritage while also remaining cognizant of its mistakes.
But then we came home, to my country, to an election period unlike no other I have seen. It appeared comical at first, especially with the media (and I am of the media), mining so much of the bizarre but letting the substance slide. Until now. Hope it is not too late.
You cannot return from Nürnberg, from re-watching “Triumph des Willens” — “Triumph of the Will” — without a chill in this U.S. presidential election. The ability to rouse a mass audience using slogans and prejudice and fear, all based on very real concerns (Germany, 1930s: economic woes worsened by war reparations, unemployment; America, 2016: dwindling middle class, poor immigration policy, rich getting richer, all costs rising).
Of such conditions are demagogues born — political “leaders” who rally through false claims, simple promises and argument based on emotion not reason.
Of such times humanity can once again turn into the dark.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.

MOMENT OF SILENCE

May 30, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

When my double Great-Grandfather Robert Wilhelm Guenther left Appomattox and then his mustering-out as a Union soldier in June 1865, he accomplished the greatest feat of his four-year “career” — he survived.
So many of his comrades did not — in the First and Second Battles of Bull Run, the defense of Washington, D.C., Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and other fights for the independent light and heavy artillery of the three New York State regiments records seem to have Robert serving in, 1861-1865.
Except for an uncle — Winfield — who lost three fingers in the Battle of the Huertgen Forest in World War II, my direct line of Gunthers has not suffered harm or the ultimate sacrifice in any war since the family left Prussia about 1850. That means we do not have that certain mourning so deep within, especially on Memorial Day.
I — we in the family — can and do show added respect on Veterans Day for Uncle Winnie, yes, but the true Memorial Day has been left to those Spring Valley, N.Y., and other families we grew up with whose thoughts surely moved away from the annual parades, the flags, the political speeches, the decorated bicycles kids used to ride.
We have all seen the gold stars moms and dads hung in their front windows when a child — and the grownup is always a child, even in death in war — does not ever, ever, come home. But back in the heart he (she) is, tucked in emotionally even if the physical can never happen again in that upstairs bedroom.
We all know that no mother ever feels the same again, no father, no sibling. Communities may regain their daily rhythm. World War II and other honor rolls may be removed and permanent memorials placed in public parks. New young are born, parents pass on, the village changes. There are more Memorial Day parades, and, sadly, more mothers, especially mothers whose pangs of loss are as acute, more so actually, than that in childbirth and directly tied, forever now, to that life-altering moment.
So, this Memorial Day is not for recalling Civil War or other war survivors. That respect comes on Veterans Day. This is Memorial Day, and we who still stand, we who have no family connection to ultimate sacrifice, must find a moment of silence before the barbecue is lit, the pool attacked, the time off from work happens.

THE ST. GEORGE ROUND TABLE

May 23, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

A shiny new hotel has opened in Nyack, N.Y., a Hudson River village that for decades was the work home of newspaper stiffs like me. I hope The Time Nyack enjoys success, but I wish today’s media had added color to press reports of its opening.
Though Nyack now has three hotels/motels — The Time, the West Gate Inn and Super 8 Nyack — it once boasted the St. George on Burd Street, up just a bit from the docks and the ferry to Tarrytown. The longtime hotel, one of a number in what was once a summer resort town, was next to one of the homes of the Nyack Evening Journal, precursor of the original Journal-News in Rockland County, N.Y., for which I toiled 1964-2006, and catacorner to The Nyack Star, an early 1900s competitor. Therein lie many of the stories born of the old St. George.
Once there was a ritual in newspapers that brought scribes, compositors, printers, editors, photogs, even the lowly copy boys who often later proved the genius of the profession to the brass rail for a drink or two or maybe too much. Long before the Hi-Ho tavern offered “high mass” after deadline for we stiffs, often at no or little cost, there was the St. George. You didn’t have far to go from the office.
Competing newspapermen and women shared war stories (there are tales like that even in the sticks). These ink-stained wretches also likely explained the plots of the novels most of them were meaning to write but never would.
An assortment of Damon Runyonesque characters, not unlike those at Dorothy Parker’s famed Algonquin Round Table in 1920s New York City,  would hit the bar at the St. George over its many decades, especially in the 1900s until about 1940. Two such people were Charlie MacArthur, Helen Hayes’ husband, who lived up on Broadway, and Ben Hecht, his fellow Chicago newspaper pal from Upper Nyack. These two had already written the bible play of the profession — “The Front Page” (1928) — and staged the Broadway production (later there were famous movie versions) at the old Nyack Women’s Institute, now part of Nyack College. Pals forged in the brotherhood of the street beat, they bought houses not far from one another in MacArthur’s hometown and now lie for eternity at Oak Hill Cemetery. One can only guess at their many conversations off the St. George rail.
At least one president slept at the St. George, and it was the stepping-off point for  local Suffragettes lobbying Albany. During World War I, before American entry, part of the St. George hosted a passport factory and spy ring for the Germans, according to a piece by John Patrick Schutz in the January 2, 2011, online Nyack News&Views.

Reported Schutz: “The German high command realized it needed spies in the USA. They also needed to find a way to get thousands of experienced sailors and officers back from Hoboken and onto German naval vessels. German and Austrian nationals and ex-pats formed a spy ring with offices in Chelsea using the engine rooms of the impounded liners in Hoboken to make fire bombs and germ-warfare canisters of tetanus, meningitis and hoof-and-mouth disease. The communications branch of the spy ring and a faked U.S. passport factory were located in the St. George Hotel in Nyack. And who was the head of this very sophisticated ring? Johann Heinrich Count von Bernstorff, no less than the German Ambassador to the United States.”
Wonder if any of my fellow ink-stained wretches picked up on that story, or were the drinks too many?
When I walk in Nyack these days, I am always pulled to Burd Street, to the echoes of the St. George, as much as I am to 53 Hudson Ave, where the great presses churned at deadline in the birth of another daily edition. Lucky stiffs, we.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.

STILLNESS AT WEIDEN

May 16, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Weiden, Germany — On a recent walk here in the centuries-old farmland of this Bavarian region while visiting family, I came upon a war memorial, a bit worn and not as cared for as when it was dedicated perhaps 20 years ago. Such remembrances often suffer that fate because life moves on, and the “now” is for the living.

Every town in every nation has a war memorial, if only in the books of the churches, synagogues, mosques or in family Bibles. Somehow, lists are made, notations entered, prayers said, heads bowed, and then daily tasks take over. Life moves on.

And it has in Weiden, a small, prosperous community in prosperous Bavaria, not far from Munich or the large World War II Wehrmacht and First World War Bavarian Army training bases, some held — still — by the U.S. military. Neatly kept homes surround the platz or town square with its ancient buildings, people go about their work matter-of-factly, and there is a hum that contents. Residents enjoy strolling in the square, shopping, eating. The sounds of war are so very distant now, and generations are removed from its horror.

Who can argue against that? Certainly the war dead would have wanted such living, having sacrificed for it.

Yet on my quiet walk, which is the best walk, passing winter straw in fields just like those in my boyhood in Rockland County, N.Y., listening for the freight train so easily heard in the stillness, looking at barns that survived bombing, the Weiden war memorial seemed at once out of place. It seemed an intrusion in that bucolic scene. But quick guilt took over, and I walked to a block of stone on which appeared the  names of the men — young mostly — of Der Erste Weltkrieg (First World War). I read the many names with reverence, as you must do, and then looked at an even bigger column of  names from the Der Zweite Weltkrieg, the second world war.  It was then that I stood without any movement, for a very long moment. I stared at one family name, a family which had lost three men in 1914-1918 and then seven in 1939-1945. Ten gone. One family.

Walking back to my son’s temporary home in Weiden (his wife is a U.S. Army physician posted to the base at Grafenwohr), I glanced at a very old farmstead and wondered if one of those first three German men had dressed field horses with plowing harness or had wrestled with each other in the hay. Did their fathers or sons or uncles do the same just before 1939? Had any of them seen the winter straw or heard the far-off train whistles in those quiet moments of boyhood?

And in America, in any small town, in Rockland County, in France, England, Allied nations, Axis countries, did those young people whose names now stand out on war memorials do any of the things you do in peaceful times? And what of the civilian casualties, especially those in the Holocaust?

  “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

– General Dwight D. Eisenhower

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.

FAMILIAR SHADOWS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Even if people once in our lives have left us or we them, or if circumstances — changes — took them away, there is certainty in familiar shadows, a feeling more than apparition actually, that besides you is the person long gone.

You may be walking down a childhood street where you haven’t been for quite a while, looking at old, tan-colored sidewalks you are sure you trod, as did your parents, grandparents, friends, classmates, so many others. If you are not on the smartphone and perhaps just a little bit into a daydream, you will see her, or him or them on those sidewalks — familiar shadows. Perhaps you then have a chuckle or a recalled conversation or the faint memory of a happening way back. Nice visit.

Maybe you are in a public building — a theater — or on a playing field, and you glance up at the scoreboard or screen and remember a familiar place and its people. In that instant, decades can be removed, and you can almost hear the sounds of that time, smell it, feel it and recall those you knew.

Familiar shadows come to us in dreams, of course, almost as when you lived with those people. Old banter, even argument, certainly feelings can take place as if the subconscious was the real deal, not waking life.

You can be talking to someone today, when, without tip-off, a familiar person appears in thought or as shadow on that part of that particular couch.

Surely in our increasingly busy lives when sound bites and word bites are the staccato background for multiple tasking, there isn’t much time to chill, to hang out with familiar shadows. But here’s the thing: Sometimes they don’t give you a choice, and they just pull you away. Such moments can be heartwarming, reaffirming.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com As always, this essay may be reproduced.

SI BARBER’S LOOK AT ‘TRUE’ ROYALTY

Rose Queen of Hale, Leoni Topping with consort Denby. "She was driven through the village in an open top classic car. Seventy children followed behind in an open top bus and Rosebuds travelled in a trailer."
Rose Queen of Hale, Leoni Topping with consort Denby.
“She was driven through the village in an
open top classic car. Seventy children
followed behind in an open top bus and
Rosebuds travelled in a trailer.”

May 1, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Americans share a “document of intent” with our British cousins. For our former royal mother country, it is the 1215 Magna Carta, which actually was reissued, modified and was more relevant to the rights of 13th century barons than those of the common man. The American version is the combined 1776 Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, all of which are closer to protection of the ordinary citizen than the Carta but really not written for the inclusive common man and certainly not in that time for women. Yet the “intent” of each of these shared-roots documents, British and American, have come to be popularized as the mission statement for democracy. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt put it in his 1941 Inaugural Address, “The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history . . . It was written in Magna Carta.”

The translation today is that democracy derives from the people, even if in 1215 and 1776 the people were not the ordinary folk. If democracy works  — and America is still trying to get it right despite this scary presidential election — then the people rule in equality or at least move closer to that goal, “ordinary democracy.”

There is an Englishman I know who passionately believes in such democracy and who has published a book to celebrate it. It is by gifted photographer Si Barber and is titled “Queens of Lesser Realms, English Folk & Carnival Royalty.”

(“Sometimes secular, sometimes affiliated with the church or local industry, the carnival queen has been a feature of English rural life since the Medieval times, their appearance often marking the high point of summer, just before the harvest and the highlight of the agricultural year,” as the press release for the book notes.)

Si, a lensman who prefers to work in film not digital format, a challenge in itself, has proven to be an astute observer of humanity.  He has covered 12,000 miles of England to find “Queens of lesser realms by virtue of their nobility, wisdom and courage,”  and in doing so has celebrated community spirit and, so, what the common man and woman does and does so well. (Sounds like the modern interpretation of the Magna Carta.)

The author notes that the book was “curated in the 90th year of the birth of Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second. …” It is a “photographic gazetteer concerning certain notable persons of the English carnival & traditional festival, their associates & celebrant.”

Here we view many pretty women, such as the “Queen of Long Itchington, Elisha Thorne Bowmaster,” a carnival royal in 2014 with crown, the British flag and gay balloons. There is “The Coronation of Queen Aimee Bridgett of Newark,” who rides in a float. And “May Princess of Skegby, Jasmine Hannant,” representing a village where residents have organized a fair to re-ignite lost community spirit.

There is even an “Arthritis Gala Queen” (Shannon-Chelsey Kennedy), who stands proud amidst the red, white and blue. Barber, who has added witty and affectionate captions to each photograph, notes, “You can choose to blame your circumstances on fate or bad luck or bad choices. Or you can fight back.”

There are 100 well-shot, un-posed images in fine reproduction in this book, with locations such as Sutton on Sea in Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Kent, Essex and Greater London. The book is already in the British Library and is sure to be future reference since it documents disappearing tradition and related charity.

Barber, who hails from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, has put together images of what may be a vanishing England as “Queens of Lesser Realms” announces the “survival of local ‘royalty’ ” amid the “distractions of the iPhone.” The book is the result of a more than three-year journey across 42 English counties to find the “participants in the ancient and often overlooked rituals of English country life.”

When you look at the images of these women, children and some men in Barber’s book, you will not see the proclaimed English royalty, no more than traveling across America will you meet just the rich and powerful. The essence of a democracy is in its people, its truly ordinary folk who are actually extraordinary in their existence.

Si Barber has chosen to celebrate the real value of the Magna Carta, its evolved “intent,”  by hailing English county tradition. Long live the queens and kings of that realm!

(“Queens of Lesser Realms” is published by Eye Ludicrous, ISBN 978-1-78280-737-7. Contact Si at mail@sibarber.co.uk)

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.

 

‘Sláinte’ to the Irish

April 24, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

No man, no woman, no child is free as their god intended if their history, their inheritance, their rightful destiny are lassoed by another master. That was the Irish in the British occupation from the 12th century, in the 1800 Act of Union that merged the nation with Great Britain, in the great sadness and death of the 1916 Easter Rising 100 years ago today.

The heavens have granted gifts to the Irish in their innate love of literature, in their poetic expression, in their ability to see humor even as their wit tells truths that bite the soul. A smile for every tear.

There is loss in every Irish family today, as in generations before. The bagpipes never play just in the gaiety of a wedding but are a constant funeral dirge for those lost in oppression forever-long after.

In just three weeks’ time, it will have been an exact century, on May 15, when leaders of the Easter Rising were executed. More than 3,000 suspected of participating in the rebellion were arrested, many sent to England and prison without trial. Such punishment ended Irish complacency, led to the Irish Parliament of January 1919 in Dublin and the declaration of Ireland’s independence. More rebellion followed, there was a 1921 cease-fire, and the Irish Free State, a self-governing nation of the British Commonwealth was established.

The fully independent Republic of Ireland, the 26 counties in the south and west, was formally established on Easter Monday, April 18, 1949. Ireland’s six northern counties, including the Protestants populated by the British, opted out of the Free State and remained with the United Kingdom. The partition still smarts.

History can offer the whys and wherefores of occupation of one land by another but can never justify suppression of the natural being of a certain people. We Americans tried that in our shameful treatment of the only people who do not need a Green Card, the Native Americans. You can argue that no manifest destiny, no birth and progress of the great American republic, would have happened without supression, yet however you rationalize it, a debt is still due those original Americans who languish on sub-standard reservations.

The Irish stood up — initially just some of them but then a majority of the people — in a courageous act of rebellion 100 years ago today, and families were immediately torn asunder. Some will never forget, never forgive. Debts are still to be paid for forced assimilation, even if it did not work.

What can be said today as the unfinished story continues is “sláinte” (good health) to the Irish in the name of humanity and in the name of my mother, an Irish lass.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com

HOME BUT CHANGED

April 18, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Having just returned from a family trip to Germany and Austria, and immediately thrown as an American into the country I cherish, the horizon has been expanded that I cannot fully come back. One half the mindset is elsewhere.

I realized this even before I left Weiden, near Nuremberg in Bavaria, where I was staying. On a walk into the dairy and farm country that surrounds, I was cast back to my youth in the once rural county of Rockland, New York State. The landscape was so very familiar, and as I did when a child, a solitary walk took me to a spot near the rise over a meadow not unlike what I saw at age 8 near my grandfather’s house in Spring Valley. The utter quiet, the smell of just-turned soil ready for spring planting and the great horizon that is analogous to your own future journey in life were delicious. Peaceful. Reaffirming. There was an immediate bond with this part of Germany and the nation of my Gunther forebears.

While ingesting the landscape I looked at what was in two pants pockets — in the right front pocket, a few Euros, distinctly shaped money that is now the currency in much of  Europe and the equally few U.S. dollars I still carried in my back pocket. The dollars seemed odd, out of place, which they were. Before my trip, I saw dollars as the supreme way to pay bills, have security, more than get along in America. Here in Weiden, the Euros were that means. Returning to the U.S., I took out both my dollars and Euros and put the European currency aside as a souvenir and placed the dollars in my right front pocket. Yet the money now feels different.

It is American all right. So is what remains of the landscape in now suburban Rockland. But having taken a journey abroad; having meet truly wonderful people,  so  industrious and non-nonsense yet quite fun-loving; having seen the growing diversity in Munich and Salzburg and Nuremberg; having dealt with efficient and quite helpful shopkeepers; having lived a bit as a German does, I can no longer just pull the dollar out of my pocket and think as an American.

There is so much more going on in the world than my cherished  birth nation. Germany, for example, is largely off the power grid, producing powder by wind and solar. Its new homes are highly insulated, many made of fireproof concrete. The electrical and plumbing systems are built for 100 years. Drivers must pay a few thousand dollars to train for the roads, and they are very good on the highway, driving fast, as allowed, but giving way, signaling, etc. If I were to visit other nations, there would be much to learn as well, much for our own nation to consider, perhaps adopt.

Our America is a nation of immigrants, so many from Europe, and we have both protected and served as a democratic example for the world. But we are not the beginning and the end, and we should be humble about receiving from other peoples as well.

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.

A FRESH PERSPECTIVE

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Ahgunther@hotmail.com

MUNICH, Germany — The fifth-generation descendant of a Prussian family that had an umlaut over the “u” in Gunther has returned to a sort of fatherland. I arrived here Friday to visit my son and daughter in law, who is a U.S. Army physician in Bavaria. To get to Germany, the plane from Newark, N.J., had to fly over the final resting places in Brooklyn and Long Island of several Gunthers, including Ferdinand, my great-great-grandfather and my family’s first arrival in the New World. Then in Germany, which now includes Prussia, there are the graves of his forebears. Heady stuff, to think of all those people in one’s DNA.

Once here, in Munich, the Bavarian city rebuilt 65 percent after heavy World War II bombing, I could see my late father’s face on many a street and my grandfather even more. Neither ever visited Germany, and the language was almost lost on my grandfather and beyond.

In my childhood, German recipes, such as for potato salad and “Fastnact kuggles,”  hot, lard-dipped dough covered with powdered sugar, continued, and there were references to the family past. Yet with Ferninand arriving about 1858 with his brothers, all of whom served in the U.S. Civil War, that was long ago.

I did not take German in high school, though Miss Grasser, the German language teacher, stopped me in the hall and asked why not. I really had little interest in the German family heritage, or the Irish/English ancestry either. Few of us care abiut the past as children and young adults. It would take decades for such curiosity to stir, and by then so many of the principals had died. Whom to ask?

Now, by fate, my second son and family live in the old fatherland, and I have had genealogical interest for a few years now. Perhaps as we grow older, we want to touch the past much as a child grabs a parent’s hand, so that it is easier to walk into the final future.

Here in Munich, with my son speaking pretty good German, with the grandchildren getting such fine exposure to other cultures (this is a mixed city), I have been stirred by the kindness, the friendliness, the exactness, the industry, the confidence of the Germans and others.

If it were not for my family, I would not have visited Germany. I would have continued to believe that the land is about big beer steins and laden hosen, when, of course, there is so much more beyond the stereotypes, themselves exaggerated.

No one country, no one culture, makes the world, and getting past your mindset, your own community, not only fiills you with understanding but also appreciation.

I now feel blessed by those Germans I have so far met and by the fate that gave me such ancestry and those forebears who built a life in the New World. A fresh perspective, surely.

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CONTINUALLY PASSING SCENE

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

All periods in history have their idiosyncrasies, stylized to the individual, the mojo of the moment, the then-current trends, the arts, the music, whether there are wars or economic difficulties or actual progress of the species. If we live long enough to take the local and the express through several eras, it’s especially interesting to recall some in our own past.

For example, I was in an ordinary restaurant the other day, ordinary because they don’t let me in fancy ones for lack of palate, and I asked for water. It came in a tumbler with a straw added from the waitress’ apron. If I were in that same eatery say in 1948, my father would have asked for my water, and a fellow with a pitcher and a white towel hung over his arm would have begun pouring, first near the lip of the glass, then raising the pitcher about 12 inches as he filled the tumbler in an up-and-down option, full stream never missing the glass. Pretty cool, whether showing off for the six year old or just post-war restaurant style.

In 1955, you might have found a teenager with rolled-up cuffs on her jeans in a hallway closet, on a telephone with her boyfriend, her legs halfway up the wall as her head rested on the floor, on her ponytail. Her brother would be outside, nudging her. No smartphone clued to hand, 24/7.

(I knew a fellow  who took calls for his home-run business from a phone atop a radio console in the living room. Cigarette in one hand, phone in the other, he leaned on the radio and crossed his legs for support. A stylized 1960s on-telephone-before-cellphone action. It sure fit the character of the man.)

In the 1970s we had a bookish reporter at the original Journal-News in downtown Nyack, N.Y., who could not write his town board story until he had two donuts, a coffee and a glass of water. He laid out the bakery supply and the liquid all in a row, and as he began to organize his notes, he took a bite out of donut #1, then from #2, then a sip of coffee followed by a bit of water. He did this until he was finished with everything, and then he wrote his piece. Left us to report for a wrestling magazine. His idiosyncratic approach was for himself, not an era, though newspapers attract odd balls — like another reporter who had to sit in his car covered by a blanket to think things through before he could put a story to bed.

We also employed a lady scribe who went on to become president of a national press association, who came in at 2 one morning to drop off copy. Fine, we could edit, place it in a page and make deadline. But her delivery was unusual: She was in a frilly nightgown and quite-fluffy slippers, and she said she had to run because her boyfriend was waiting. Uh-huh. I never said a word. It was usual to expect the unusual at 53 Hudson Ave.

If any of us look back at any time or place or individual in our lives, or if we peer at today’s generation, we will see idiosyncrasies — stylized behavior — that gives us a laugh or at least makes the reflection interesting in the continually passing scene.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

‘THE DONALD,’ at a theater near you

 

March 28, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Why is “The Donald” popular? This one sentence tells us why. When the media, and that includes some of my colleagues, enables a showman, a magician, an entertainer, then the person becomes all of that and more so. Trump, the likely Republican Party presidential candidate for God’s sake, was re-crafted by the tabloids and supermarket sheets and then the big boys. Lights, camera, action. All the while, as momentum has built, few have asked “Why this man?”

“The Donald,” not long ago a casino operator, a TV reality host, a New York City commercial deal maker, a “I think I can, I think I can” fellow, greatly boosts media rankings and fills the cash bucket. One hundred serious running mates with earned credentials, concrete proposals and solutions for a nation lost because the lights went out long ago in D.C., could not have gotten press attention. It’s far more sound-bite interesting to focus on an unusual hair style than on who can best handle the red nuclear button.

Where are the journalistic questions for The Donald? This man, certainly savvy in the art of the deal, expected interrogation. Who runs for the highest political office in the land, the world, without being asked “why?” But as soon as the media turned the strobes and videographer lights on Trump and left shadows on the other candidates, The Donald knew he didn’t have to answer anything. Instead, throw out the citizen protester, put the light on him, and make the crowd cheer. And the questions go unanswered.

The media has not been serious, not often enough anyway. Not deeply enough. Not in enough credible newspapers still being published. Not on TV news programs that are no longer Walter Cronkite but are entertainment shows.

Instead, a few serious questions pop up on Facebook, Twitter, in other social media, but also the inane. Short words, short sentences, word bites where once there was thoughtful treatise. The Donald answers in like kind, say in reference to a candidate’s wife: “I’ll spill the beans (on her).” In the time it took to write that sentence, how many more middle-class jobs were lost? How many more foreclosures? How much more lead in the water? How many millions donated in hidden political contribution for favors yet to be paid?

The Donald gets free publicity, billions from media fascinated by entertainment, not substance. He didn’t have to spend a dime. Could Abe Lincoln compete with Trump?

Every showman from P.T. Barnum on, and that includes the devil’s own like Hitler, knew that you tell the people just so much. You hit the emotional buttons: “The present government is failing you.” (How? why? when? No details.) “There is no national pride. No chicken in most pots. Law and disorder. Those immigrants are taking your soup, your future. The shiftless are wasting your taxes.” Just enough “fact,” and that distorted, is offered. The crowd, with the best seats for the faithful, begin their chant. “Yes, yes, yes!” And the showman raises his hands and implores, “I can’t hear you! Blow the ceiling off!” So the crowd has its orgasm, but the new “leader” leaves the most satisfied.

It’s an old routine, but it’s not slapstick vaudeville. It is the race for the presidency of the most influential nation in the world, a country that is supposed to be a continuing experiment in democracy, one that constantly is to recognize its faults, its prejudices, its inequality, and the people then move to correct, to educate themselves, to mature further.

The Donald wants to halt the train, clear the tracks of what only he will decide as undesirable and then move on to the station. But who will be chosen to go with him? And will there be enough gold plumbing for all?

This all sounds like a bad movie. Title it “The Donald.”

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.

 

 

ON HER OWN TERMS

March 21, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

They buried Risa last week, a woman of just 57 years, 30 or so homeless. A strongly independent individual, her cancer came quickly and thoroughly, but it could not easily quiet her voice. That was a fight.
We at the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program in Spring Valley, N.Y., most especially the women who ladle out the hot soup, prepare the sandwiches and offer donated and bought items to those who come daily, knew Risa by her arrival. Articulate, she was also of determined opinion. She said what was on her mind, usually politely but firmly. A presence, surely.
It seemed that her choice was to live on the streets. That may be easy to dismiss for some of us. “Get a job.” “Call Social Services.” “Go home to family.” These are easy sentences, but there are not in the homeless vocabulary. They may try those words, but somehow, and it is an easy somehow, things fall apart. For some, mental illness, for others, addiction, and for so many, the fierce, accumulated, defensive independence that comes from living “outside,” under a bridge, in a spot all your own. And on your own. Your own boss. Independence donned as if an overcoat.
While there is not one among the homeless who would refuse a safe, private, heated, lit place, there is nobility in refusal, in foregoing any government-run, community-style, unsafe shelter that is too often akin to hell in its dismissive, costly bureaucracy. It’s often the one defiant choice the homeless can make. It is a dignity of sorts.
Risa took advantage of what was offered — the breakfast program, the annual Christmas dinner of the First Baptist Church in Spring Valley (though she was born a Jew) and Helping Hands and Safe Haven, the nonprofit overnight sheltering that despite being underfunded, manages to operate in donated church and synagogue space for the cold months.
Risa could be angry, and aren’t we all at times? You could hear it in her voice, especially on a bad day. She could and did make her self known. And how many of us do not? “I am me” must be said.
When Risa was diagnosed some months ago, the greatest of her dignity came to pass, for she showed courage in her acceptance. We don’t all do that. Her final time, in a caring hospice, visited by her friends of the street and the ladies who served her food and gave her clothing, brought the increasing light of a door opening to a big, luxurious room — more than that, a mansion and its gardens where she would no longer be homeless, nor troubled by anything. Down here, we will miss her presence, her voice.

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced. 

ROOM AT THE TABLE

‘ROOM AT THE TABLE’

March 14, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

One good-natured joke as we approach St. Patrick’s Day is that if you want to read in Heaven, saddle up to an Irishman or woman for the titles, but if you wish to concentrate, hide behind a tree, for the wee leprechauns in the Irish soul will have your mentor gabbing and gabbing and telling jokes. Now, if you have green in yourself as well, you can always write a tale about it all.

The really wonderful thing about America is its diversity and what each group, and the morphed individual, offers. Included in this diversity are the only original inhabitants, the Native Americans. All the rest of us technically hold Green Cards or are the descendants of those forced into slavery.

Our diversity continues into the country’s fourth century, for the nation has never been a true melting pot, except where cultures have blended through marriage, close neighborhoods and succeeding generations that are U.S.-born. Ethnic traditions thrive even 100 or so years after the first immigrant ancestor in a particular family arrives, and that is to the good since who wants everyone to be the same, and there is much to learn from cultures we do not know firsthand.

That is, of course, if prejudice is overcome, if there is room at the table for all. Another word for prejudice — “preconceived opinion” — is ignorance. The irony is that some of the so-called “educated” among us cash in on prejudice by stewing a pot of bubbling fear over lost jobs, social service costs, discontent, all societal ills, jealously and the special type of ignorance that is socially learned. The rabble-rousers make mischief for their own ends and well use crowd psychology to do so. History is full of such example. Watch the faces at Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies or in “Triumph of the Will,” his mesmerizing propaganda film. Pied pipers walking straight to hell. (Hmm … remove a particular vowel and consonant from that first film title word and you get? …)

Now a fine day for all the good Irish coming up March 17, my late, sainted Irish mom’s birthday, you see. “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back.” And another Irish blessing, meant for all of us, green or not: “… and bless each door that opens wide to stranger as to kin. …” Room at the table, you see, like upstairs in Heaven, reading a book with an Irishman or not.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via  ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.  

RE-CONNECTING

March 7, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

In my youth, in Spring Valley, N.Y., we school kids were all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and at Christmas time, we sang songs for both the holiday and Hanukkah. But beyond these events, there was no one pointing to another and saying, “Here’s the Italian kid,” or asking “What are you?” At least my time in the 1950s never had us believing we were anything but Valleyites in a community where most of our parents and grandparents were also from the village, had gone to the same schools, etc. Heck, we didn’t even think of ourselves as New Yorkers.

None of us thought about being American either, since that was taken for granted. We didn’t feel a need to shout it. The few kids who were immigrants were American to us as well, or at least we didn’t make an issue about it. They were here. They were American. It was just a different time, place, I suppose.

Now some decades later, and here I am thinking about genealogy, probably because I am about to visit my second son Andrew and his wife Patricia and the two grandkids, all in Germany because my daughter in law is an Army doctor posted there. Reluctant traveler though I am, I want to see the family, and it seems the pull of an ancestral land is getting stronger.

Like all of us except our Native Americans, to whom we owe so much (and the debt is yet to be paid), my forebears came from other lands. The surname is Prussian, but the family area that my ancestors left in 1848 or so has been in German, Russian and Polish hands, so I probably have those  DNA in me, too. My mother was of almost pure Irish descent, though her father was English with possible Irish parents.

The trip to Germany is a connection  to part of my family history. It is not a tracing I thought of when I was a teen when I could have asked living relatives about the past. Most of the Gunther family photographs from the later 1800s have disappeared in various moves, and my mother had none, being orphaned by her mom’s passing at age 32 and subsequent separation from her father.

It is a human thing to feel some pride that you are going to visit one of the lands of your ancestors, though in this case Germany’s history — its Nazi times and all that horror — cannot be dismissed. But I will see  a country far different, and there was much in its past to be proud of, of course.

While I wish I had asked questions about genealogy when I could still speak to now-gone family, it was a blessing in the years at the South Main Street, North Main Street and other Valley schools that none of us thought we were anything but Valleyites, and by extension Americans. No rah-rah, no flag-waving, just acceptance. It was a gift, that time.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com

‘OUR NATION’S DESTINY’

Barn Emerging From Oklahoma Prairie

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Each person’s creative process is suited to the individual. For example, if I write a column, I may have an idea on the spot or one a longtime before, squirreled away until it has stewed enough to be further seasoned, prepared, delivered, and, hopefully, digested. I never think about what’s in the pot until I add the flavors because if I write an essay in my head, say on a car ride, when I do sit down to type, the creative moment will have been lost.

It’s the same thing with a painting. When I do one, the idea is not explored ahead of time beyond the basic concept. I may think color, line, form, but I do not make the piece in my head, for, again, the creativity will have happened there and what follows will be a photocopy.

In both writing and painting, I try to tell a story or make an observation that unfolds as I write or paint. It’s like dipping into a stream of running thought, grabbing this or that word, this or that color to build the piece.

I mention the process because of what I hope I am trying to get across today. A painting I finished last week — “Barn Emerging from Oklahoma Prairie” — began on a 24×24 plywood sheet as a red field. I then had an image in mind of a working barn, perhaps for horses, similar to one behind my parents’ rented house in Tallman, N.Y., in late 1949. My brother and I would run off after supper and look at the horses, chickens and ducks, pretending that the big field next to the barn was the Wild West and that we were cowboys. Of course, that image is in our heads forever and informs our continued living, just as images do for all of us.

So, with a barn image in mind and a red field, I began to paint the piece, adding the colors I wanted straight from the tubes and mixing others until a mood developed, and a story began. With the painting left untouched for a time and then a return to it (which is unlike my writing), and that process repeated, the painting was layered with colors, or chapters as it were, and  I then used razor blades to scrape parts of the wood panel, probably to show what had been, just as we do in our lives.

Eventually, I was finished, and I realized I had painted — “written” — the story of an empty barn in the Oklahoma dust bowl of the Great Depression. I see the Okies’ anger, resentment, but I notice their pride, too,  in the land, in that fine building, in the color of the prairie.

Perhaps such a barn is still there, decades beyond the Depression, after a terrible, second war in the world, after so many other battles, recessions, job losses, national and international ups and downs and numerous presidents and other leaders.

The painting then became optimistic, for like the Okies, I think that no matter what the “depression,” be it economic or as today, a paucity of sound political thought, reverence for what has so far been achieved and greed rather than deliberate, responsible investment in all our children’s future, there will be a barn to come home too, a place for the horses again, for the goodness is in the people themselves.

May that be our nation’s destiny.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE (WHO?)

February 22, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Not sure how the man born on this date, Feb. 22 in 1732, would have fared in the recent tumultuous presidential primary voting or if the “father of our country” would have been elected in November 2016. Such are the dynamic shifts following the waves of exasperation, distrust, ignorance and yearning for direction, for a leader this time around.

George Washington was the right person for his time, our country’s first presidency. He did not want the job, was determined to serve but then to move on, feared he would be the new royalty. His great sense of balance and calm leadership — shown on the battlefield — stabilized the footing for the office of the president of the United Stares. He was a blessing, meant to be.

For decades in most American schools, students looked up at a blackboard above which was cursive writing and to the left and right of which were portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, respectively the father of the nation and the successor parent who put the house together knowing that if divided, it would not stand.

The great respect given these two elected leaders was assumed in those old classrooms. Now, even as cursive writing seems lost in the current of ignorant history, the standards set by Washington and Lincoln in their fatherly, guiding service are chapters never read by too many in the electorate, who would cock an ear only to jingoism and P.T. Barnum hawking.

Presidential elections have been toward the gutter before just as they have soared in articulation, common sense and goose pimples. Most have been ordinary, and maybe that’s what Anerica is often about — being ordinary in its particular time. Ordinary enough for the average person to earn a living, raise a family with expectations that betterment will come for the children, assurance that the clocks are wound and the fields planted and harvested, and that a general purring exists, like the cat curled up on the sofa who stretches his paws in assured and trusting comfort.

But today is a scary time, and we the people know not what is to happen come November, nor in the months before, and, most assuredly, in the four years, or eight, afterward.

So many had watershed hopes in 2008, but so very quickly they were dashed in a concerted effort to deny a leader  his chance to do better for the nation. Special interests, the financial and ideological roots of which are so hidden and sanctioned by the High Court, attacked the current president from the start, and though accomplishment was obtained, certainly over the destruction of the previous eight years of war, favoritism for the 1 percent and the groundwork for a near depression, what could have been a heralding of singing angels became articulation echoing against a shrill singalong of lies.

Today,  George Washington would have been 284, born in His Majesty’s American colonies, but his bones long lie in soil almost not secured in a revolution, almost torn asunder by a civil war, almost disturbed by decades of political dissent but for so many generations revered as the eternal resting place of the best example of the American presidency.

Would that all of today’s presidential candidates met at Mount Vernon and vowed to learn that fact and respect it going forward, wherever that may be.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com

MISSED VALENTINES

February 14, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

If we could count the number of valentines not sent on this day in seasons past, they might amount to many unanswered letters. For that is what a valentine is, a response.

Perhaps beyond the teacher-inspired handmade cards that you were to bring home to your mom in the lower grades, you never let her know again your response to her concerns, care, love for you.

Maybe you meant to put together more of those cut-out 5&10-cent-store hearts and cupids that classmates assembled. But you neglected to send one to her or him, an unanswered response to that person’s interests.

Then there was the dating time, and you were ignorant of not only what was expected but what a well-chosen card and a few simple but truly meant words could mean to the other person. Responses ignored.

In marriage, there can also be ignorance or forgetting, but the need to reinforce, to repeat affection and gratefulness and so many other gathered emotions does not disappear even in the regular day-to-day accomplishment. Responses are necessary, reaffirmation of giving.

Lost opportunity, that, when emotion, in whatever form — a card, words, a deep look in the eyes, a touch in passing — does not happen. They are the valentines that should have been sent.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com

 

PLANTING A FIELD

February 8, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Any good farmer knows that if you don’t plant the best seed in cultivated soil and nurture growth against nature and other adversity, the pickings will prove slim. Simple truth, but the basics are often overlooked. There is also the true story of a prize-winning corn grower who shared his special seed with his neighbors. Why? Because corn is pollinated, and he did not want his own fine crop reduced in quality. Practicality is the farmer’s suit.

If Will Rogers were still with us and offering his homespun take on politics, and, specifically, this year’s “presidential” campaign — if you can call it that — he would most likely use farming references, among other commonplace themes. His genius was in explaining the profound with simple examples.

Perhaps one of his analogies today would be the fact that when most politicians, particularly leaders, move on, they make lots of money. Both Clintons are an example, so are the Bushes. Speech fees, serving on corporation or other boards, and sheer star power bring in big bucks. Rogers might offer in contrast the last will and testament of the great optimist, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the “Magnificent Yankee,” who bequeathed the bulk of his estate, some $250,000, to the Government of the United States.

He did so because he believed in the institution, the fundamentals of which he helped secure but also because he knew that such seed money, however small in comparison to even a Great Depression-era national budget, would make all the crops grow with more vigor and strength. So, he  was a farmer of sorts.

Another Rogers example, if he had lived, would be Harry S Truman, who upon leaving office and arriving by train — not a presidential jet — to his wife’s Independence, Missouri, house, was told by Bess to “take the valises up into the attic, Harry.” The president, who assumed the reins in World War II and managed into the Cold War, knew his power ended with President Eisenhower’s oath. Truman so greatly respected American history that he understood you had to humble yourself once out of office. There was no royalty, and, besides, even the grandeur of the White House is supposed to end for the individual with the term of office.

The former president also refused to join boards for he would not trade on the presidency. His poor economic situation (ex-presidents had no pensions or Secret Service aides in 1952) ended only with publication of his first book.

None of us know, and Will Rogers would not have been able to forecast either, where the 2016 presidential race will go and how it will end. Will there be yet another potential leader who sounds good, makes promises but either cannot govern or is blocked from that by the growing special interests? Will there be a non-thinker, a platitude-offering person in the Oval Office, with the red nuclear button at bedside?

Will the new president be so very well-intentioned, even bright, but kept from reality by the great ring of advisers, aides, generals and others who have his ear when no ordinary person can get the people’s words (“commonsense”) across?

The farmer knows there are fields to be cultivated, not only his, and that against adversity of all sorts the best seed must be planted, and for all. Holmes and Truman were American “farmers” who saw public service as a privilege, a trust. Anyone now on the stump willing to get behind a plow?

    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com 

THE CHILDREN SHALL LEAD

February 1, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

The scene was a stage set of sorts, and as with all theater, the place, the people, even the time were of less relative importance than the happening. And it was that, a telling moment.

I was at an elementary school concert of third-through-fifth-grade chorus and orchestra as a grandparent doing family duty but also pleased as punch that I could be in a setting of young schoolchildren. There is such magic there — imagination, wide eyes, inquisitiveness — that comes naturally to kids. They are so much like the characters in the many books and stories, fabled and otherwise, that they are bathed in from infancy. That blanket of warmth and security gradually slips to the floor as they step into bigger shoes, and we are all the poorer for that. Would that our adult world had the characteristics of childhood even as it has its realism and responsibility.

Children grow up so fast that in a millisecond they seem your elders, and you are learning from them. Of course, if we look and listen, they are doing that anyway in the age group.

As a grandparent, you get to observe more than the regular child, who is anything but. There is no “regular” child, of course, just the assortment of the shy, the outgoing, the talkative, the joiners, the daydreamers. So watching these varied types perform in a concert reinforce what you have always known but perhaps have not thought about for some time: There is hope for the future. We were all the irregular child in some way, and others — adults — had hopes for us that for most materialized.

Being the grandparent makes you look at the one you particularly know, and to see my grandson in the school setting, surrounded by peers, in a group dynamic, gave me further clues about who he is and where he will go. There is reinforcing hope there, too.

Such a personal story was turning its pages, too, for the woman next to me and  the fellow on the other side. And for other grandparents. For great-grandparents. For older and younger siblings.

And there was a script for teachers as well, trying to get the job done, certainly, after so much rehearsal and following an already exhausting school day. Their efforts seemed magical in their enthusiasm. I do not know how a teacher musters that each and every day. What an under-appreciated group.

So, the setting, the place, the time, the kids, the full principals, is not important here. Life, the living of it all, is. The world may be a mess, as it usually is. The job market is shrinking. The presidential race is P.T. Barnum. Maybe the world itself is going to hell in a hand basket, which my own grandparents thought in the 1950s. And theirs believed in the 1920s.

But in that Nyack, N.Y., school auditorium, in the compelling moment when you see children open up in a concert as if the spring daffodils had just popped, you cannot help but have goosebumps.

Maybe we should all go to school concerts more often.

    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

SNOW: LIFE IS DEJA VU

Stairs in Winter/photo/Jan. 2009

January 25, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

The news clip said that New York City and its suburbs were “paralyzed” by the snowstorm, which dumped two inches per hour and which totaled more than in the famous Blizzard of 1888. OK, but the date was not Jan. 23, 2016, but Dec. 26, 1947. Life, it seems, is deja vu.

Yet there are differences between the two snow events, and I use that phrase because it is part of the contrast. In 1947, the few media outlets delivering live news would never have reported on a  “snow event,” just a snowstorm. Language often gets inflated when you hype something. And weather is a most-hyped event in this age of instant news via smartphone, tablet, computer and ever-repeated TV segments.

Yes, the snowstorm that hit my area in lower New York State was big enough, though on my mailbox indicator, it was slightly more involved than average. I have lived at my Blauvelt address since 1973, and we have had a few storms that almost buried the mailbox, which is about 3.5 feet off the ground. This system came up about 1/3 the way. And while some had high winds, we did not. A big storm, but not the biggest.

From all the hype the four days before, you would have thought the earth was heading out of orbit. There were Facebook pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets. Governors were warning they would close roads, which they did (states south of New York, never ready for a big snowstorm since they are rare, ran into trouble. Even the president’s motorcade was held up in the D.C. snow.)

The 1947 newsreel indicated that millions of dollars were spent or never realized in cleanup costs and lost business. And, of course, there were associated injuries, even deaths in the storm. Truly sad. But in 1947, there was little hype about the coming snow. It came quickly, the day after Christmas, and common sense got everyone as prepared as they cared to be. Kids enjoyed the extra holiday present (including my brother and I, then living in Sloatsburg, N.Y.).

But I don’t think bread flew off the store shelves or gas stations had lines with motorists fueling up as if rationing would soon begin.

It’s now a faster-paced world, and “news” has the shelf life of a few seconds. Hype seems the only way to get people’s attention.

It’s paternal pride, but I think my son Arthur IV had the best take on the 2016 “snow event.” Interviewed by FIOS One (Verizon) TV News while he was running in the storm on Broadway in Nyack, he was quoted: “This is New York. It is supposed to snow.”

Yes, and no one had to hype that.

 The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

TYING SHOES AS A LIFE CHANGER

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Literally, if you think about it, re-tying one’s shoes can pause your life just enough to alter things. It’s the same argument that if you had left the house one minute later, you might never have seen her face. Write your own story, but you see what I mean.

Now, is this fate? Karma? Heavenly direction? Just dumb luck (or the reverse)? And if you don’t think about  it  — any one act slowing or moving ahead your life’s clock — how will you know the difference?

Do not mean to get philosophical here, but surely we can all recall a delay or speed-up (you left the house early because you awakened early) that made that particular day different. And then maybe you took that day and made some more of the same because you liked it so much. And that changed your life.

This isn’t to say free will doesn’t have play, that you are not the master of your fate. We largely are, though what we consciously plan may never come to past. However, we must move on,  roll with the punches (or be grateful that we were forced to smell the roses). It’s the adaptation that largely involves our free will.

So, how did all this thinking arise? Did I have too much wine? No,  I really did re-tie my shoes this morning. My usual laziness has me just slipping my large feet into already tied shoes, but this time they needed a re-tie. So I did that. It made my day.

Not the re-tie. I wasn’t in the best mood — down a bit — and I was simply plodding through routine when I noticed this father carrying his young daughter through the local home improvement store. The child had the most wondrous face — so very bright, lit up, cheerful, inquisitive. And in her hair she had an equally wondrous artificial flower.

My mood changed. The little girl did the trick. And had I not re-tied my shoes, well, darn, I would not have seen, would not have been in the moment.

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

 

 

TALES OF A DOOR KNOB

Photo363

January 11, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Reaching for the 1800s front door knob at the Edward Hopper House the other day, the Nyack home of the famed American realist painter, it occurred that perhaps more than a million turns to that piece have happened in the nearly 158 years it has been on North Broadway.

There would have been Hopper’s grandparents, the Smiths, who built the house. Then his parents Elizabeth and Garrett as well as sister Marion. Hopper himself, who was born in 1882. Then so many relatives, visitors over the almost 110 years the family had the house.

When the home, in disrepair after Marion’s death in 1965 and Hopper’s in 1967, was rescued by historian and community preservationist Win Perry and many other volunteers in the 1970s, they all touched that door knob.  The house then became an art center and Hopper artifacts museum, and the door has opened to many visitors since. The knob, brass with filigree, has really assumed polish with constant handshakes.

(Now, of course, this story presumes that this is the original door knob, which is reasonable given its design. And, anyway, presumption is good for a story. You get the point.)

Over the decades, if you apply arithmetic at 20 turns per day, 365 days a year, 158 or so years, that’s more than a million turns. Plausible. Many Nyack homes have their original door knobs, and they are still working.

And why shouldn’t they? I have dismantled the Hopper House door knob in regular maintenance, and I report that it is full brass with an adjustable,  threaded steel shank and  screws to hold the knob in place. Two knobs — one inside, one out — are set in brass escutcheons, as you can see from the photo above. Very well-constructed, made to last, a tribute to old manufacturing. And this is not a fancy door knob set.

Consider that a kerosene deliveryman opened the door weekly before electricity came to Nyack and Hopper House in the later 1800s. Then coal gas installers. The telephone guy. Then all the early 20th century  deliverymen — milkman, baked goods supplier, laundry man, etc.

Birthing doctors and midwives turned that knob. So did undertakers. Edward Hopper, when he visited his sister, gave the knob a twist, and who is to say he did not turn the door knob and push the door open with his foot so he could bring in or out one of his masterpieces, now selling for millions?

The tales a door knob could tell — at Hopper House, at your own.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

 

WAITING

Waiting copy

Early snow in Spring Valley as food

program awaits guests.

 

January 4, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

While you cannot go home again, the gods, and nature, can make you think you are in a dream of past time, place. That was my experience Tuesday last when at 2:17 a.m., I rolled into Spring Valley, N.Y., the village of my youth.

It was a snowy morning, the first such in the warmest Northeast December on record. Though where I grew up has changed in appearance, even some function, and so very many of the old storefronts, and, more important, their business people, their customers, are gone, the fresh snow that morning was like the white scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” A blanket of white is in metaphor the handmade down comforter on a four-poster bed. It simply evokes the warmth of childhood.

And that’s what I felt, what I saw in my mind’s eye as I drove into the community of my father, my grandfather, my friends, my teachers and some special people. Times, places change, and you may no longer have the keys, but memories can unlock what was yours. Fresh white levels the field, literally, since the color of snow is the universal hue. A snowman, no matter who builds it in whatever age — in front of your house or what was your home — is yours.

It was with a bit of whistle, or the sounds that pass for that from a man without rhythm, that I drove through Spring Valley’s snow, headed to the regular Tuesday gig as a non-profit cook who tries not to poison anyone.

While any Tuesday morning at the United Church is routine — knocking large pots about, getting 15 pounds of pancake batter ready, muscling the ancient oven for baking, opening eight no. 5 cans of soup and bringing flavor to that, plus the myriad tasks that are done so that later Phyllis, Carol, Moucille, Mary Anne, Denise, Elnora, Christine, Olive and sometimes others can add their magic — the snow, still falling and glistening in the streetlights, made the effort festive.

The fact that at this time of year, the homeless in Rockland can participate in the Safe Haven overnight shelter program and not see the snow as an enemy removed any guilt in enjoying the white stuff.

The Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program, begun in 1985 by a group of clergy of various faiths in Rockland County, has had many volunteers for Monday-Friday  breakfasts in its long, continuous run. There have been numerous snowy days, and not all were as easy to drive in as last Tuesday’s, though the volunteers are tough, and there have been rare times when staff was low.

Whatever motives push a volunteer to his/her task generally stay in the mind, the heart, and, of course, the soul. Volunteers figure they are lucky to do what they can and want no recognition, God forbid. That would redirect the spotlight from the good being done. Yet the rewards are many, and sometimes the gods give a fellow a bonus, as it were, like the Currier & Ives scene of my old hometown on a snowy, early morning. I saw so many on the deserted streets that day, and I had not seen them in decades.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com All essays can be reproduced.Waiting

THE MOLECULES WITHIN

December 28, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

I am increasingly asked why I stay in my hometown, actually the county where I have lived my life, and my father before me, and my grandfather a bit and now one of our two sons and his family. My simple answer is this Rockland, the geographically smallest county in New York State, though almost over-populated, is where my roots are. To leave, even though it would bring greater economic comfort and a landscape horizon more like that I enjoyed in youth, would give me a deep ache when I awoke the next morning in a different world.

It is silly, I know, but even as a younger fellow, I did not like to travel, to take a atmosphere break. Now, nearing the year 2016, there is every reason to move on, save the nearness of family and the memories of so many places, even more so, individuals. But you can have family visit when you go, and you can take your memories of people, places, moments with you, for that’s where they reside — with you, anyway. How often do we see the old places, family, teachers, friends and those we connected with in special ways? Most are gone, times have changed, and the stage sets no longer exist. You cannot go home again, yet leaving, for me, would be unplugging. I cannot do that.

But there is reason, logical reason, to move on. The rural quiet is gone, and you still cannot get used to the rudeness of some who brought hustle, bustle and cacophony with “progress.”  The old library you once lived in daily had the rule observed: “Please Be Quiet.” There is no public funding for that place today, yet there is constant, even greedy and self-centered investment in unplanned growth.

You are still angry with the Thruway builders for bulldozing your wooded hut in 1951 (rudely so — they didn’t tell the third grader), and that un-acceptance mushroomed and was reinforced when development after development was built, strip shopping, too, and both helped shove aside downtown community life and fostered suburban isolation. Taxes rose, and still rise.

Perhaps another place would be more affordable; maybe there would be better land-use planning. The diversity must  continue, if you sought such a new place — that would be necessary since you grew up with a mixture of people. Rockland has always been proudly diverse.

So many folk you know have left for warmer climate, or cheaper areas or lifestyles easier to take as life marches on. If peace could somehow be made with myself — with the leave-taking — would I go? On an afternoon, having survived the busy roads, after having paid my tax bill and having opened the utility charges, I seem fortified to look at real estate ads. But then comes the evening, and I am comfortable in a house where long we have lived. Then comes a peaceful enough sleep with memories as a warm comforter —those people are with me — and in the morning, so very early, I drive to buy three newspapers, also my life’s blood, and the roads are nearly empty. Old Rockland is back, in a way, for a short time.

I realize the bills will get paid. And I will have new chance to complain about “progress,” as is my want. I will see everywhere the progression of life — that of my family, some gone, some here,  that of my friends, those I knew in a certain way, or who taught me, who showed me this land and why it cannot be separate from me or I from it or them.

My resolve is reinforced after the morning ride and I purr anew — until the afternoon, anyway.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

‘SNOW’ FOR CHRISTMAS

    This is my son’s annual holiday story, which he has written in this space for many seasons.

By Arthur H. Gunther IV

clausland@yahoo.com

There was too much science.  Too much math.  There was too much thinking in absolutes and definitives.  There were men and women with no patience, no imagination, no faith, who knew it was far easier to paint everything in good and evil, black and white, rather than calling attention to the shades of gray that truly inhabited humanity.  There were those who had forgotten how to take a deep breath, how to slow down, how to ponder, how to think.  Or maybe it wasn’t so purposeful.  Maybe they didn’t know how.  Maybe they were just afraid. And then, on top of it all, there was the weather.

Tommy tried not to care as he put on shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt and, sadly, nothing else.  No hat, no gloves, no thermal pants.  His run right before he went to bed Christmas Eve had accidently evolved into a tradition and, now, many years after it had started, was one of Tommy’s favorites.  He knew the weather really shouldn’t affect his mood, that it truly didn’t matter, and that no amount of thinking about it would change the fact that even at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve  the thermometer still hovered at 55 degrees.  So Tommy grimaced his face into a smile and headed out the door.  He usually ran toward town and the lights.  This year the village had found the money to not only illuminate the town with strings of white color, but to actually extend the lights off the two main streets into a few of the less-trafficked roads.  As Tommy turned off the street where he lived, he headed in this direction, only to have a second thought and abruptly turn around several strides into his run.  Maybe the air would be a bit colder if he headed north, away from town toward the river.  A few degrees might actually make a difference.  He would take anything he could get.

A few minutes later, Tommy’s stride fell into a familiar rhythm, and his thoughts began to wander.  This was only helped by the darkness and quiet that enveloped the streets.  A few houses had left their Christmas lights on, but mostly there was calm.  Despite the unseasonably rapid-rising warmth in Tommy’s body, this solitude felt right.  Soon he reached the end of the road that descended into the park.  The moonless night left it too dark to run along the river.  Tommy’s impulse was to turn around and head back, but he didn’t feel like going home yet.  Without pausing, Tommy made a right turn and ascended the hill that bordered the property kept by a local order of nuns.  Despite the fact that he hadn’t gained much altitude, Tommy felt himself shiver a bit as he climbed.  Getting to the top of the rise he turned around and paused to take in the view of the river at night.  His heart beat in his head as he shivered once more.

That’s when he saw it.  Looking right, toward the cliffs that bordered the nun’s property, his vision went white.  The fields were lit up with snow.  Everything was so bright that it looked like sunrise.  This is impossible, Tommy thought. The temperature hasn’t been below 50 degrees since November.  He turned into the nun’s access road and began to run once again.  The path led toward the main house where the nuns lived.  Tommy had never been down this way before, but he knew there were still several nuns left who lived on the land.  He was suddenly freezing.  Coming up to the house, Tommy could see it was all lit up inside.  He was trying to make out the familiar music wafting out when the front door opened.  A woman dressed in snow gear waved and wordlessly gestured Tommy inside.

Stepping into the house, the woman began to speak, “Little late for a run, isn’t it?  I’ve seen you out on the roads.  My name’s Mary!  The other sisters and I just finished with the snow, and now we’re warming up with some hot chocolate.”

Tommy, previously startled, suddenly was aware of his surroundings.  There were five other women, nuns, Tommy supposed, all dressed in winter clothes like Mary.  The music, louder now that Tommy was inside, was instantly recognizable:  It was the Beatles.  The closing sounds of the plane landing at the end of “Back in the USSR” was segueing into the chiming notes that began “Dear Prudence.”  Mary saw Tommy staring at the record player.

“The White Album.”  Mary announced.  “We play it every Christmas Eve.  Came out right before Christmas in 1968, the year I became a nun.  Always reminds me of Christmas.  Imagine 1968, being blessed with not one, but two Beatles albums at once!  And the cover, white as Christmas snow!  Nothing on it.  The Beatles daring you to use your own imagination.”

Tommy was speechless.  Here he was standing surrounded by nuns dressed for skiing, listening to the White Album on Christmas Eve.  As he was handed a mug of hot chocolate, Tommy finally got it a bit together.

“I don’t understand?  Where did the snow come from?  Did I miss something?”

Mary just laughed.  Tommy stared at her eyes.  The quiet confidence in her gaze was a bit disconcerting.

“Have you seen the filming crew that’s been here for the last couple of months?  We’ve been renting our property to them.  They’re on a break now, but after the new year they’ll be back to film some more.  We’re not even sure what the movie is about.  Last week, before they left on vacation, a bunch of snow-making machines were dropped off.  I guess they got tired of waiting for the snow for their movie and are going to make some when they get back.  Well, the sisters and I were sitting around this afternoon, looking at the thermometer and staring at those snow machines.  I guess you can figure out what happened next.  You know any kids?  Spread the word that there will be sledding tomorrow.”

Tommy, speechless once more, though grinning pretty widely now, just nodded.

“You realize,” Mary said, winking, “that we’re all not here bobbing along for the ride.  Sometimes God needs a little help.”

 

 The writer is a teacher and lives in Upper Nyack, N.Y., not far from the very giving Marydell Sisters, wouldn’t you know. He can be reached via clausland@yahoo.com

 

THE PASSING SCENE

December 14, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

There is comparison to be made to the fellow or gal standing in the corner of the dining room surfing a smartphone and a man/woman the same age sitting in a quite comfortable reclining chair in 1956. Both seeking information about local events, city, state, national, the world. Both thirsty for news. And each getting their fill.

The 1956 individual, home from all-day labor or still at home after duties there, dinner and chores finished, then finds time for relaxation with a newspaper. Perhaps he/she had several to choose from  — the unfinished morning tabloids (two) and the afternoon dailies (three) plus the weekly local paper. Much to read.

Not all is read. Too much news to take in, so there is headline scanning and exploring some stories just three paragraphs in, more than enough to learn the “who, what, where, when, how and why,” written in what we old newspapermen learned was “pyramid style” — put the key facts first and fill out later. Don’t bury the substance of the story in the middle-to-last grafs. Almost a lost art now, though.

The 1956 fellow/gal might also move on to favorite columnists — sports, society, financial, commentary — and have “conversations” with them as these were well-invited guests each day to his/her home.

All in all, the man/woman back then, blue collar or professional or housewife, could rise from an evening easy chair well-read. Great for the individual. Excellent for an informed democracy.

Now to the 2015 fellow/gal standing with smartphone. No time to sit, as in 1956, or at least no effort to do so. On the run. Smartphone scanned for the latest e-mail in a constant stream, or text; or for “news” stories that actually are headlines and quick, but often incomplete summary grafs; or the latest Tweet from a public figure, a personality, a fellow Tweeter; or a Facebook posting; or the most recent (1 minute ago) picture of something or another.

So much information, and that is just from the short time spent scanning the phone screen while standing in the corner of a dining room. In 15 minutes, another scan, perhaps in the supermarket line. Then one in the bathroom. Or as a recent, funny cartoon proposed: a couple on a date, each scaling up the smartphone, not looking at each other, no conversation. But, hey, one can always text the other, then and there.

Though my heart and mind are with newspapers — I cannot get through a day without them — this piece is not to declare on my own that the 1956 man/woman absorbing information so very deeply in an easy chair was a better deal than the 2015 flood of “news,” etc., that is obtained in constant looks at the smartphone, or vice-versa. It is merely to comment that such were the scenes then and now. It is life morphing, as it always has. Will it be better for an “informed democracy?” We shall see.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

RE-ASSERT THE ‘FOUR FREEDOMS’

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

POSTED on Dec. 6 for Dec. 7 — No American can go through this day without recalling Pearl Harbor, because it is etched on our timeline. Most modern-day citizens have no recollection  of the “Day of Infamy,” as President Franklin Roosevelt put it in asking for a declaration of war against Japan on Dec. 8, 1941, and not all know their history, but the sudden, devastating attack is common knowledge. That was deliberate action against one nation by another. Today’s Pearl Harbors, like the dreadful San Bernadino killings, are cults against people, and the battle lines are much more difficult to draw.

President Roosevelt properly addressed a joint session of Congress in the constitutional way — the only way we should operate in a democracy — asking for a declaration of war. Subsequent presidents fudged thinking on Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and bypassed the voice of the people, their Congress. Doing so ill-defined the battle lines and even the order of battle, brought death and destruction that need not have occurred and fueled the growth of the military/industrial complex that Gen. Eisenhower warned us about. The argument can be made that while all this was happening, America — and the world — ignored the growth of terrorism, which is our enemy today.

It is time, then, for the president to appear before Congress in the  constitutional way to ask for a declaration of  war on terrorism. Armed with that mandate from the people, America would (1) work with other democratic nations in an allied fight; (2) seek to address worldwide conditions of poverty and neglect — a direct consequence of once-colonial powers abandoning their territories without preparing for democracy — that fuel ISIS and other cults; and (3) deliberately hail and support the “Four Freedoms” that FDR reminded the nation and the world about in a State of the Nation speech to Congress on Jan. 6, 1941: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear.

I repeat here what FDR told us:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.  The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.”

Why is it necessary for Congress to declare war on terrorism? Why must the voice of the people and the president repeat the “Four Freedoms?” Simple: to avoid those special interests who make money on war, who would see us in lockdown and security checks “for our own sake,” who would even deny free speech “for the duration” so as to better fight a “war,” who  would clamp down on all Muslims, denying freedom of speech, who in greed would continue to neglect the backbone of the American economy and its progress, its opportunity, by withering the middle class (“freedom from want”).

Terrorism thrives when these four freedoms are denied, anywhere, in any age.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

 

THE POWER OF SCENT

November 30, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Coffee under brew can define your day, or at least open the door. Universally, whether you enjoy java or not, a whiff reminds you of mornings as a child, or the early trip to an old diner where the urns were behind the counter puffing away. I use the memory association in a local food program, and it is rewarding to see how people smile when there is such welcoming aroma. Add a sacrificial pancake or two grilled a bit to the dark side — another compelling whiff — and whatever is baking in the oven, and the cold of a long night on the streets fades a bit. A parent is in the house, as it were. At least a friend.

Such bouquets are not class-conscious, of course, and welcome the rich as well as the poor. There were many wealthy children who hung around mansion kitchens with the great cooks. Perhaps they even learned a thing or two to the good from such wise folk.

An old Army friend of mine, pinned down in the hell of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, told me about the packet of coffee he carried and opened from time to time just for the memory (and so, comfort) it evoked.

It is said the sexes are attracted to one another through biochemical perfume known as pheromones, perhaps a deliberate part of nature’s mate selection that may be tied to genetics and the push to procreate. Yet beyond the science, if it is so, is the undeniable fact that we all like certain scents in one other, and we like them in some people more than others. Add association to those old flavors, and even a 90-year-old can recall great love long shelved when she (he) thinks of a certain scent.

The opposite is true, too, whether it be people or food. Some whiffs can drive you away from unpleasant memory of someone or association with what you did not want to eat. For example, I don’t like asparagus, and the tang of it reminds me of a cold night in 1947 Sloatsburg, N.Y.,  when my mother put the dish in front of this almost five year old. My brother ate it, as he did most everything, but I shuffled in the snowy driveway a bit, where I went for a breather. Not sure if I got anything else to eat that night. Would not have blamed my poor mother.

So, the power of scent is enough to boost or reject a mood, a person, a time, a memory. I’d rather choose the “boost” side, though.

Off to make that morning coffee. …

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

‘DO NOT LET FEAR WIN’

November 23, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

The perch that I sit on — and most of my readers, too — is in the lower part of New York State, in the geographically smallest county — Rockland — but it is close to New York City and has since its beginning as a section of Orange County included diverse peoples. So, its views have long been mixed, for long periods conservative, even rightist, then liberal but now largely in-between.  It is a go-to-work, take-care-of-the lawn, keep-it-peaceful perch that is as much Americana as the down-home folk in North Carolina or the casual men, women and children in California, or the stand-up-straight people in Vermont. Or anyone, anywhere in this beautiful, mixed  USA. Long live the diverse nation.

The one thing we don’t have on our perch is fear, and that is not the case anywhere else in America. It isn’t us. There aren’t many who would agree with trampling on constitutional rights because of terrorism, for to do so is to bring obvious victory to those idiots. Be careful, be prudent, but follow the principles of this democracy. Otherwise, there is no democracy.

In the end, terrorism will be defeated by what it is not: tolerance, equality of opportunity, caring for others, not by lockdown, reading of mail, suspending of civil rights, suspicion of your neighbors and foreigners. That was Hitler’s way, not ours.

I can think of no better response to fear, which seems the menu of the day following the dreadful attacks in Paris, and that is the masterful speech given in the depths of the Great Depression by newly inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As he said on March 4, 1933:  “ … This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. …”

While the president was referring to the economic crisis, the implication was that the very government put forth by the Founders, obtained by the sacrifices of the Revolutionary War, reaffirmed by the Civil War and earned by settlers of all persuasions in the cities and in the countryside since 1776, was on the rocks and that fear could shipwreck the ship of state. There were sinister forces that wished that, even then.

Today’s terrorism is so sophisticated that a single line of battle cannot be drawn, and it will require an international effort — not one nation — to marshal many forms of combat. All must carry the flag of battle, together. The banner must proclaim: “DO NOT LET FEAR WIN.”

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com    

DEJA-VU AT THE EDWARD HOPPER HOUSE

Photo387 copy

November 16, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

It had to be pre-World War I when the Edward Hopper House in Nyack, N.Y., still had no hot water, relying instead on a rubber tube connected from a gas jet in the bathroom wall to a small bunsen burner. Water for shaving, washing-up was heated in that way. As the late Yogi Berra said, deja-vu happens “all over again,”  and that was my experience yesterday at the birthplace of the foremost American realist painter.

Serving among the many volunteers over the decades since the house was rescued from tear-down by concerned Nyackers and others, I was working in the 1894 bath on small electrical repair. When the original home was built by Hopper’s grandfather in 1858, bathroom facilities were non-existent, as was the norm. In the early 1880s, just after Hopper’s birth in 1882, a series of renovations brought a first- and second-floor addition, and that included the first bath.

The original clawfoot tub and marble sink are still there. Most likely there was no true hot water in 1894 unless the just-added kitchen had a small boiler and hot water heater attached in a Rube Goldberg-like piping setup from the wood stove.

Nyack was just getting its gas piping then, from a coal gasification plant on Gedney Street near the Hudson River. Gas was delivered a few hours daily for lighting and cooking. Hopper House was fitted with gas connections, and that included one for a bunsen burner in the bath (pictured above this essay.) Edward’s father, and then the artist himself, who lived in the house until his late 20s, surely heated shaving water with the burner.

The deja-vu part comes with the work I was doing yesterday. There is an original electrical fixture (the home was converted from gas lighting to electrical about 1920), and the wiring needed repair. That included soldering. I ended up plugging in the iron next to the gas jet, and as I worked over the old sink where the bunsen burner was used, I realized I was again introducing heat into that area, first time in a century. The soldering completed, I finished the electrical work and was soon on my way.

Deja-vu aside, it’s cool enough if you can spend time in the same space where a famous person washed-up and did the ordinary things ordinary people do.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com

A ‘SECRETARY OF THE PEOPLE’

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com

Increasingly, special interests can buy an election, influencing sitting officeholders and deeply directing U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Investigative media that once would have looked at such a growing web of influence has shrunk in corporate downsizing and in declining readership of a citizenry that ought to ask more questions. Attempts to bring light to deeply rooted, hydra-like interests, including the military/industrial complex, Wall Street-managed health care and lobbies of so many sorts, are met with planted news pieces, talking heads and the blitzkrieg of misleading advertising and loud din that seeks to give lie to truth. Mr./Mrs. Smith are simply shouted down, those who still ask questions.

Yet this nation has not arrived in the 21st century – after war, division and economic and social calamity – without a moderating factor, an accurate description since it has been the moderates in both major parties who have always represented basic common sense in America, the dream that is this nation, that is the ordinary person. Moderates have kept the extremes — they are more so today — from getting us into too much trouble, and they have provided much-needed course correction in various elections. They have done this, this middle-way steering of the American experience, by being so vast in number.

But in 2015, moderates are in danger of extinction. The power of special interests to wither away moderation is frightening as they seek high, sustaining corporate profit that forces downsizing, not new jobs; as they lobby for a banking and financial industry which grows profit but not re-investment in Main Street; as they boost a moneyed health-care industry in which Hippocrates’ model of serving the ill is too often shamelessly missing; and as they support a military/industrial complex where expensive, long-term wars are the only way to maintain blood profit.

The complexity is so great that the simple voice of Mr./Mrs. Smith, or a clergyman’s call to help your neighbor, or a fledgling candidate’s eloquence in defining how civility and the other givens of humanity require a boost in our nation are all increasingly drowned out by the orchestration of influence  and money. The few, powerful voices against the many.

It is time, then, for the country to have a spokesperson for the populace, a “Secretary of the People,” a Cabinet-level post as powerful as the Secretary of State. It would be filled by someone who advises the president, who can bring to that person’s ears the drowned-out voice of all the citizenry, surely, but especially that of moderates, who speak the words of common sense, of everyday concerns.

If there were such a secretary sitting with other counselors of government, perhaps the White House cocoon that is inaccessible these days to ordinary people would at long last have an inside man to get to the man.

To prevent special-interest wooing of the Secretary of the People, the post would be held for just one year, with the president appointing each successor from somewhere in ordinary America. The chief executive would not select the individual himself, but rather an independent, volunteer group would search the nation far and wide and make a recommendation. Senate ratification would be almost a given, in the spirit of cooperation and to avoid lobbying by groups sure to be hurt by “common sense.”

Special interests already have their counselors, appointed and otherwise. Why not the people? Perhaps there is no other way to gain access to the White House for the common citizen.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com These words were part of a 2011 essay still appropriate, I think.

TRUE NATIONAL BIRTHDAY

 

November 2, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, not a birthday “present” this year, but it has been often enough. In earlier times at a newspaper, I worked most birthday/election events. No complaints. Liked the job.

Not sure, though, if this year’s stable of candidates, and that might be an apt word given the field though it insults noble horses, will have us finding much to celebrate. For example, while the nation has had some awful presidents and national leaders, there also have been Heaven-given ones who led us through conflict, depressions and the national identity crisis that was the Civil War. That the debate for such high office, the highest one for us, could come to the mundane talking heads, outright falsehoods and race- and ethnic-baiting that we see in current primary lead-ups, means election time is not the holiday it ought to be.

July 4 may be our natal day, but our true birthday is Election Day or Primary Day, for that’s when optimism renews, thanks are given to time well served by those retiring good leaders, and hope is ready to leap come the day after the big vote.

This year does not include the presidential election, but the race to the primaries has been so drawn out and the rhetoric so banal and the substance so threadbare that the fear is even local/state contests on Nov. 3 won’t be well-attended. And that’s bad form. You should show up for the biggest birthday the U.S. has. So many countries don’t offer the privilege.

In my pea patch, local contests are mirrors of the national, with most renewing candidates hawking inflated records and challengers claiming they can make gold from dirt. Behind almost every contest in Rockland County, N.Y., is the shadow of excessive growth in a suburb just 20 miles north of New York City, expansion that today is geared to a religious bloc focused on its “needs.” It is an imbalance that threatens quality of life, the local treasuries and the costly infrastructure, and which fosters prejudice because this county, though it has a 200-year-plus history of diversity and tolerance, is not getting as good as it has given. Whatever blueprint there was for orderly development has been washed away in a grab for group expansion. Very few local candidates want to grasp this or seem to care. Many will win, serve a short time and probably move elsewhere with pensions. Not so for we locals who have our roots here, who want all to live  in balance, with mutual respect.

That’s in Rockland. But everywhere, of course, there are local issues, some complex, which may drive voters away from the polls.

In state contests, the electorate fears that special interests will negate their voice, so why come light a candle on the birthday cake? And with the middle class in continuing decline as greed makes a few — just a powerful few — bulge their pockets, who can afford a candle anyway?

Back when Nov. 4 was the occasional Election Day, I felt I had some of the biggest birthdays ever. I was photographing on the election, or editing copy about it or commenting on the results. It was so party-like, the atmosphere. It mattered not that no one knew it was an individual’s birthday. For me, I had a lot of people in the room, and it seemed like there was a really big cake with the heat of so many candles.

Hope our nation doesn’t forget its birthday this time, however depressing the voices. It’s the sort of day that begins a year ahead, with the hope, at least, of exceptional candidates for exceptional times. Might be a stale cake with a withered candle this 2015, though.

    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com

WHO WILL TELL US?

October 26, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

The brotherhood is losing its working members, and that will make orphans of all who depend on information delivery as a public trust. Newspapers are dying, shot by a lessened public appetite for reading anything longer than a Tweet and the high cost of putting out a daily sheet when there isn’t enough advertising. Sad day, and ink-stained wretches might be excused for wanting to seek liquid solace at the high mass of the old Hi-Ho bar in Nyack, N.Y., but it ain’t there any more, either.

Nor is the village newspaper in its old home at 53 Hudson where daily the presses shook foundations. In that simple building, for some 52 years and since 1850 in three other village fortresses of irreverence and truth came fourth an enlightenment of sorts.

Sure, it was a local rag, that old Journal-News, the 1932 merger of the Nyack Evening Journal and the Nyack Daily News, and its always limited and sometimes green staff offered typos and other industry faux pas, but over the decades there were enough truly inspired scribes and photogs and layout people and city editors and composing room guys and pressmen and circulation people that every day, six times a week, attempt was made to give local government news, crime reports, high school and Little League sports results, PTA notices and commentary on the pulse off the veins of the ordinary man, woman and child in the Rockland County community. And the readers bought us, at 10 cents a copy.

Along the way, things got costly and newspaper families could not own the sheets any longer. The big national publishing outfits rescued many a community newspaper, but in the long run made profit and the bottom line the gold standard, not the who, what, when, where, why and how of whatever was happening.

Now the digital world and its immediacy and its thousands of attention-grabbing, distracting screen flashes off smart phones, tablets and computers is making newspaper profit slide. With it goes major information delivery.

The danger in all this is that what passes for news will not be worthy of trust, sitting on innuendo and hearsay without fact checking. Not to say that there haven’t always been axes to grind and editorializing in newspapering, but by and large, accurate news got out. Since any reader any time must always take things with a grain of salt, must always think things through in the God-given brain, the public has been well-served.

Who will watch government in the new age? Who will investigate anything?

High mass at the Hi-Ho was the usual end-of-shift in Nyack, when both the bar and the newspaper were there. Just a short walk up Broadway to the Marsilios, who gave the fraternity more drinks than bought. Celebration was had for putting another daily sheet to bed, sometimes a rough birth. Journal-Newsers weren’t paid that well and weren’t N.Y. Times, but each helped get the news out, and that can be an indescribable feeling. Yeah, public trust, for sure, no matter how flawed.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

AL WITT, GENUINE FELLOW

 

Oct. 19, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Lost a good friend a few days ago who was also my first boss on a full-time job at the original Journal-News, a daily in Rockland County, N.Y. As with other kind souls who knew better to use sugar than spice, Al Witt was well-placed by the gods.

And not just for me. Aloysius J. Witt was an obvious motivator because he was enthusiastic about life, full of energy, the light in the room, the charmer who was actually genuine and the salesman for just about anything who looked you straight in the eye. This was no three-card-monty man.

Life sometimes places the right people in your flight path, and you then can take off, even soar, and make a safe landing when you have to. As a boss to photographers at the Journal, Al was forgiving of mistakes — just re-tie your laces and get on your feet again. He was also an excellent instructor because he gave you room to learn without over-managing. You grew because he fertilized the soil so well with concern and kindness, not the nit-picking that wilts you.

Personally, he took a chance on a young copy boy who was eager but unrehearsed. He saw a spark, lit the pilot light and, thanks to the gods, the fireplace was engaged for one soul. The  job that was fortunately mine served both worker and master, but Al opened the door.

Al was a photographer and at times chief at the newspaper for some 27 years and was quite good at his craft, particularly in sports. He was elected last year to the Rockland County Sports Hall of fame, the only lensman so named. After retirement, he was a volunteer with the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast program at United Church in Spring Valley, N.Y., for about 20 years.  Giving back was a way of living his very deep Catholic faith. Al was an usher in two parishes.

During World War II, Al, a draftee and, so, “citizen soldier” like most back then, was a tank transport driver who was caught in the hell of the Ardennes Offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. Al never talked about that time except to say he served like others. His modesty was typical but also buddy-like, for the average citizen soldier wanted to do the job and then come home to live an ordinary life. For Al, war was for its time only.

Al’s father was an exacting fellow, a machinist who, the son said demanded precision. But Al saw too many shades of gray, not black and white, and he did not follow his father’s trade.

Instead, he was at various times, a Macy’s Herald Square 34th St. camera salesman, a “tin man” (aluminum salesman), a milk truck driver, a metal stamp company worker and held other jobs. His longest was as a photog, and Al’s ability to make people laugh, to genuinely enjoy people, put his subjects at ease. His fellow lensmen learned technique from Al but, more important, how to relate to the public.

All that would not have been possible if Al did not see the gray shading in life. His allowance for individualism, for the sounds of different drummers, for the varieties in people raised personal acceptance to an awesome level. He was a blessed fellow.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced. 

THE TRUE HOLIDAY

 

By Arthur H Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

The date on this piece tells it all — it is Columbus Day, a national holiday in the good, old US of A, but not for everyone. As I write this shortly after 7:30 a.m. in the Northeast, the storm troops that are the landscapers everyone seems to have are already revving leaf blowers, following 36-inch deck lawnmowers and whacking weeds. No respite for these men, who make little to begin with and so, a “holiday” is another opportunity to put a few dollars in the wallet, however short a time it remains there.

When I was a newspaperman, we published every day of the year, so there were Columbus Days, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and whatever other “holidays” when we stiffs took turns at the helm or wherever we were needed. That was usually OK, once we were able to wrench ourselves from family and get through the work door, for the newsroom, the composing room, the pressroom and circulation all had captive workers for the day, and in that we shared time. Besides, giving birth is what a daily newspaper does, and while I would or could never compare the effort to a woman’s magical trip through pain and delivery, bringing information to print was often exhilarating.

Many work tColumbus Day  and other “holidays” — police, firefighters (paid and volunteer), those in industry and commerce that cannot shut down for a day. And that isn’t just in the US. Many countries in the New World and elsewhere officially celebrate  the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, Oct. 12, 1492. In the US, Columbus day is a federal holiday, so it becomes part of a three-day weekend as the second Monday in October. This year it just happens to be Oct. 12. The long weekend probably lessens the importance to Americans, though.

There is even controversy within the day since Americans of Italian descent link it to a native son, a reasonable idea, but some others of any ethnic background are offended because, as happened after most exploration in the New World, indigenous peoples were enslaved, abused, pushed off their land and introduced to European disease.

Some communities prefer “Indigenous People’s Day,” honoring Native Americans as an  alternative. South Dakota renamed Columbus Day Native American Day in 1990.

The argument continues that “progress,” the very growth that has provided opportunity for so many others “enslaved” by old societies, lack of opportunity, pogroms, prejudice, etc., would not have been possible without Columbus or Verrazzano or any of the other explorers.

Surely no progress moves forth in this faulted world of ours without grief to someone. But the day is long past due when America must recognize Native Americans and learn from their culture, which respected the ecology and which often offered wisdom and fairness unseen in the “progressive” world. The sin of land-grabbing, the bulldozer push to siub-standard reservations, the deliberate late-1800s attempts to “re-educate” Indians as whites must have atonement.

If karma is a force, some day the debt will be addressed, the wrongs, too, and as part of that, a workman’s holiday called Columbus Day will be recognized for the achievement of all — European, Asian, the Americas and most certainly Native Americans. Until then there will be no holiday for all, whether you have to work on it or not.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

‘STRENGTH OF A PEOPLE’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

There’s a smallish village near me, and, of course, there is one by you, anywhere, that has its charm. You may have to look beyond the new, in this case the paint, restored Victorian and earlier 20th century facades and weekend tourists to find that, unless it is the present look that satisfies most.

In the little village near me, I was on a visit to see 30-year-old photographs from a movie set shot on location there. Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo” was filmed in Piermont, N.Y., and local professional photographer Sally Savage made her own stills of the shooting. Her exhibit at Village Hall was not only fascinating, but the Depression-era look of the movie set reminded older area residents of Piermont back when.

This was a proud industrial town, with paper, cardboard and aluminum can factories on constant, clanking-noise shift, great smokestacks pushing whitish plumes against the moonlight over the Hudson River. The factories employed generations —  one after another — with many Italian and Irish immigrants among them. Their wages paid for simple houses, and in those homes dreams of betterment for children were begun in cookie jars filled with weekly savings.

During both world wars, men of the factories left, and some never returned. In 1944, as the Allies began nearing the D-Day invasion date, some 1.3 million U.S. Army troops from nearby Camp Shanks marched and were transported through Piermont, past the factories and onto the Hudson piers to begin the ocean voyage to their — our world’s — destiny.

A favorite recollection of that time is the soldier who, marching down Piermont Avenue, and unable to tell his  village parents that he was moving out or even that he  was at Camp Shanks, spotted his ma on the porch, she searching every soldier’s face for her son. They found each other in a millisecond, and then the soldier waved as he moved on.

After the war, the factories were re-energized by the post-war American boom. And just as surely, this nation’s later manufacturing decline would see the businesses close and the Village of Piermont fall on times as difficult as the Depression.

Yet the decades would force even more change, and now the factories are gone and in their place expensive housing with river views. The downtown, just 18 miles from New York City, has trendy restaurants and shops, and tourists love the “charm.” Cyclists also come by the hundreds on their way to nearby Nyack and upstate. Thousands will probably arrive once the two new  Tappan Zee bridges open up across the Hudson, with pedestrian and bike paths.

The walk taken in Piermont this past Sunday had me thinking about all the change, the factories, the war times, the great growth of a village, of a nation, of family hopes and achievement. I paid little attention to newer trappings. I had found my charm in the strength of a people who built a community.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

KEY TO A MEMORY

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By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

“Less is More” is often a clever marketing move to make you believe the downsized product you pay dearly for actually delivers as promised. The real truth may be that the deal is a three-card Monty ploy.

For example, the coffee bags I pull apart in a local food program are marked 11.5 ounces, not the 16 ounces on the tins I would open for my mother some — quite a few — years ago. Yet the TV ad blitz would have you believe that though there is less coffee, the “vacuum packing,” or the “flavor roasting” or perhaps the deep search on foot into the Andes for the “just-right” beans means that you don’t need  a pound of coffee. About 28 percent less is OK. Just buy four-ounce cups.

Well, it’s buyer beware anyway,  and in this ever-more-jaundiced age of un-stellar politicos, we don’t believe much anyway.

The coffee I take out of the plastic bags is missing more than product. There’s no strong coffee fragrance, that intoxicating aroma released when you used a special key to open the old tins. The key was soldered to the bottom of the can. You pried it loose and pulled up the sealing tag on the lid of the coffee tin, inserted it into the key and twisted — and twisted — until you had the top off. When you first began the twist, not only did the aroma erupt, but it came forth with a big “swoosh!”

You may have been just 10 or 12 and not yet a coffee drinker, but it was like having that morning java,  the best shot of the day.

The argument would be made that most of us are now too busy  to pull off a key and slowly release a tin lid. There is no cellphone “app” for that on our smartphones, and maybe all that scrolled-up metal is  a sharp hazard for the recyclers.

But back when a parent came home from the weekly shopping, and a somewhat bored youngster looked forward to not only the weekly ration of lemon cookies but the finding of a tin key and the opening of a hefty one-pound can of Maxwell House coffee, complete with a whoosh! and aroma, there was on need for an app for anything.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com.

THE AGE OF LETTERS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Envelopes — legal sized or not — may be an anachronism in the digital world, in this morphing time of Tweets, Facebook posts and cell phone text shorthand, but using them can prompt memories that probably will not happen if you hit the smartphone in 20 years.

For example, I cannot fold a letter, a piece of paper, to place in a legal-sized envelope without recalling a near magical trick by someone I was in touch with years ago. She was one of the responsible “Distributive Education” students when high schools once actually had Business Departments and prepared legions of secretaries, bookkeepers and office managers for commercial work. (Imagine that most useful approach to post-high school life?)

Part of the course of instruction was to write various types of business letters, and I am certain that went just fine, for this classmate was quite good at whatever she turned her hand to. But she offered an added twist, one which I cannot duplicate no matter how many times I try.

Magically, as noted, the lady could fold a letter, a single or multi-layered effort, exactly along two lines so that the top and bottom of the paper(s) met exactly. Then it could be put in the envelope, as neatly presented as was the final, flawless typing, with proper grammar and spelling. It was all part of the package, this precision.

Once, writing letters was a social grace, a courting effort, a vacation must, a keep-in-touch activity that linked people across town, the nation, the world. Can you imagine the emotions at play if we could read any sampling? Actually, we have, when PBS or someone finds letters sent home from soldiers in the Civil War, or Woodrow Wilson’s love notes (he was quite a writer) or various other missives from the famous, from ordinary people.

No one is saving the Tweets, though.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com

A GIFT FROM TWO

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

When I was 21 and had not yet set the sail of life’s direction, perhaps even adrift for a time in a dinghy in calm waters but with rapids in view, I took a part-time job as a “flyboy,” the person who catches newspapers as they come off the “fly” or end point of the press. It wasn’t a difficult thing, but you had to pay attention, and that was just right for the young fellow I was.

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

When I was 21 and had not yet set the sail of life’s direction, perhaps even adrift for a time in calm waters but in a dinghy with rapids in view, I took a part-time job as a “flyboy,” the person who catches newspapers as they come off the fly or end point of the press. It wasn’t a difficult thing, but you had to pay attention, and that was just right for the young fellow I was.

There were two flyboys, one on either side of the conveyor, and “Chet” would grab 25 or 50 papers, and then I would get the next batch. On most days, the count was 50 for The Journal-News, a daily in Rockland County, N.Y., light enough for one person to lift and then swing around and deposit on a handcart. On the heavier advertising days of Wednesday, maybe Thursday, too, the count was 25 because of the thicker papers. After the handcarts were filled, others would take the papers to be bundled at wrapping stations. The bundles would go to carriers for delivery to newsboys.

Eventually, early on in what would become my 42-year newspaper career, and just before I became a copy boy and spent the rest of my time in the newsroom, I also ran the bundling machine, delivered papers to the boys and girls who were our afternoon team and even hand-delivered to homes and business.

(One day, when I was a copy boy and had managed to get a story and photograph printed as an enterprise effort — which is how you then rose in the news business — I wrote the story, engraved the photo, delivered my copy to Composing to be set in type, went to Circulation, bundled papers, took the bundles and delivered them, a great experience. In a small way, I handled the “baby” — the story and photo, the publication, the delivery — from beginning to end, a privilege.)

As a flyboy, and more important as someone trying to find himself, which we all must do, the gods paired me with Chet, who had been installation manager for the New York Telephone Co. in Rockland but who, according to old company rules, had to retire at 65. Yet he felt young, had a family in Nyack and wanted to work. So he took a humbling, part-time job, this man of great experience who directed so many. The contrast between him and me could not have been greater.

Chet was a kindly sort, a gifted asset for his co-worker, and he offered life encouragement as well as a work ethic and both modesty and confidence. There could have been no better schooling for me at that point. Together with “Art,” another Telephone company retiree from Nyack who worked various jobs in Circulation, these two gave me a chance at aspiration.

A gift for which I am continually grateful.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com.

NO ‘LABOR’ from ‘LEADERS’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.com

EVERYWHERE, USA — How is labor supposed to rest on this noted day when there are so few middle-class jobs? The many unemployed already have nothing but downtime. How did a rich, progressive, innovative, democratic, promising nation, always one with a frontier to conquer, become stuck in high joblessness and its growing disease, low expectation? Where will our children’s children be on Labor Day 2055? Where are many Americans today?

This nation, conceived in liberty, should not by the odds presented have won its war against the well-trained and equipped British; it came close to returning to the king in 1812; it could have been destroyed by our worst conflict — brother against brother in the Civil War; it could have collapsed economically in the later-1800s depressions; it could have lost its identity in the great immigrations, if Old World prejudices had lingered; it could have withered and collapsed in the Great Depression; and it could have been permanently misdirected in the civil rights crisis, the Vietnam War, Watergate and Sept. 11.

But our citizens’ bearings remained set. We continued our optimism, inventiveness, innovation, charity and move toward equality.

Not so government, which has lost its way. Today, the presidency and the Congress are isolated from we the people, reacting largely to the monied interests required for re-election, encumbered by procedure and lobbies that keep the executive and legislative branches apart from the American mainstream — its pain and suffering, its hopes and desires.

On this Labor Day 2015, the sweat of many millions of our men and women, our forebears, are now the tears in the eyes of the jobless, in the eyes of parents who fear for their children’s future. Yet we retain our great energy and patriotism and native can-do American spirit ready to tackle the next frontier, if only, if only, if only that would be set by our leaders.

Where are they?

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

IN THE GARDEN OF EVIL, FLOWERS FROM GOD

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Heroes of the Holocaust are not only those who died in that great inhumanity. Survivors who have gone on to endure  thousands of nights in recalled nightmare have articulated against the dark side and championed what is good in humankind. In their selflessness, they have shown that the cancer that was Adolf Hitler and his followers was, like all malignancy, a speck that overwhelmed the much greater good health of the body that is the world, the person.

In this part of the earth, in the northeastern section of the United States, one such Holocaust survivor who offered continuing smiles and hope for children in particular, has just passed, at age 90 after 10 years of yet another undeserved confinement as a victim of Alzheimer’s.

Georgine Hyde was an Auschwitz internee, who upon leaving the death camps where her parents and sister were murdered, spent a lifetime of compassion and direct energy in educating children and adults against evil and emphasizing what is good in humankind. She was on the East Ramapo School Board for 36 years, serving as president most of that time and also as chief of the New York Stare School Boards Association. In 2005, Mrs. Hyde was specifically targeted for defeat when district control was assumed by bloc vote in the growing ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community. That this Holocaust survivor, this woman of peace and advocacy for all people, regardless of religion or background, should be pushed aside by one persuasion was ironic. Most unsettling, most insulting was that she was termed anti-Semitic because she opposed the loss of mixed views on a public school board. (The district has fired many teachers and other staff,  cut programs and has been criticized for improving transportation and special education placements for the private school community.)

Imagine terming a Holocaust survivor anti-Semitic.

Even after her defeat, Mrs. Hyde continued to turn the degradation of her camp confinement into hope for the future, speaking to children  and adults about her life, the Holocaust and other mass murders in the world.

Survivors of the Nazis fanned out all over the world, and many communities were blessed to have Georgina Hydes among them, “gute mentsh” (good people) who kept memorial candles lit for those killed by underscoring what is truly uplifting and promising in humankind. In the garden of evil, flowers from God.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com.

A MOMENT REENACTED

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

A day or so before my brother Craig and I recently closed on our late parents’ house, I said goodbye to a place that was never my childhood home, never one of infant, toddler, pre-teen and teen yin/yang that moves one toward the whole. No, all that happened — with failure and success — in six other locations, all within a few miles of one another practically from birth into young adulthood. The house that I gave a last tip of the hat to was instead a short-lived way-stop before the adult growth and development that you hopefully progress into and succeed.

When my parents bought their second home (the rest were rentals) in 1964 in Pearl River, N.Y., having lived in nearby Hillcrest since 1953, my brother and I came along because we were not yet established in work and life — income, marriage, etc. Craig was there the shortest time, less than a year, and me a bit longer. So this new house was not the “home” of parental authority, of fifth-grade friends playing card games in the backyard, of eighth graders studying for the first state Regents tests, of many Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthday parties, of visits by grandparents, of thoughts of young love, of getting a driver’s license, of growing up. All that happened elsewhere, and the 1964 house was for a time lodging, and my brother and I were thankful for that.

In summer 1964, 51 years ago now, as a young-enough man, my father gave me the address of the new house, and I went over by myself, finding it set off the road a bit within a driveway yet to be paved. I parked my red VW and, with no house key, walked about the property and peered into the back patio door, taking note of how the “basement” was finished, unlike the Hillcrest house. I stared at a wall and thought this house was well constructed and that my parents had made a good choice for themselves.

Yet I also realized this would not be a home of growing-up memories, that I had to move myself on soon enough. What part of the yin/yang this place would play out there I did not know, and I would rather have let all that finish in Hillcrest. I saw no reason to move, not then anyway (my father had always liked Pearl River, had long wanted to live there.) But that was selfish, for my parents had already given us so much.

My mother would live happily in the new house for about 32 years, until Alzheimers and then her passing a few years later. My father would be there for 51 seasons, living independently quite well until just days before his own death. In those decades when our  parents shared the house, it was a place for grandchildren to visit, for the yin/yang that continues even as sons/mother and dad all grow older.

After my father died in April and the house was listed but before the sale went through, the house was cleaned of furniture, etc., and I kept occasional watch, not able to stay for long periods out of sadness but there long enough to be as responsible as I had to be in the situation. When all was said and done, just a day or so before the closing, I looked in every room and paused for every memory I could recall. I saw my relatively young parents and a much younger me. I also saw the hallway where my father and I laughed in March as I literally dragged him into his bedroom after he fell, after he stood for the last time in his house of five decades.

Moving downstairs on that last visit, I locked the patio door that I had stared into in 1964 and went into the backyard. I peered against the glass and looked at the same wall I had first noticed 51years before. I walked over to my present car, also red, left the property and drove the old route back to Hillcrest, pausing there with a tip of the hat to the old homestead, the one where so much had happened in the relative shortness of childhood.

The journey was complete, that one anyway. Some affairs are now in order as the yin/yang of each life, including my own, my brother’s, too, continue toward equilibrium.

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com 

CHICLETS AND THE TREE

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

In the youth that was mine and so many others in 1950s not-yet-suburbia in Rockland County, N.Y., there would be occasional trips to New York City, about 24 miles southeast. That could be an experience.

In those days, many Rocklanders had never been to Gotham and quite a few cared not to go, the urban-rural divide that is this nation’s history still strong. The usual rationale, fed by a bit of prejudice but also a growing need for survival against “progress,” was that city folk were brash, noisy, nosy and rough. Well, yes, in generalization. How can you survive in  on the streets without armor? True is, was, still is, that such lumping of all fades when you meet the individual, and quite a few fine city people have helped improve Rockland.

Yet more than enough new residents have also required bulldozing farms, apple orchards and green space; necessitated numerous  highway shopping strips that are often neglected; brought traffic, noise and astronomically higher taxes; and built a vast suburbia that is now graying as more age into seniors and not enough young people choose or can afford to buy into what was the “American Dream.” How suburbia, which today is more urban that not, will morph is anyone’s guess. It was all built too quickly without regard for the old — too much of the new — and yet the new also lost its identity.

The  loss of countryside and spouting of suburbia also changed old Gotham, all the gothams in the United States. Once, despite some poverty and challenge, they were clearly defined, cherished ethnic neighborhoods where apartment house residents were parents to all the kids on the block; where mom & pop stores went from generation to generation and built reputations of fine food, goods, service. Now the challenges of gentrification and of society itself mean redefinition, often without roots, so often without support. If suburbia is constantly trying to define itself, so is Gotham.

For a long time, though, which included the youth of my father and me as well as my grandfather, there was a certainty in the rhythm of New York City.

So, when we took the rare trip there in the 1950s and went on the subway, it was an amazing experience for rural kids who that morning had climbed a 200-year-old oak in the middle of an apple orchard and could see nothing but land in any direction. The underground train, with its noise, rattan seats, slow-moving ceiling fans, blinking incandescent lights and screeching as the cars made tight turns — it all made your head spin.

On the subway platform, hand in grandfather’s so as not to be swallowed into the ever-present crowd, relief was to be had: Chiclets, in four or five flavors, dispensed for one cent per two-gum package from a shiny vending machine attached to each post on the subway platform, sometimes alternating with peanut machines. What taste this gum offered, if only for a moment.

Once back on the “farm” as it were, you could take a few packs of Chiclets from your pocket, and if you were prescient enough, which no one was, you could understand that you, too, were bringing “progress” to the countryside.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yayoo.com

PROGRESS RIDES IN A SUV

Spring Valley, N.Y.  —  Over on Alturas Road, between Cole and Summit avenues, on the hill once called Red Brick, many deep inches of asphalt are the burial cover of a long-gone era, one that saw much less traffic on the original  Nyack Turnpike, on the Alturas Road section in this once summer resort village north of New York City. The Turnpike is now part of Route 59, a state highway that runs from the old Nyack port on the Hudson River to Suffern and the foot of the Ramapo Mountains.

Once, it was the main route for overland goods and people on their way upstate, until the Erie Railroad came through in the late 1840s. The Midwest and the West fueled their building via the Erie and its railroad and canal, helping forge an ever-expanding American frontier with people and goods  that put in foundations and roots everywhere.

For a long time, from the later 1800s  until about 1968, the  Nyack Turnpike was a busy enough local road, usually called Alturas or simply the Turnpike and not by a route number provided by the state. Now few recall the original name, and the highway is a ribbon of the suburbs, flashing with neon and lined with one shopping strip after another. Though the state, in a bit of welcome wisdom, provided a median of beautiful trees in its widening of Route 59 in nearby Nanuet, most of the highway today is what you would expect of one anywhere. Check into a motel off this road, and you could wake up thinking you were in many parts of the United States, so similar the look and the growth.

But once, until the later 1960s, Route 59 had its quiet passages, especially the Red Brick Hill between Cole and Summit. It was classic Rockland County, once the nation’s brick-making capital, with its many Hudson River yards providing the building block for 90 percent of New York City’s tenements.

Some of that brick, a longer-fired variety, found its way to the steep hill at Alturas and was hand laid against wide cement gutters on each side, a very efficient drainage system that worked for decades. Decades, too, would the red brick lie in its clay sister earth, offering the sleepy toddler on his way to Gramps’ house a reassuring bump-bump sound off the tires, a welcome to a bed soon warm.

Red Brick Hill, covered with packed snow and light in traffic, was a popular sledding route when adjacent Dunlop’s Hill was crowded with youth who took delight in activity that cost nothing and which brought laughter and memories.

In the march of progress and the ever-thickening book of rules for standardized highway surfacing, Red Brick Hill was paved over by Albany. And then paved again. And again,   until the red bricks are hardly recalled today.

Today most “natives” of the Alturas Road area of Spring Valley are perhaps 10 years there, certainly the elders of ever-newer people, but without a whit of a clue that the hill they now speed along was made of brick. Once, you had to slow down for the ascent and the descent, maybe not enough to smell the flowers — the black-eyed Susans — on Dunlop’s Hill, but with sufficiently lessened pace to feel the history of a road once trod by horses and wagons. Now progress rides in a SUV.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com

READING AND HEROES

By Arthur H.Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

“Every Hero Has a Story” is the theme of this year’s Summer Reading Club in my area, part of the national Collaborative Summer Library Program. It encourages students to continue reading over school vacation, whether they choose books with that bent or not. Local libraries display related material and hope they attract not only continuing young readers but lifelong visitors.

We public school kids weren’t given summer reading lists back in our time, but, of course, there were fellows and especially gals who liked to read so much that they just went into imaginary land without prompting. In our neck of the woods, that was often at a very small one-room library called Finkelstein Memorial, in downtown Spring Valley, N.Y.

It was a wonderful place, with detailed wooden panels — real wood, not veneer. It had reading stands, chandeliers, work tables and tucked-away nooks, perfect for a rainy-day visit. Designed in the Jeffersonian style so popular in the late 1930s and early ’40s, it was donated by the family whose name it bears. Today the library has grown exponentially, with numerous floors, many rooms and all the gadgetry of the digital age. One aspect has not changed —  kids still like to curl up and read. No more nooks, but there is always that special corner to get lost in your imagination.

Reading was fundamental in my time, too, and visiting Finkelstein in the 1950s was a fine way to spend an otherwise boring day after walking a mile and a half to sit amongst the beautiful shelves filled with so many books. Ellen Heitman, the librarian, let kids look for themselves, and I soon found the biographies I liked best.

While I was not  a good reader (years later, after difficulty in early college years, I learned that I had a reading/comprehension deficit),  the love of words began with that library and that librarian. I held my library card as tight in my pocket as I later did my first driver’s license. It proved, though subconsciously at first, to be the incentive to a career using words as a newspaperman. It was also through reading that I was able to develop a shorthand way to compensate for my deficit.

Words — whether you learn and enjoy them through reading about heroes or other  subjects in  books, newspapers, magazines — are the language of understanding. They are weapons against ignorance and prejudice, the foundation of being civilized. Reading can make one heroic in life, with impressive power to the good and give each his/her own “hero” story.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com.

WHAT’S IN A FACE?

July 27, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

There comes a day when you see a certain face on a relative, friend or former acquaintance, and you realize time has passed, that age has added lines, that days of happiness, difficulty, excitement, boredom and the sometime ordinariness of living have left telltale trails on a visage unique to that person.
Maybe it is because we don’t really look at each other all the time, or at least notice how someone appears on a regular basis, that we don’t see the individual as he/she collects the years. Nor, perhaps, do we see our own aging. Every once in a while, though, we seem to leave close proximity and step back to suddenly notice the person or ourselves in a detached way, almost as an unbiased observer.
It is in that moment that a relative or friend or acquaintance appears to us changed, and that is usually for the better. For we all age, we all have our ups and downs, we all move on, whether it is on the treadmill of life or making the heady climb to whatever is our summit. We are then, at the end, the sum of our experiences, and at any point before that the total of all that has happened so far.
Except for the most hard luck-driven individual, or the person who seems unable or unwilling to obtain some good days, people move toward that summit on relatively clear trails, even if some are unmarked, the many experiences etching the face like so many notches on a Bowie knife. Your childhood. School. Romance. Work. Marriage. Hobbies. Hard times. Good times. They all make their mark on our faces.
Yet nature or your god provides those detached moments when you suddenly get an update on the individual or yourself. One day you spot this person and note the changes, or you get up in the morning and acutely see yourself in the mirror.
Such moments seem so true in their depth of insight, in their perspective that time has gone by, that things have happened, that you or he or she is still there, that the journey continues. There can be grand glory in all this, a small smile at noting how well someone is doing, or even that the individual has simply survived his or her travails.
It is a reaffirmation of life, surely of our own, that we see such change, note it and store the information in the computer that is the mind and add to the mass of feelings that is the spirit. This brings a reality check which shows we all live sometimes challenging lives, that we are all climbing a mountain of some sort.
Imagine if we were not able to step back and take that detached look at ourselves or someone else? We might all live in the past, in a time when we were 16 and the face was without wrinkles, just the oiled blemishes of puberty and all the wonder of that promising but quick moment. No, even as we write the chapters in our lives, or have some lines written for us, we are given a chance to sit down and read the proofs of what so far is written. In that, we might still alter the ending, and in that, too, we can appreciate, even savor, what’s been put down so far.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

PICTURES FROM WITHIN

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

The painter who touches you has already made that same journey inward, for he/she takes a picture of part of the artist’s soul and renders it in form, line, color, perspective. If you get goose bumps, you get the picture.

This is a gift, which like all the special qualities any have, comes with the package at birth. Whether it is developed depends on what else happens in life – environment, family, opportunity, using free will to make the gift grow.

So, no artist, no writer, no exceptional teacher, surgeon, bus driver, trash collector, parent, citizen of the world ought ever take an ego trip and proclaim that he/she is the cat’s pajamas. You were just lucky at birth, you see, and don’t let it go to your head.

Now this does not mean everyone with a gift will open the box and take the ball and run with it. Humans are also lazy, selfish or are in hardship that dilutes the potential. So many gifts in so many people have gone unclaimed.

But when the ability is nurtured, when it is given expression, wow, can hearts pound, tears come, skin tingle and connection made. A painting that leaves you speechless or that resonates in your particular being. A novel, short story, play or poem, paintings as word pictures, expressed by the gifted ones, also recreate visits with artists’ souls.  And so you say, “Ah, that’s what I mean.”

Life can be so unfair, disheartening, troublesome, challenging while also offering great joy and goose bumps. Yet on both sides of the aisle, no matter what your emotions of the day, a painting, something written, a teacher’s great lesson, a surgeon’s saving hands, a professional’s sacrifice, a trash collector’s quiet handling of your discards in the early morning, just about anything any of us do or can do will express the gifts we all have, whatever they may be.

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

AWAITING ‘SEASONAL LOVE’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Fruit in season is like long-sought-after love that suddenly makes connection. The heavens appear, but as in many a novel and short story, consumption does you in, spoils you for the ordinary. You can love no more past this time, at least not in anticipation.

Until the next season. …

It isn’t Adam and Eve here, forbidden taste of the fruit that brings guilt and addiction. The peach in season, for example, freshly picked at maturity, never ripened as a green orb by gas in a truck or rail car from this place or that, is like the magical confluence of things out of this world when the tingle, heart patter and goose pimples of human bonding strike as lightning.

You are hooked for the moment. You do not question why this peach is so full of nature’s best taste, why the skin has a snap never arrived in the supermarket variety, which was picked weeks ago. You simply savor rich sweetness that almost makes you cry, humbles you so in the process that you thank your god or your lucky stars. You are filled with satisfaction, and that keeps the tank supplied until next year.

Once, in this region I live, called Rockland, the smallest New York county geographically outside Gotham’s five boroughs, tree-ripened peaches were the norm. But post-World War II development bulldozed most farms and some of the greatest fruit ever grown, given our particular climate and glacially derived rocky soil. Now, there are but a few farms, like the Concklins, the Davies Family, the Van Houtens. In their place is an insult: supermarkets in shopping strips on old farm land that sell peaches from states far away, perhaps wonderfully tasting in their own element, had they ripened there, but not in Rockland as gassed creatures that are so grainy inside that you must throw them away, even after you have paid $2.89 a pound in “season.” You had hoped, but. …

No, I await the homegrown, larger fruit that like the lover you recognize in the dark has its own scent. For a few weeks there is this love affair that has you coming back for more, even moving you to tears, for no man-made sweetness is comparable to a fresh peach, the skin of which produces a snap at first bite that is exquisite foreplay.

Once your time is finished, you will have to move on, for the fresh peaches are no more. But that is just fine, thank you. As with the deepest of love affairs, the sort that can be revisited in  season but never sustained in ordinary time day after day, week after week, you are satisfied so deeply that routine will never do.
You await the next rendezvous. It is worth suspended time.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com. This essay, which may be reproduced, first appeared in August 2006.

A TRIP TO MCNAMARA

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Back when, and “when” is whenever you or I hold a memory about a place or someone or thing, there was a country road in Pomona named McNamara, and though the signs still proclaim it, no longer is this a rural place. Nor is Pomona, named by apple farmer Nicholas Conklin in the 1700s, still wearing the robes of the goddess of fruit, for most of the trees are now 2x4s in suburban development.

There was a ritual in youth back “when” that included a summer walk from Hillcrest, a nearby Rockland County, N.Y., hamlet, to McNamara, early on before the day’s heat and humidity. It began off Eckerson Road onto State Street, to Hillcrest Avenue, across Rt .45 to Locust (sometimes it was the parallel Faist Drive) to Hempstead Road to Brick Church Road to Union to McNamara, where the hills and valleys, however light, caused young legs to stretch and the heart rate to quicken.

It was all worth it, for along McNamara, just before the old ASPCA  animal center, were wildflowers and hay-like straw, which in the increasing warmth and bathed overnight in the wet, gave off a fragrance that Nick Conklin himself  enjoyed so long ago.

For youth a bit bored by even summer recess, a walk to McNamara with or without pals brought accomplishment as well as passing the time of day. It was also ritual, and we all want that because regularity means some things in life can be put the shelf where they ought to be, and we can count on having them there and taking them down when we need to do that.

Back when McNamara still looked like it had for more than 100 years, a simple walk brought a trip to a friendly place,  made that way by familiarity. Its many changes now in suburban growth and the equally major modifications and morphing in a youth’s growth to adulthood and its  own journey toward sunset mean McNamara Road, now mostly in the Village of Hempstead, can only be a memory. But close the eyes, and a whiff of those wildflowers easily returns.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

THE PAST AT MARION AND FIRST

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

It was at the corner of Marion Street and First Avenue in an American town that the echoes of the past not only filled the ears with a delightful, peaceful sound but the fragrance of the moment catapulted me back decades.

On an errand run in Nyack, N.Y., a community that constantly offers so many echoes and fragrances since it was my family’s principal shopping destination on post-world War II Saturdays before suburbia began to roar and many big automobiles filled with families headed in formation to highway shopping strips and then the malls.

The old Nyack — the old American downtown anywhere — was meant for parking the car and then walking and perusing on Main Street and Broadway. Downtowns have largely disappeared now, though Nyack is still highly walkable even if the full component of stores — so many mom & pops — is not there. Restaurants, bars, yes. A hardware store, health food shop, groceries, a wonderful bookstore, clothing and lingerie places and surely varied offerings for the 2015 shopper. Yet not the downtown shopping vitality of yore. It can hardly be so in suburbia  — we never planned to save the downtowns, shame on us.

But back to the echo and fragrance at Marion and First. As I was walking to a grocery on Broadway, I saw a fellow pushing a lawnmower, the kind without a motor — gas or electric. It was an old-fashioned reel-style mower, and as the fellow gave it a slight push, the blades whirred in particular music, ending as quickly as it began until the next push. Pulling it backward, you heard the ball bearings in the wheels, another distinctive sound. Together, the push and the pull were a cadence, and that produced echoes of a much quieter time in downtown life.

Quiet at the house, on the lawn, that is. Saturday shopping was never quiet, with so many kids on Main and Broadway, in parents’ tow or in groups jabbering to one another. That was also music, with its own memorable echo.

The fragrance that day at Marion and First was the icing on the cake. Fresh-mown grass cut by a hand mower leaves the whiff of the sliced blade, not the smell of gasoline and exhaust.

The chaser to all this — the sound echo, the fragrance — was the great quiet. There was no leaf blower in the cleanup, no rattling of teeth in the cacophony. Just a fellow bending over to collect grass clippings. Serenity in itself.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

‘CHARACTER’ OF THE MESSENGER

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Today’s social media, like Facebook, showcases much me-ism and egotism, but it can also be telling about someone’s character. And that character, in turn, is telling about the individual’s beliefs. It brings respect, even conversion.

An example:

Pope Francis’ new encyclical on climate change, while providing counterpoint to naysayers of human-caused environmental woe, is blasted as leftist and anti-“progress.” The tactic is to drown the messenger’s words by personal attack. Yet, the sincerity of the pope and his frank and deep reach into the fate of humankind on this earth, our common home, makes your ears tune in.

Pope Francis believes the overuse of fossil fuels, mindless pollution of air, land and water, and consumerism that isn’t tempered by need, all of which offer great profit, are an affront to whatever maker you believe authored this world.

Beyond the pope’s words, one could add that If you are an atheist, then the slap comes to the possibilities of this earth that are being wasted. Whether you pray to a god or not, too many of us are not thinking about the future. Our Native Americans believe that we are caretakers of the land, water, air, that we must protect and preserve and better our home for our children. They have too few on their side. Even if there were no God, humanity requires all to share the bounty and to offer it to those who follow.

There can be debate as to how to rescue the earth, how to “progress” but with responsibility and shared opportunity. The pope is urging everyone of any faith or no faith at all to “think future,” to see the economic and social effects of mindless, blind-sided growth that puts profit ahead of responsibility to all.

Now, this is argument and debate, and the climate change issue has been all that for two decades now. The pope’s words spotlight it, hopefully for the better.  If I were sitting on the fence, I would turn to Facebook, where last week you could catch a video of Pope Francis tooling down an Italian country road in a nondescript, compact car, in itself telling of his humility, when the car suddenly stops and the pontiff gets out to kiss a sick child lying on a stretcher.

Any person, especially of such high office, who in an un-orchestrated way helps comfort the afflicted is worth hearing out. Pope Francis wants us to be custodians of creation. The man was already doing that on the side of a country road. That sort of fellow bears listening to, I’d say.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN …

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

When one of my sons bought his 1929 home, a smallish but well-crafted, ideally situated place, he and his wife noticed the paucity of closets, not uncommon in houses before the 1930s. Wardrobes, often stylish and beyond-utilitarian, served instead. And, of course, people had fewer clothes.

The man they bought from offered this advice: “When I buy a shirt (which needs its own hanger), I discard one.” Yankee words, surely.

The comment comes to mind because I have just visited a fellow in New Jersey whose spouse likes to outfit him. Maybe it’s an affection thing. Maybe it’s a hands-on thing. But he’s a busy shoe repair guy and doesn’t have much interest anyway in shopping for anything. He wears t-shirts mostly, the same ones week after week, month after year, etc. Once, after his wife became tired of seeing them, she told him to go to a certain closet, which apparently he hadn’t been to in a while, or perhaps ever, and pick out seven t’s for the next week, and she would make cleaning cloths out of the old ones.

He moseyed up to the attic-area closet and found not 10 or 20 t-shirts but perhaps 100, quite a few dating back to when his weight was less. Some had sayings like “Whatever!” (1990s), ‘Like Totally!’ (1980s), even one from the 1970s, “Dyn-O-Mite!” Now this is a 46-year marriage, so you can believe that the shirts have been around this long. Why the fellow hasn’t worn them yet is a mystery as old as almost five decades. Perhaps Freud could offer an opinion.

Rather than wear the newly discovered t-shirts, the guy might sell them on eBay as collector pieces. Maybe there’s a “Reagan (or Carter) for President” one. He could also give them away to a clothing collection agency, which he plans to do.

At least he can be thankful that he doesn’t have a secret closet full of plaid pants with wildly patterned, buttoned shirts, which was the 1970s norm and which may explain why the nation, from government to society, to the economy, was going down the tubes in that decade.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com.

TWO, NOT THREE, MEN ON A ‘HORSE’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

When you are a newspaper photographer, you are like a stage or film director – you set up shots, scenes that capture, it is hoped, the essence, the nut, the who, what, when, where, why and how of an event, occurrence, etc.

That surely was the way I worked as a lensman for The Journal-News, a daily paper in Rockland County, N.Y., some years back. Today the focus is less on such set-up shots and more on capturing the moment candidly, ostensibly so you do not “manage” the moment, so you do not add artificiality or even the hint of a staged check-passing photo.

Actually, we photogs of the 1960s at The JN – Ken Muise, Andy Dickerman, Al Witt, Warren Inglese and I – never clicked away at check-passing moments, and we tried not to over-direct or stage a set-up so that it became cliché. Most of the time, we took what Al properly terms “posed candids,” which simply meant you observed a scene and maybe moved a person to keep from cutting someone else’s head off. The result was the better telling of a story, in my view.

But no matter what the approach, the shot must say something.

That’s what I was trying to do one hot summer afternoon in Nyack, N.Y., at the former Tappan Zee Playhouse, a seasonal theater off a street called Broadway.

The play was “Three Men on a Horse,” a 1930s comedy in three acts by John C. Holm and George Abbott. The director was Sam Levene, his fifth Tappan Zee appearance, Levene not only directed “Three Men On A Horse,” but reprised his original starring Broadway and film role as Patsy, a professional if not always successful gambler. Bert Parks co-starred as Erwin in the farce Levene originated on Broadway in 1935 that at the time was the longest running comedy, running 835 performances.

Levene was principally a character actor – gangster, detective, neighborhood colorful figure – of the 1930s and ’40s, a balding man with a mustache and a sharp New York City attitude and accent. He was excellent in his work, especially when he hit Broadway in the original “Guys and Dolls.”

The fine actor was directing when I walked into the cool, darkened theater for 10 or 15 minutes. I was there to do a publicity photograph for the summer stock play, soon to open. I quickly grabbed a few actors – my standard approach, for I wanted a tight close-up to dramatize the play rather than a bird’s-eye view of 10 thespians on a stage, taken from the tenth row.

I had composed many such photos and enjoyed theater publicity, for you could be a bit more creative with play shots, using natural or “available light,” and the actors were just perfect, ready with all manner of great expression, unlike most living photographic subjects. So very easy to “direct.”

Usually the director knew I was coming and would let me do my thing, recognizing that I, as a professional, was a “director,” too. He or she would step back as a “second unit” director, helping if needed.

Not Sam Levene. He was just like one of his tough film or stage characters, grabbing me by the arm and interrupting the shot. “I am the director here,” he said. “In my theater, I set up the shots.”

Well, Sam set up the shot he wanted – not unlike my own – but I worked the angle my way since I was the cameraman, not him. We used the same three actors I was already “directing,” and the photography went quickly, allowing Sam to go back to his main directing job.

I chuckled as I left the playhouse, adding Sam Levene to the long list of characters – famous and seemingly ordinary – that you meet as a news photog.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com. This column originally appeared on Jan. 22, 2007. 

ASK THE TEACHERS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

I am not a teacher, but I know a good argument about education. And the children are losing it.

I live in New York where, as in many other states, the focus is on testing students and teachers because of claimed declining standards since at least the 1970s. The companies that perform these tests make money off what “reformers” say will provide benchmarks for improvement. The general consensus, if we believe statistics, my own media colleagues and often the ill-informed (especially politicians), is that kids today are undereducated, particularly in the basics of language, arithmetic, history, perhaps common sense.

And all this, if true, is because teachers are overpaid, lazy types who cannot themselves pass competency tests, or so say the critics. Of course, no such tests are required of the politicos who demand them nor of those whose own old school records might make us question their argument.

Meanwhile, too many teachers, who have chosen their careers, who perhaps were prepared a bit by teacher’s college but who really learned on the job (like we all do), do not get full respect. At least not enough of them enough of the time. Still underpaid in many areas of the nation relative to other government workers — in salary, benefits and retirement — they are criticized for being off in the summer when what is not calculated are the hours spent after school — nights, weekends — preparing lesson plans and grading tests, and, increasingly, answering parent emails.

I am prejudiced here — there are fine teachers in my family and I know other fine teachers, most of whom have retired but all of whom are recalled by former students often enough that they are lifelong instructors. I know I still make decisions based on what Mr. Gram or Miss Rouy or Mrs. Still, etc., taught me.

And I am prejudiced, too, against the shrillness and lack of understanding of much of the anti-teacher rhetoric because I know that if teachers could get through to someone like me — a real day-dreamer and challenged in other ways — then something right was going  on. Yes, this is 2015 and next year will be 2016. Social issues, economic difficulties, family dynamics, drugs, crime  — these concerns are so very evident now. That brings more challenge to teachers, but our teachers are up to it. They need support, though.

Many opinions  are offered on how to “improve” education. I was once among them as a newspaper editorialist. Missing is teacher respect: We no longer trust our teachers to win the struggle as so many once did, as so many now do, quietly, in frustration but in sure achievement, every day.

What are the answers? There are poor teachers who must go. But so should some  doctors, police officers, governors, senators, plumbers, ordinary workers in every field. Schools need money that is properly spent on students. Teachers must direct the reform, not politicians and parents. Parents must get their children ready for school not only by dressing them but giving them a proper, well-structured, loving home. There cannot be two worlds for these kids — stability in school but not at home, in the neighborhood.

We should all want to improve education. Just walk past an elementary school and see the eager, laughing kids in first grade. Soon enough, this great potential will be in the eighth, then the twelfth grade. As we all continue to argue over how to educate the children, they will grow like wild flowers. Time to tend to fertilize the soil. And the teacher, no one else, is the farmer here.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced. 

ON MEMORIAL DAY

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

PIERMONT, N.Y. — This Hudson River village just north of New York City is where the Normandy Day landings were staged, literally. It was from the pier here that U.S. Army soldiers and their units gathered to be taken to the large ships at New York and then across the Atlantic to England, to the Channel, to the historic World War II battles. Earlier, others had left for the North African and Italian campaigns. There is a statue of “G.I. Joe” in this community, and we are reminded every time we pass of the great sacrifices offered by the 1.1 million men who walked through Piermont 1943-45.

As a newspaperman some years ago, I was privileged to offer remarks standing next to Joe, not as tall as he, not even as humble, but in sincerity. I repeat them now in his honor, in the honor of all our veterans of all our wars and conflicts and for those who serve(d) in peacetime, too.

“We are not alone here, at this corner, on this Memorial Day. In our humble tribute, we are surrounded and saturated by the spirits of the good people who marched by in 1943, ’44 and ’45.

• The young man from Wisconsin who saw his mother’s face on a woman he did not know, sitting on her porch off Paradise Avenue as he passed. Soon enough he would be with the 36th Infantry Division at Cassino, and the images of the two women would become one, warming his soul in the cold of battle hell.

• The fellow from Camden, New Jersey, brought to Camp Shanks in the middle of the night on a troop train, who a few weeks later would ride on a transport driven to the Piermont Pier by one of the many women of the home war effort. Maybe he recalled her deft steering of the deuce and a half when he saw the Red Ball Express materiel delivery teams after the breakout at St. Lo and the race to the Rhine.

• The two brothers who last touched American soil at Piermont, one off to the U.S. II Corps at the Kasserine Pass and the other with the 45th Infantry at Ragusa, Sicily. Only one son would make it back to this good earth.

• The older man, a private anyway, who was not drafted but who joined and  became “Pop” with the 106th Infantry at the Battle of the Bulge. The calm hills over Piermont, one of his last sights of America, were in his mind in bitter cold, snowy woods of that awful blitzkrieg December.

• The fellows who shaped up at Shanks for the 32nd Field Artillery and the First Medical Battalion, units that saw a quiet U.S. sendoff and then the shouting, cataclysmic horror of D-day and D-day plus one.

• And all the men, almost all civilian soldiers, once machinists, salesmen, the unemployed, farmers, professional workers, sons and fathers, neighbors and strangers, immigrants and Native Americans and all whose forebears came to this nation free or not.

They are the spirits who once moved as humanity through this Piermont, past this spot where the inanimate but full-of-life G.I. Joe statue gives constant nod to their service, their courage, their sacrifice, their protection of one another.

This scene of continual reverence plays not only on this Memorial Day in Piermont, but on every day of the year, in every year, in every small and big town in these United States. Not one community has been left untouched in the world wars, by the Korean and Vietnam wars, and now by Iraq.

Wars are fought by the then living and endured for decades afterward by the survivors. The memorials we erect to those gone are in worthy and humble tribute and comfort the living, but it cannot end there.

What Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg must be remembered, must be repeated at each gathering such as this:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

Many good people, many ordinary ones made so extraordinary in calamity’s forging, marched past this little spot in Piermont on the way to war. Not all returned, and those who did had to live the lives of their buddies, too, fulfilling the promises of a safe and secure democracy, so that, as Lincoln added, “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

You hear such voice still, here in Piermont, from the one-million-plus spirits who passed through to the European Theatre of War. They will never stop speaking, in this village and in all of this America.

We must listen.”

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

NYACK, N.Y. — This village a bit north of New York City and west of the Hudson River has long been recognized as part of the famous “Underground Railroad,” the network of secret trails, safe houses and courageous people across color who helped slaves escape in the 1800s. Now, thanks in part to activist Bill Batson, who is also an artist/writer, what has been known locally will both be recognized with a sitting place and given national publicity.

Bill, rightfully proud of his long-integrated community with such a rich heritage of families living and working together, has helped bring author Toni Morrison to Nyack as guest speaker for the dedication of a bench in Memorial Park.

The sitting place, one for reflection against a beautiful river view, is the 15th latest “Bench by the Road,” a project of the Tony Morrison Society. In 1989, the Nobel-winning author who has a home in neighboring Grand View,  described what she saw as the insufficient  placement of enslaved Africans and their descendants in our nation’s history. She would write “Beloved,” her famous novel, to detail and bring life to that history.

Specifically in Nyack, the facts show that the village played a vital role in the Underground Railroad through the efforts of conductor/safe house operator Cynthia D. Hesdra (1808-1879).

Morrison had told The World magazine that  “There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road. … And because such a place doesn’t exist … the book had to.”

So began the benches by the road, thanks to the author, donors and volunteers like Bill Batson, who has been working on the Nyack project since 2010. The initial  bench was placed in South Carolina, at Sullivan’s Island in 2008, where slaves first set foot in the western world. Other benches are found in sites historical to slaves and their freedom journey.

In Nyack, where the latest sitting place will be dedicated Monday, May 18, with ceremonies beginning downtown at 2:30 p.m. and speaking by Morrison later in the park, the reference to Hesdra will be furthered and made deeper. A state historical marker on Main Street has long noted the Underground Railroad and the Hesdra Family, and The Historical Society of the Nyacks as well as the Historical Society of Rockland County and the local newspaper,  The Journal News, have made detailed reference to Nyack and the Underground Railroad for at least five decades.

Yet the “bench by the road” may prove to be the most significant emotional recognition. As Batson was quoted in a newspaper story, “In my mind, Cynthia Hesdra was a superhero. … (she became) a successful person who used her wealth to save other people’s lives, that’s the stuff of Marvel Comics. She’s an Avenger … This makes her history tangible, something you can touch.”

(The Nyack Public Library is offering an exhibit on Hesdra, the bench project and the Underground Railroad, and The Historical Society of the Nyacks is showing “An Underground Railroad Monument Comes to Nyack: Inspired by Toni Morrison, Honoring Cynthia Hesdra.”

    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

A ROAD TAKEN

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By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

On a fine spring day — and we have had just a few of those in the Northeast this year since our old-fashioned, cold, snowy winter forced us into a long season of overcoats, only to shed them faster than Grant took Richmond when unusually hot periods with Georgia-like humidity blasted into town — on a fine, rare spring day, you are young again.

There is a certain whiff of innocence in a new spring. It is a fresh start, and the successive seasons haven’t had their way yet. When I was a younger fellow, I caught this fragrance, though it is more than just  a “pleasant, sweet” scent, on a road called McNamara in what was then unincorporated Ramapo township but is now the Village of Wesley Hills, N.Y. Before the great suburban subdivisions arose on Tammy Road and Sherri Lane and Remington Way, there were more hills along McNamara, covered with winter straw that fertilized spring wildflowers. The delightful quiet as you walked in the valley of the McNamara against those fragrant hills offered any young person a life of hope, for this could be a piece of Heaven itself.

In a later season, when I began to drive in the early evening of a warmer spring day, with roll-up windows down since no one had air conditioning, that same scent continued to offer the possibility of believing in the future.

Now, many springs later, with so much change in life, in the world, on the McNamara Roads we all have known, though development may be so extensive that such byways no longer seem to be peacefully rural, though the car windows may be closed, it takes just a millisecond to recall what was and a moment to stop the car, take a short walk and note yet another fine spring on a road that still leads to Heaven.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

 

 

GET YER NEWS! ‘NOISE’ IN THE CITY!

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

It used to be that the smog from coal furnaces and smokestack industry defined cities, along with dark alleys and film noir scenes, but with the urban renaissance, things are now much more in vibrant color rather than black and white. There has always been the upbeat, of course, and it’s just perspective that is in cyclical renewal. The glass half-full or half-empty thing.

Yet one constant has always defined Gotham — our New York City — or most cities, overseas included: the tabloid newspaper. Want to see pictures and read stories about murder, mayhem, social oddities, the fellow who feeds pigeons off a tenement rooftop, the Damon Runyonesque characters who are the heartbeat of cities? Read the tabs.

While the New York Times (or the other broadsheets, of which there are fewer and fewer as readership declines in a digital age) report on government and politics, finance, social issues of import and investigative matters, it is the tabloid that takes from the fast current which is the urban stream of life.

Even today, with many immersed in smartphones or tablets, you’ll find tab readers on the subway, in city parks, at the lunch counter, eager to catch the grisly murder (New York Post: “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” or gossip/social news: “Lady is  a Trump,” another Post headline, telling readers about Donald’s Trump’s third marriage.  You don’t find those headlines in a broadsheet.

And then there’s the comical. Last week, New York City’s two remaining tabloids, the Post and the Daily News, each reported on an unusual 311 hotline complaint. (The hotline is the city’s “main source of government information and non-emergency services”.) Seems 311 has been called numerous times by apartment house dwellers who can’t sleep or otherwise enjoy quality of living because their neighbors make too much noise while having sex. Honestly, that was the substance of 311 calls, with the most complaints coming from Brooklyn and lesser numbers from Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan. None from Staten Island, though, which might bear a separate investigation.

That people might actually call a government hotline over a personal matter which  they could handle by a simple knock on the neighbor’s door perhaps speaks to classic urban anonymity and chutzpah. That tabloids report such news in a front-page story is also classic, highly so. (“This Couple Has there Loudest Sex in NYC,” the Post.)

Ah, cities never sleep (some people, obviously). Nor do the tabs. Bless ’em. They report on the slices of life that show foibles to faux pas to the fantastic to the familiar.

  The writer is retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

A TREE, ITS BRANCHES

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

When a son loses a father, there is such a flood of emotion that it will take perhaps the rest of the younger’s life to sort things out: No father-son  relationship is ever fully understood. Here you have the offshoot of the tree, which itself was an offshoot. Which branch is the stronger, the more dominant? Is there a twist to the branch, a different look, an architectural sculpting that sets it apart? All those branches, all the sons of all the fathers, spend their worldly time looking for their own light, their chance to shine, away from the father’s shadow, which can be a long cast, indeed.

When my father passed last week at 92, a relatively quick moment since he had been quite well — independent, living alone until a month before — suddenly there was no Dad to visit, no one to argue with, no one to ask about family history.

I have spent the last 20 years of my life trying to figure out who my father was. Survival of self depends on knowing where you came from, how your positives and foibles fit a pattern, how the roots nourish the tree, the branches. This has become even more  important since I have two well-grown sons, and even as I tried to fathom my Dad, they want to understand me.

In my journey with my father over these decades, I came come to know the man, the young man who he was, the economic difficulties faced in depression and wartime, early marriage and the climb to middle class in the great post-World War II opportunity.

When my father died, I was a little boy again, but my Dad was not by my side, walking away from the hospital on that long sidewalk. He was back there, gone, but my hand instinctively reached for his. For all my life, my father was present, even in our strong argument. I expected him to pass one day, and I was practical about it — assembling  legal papers, asking him about final arrangements, etc. I am now my father, the oldest of my family, and there are others who walk beside me on that sidewalk. I have responsibilities.

Yet the little boy does not want that, not completely. He would rather be in the Sloatsburg woods looking for trees at age 4, or playing with his father and brother in Spring Valley’s Memorial Park at 7. Or helping move into the Hillcrest house at 10. Or talking to him after high school graduation, the school that was his, too.

As so often evolves in father-son pairings, a son relates more to the grandfather, the very person the father himself had moments with. Perhaps that is because the grandfather carries regrets that he was not the full father — no one ever is — or maybe it is because the grandfather recalls his love/dislike relationship with his own dad.

Such are the dynamics of the man, the son, the tree, the stronger and heavier branch, who begets another branch, and that limb brings forth another.

In my Dad’s passing, in my recognition of my own mortality, in my observation of my sons who are my family tree’s branches,  I see that life continues. I see almost a plan, a blueprint of things that had to be. I look back for a moment at my now vast tree, just as you do yours, and I am at once immensely proud, grateful, sad, wistful, regretful. Most of all, I am thankful that the apple does not fall far from the tree, however unpolished at times it is.

Thank you, Dad.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

THEY SPOKE; WE DID NOT LISTEN

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

With the beginning of World War I just a bit more than 100 years ago, with the lessons of that first of two cataclysmic 20th century death-rendering events as unlearned as they are in all conflicts, there are words that still draw emotion, words from the once living, words inscribed by 20-somethings, many of whom did not survive to build their lives.

In Naours, France, near the Somme battlefields where more than a million men were killed or wounded, and where all were somehow afflicted forever, there are some 2,000, century-old inscriptions recently discovered, or perhaps found anew by others, as is the way with history.

At Naours, there is a two-mile-long complex of tunnels 100 feet or so deep with side chambers dug over the centuries,  used in the Middle Ages for shelter during invasions in northern France. The caves became a tourist attraction, and during the Great War, they were visited by soldiers, who left graffiti.

Gilles Prilaux, an archaeologist for France’s national archaeology institute, began a three-year study of the tunnels last July and found the World War I markings by British, Canadian, Australian and U.S. troops. A recent Associated Press story by Greg Keller also reported that “Photographer Jeff Gusky has tallied 1,821 individual names,” names of people who “wanted to be remembered.”

Well, yes. These are soldiers who knew they might die the next day. Here was a chance to leave an epitaph, a diary entry, a comment on it all. “It shows how soldiers form a sense of place and an understanding of their role in a harsh and hostile environment,” AP quoted historian Ross Wilson of Chichester University in Britain.

One inscription reads:  “HJ Leach. Merely a private. 13/7/16. SA Australia.” He was a 25-year-old from Adelaide who was killed in action less than a month later during the Battle of Pozieres. The AP story noted that his father would add his own inscription to a stone on Pvt. Leach’s grave in the Australian cemetery in nearby Flers: “Duty Nobly Done.”

How many more words might have been written and spoken in full lifetimes by the soon-to-be lost souls who visited the Naours caves in respite from the trenches? And what of the many who perished on other battlefields, in other wars, then and now? Do we hear them speak? Do we listen?

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

A COLLEAGUE, A TIME

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

If you combined a well-composed, British statesman-like fellow, complete with ever-present smoking pipe, and a fan who could give “da” loudest Bronx cheer at a New York Rangers hockey game, that would be Dick Yerg, the late newspaper sports editor.

Dick and I began our days at The Journal-News in Nyack, N.Y., in the earlier 1960s. I was a young photographer and he was the newly named Rockland sports chief after Joe Dineen was drafted. We worked together on many assignments, with Dick always in the field with both notebook and pipe. As a Nyack/Rockland native, he knew everyone in local sports. His father owned the village Buick dealership, and that showroom introduced Dick to even more people. Having such connections quickly paid off, with the new sports editor obtaining exclusives and adding much color to his well-written stories.

In those 1960’s and early 1970’s days, The Journal-News Sports Department was a raucous group, not beyond throwing volleyballs across the room and cheering as the radio shouted out yet another baseball or football game. Dick was the mother hen in all this, letting the kiddies play but fully expecting top work. As such, he was a beloved boss, almost unflappable, very professional.

Back when newspapers were in every home, sometimes several papers, morning and afternoon editions, the local sheet earned its bread and butter in its sports reporting. Little League games, high school football, every sport for boys and girls, in every school, in every town and community, that was news. Countless scrapbooks have been filled over the decades because of local newspaper sports departments, and Dick Yerg was among those editors directing scribes and photogs in the gathering of memories.

Newspaper writing is often at its most colorful and descriptive in sports, because the full range of emotions is played out: victory, defeat, cheers, joy, tears, sportsmanship, the buddy system, even cheating when the sport goes dark. When Dick was in charge in Nyack, and later at the sister newspapers in Westchester, this sort of “color” writing was routine, expected. What a productive moment for both reporters and readers. Now so much less in the growing disappearance of newspapers and any writing longer than a Tweet.

Though Dick retired and moved to Florida after decades in newspapering and in Nyack, he never forgot local sports and his hometown village, often posting on Facebook commentary about Nyack, Rockland, and, of course, his favorite team, the New York Rangers.

Dick Yerg: A true class act.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

A LIFE’S JOURNEY (continuing)

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

There is, of course, a cycle to life — a beginning, an end and if the gods are with you, much in between. The beginning begets most of that fill-in-the-blanks, with so many tangents formed, much like the branches of a well-rooted tree. And the apples do not fall far from the tree.

In a wink of an eye, it seems, my father, who is one of the roots of my tree, has aged, sent off to hospital with the ailments of his moment, soon to a try at rehab and then we will see. A man in his 90s, driving up to a week ago, living alone long after my mother passed, independent, cleaning his home, cooking, washing, never a complainer. An hour at OTB, the local news on TV or in the paper, short visits from his sons and my own son — that made him happy enough. Not a hermit, not a recluse, but a man of solitude, of quiet.

Then came “sudden” medical complaints — blood thinner overload, dehydration, an infection. And the worst ailment of all: utter helplessness when you cannot walk. You cannot stand. When you fall and it takes two hours to drag yourself to a phone just across the room and call someone, and that person, once so fearful of his father’s authoritative voice, hears instead a child-like plea.

You get to his home, only four miles away, but it seems to take an hour, and you find your dad wedged behind a chair. He is not hurt — doesn’t yet need medical help, doesn’t want anyone to come anyway — the independence, self-reliance still at work — so you try to get him to bed. But he is dead weight, this father once of strength, and you no longer can  lift dead weight. You drag him by the shoulders of his sweatshirt down the hall to his bed, both of you laughing at the absurdity of it all. You have not been this close physically to your father since the two of you, with your brother thrown in, wrestled in the first grade.

Once at bedside, thankfully a low one, you manage to get a leg up and to cantilever your father onto the mattress. He is pleased enough and falls asleep. But the next day, you both realize an ambulance is a must, a hospital stay inevitable. You tell 911 it is not a dire emergency, and the Orangetown police, South Orangetown Ambulance Corps and the paramedics  are superb — understanding, so professional.

Later that day, after your dad is settled in the emergency room and is awaiting admission, and you can do nothing for a time, you leave to do your Thursday duty, to walk two grandchildren home from the Upper Nyack Elementary School. Sam and Beatrice sing and skip, and even when you tell them that you had to take great-gramps to the doctor, that does not sink in, as innocent as their time can be and ought to be.

You go to their house, in a beautiful old Hudson River village where so very long ago their great-grandfather at similar age walked with his dad, and you find yourself sitting in a rocking chair, the same one your father’s father bought his wife Maud so that she could comfort infant Arthur Henry Gunther Jr., my dad.

In one day, my elderly father’s roots come full cycle, and though time is now very limited for him, and by relation and relativity for me as well, the laughter, the silliness of my dad’s great-grandchildren playing as I sat in that family chair reaffirmed that the tree continues to grow from its roots, as in the beginning, the end, as in new seasons, as in fresh apples falling not far from the tree.

Arthur H. Gunther II is a retired newspaper editor who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

SIMPLE ACTIVITY, BUT …

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

This isn’t the time of year to discuss holiday or other occasion cards, but a recent email from an artist friend in Colorado prompts a memory. She writes, “My latest ‘adapting’ kick is reworking old ready-made cards. Remember back in grade school when we would cut up cards that had been collected and slap them onto construction paper?”

Well, I do recall, as do probably many of you readers. Two of my teachers — Miss Rouy in the third and Mrs. Still in fourth, at the old South Main Street School in Spring Valley, a  village north of New York City, knew that reading, writing and arithmetic didn’t by themselves add up to a full education. Imagine, they knew this long before “Common Core” standards and teacher evaluation panels.

(Even today, when I do arithmetic in my head, which is a good brain exercise, I recall the 2 p.m. sessions when we all looked at the back of Mrs. Still’s classroom and repeated parts of the times table, hand-drawn and placed on the wall. That memorization, as well as the actual memory have helped me get through life.),

We had a regular, twice-a-week art teacher, Mr. Buttons (yes, that was his name), but Miss Rouy and Mrs. Still also got us involved in craft activities. They would bring in greeting  cards from their collections, some as old as the early 1900s, some quite elaborate with  cotton-stuffed covers made of silk. They would line up the cards on the chalkboard rails, and we students would rush to get the  best ones.

Making these cards was fun, and we enhanced our imagination and development skills. It was also a good bonding experience in the classroom. Didn’t cost the school district a dime.

Years later, I went to an installation of greeting cards at a New York City museum, with some of the cards worth many thousands of dollars. Guess Miss Rouy and Mrs. Still could have been rich. Instead, they made their students richer.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

 

‘SEA LEGS’ IN THE SNOW

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com

Ride a bicycle and you never forget. Years, decades later, and you hop on as if you were still the eight year old though your  joints may creak more than the bicycle chain. Not that much different when you have the coldest/snowiest February in Northeast America since 1934. You get in the swing again.
Most of us weren’t around in 1934, and even if we were, it may not have been in the Northeast, but there have been enough snowy times in most lives that while recent winters have not been so harsh in my area, at least, we can recall when snow was piled high, icicles overhung our house gutters and we could not get warm enough though we might carry 15 pounds of layered clothing.
Of course, we all exaggerate, so it is common to hear many of us say, “When I was young, the storms were relentless. …” It’s as if there was a Blizzard of 1888 in each existence, though the individual may have been born in 1988. Or we say, “This is an old-fashioned winter” when all we ever saw of that was a Hallmark card, complete with sleigh, a Victorian home up a drive and an ice pond filled with skaters. Perhaps we all want to feel nostalgic even when we may well be tired of the snow. It surely is true that the first snow of the season brings the greatest childlike excitement, but like young love, the effect can be wearing if it continues too long.
For me this winter has been about the survival instinct. So back to the bicycle analogy. When the first flakes fell in February, and the road had ice beneath the snow, I drove 9-20 mph on a six-mile trip at 2 a.m., with few others on the road. If I had been 16, I probably would have hit 30-40 and tried to fishtail my car. If I were 40 with kids in the car, I would have been cautious, but confident, perhaps traveling 25 mph. But as a senior and not having driven in heavy snow all that often in the past few years, I could not immediately find my sea legs. I was on the bicycle but didn’t get balanced.
That ended quickly, right on the return trip that icy morning, when confidence returned and the “feel” of the snow road came through the tires to the brakes and to my foot. I was again at 20-25 mph, with assurance. Now, five or so storms later, I am an old hand, as if all our winters were like 2015. It’s even fun to drive a bit in the snow.
While the false bravado of youth has not returned, recognition of experience and application of commonsense sure do truss you up and make you feel as of you can tackle the winter beast.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who is reachable at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

CLASSROOM PSYCHOLOGY

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com

A photo of a dress from a London shop, blue and black, made its viral way around the Internet last week because some people saw it as white and gold, or hues that approached blue, gold, etc. It all has to do with how your eye accepts light exposure. No big deal, except that it was yet another of those games that you spot more and more on social media sites, some meant to test your inner psychology. (As in “What car are you like? Take the test!”) Heck, there was one good way back in anyone’s school days that is just as psychologically true today, just as relevant in a light-enough, non-earth-shattering way.
Take the test.
Where did you sit in class? Always near the windows? Close to the door? The third row? In the middle of any row? The last seat way in the back?
When I was in college, this time on a renewed try while working for a living, I didn’t have many moments to spare since the combined hours of traveling, sitting in class, being a newspaper photog, helping run a household, etc., kept things tight. So, it was easier to choose the same seat in every class, if I could. I’d get to the first day of class early and hit the window row half-way back. Much easier to find my place in any class in a rush. It worked for most of my courses.
In high school, often the seat you took on the first day was the one you had for the term, the teacher making up a seating chart, which might be amended if you talked to your neighbor. Somehow, the same people were always in the front row, the back one, the window side, the seat under the wall clock, the middle row, middle seat. I bet if high school reunions — elementary ones for that matter — were held in the old classrooms, some of us would gravitate to our old spots, no matter how many years have passed since we day-dreamed like me or sat up straight, hands folded on desk.
Just like the social media site psychology tests (“What color are you?”) seem to be on the mark, so, too, would your chosen seat (or the assigned one, if the teacher intervened) reveal YOU. Day-dreamer near the window? Tired fellow with pre-school-hours job in the back row? Or the one who didn’t want to be noticed? The person in the middle row, middle seat, who liked to be kept secure, surrounded by classmates? The two friends near the back, against the wall, who could talk without being noticed?
What seats are best for passing notes, flirting, getting out of class fast?
And who disliked it when the teacher had us push the desks to the side and form a circle of chairs. Did you feel vulnerable? Did you raise your hand to be noticed? Could the day-dreamer do his (her) thing in a circle? At least rows of seats added to individuality, or joining the crowd, or sharing friendship with one or two or three other students in nearby seats.
Finally, what about the teacher? Did he (she) have a favorite row to glance at, others to stare at, still others to ignore a bit?

Like I said, Psychology 101.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

EDWARD HOPPER AND ‘PAINTING’

Hopper Bedroom Gini copy

Completed bedroom. Note the window light.

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     82 North Broadway, Nyack, N.Y. — When you paint in a great artist’s childhood bedroom, in space where the Hudson light seems a direct path from Heaven, off the river and straight up Second Avenue, you are humble. Humble even if you are simply covering a wall with latex, part of a sprucing-up after a fairly serious renovation.

Recently, I was the artist in an artist’s bedroom, not doing artist’s work but trying to be artistic. I am a trustee of the Edward Hopper House Art Center and, along with Lynn Saaby, Dave Sirois and Brian Levine, we of the House & Grounds Committee try to offer as much volunteer repair work as possible. Giving free labor, and, often, materials, has been the secret of success in affording maintenance of the 1858 house where Edward Hopper, the famed American realist painter, was born in 1882.

Ever since the once-deteriorating home was rescued by concerned citizenry and refurbished largely through volunteer work in the 1970s, the mantle has been passed from crew to crew to keep the iconic village structure in top shape. While these days that cannot always be accomplished with just volunteer expertise and labor, and focused fund-raising is necessary for infrastructure concerns (such as the ongoing drive to waterproof the basement), Hopper House continues to rely heavily on what labor and materials can be offered. I have been privileged to be among the volunteers, all of us taking cues from Win Perry, the Upper Nyack historian and architect, and his original 1970s restoration crew.

Those volunteers and early trustees saw to rewiring, heating, structure and wall repair, flooring and other work so that the art center could begin to offer space for artistry of all design and taste and to honor Hopper as as well as to rescue an old Nyack house. The mission continues more than four decades later.

For whatever reason, a portion of Edward’s childhood bedroom, a particularly sunny part of the house on the southeast side, was never fully repaired. A long-ago water leak had deteriorated the original horse hair plaster on wood lath, and the wall on the south side, including the fireplace surround, had been removed down to the full-size 2×4-inch balloon framing, made of locally milled wood and which runs from the basement sill to the roof line.

Over the years, the bedroom had been rented to various artists to help supplement Hopper House income, and those painters did not mind the rustic nature of the exposed wall, which included Haverstraw brick infill for mass and early insulation.

Last year, the room was taken off the rental list and opened up to visitors eager to see Edward’s bedroom, where most likely he was conceived as it was the master bedroom until just after his birth when an addition was put on the north side.

Hopper House decided then to complete the long-overdue repairs, which was to include new wall work,  period molding, improvement of the fireplace hearth and paint. I got the job, and this volunteer spent about two weeks wonderfully enjoying the tasks.

Each day, and some nights, it was inspiring to see the effect of both sunlight and moonlight in the room and to again realize that Edward, whose paintings are so very much about light, was obviously affected by constant nature in his bedroom. The birth of a great artist took place in this room, literally and figuratively.

Repair work was made easier by a large table, perhaps 4 feet by 12, which Edward built in his Washington Square, New York City, studio to dry printed black and white line drawings from copper plate etchings. (Hopper House was given the table by Edward’s neighbor after the man, a professor, retired a few years ago. He had received it from Jo Nivision, Edward’s wife and fellow painter.) I was careful not to damage the rustic oak table, and it sure came in handy.

The wall repair was quick enough, using drywall and a finish that mimics plaster. The moldings required extra work since we had to match them with what might have existed, or at least come close. I mixed this and that profile and hand-milled some pieces to achieve the desired result.

In the end, the restored wall fits the original bedroom, itself the inspiring scene of several Hopper paintings. It may not be perfect, for I am but a volunteer craftsman, but I took pains to respect the house and the artist.

No, I did not channel Edward Hopper, which might seem a temptation, especially when you are in the bedroom at 8 a.m. on a bright, sunny day and the light streams up Second Avenue through the large windows and onto the walls. But neither can you ignore the fact of his existence, his childhood and early adulthood in that room. As a writer, photographer and painter, I can call myself an artist, though that definition bears no resemblance to artist Edward Hopper. Yet if there is kinsmanship at all, it was a bit brotherly to be working in the great man’s bedroom.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who long toiled for the original Journal-News at 53 Hudson Ave., Nyack. This essay recently appeared in the newsletter of the Nyack Historical Society. It may be reprinted. 

I

SOUP & HUMANITY

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Here’s a story. A very human story. One that might remind you of your mom. And a cold day. And simple soup. And a complex world.

We have been having old-fashioned winter in the Northeast, not as bad in New York State as in New England, but quite cold — single digits and enough snow to double the  effect. Not too bad if you have today’s central heating, a warm car with electric seats and a climate-controlled workplace. But not so good if you are homeless or otherwise stand in line at 7 a.m. waiting for a local volunteer breakfast program to open its doors.

One recent Tuesday, during a storm that prevented five of the six volunteers from hitting super-icy roads in the wee hours so they could prepare breakfast and a bag lunch,  a line of hungry people formed outside United Church in Spring Valley, N.Y., where, since 1985, the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program has unfailingly served daily.

So far in 2015, an average 100 people, sometimes as high as 150, queue up to eat what the cook of the day and the other volunteers put together. Tuesdays is always pancakes (pancake flour, brown sugar, honey, vanilla, eggs, milk, coffee);  Polish sausage (two-inch pieces, baked for 2.5 hours at 220 degrees in apple juice, with seasonings, sweetness); oatmeal (also flavored and with raisins, not boiled but simmered in a boiled mixture); and soup (might be canned mixed vegetable or minestrone, seasoned and simmered for two hours). There are desserts, juice, milk, coffee as well. Then the fellows and gals take a cold bag lunch.

On the recent stormy Tuesday, only one of us was able to get in, and by luck, that was me. I could not prepare the fine lunches the ladies do (I have five girlfriends at RIBP, I am the only male Tuesdays). I also could not get desserts out, but I did do the pancakes, sausage and, most of all, the soup.

This was a soup day if ever there was one, with temps at maybe 10, with most of the homeless sheltered overnight at the church in the Helping Hands program, also run by volunteers and Ya’el, the director. But not all the homeless chose to stay inside, as is the way with independent people who harden to adversity. We also had in line men and women who hoped to shape up for whatever shoveling or other work that local contractors might offer.

So, it was very cold, the line to get in was long despite the storm, and awaiting them was nourishing, tasty food. But what was the hit of the morning? It was the soup, this time canned chicken rice simmered several hours with pepper and parsley plus other flavorings. The entire serving area was filled with the fragrance of that soup, that simple offering.

I worked the ladle, and as the people came up and received a large foam cup of very hot soup, as the steam of that hit their chins, almost to a man and woman, their noses dropped to the rim and they took in the smell of the soup. In English, in Spanish, in Creole, you heard “thank you,” but it was as if these good people were not thanking the fellow ladling the soup, or the breakfast or overnight staff, but their moms.

Just about all of us recall playing in the snow, walking home from school in February, horsing around with pals on a Saturday, and mom called us in — friends, too — for steaming tomato soup with noodles, or chicken soup with rice. Homemade, canned with seasoning and noodles added, whatever, the hot soup was proof that moms existed, for those lucky to have one. And affirmation that someone cared.

That was the look on those men and women, in a small but significant, long-serving  volunteer food program that asks no questions, makes no judgment and does some good.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced. 

 

 

OF A FRIENDSHIP

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Sometimes a person comes along as if the moment were a conversation with a plane passenger whom you’ve just met and who will soon move on to her own destination. Yet, however short the time, there is a connection that cannot be forgotten, though it is also not something you dwell upon. It is reassurance that life isn’t just about getting through things.

That is what happened to me so long ago now, about 1970 when a newspaper colleague and I found we were often on the same assignment, she a writer, I a photographer. Town Board meetings can be long affairs, with downtime, and you shoot the breeze. Diana was an involved conversationalist, and we both began to look forward to exchanging thoughts. She listened, I listened, and the mutuality of that recognition of worth proved key to friendship. This wasn’t romance, the conversations, but the growing strength of expectation, of sharing words, was ardent in itself.

Diana could enter sentences I began, and I hers, and that had happened to me only once before. It is a gift when there is such synchronicity, when there are goose bumps from the understandings made, the reaches into another being realized. It is a purring moment, like two friendly cats comfortable with each other. You cannot invent such relationship —  it just happens.

A few months after our conversations, I would move from photography to the news desk and then on to editing and eventually editorial and column writing, and Diana would marry Al and move to New England for a very long and happy relationship. I would say we simply lost touch, though there never was any thought of keeping a connection, and except for two brief but sad greetings when her parents died some years back, I had not heard of or from Diana. Now I have.

I am told by her brother, who was my school classmate, that Diana passed Feb. 1 after a long illness which even he knew little about. Diana apparently wanted no one to suffer with her, not surprising given the breadth of her compassion for others in those long-ago conversations.

In my remembrance of her after I heard the news, I can hear the words, see the gestures, feel the human connection between two friends in a public meeting hall. You cannot underestimate having a special friendship forged in a moment, not celebrated much beyond that but somehow an eternal one. And I am eternally grateful, Diana.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com.

BOREDOM IS GOOD, KIDS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Being bored is good, kids. Skip the video game, the phone, the computer and all the scheduled activity. Take a walk, sit under a tree, in a library corner. Climb a branch (safely), go down to the river, lie on on a pier, scale a snowbank. And do any of these things alone, with no friends. No mom, no dad,  no friend, no teacher.

Give yourself an hour to do nothing. Get bored. Very bored, and just when you think you are going to burst from inactivity — from not checking your phone, from not hitting the video game console button, from not jabbering away with friends, from not jumping, once again, into the family car for a trip to dance, yoga, karate, Scouts, whatever is structured, just when you are about to throw in the towel, I bet a light will come on. In your brain. In your muscles. In your heart. In your being.

Eureka! Boredom may seem as if you are running in place forever, but what it actually does is to eventually propel you like a wound-up rubber band on a toy balsa airplane propeller, soaring into the sky and them gently gliding. Boredom makes you look inside. It scavenges your brain for all those buried bits of creativity that you noticed — colors, forms, shapes, ideas, thoughts that you can build upon in your own creativity, artistry, problem-solving.

You cannot do this, take that journey, an exquisite run, if you are so focused on the selfies, the messages, the functions of your TV remote.

Let the mind wander. With no one else around, you become your own best exploring buddy. and it can be fascinating.

Even boring, repetitive tasks can stimulate creative thinking, as the hand does the routine work and your brain flies off for a moment or two.

Being bored, and finding results, can boost your esteem, add to purpose, bring motivation.

Sit on a street bench and count the cars, take an imaginary trip in one of them.

Life isn’t just about excitement or stimulation. It is about intentional boredom and where it can take you, kids.

Kids? Hey, adults, too.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

MORE THAN A ‘BLIZZARD’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

NEW YORK STATE — As this being written, a “blizzard” is clipping its way toward my section of the nation. “Blizzard” is a big word here, quite unlike in some other states. The new media loves the description because it pushes news, although if newspapers in particular had the staffs they used to, real news would be schools, government, sports and features. A “blizzard” proves convenient to fill a lonely front page.

The hope is that the storm, at present expected to dump 18-24 inches in high wind, will not take lives, harm anyone and be met with the commonsense more prevalent, perhaps, in yesteryear. Yet the hype of the last few days has had residents expecting the worst, as if we have never suffered a heavy, large snowfall.

Not many seasons ago, such storms were common here, and vehicles were ready with chains on tires, to ride on streets not cleared to the black. Schools closed if the buses, when there were any, could not get through. Businesses were open to the extent possible. Snow was part of winter, and the media made little of it, except if there was some paralysis, such as in the blizzard of 1888.

Yesterday, the stores were jammed with shoppers buying enough food and provisions for a week, when the storm should disrupt for two days only. But such is the panic fed by the hype, to fill a news-hole that should contain the who, what, where, when, why and how of the ordinary events, and the extraordinary, too.

Modern high-speed news delivery, the need to constantly update, to feed smart phones and tablets, encourages over-exertion of “news,” to make more of things than we should.

I pray the “blizzard” is less than expected, and the dangers of any storm cannot be made light of, especially for responders, but the first rule of delivering information is balance, and the second is completeness. There’s a lot of news out there that going unreported.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

IT’S THE MIDDLE CLASS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

It’s all about the middle class, and it’s not a selfish thing. The people in the middle historically prove to be the rescuers of both the lower and upper classes, the lower because when you have a vibrant middle class, long-term, benefit-added professional jobs are created, and that economic stability builds hope, grows compassion and renews  neighborhoods. The upper classes, well they actually make more money, for investment in enlarging the middle class and making it hum brings economic stability that multiplies. (The post-war G.I. Bill took non-high school graduates from the Great Depression and sent them to college and trade school and so brought the prosperity of the 1950s and beyond.)

Today, after decades of declining re-investment, insufficient re-tooling and a lack of smarts by American business, after years of well-intentioned but bureaucratically misapplied government over-regulation and, now, because the dictatorship of the uber-wealthy by special interest rules our nation, the American middle class, created by the Industrial Age, Progressivism, two world wars and manifest destiny, is surely disappearing. And with it, the re-nurturing of democracy that the Founders intended.

Corporate greed is sending jobs to China and elsewhere. Focusing on the bottom line instead of the future of the economy is creating a third world-like underclass that permanently will be out of work or in low-skilled jobs with no pensions and self-purchased health care.

At stake is much more than the loss of buying power. No democracy long sustains  without a healthy middle class. Small towns and suburbs will further decay, and costly, debilitating  crime and social problems will rise. Some cities will fall as well, though parts of others, like Manhattan, will be protected enclaves for the penthouse rich. Children will be lost as progress regresses for the almighty dollar.

When you have government that wisely regulates business, as did Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, when there are commonsense rules to control greed, when business reinvests in the workers that make them money by providing reasonable wages;  by assuring pensions and health care; by supporting collective bargaining; by investing in infrastructure; by paying corporate taxes because that money regrows in job renewal; by fair trade practices; and, mostly, by an attitude that those who have must help those who have not, the pay-it-forward theme of human decency, then you rebuild a nation once proud of itself.

It is appropriate on this day, which honors Martin Luther King Jr., to quote the late civil rights leader: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Injustice is also cause for possible rebellion, the  “Let them Eat Cake” dismissal of the growing greedy the match that could light the fire.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

‘FIRST LADY OF NYACK,’ ALWAYS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

NYACK, N.Y. — Helen Hayes, once and for a long time the “First Lady of the American Theatre,” soon will no longer have her distinguished name on Broadway. The Helen Hayes Theatre on West 44th Street, the second to honor her since 1955, will change its marquee, the new non-profit owners selling naming rights in that wonderfully awful new tradition. Yet this grand thespian, who owned an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, will never lose her mark in the village she called home from the 1930s to her passing in 1993 at age 92.

Actress Hayes, who called herself Charlie MacArthur’s wife in this Hudson River village, the lady who entertained World War II troops at the Camp Shanks embarkation camp in Orangeburg, the president of the Nyack Garden Club who had meetings among her beautiful backyard roses, was well sought after on stage and screen but in Nyack, the ordinary pace of life was just as much a lure.

Though the death of her daughter Mary in 1949 devastated her and put her husband, co-author of the famous “The Front Page” play about newspapermen, in never-ending sadness until his own passing in 1956, Miss Hayes made the show of her life go on, increasingly in extensive charity work. Her particular devotion to the Helen Hayes (rehabilitation) Hospital in West Haverstraw was a long-running, deeply felt effort until her death.

Often, notables are splashed in self-promoting, even outrageous and scandalous behavior on the front pages of supermarket tabloids, magazines and now in social media, Helen Hayes preferred her publicity to be her body of work, her village life in Nyack and her charity efforts.

Yet, as one theater critic wrote, Katherine Cornell (Miss Hayes’ friendly rival and also variously known as  the “First Lady of the American Theatre”) played every queen as a woman and Helen Hayes every woman as a queen.”

I can attest to that, having waited about 10 minutes on the old living room couch in Miss Hayes’”Pretty Penny” mansion before she came down the grand stairs so that I could get photographs for the old Journal-News.

This actress, who played Mary Stuart and, of course, Victoria, eventually descended the curved stairs, but slowly, almost pausing on the first landing, which was next to a large portrait of her as one of the English queens.

It was grand entrance, quite theatrical, but totally lost on a country bumpkin like me who was already thinking about his next photo assignment.

The photos were taken, and Helen Hayes was most accommodating. (I found that almost all actors I photographed took easily to the camera and especially to directions, as they knew their best poses and also were used to stage and screen nudging).

Now, so many decades later, I wish I had spent more time on that assignment, which was one of perhaps four or five that shift. I wish I had taken more shots of  the actress, even asked a polite question or two. What opportunity was lost.

Broadway will soon lose “Helen Hayes” in lights, for a second time, but the memories this lady of the boards for 80 years left the masses and the individual will continue to shine most brightly. She will always be the “First Lady of Nyack.’

(Perhaps the firm that buys naming rights to the present Helen Hayes Theatre will simply buy them in her name, keeping Miss Hayes on Broadway for years to come.)

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

REASSURANCE IN AN OLD DINER

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Small diners in my part of the world in lower New York State a few decades back were known for tasty, homemade food served by owners and their staff who seemed like family, especially for the regular customers. They were homes away from home. Actually they could be small theater for the characters within.

Each diner — Hogan’s, Tiny’s, Sparky’s, etc.,  often several in every village and town — was small enough — like an old railway dining car — that you were intimate with the other patrons but also, if you buried yourself in your newspaper, you could be by yourself. Not unlike the table at home where your siblings might be jabbering away but quiet you wanted to be lost in your thoughts. It was possible even in small spaces.

Our diners, like small-town eateries anywhere and even the intimate ones in cities back when the eateries were just that –simple — knew their customers. Those regulars would be greeted accordingly, usually with voices loud enough so that the rest of us took notice and either said hello or mentally checked off our list that another member of the “family” was in the “house.” Reassurance, again.

Diners offered further intimacy with staff, including the waitress who knew all about you, who had your order placed even before you sat down, who kept a pencil in her hair and a check pad in her apron pocket, even if she took your order by memory.

And there was the grill cook, the fellow at the “flat top,” who had home fries simmering on low heat in the back left and who used the full surface to griddle pancakes, eggs over easy, burgers, onions, without burning anything, his hands quick to open up the left-side refrigerator where he took out American cheese or reached overhead to pull bread from the Pullman loaves left by the local commercial bakery, Ramapo or Widman’s. The cook was truly intimate with the customers, some of whom would purposely sit in front of him to watch him work. One advantage was that you could fine-tune the time on your eggs. Some of these grill cooks, like others in the old diner industry, were itinerant, and they came for a few months in summer and went south in the winter. But they were as regular as a clock in showing up at the right time.

The customers were regular, too, in their often quirky ways, as in any family. One fellow I recall stirred his coffee about 15 times, after loading it up with five spoons of sugar. Then he banged the spoon on the rim of the green java cup as if to wring out the last drop. Finally, with an “ah,” he began to literally slurp the coffee. Did this each and every time. Did that routine for years. And, funny as it was, it was reassuring to the other regulars in the old diner. Reassuring to him, too.

In those days, the police chief came in, the mayor, the auto mechanic, the principal. Everyone knew each other or of one another, often going back generations. So there would be nods and small questions, like “How’s the vegetable patch this year, chief?” Overall, it made for trust, especially with the police. They were your neighbors.

Maybe the world, at least parts of the American world, especially our cities and anonymous suburbs, could use a few of the old diners, their staff, their food, their patrons. They could use reassurance from “family.”

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

BOOK: ‘STOP AT THE RED APPLE’

 

Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

       Some of us go home again by passing the house we lived in as a child. Others visit the old neighborhood. For Elaine Freed Lindenblatt, it’s a restaurant, or at least the building that remains. Not just any eatery, but the famous Red Apple Rest between Tuxedo and Harriman, New York.
Reuben Freed, Elaine’s father, opened the restaurant in the 1930s, and it operated through the 1980s on what was once the key road to the New York “Alps,” the largely Jewish summer hotels in the Catskills that gave respite and recharge to families trying to escape the summer heat in broiling Manhattan and the other boroughs.
Elaine, who knew about lox, chopped egg and many delicious, homemade foods before she learned her times table, has written a book about the Southfields restaurant and her beloved father and family: “Stop at the Red Apple” (State University of New York Press, Albany). Its 265 pages, with photographs, is at once a love letter to Reuben Freed; then applause for those who built a business from scratch and invested day and night for more than five decades; and, finally, as the sunset of the restaurant became inevitable, a historical journey about part of American culture.
The Red Apple Rest was known to every budding and successful entertainer who performed in the summer resorts but also to Route 17 travelers and locals. It was family. It was a way stop, a place to refresh, to rest your feet, to kibitz with your fellow motorists, to meet other people, to have a good nosh, and above all, to enjoy. Heading north to the Catskills had to include a long moment at the Red Apple, for it was an old friend that had to be visited to make the trip complete. A visit up, a visit on the way back. And this was true even after the Thruway was constructed in the early 1950s. Travelers would get off at Hillburn and then take 17 just to visit the Red Apple.
Elaine Freed Lindenblatt is a masterful writer. She is at once accomplished in her prose and then poetic because she releases the emotion of the family and its business that were so thoroughly enjoyed by so many for so long.
This is a book to sit with and savor in another “visit” to the Red Apple. It is beyond a family story. It is many stories, and so many are the enduring, revealing characters, so well described as are the decades and the culture in those years.
(For more information about “Stop at the Red Apple,” visit www.sunypress.edu.)

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

HERE IT WAS DECEMBER …

For some years, my son Arthur IV, a writer too, offered a holiday story published in place of my former newspaper column. That tradition now continues on the web. 

– Arthur H. Gunther III

 

By ARTHUR H. GUNTHER IV

The year had passed quickly, always too quickly.  And here it was December.  Here it was Christmastime, once again.  Instead of simply putting up trees and hanging ornaments, instead of searching for gifts and holiday parties, there was this.  There was the old house to clean out.  Charlie hadn’t grown up there, but it was definitely home to him.  It was inevitable that one day he would have to sort through the memories that lived in all the corners and hallways of the old place.  It just seemed odd that it was happening now, at Christmastime.  It wasn’t that his grandfather didn’t celebrate the holiday.  He was always there, in the background of photos, sitting at the dinner table.  He gave out presents like everybody else.  It just wasn’t a holiday that was synonymous with the man.  Birthdays, Father’s Day, Halloween, sure, but Christmas, no.  And now this year his grandfather had no choice.  He was the focus of the season.

It wasn’t as if Charlie’s grandfather was irreligious.  He definitely exuded a sort of naturalistic morality.  It just wasn’t formalized.  His being didn’t seem to stem from any printed set of rules.  The way he went about his daily life was less about the lessons of organized religion and more an appreciation of being alive and all that it implied.  Christmas didn’t seem to hold any special place in his grandfather’s heart.  So as Charlie went through boxes in the attic and cleaned out drawers, it was easy to forget that the holiday was just a few weeks away.  Charlie supposed that he could wait.  There was really no rush, but he couldn’t bring himself to put the job on hold.  If there was one thing his grandfather was not, it was a procrastinator.

So Charlie would stop by the old house each day, his task there bookended by his job and getting ready for Christmas.  He cleaned out the basement and then stopped by the firehouse to get his tree.  He went through drawers in the bedroom and wrote out Christmas cards that same night.  He weeded through the attic only to go straight to shopping that evening.  The weeks passed and suddenly it was Christmas Eve.  Charlie had just a few odds and ends to finish in the kitchen and the job would be complete.  He unplugged the refrigerator, cleaned out the coupon drawer and took one last look around the house.  Charlie was just about to head out the door when he noticed the small picture frame that hung to the right of the staircase.  He hadn’t even noticed it.  The frame had been in place for so long that it was more like wallpaper to Charlie’s eyes by now.   It had a rather simple photograph of the outside of the house in it.  Strangely enough the frame hung in the corner where his grandparents used to put their Christmas tree, back when Charlie’s grandmother was alive.  Now that he thought about it, he was pretty sure his grandfather had not gone to the trouble of putting up a tree since.  Charlie reached up to take down the 5×7 frame.  He’d keep it.  At least he’d have a picture of the old place to remind him of the memories.  As Charlie took the frame down, he noticed the backing was bursting off the metal frame.  Before he could figure out the reason, the cardboard popped off and out spilled a pile of photographs onto the floor.  Bending down, Charlie saw that they were all the same pose, taken in the very corner of the house he now stood.  Each photograph was of a Christmas tree.  There were several with just his grandmother, looking like she was in her early twenties, right about the age when she married Charlie’s grandfather.  Then there was one of his grandmother pregnant.  What followed were pictures of his dad and later his uncle at various ages, all with his grandmother, all in front of that year’s Christmas tree.  Eventually it was simply his grandmother and the tree again … in the last one she looked about the age she was when she passed away.  There must have been 30 pictures, all told.

Charlie was stunned.  Christmas must have meant a little more to his grandfather than Charlie gave him credit for.  The man had kept all these photos right here, exactly in the place where he and his wife placed their Christmas tree every year.  Charlie wondered if his grandfather took down the frame now and then and looked through the photos, looked over the memories.  Maybe he did it every Christmas.  Charlie guessed it really didn’t matter.  For the first time that year, it felt like Christmas was here.  Charlie packed the photographs back into the frame and turned off the lights, shutting the door behind him.  It was Christmas Eve and now Charlie had one more present to take home.

The writer is a school teacher in the South Orangetown, N.Y. district. He lives in Upper Nyack, N.Y., and can be reached via clausland@yahoo.com

WHAT PRICE DEMOCRACY?

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Just months after World War II ended in August 1945, the Nuremberg trials began with impressive agreement among four of the Allied nations that those who commit atrocities in war are to be held accountable, that “following orders” is no excuse. Pity that such unanimity against horror — war is the ultimate “atrocity” — did not prevent the world conflict in the first place, the one that came after World War I, “the war to end all wars,” but such is the politics, often of convenience, among countries. Yet it can be said the Nuremberg trials of the Axis Powers participants were a moral watershed. Pity, again, though — and again for the rationale of “convenience” — that the 1945 moral purpose is now tainted by the U.S. in its deliberate sanctioning of sophisticated torture by CIA operatives and associates in the name of preventing terrorism.

That the operatives are also free of any crime since they were “following orders” is an insult to those men and women, children, Holocaust victims and civilians who lost their lives or suffered physical and emotional trauma during World War II. That horrible time owed surviving humanity a higher moral plain, and the Nuremberg trials set the stage. Pity, again, that a key actor left the stage and marched into the same shadows of rationalization to justify the end, by whatever means. Civilization is not civilized if such thinking endures. And torture is just that, be it by megalomaniacs or those “defending” democracy. There is no democracy if it is tainted.

A key principle at Nuremberg was that following orders — or even interpreting orders that results in torture and depravity —  does not wash. The Nazis were guilty of ordering, encouraging, enabling “war crimes,” or as the charter establishing the “International Military Tribunal” stated in part: “War Crimes: namely … murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war … .”

Following that reasoning, torture, which surely includes water-boarding, threats to kill detainees’ relatives and mock executions, all cited in the recent Senate report on CIA operations involving suspected terrorists since 9/11, is inhumane, is criminal.

While this is not new controversy — the U.S. Justice Department had investigated for some years and said it had insufficient evidence to convict anyone — a democracy employing such interrogation is guilty of ignoring human rights in the name of protecting same, a moral impossibility.

There will be some — many, perhaps, who conclude that avoiding future mass attacks on this soil justifies obtaining information no matter the means. Others, perhaps purists, including myself, contend that either you are a democracy and adhere to its humane principles or you are not. I do not want my flag saved by mock executions or shocking someone standing in water. I would rather fight — even die — to save that flag, with other “citizen soldiers.” Even die but keeping values intact to the finish.

To what end, this torture? The information gained is necessarily suspect given the way it was obtained.  And the $300 million or so spent in the CIA interrogations was squandered while Detroit went bankrupt, while our middle class was (is) losing jobs,  when there was so much need to assist Americans.

The Founding Fathers believed  in universal rights,  in human dignity, that the government later defined by Lincoln as that “of the people, for the people, by the people” must be directed by the people, that it cannot behave as it pleases. Our recent government has done just that, and with utter shame. What price democracy?

    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

  

 

HUMANITY IN WAR

By Arthur H. Gunther III

In war, the human story trumps the “sturm und drang,” the storm and stress played out by the good guys vs. the bad guys. If not for the human element, each side might just as well blow up the other, for war is never the solution. It is inhumane.

And so it was about 70 years ago, just before a war-weary world readied as best it could for Christmas and Hanukkah or had already observed holidays of peace amidst chaos, that the last major German offensive of the War, “Unternehmen Herbstnebel,” the Ardennes campaign, now so famously called the “Battle of the Bulge, began. There would be many stories of humanity, reported and not, in the largest sustained fight on the western front, which continued for three weeks with much life lost and thousands of casualties.

Before the Bulge and after, a related American push to secure the Hurtgen Forest on the Belgian-German border also raged with exceptionally deep loss for a campaign later criticized as tactically unnecessary. It would prove to be the longest fight between U.S. and German forces in World War II.

It was in the Hurtgen where an exceptionally reaffirming story of sacrificing humanity unfolded. There, on Nov. 12, 1944, German Leutnant Friedrich Lengfeld, 23, died of severe wounds sustained while attempting to pull an American soldier out of a minefield. A plaque was set in the Huertgen military cemetery, proclaiming in both German and English: “Here in the Hürtgen Forest, on Nov. 12, 1944, Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld, a German officer, gave his life while trying to save the life of an American soldier lying severely wounded in the ‘Wilde Sau’ minefield and appealing for medical aid.” The lieutenant’s memorial is the only known one for a German soldier placed by opponents in a German military cemetery.

That an act of such compassion and bravery by Lt. Lengfeld and then, even with the great horror of the Bulge and the terror of the Hurtgen (where artillery fragments rained down on troops), that one enemy would honor the other side, reveals once again that war can never kill God’s purpose, which is, of course, humanity.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman whose Uncle, Winfield Gunther, lost three fingers to Hurtgen artillery “rain” on Feb. 10, 1945, his son’s birthday. This essay may be reproduced.

 

REGRETS EXPRESSED

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Regrets in older life, especially when there is time on the hands that goes to the head and prompts a critical look-back at how things could have gone better, certainly can include holidays. Such as Thanksgiving.

Just about all my youthful ones were spent at our grandparents — the one set of such that we had — and what I thought at age 18 would continue forever abruptly came to a halt when they moved to Florida, a blessing for them since it was so much more affordable than burgeoning suburbia.

For my brother and I there was limbo. And I guess for my parents, too, since the “family” gathering was now reduced to just four, and though there was well-prepared holiday food, the table seemed pretty much the same as any other day of the week. Eventually, we two siblings gave our parents a break — and a gift — and encouraged them to enjoy Thanksgiving with a trip to the race track for some mild betting and mutual entertainment. My brother was off with friends anyhow, and I was independent, so no big deal. We had had 18 or so Thanksgivings of the Norman Rockwell type, and the family could chew on that for a long time, until we both had future families of our own, and other irreplaceable traditions began anew. Limbo was OK.

I had two unexpected reprieves from that, though, when I was invited to a house not far from where I lived. I went, I thoroughly enjoyed the food, especially mince pie that was homemade and which I had never tasted and haven’t since because I’d rather recall the  original flavor. The family made me quite welcome, and the day reminded me of my many Thanksgivings with my grandparents.

What was missing was my own gratefulness and lack of social grace. I brought nothing to these two occasions — no flowers, no candy, no dessert. Didn’t even think of doing that. I also did not say “thank you” to the family.

Excuses are that I was age 20 the first time, but I was 24 the next visit. I had little money the first Thanksgiving, and just a bit more the second, but something could have been arranged. And a “thank you” costs nothing but is worth its weight in gold.

Regrets. Way past my 20s now, and those I should have thanked are long gone, one way or another.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

 

THANKSGIVING

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Thanksgiving — the traditional American one — and any gathering in any nation among any people at any time that seeks to express individual and community gratefulness for their bounty, however small, is affirmation that we do not live by bread alone. That we can celebrate such awareness by breaking bread is further proof of thanks.

When I was a child, my family’s Thanksgiving was simple and as expected in a blue-collar household where Thursday’s holiday was followed by Friday’s work: The day had special significance. That I had just one surviving set of grandparents made the moment even more of an anchor.

The day in Spring Valley, N.Y., at my grandparents’ home, offered the fine, deep smell of slow-cooking turkey, though I never ate that, preferring American cheese, I am afraid. But I enjoyed cranberry sauce, without which there would have been no Thanksgiving, and my Nana’s well-mashed potatoes, which tasted just right, particularly so on this occasion.

The windows, single pane, were clouded by condensed water, for the house was very warm with the oven and the people. My brother and I made circles on the glass and looked up and down the quiet streets of Summit and Ternure, just as my father and his brother had done years before.

After the main course, there would be the homemade apple pie and a cake from Tancos Bakery downtown that my father had picked out for the day. Usually a lemon variety.

The dessert would come a bit later, for dishes had to be cleared and hand washed, and our stomachs were full anyway. I spent the time waiting by getting awfully comfortable in my gramps’ recliner, next to a big standard floor lamp with a bright, 100-watt bulb. The stack of Saturday Evening Post magazines awaited, and I usually got through three.

Dessert came, and while the adults had their usual conversation, I went back to the chair cocoon, happy that I had experienced yet another Thanksgiving in that wonderful 1914 house, in a very small town where my dad grew up, where I went to school, walked to school, where I had friends and where adult cares, challenges and the highs and lows and promise of all that were yet far off.

Like I said, a traditional Thanksgiving, for no matter how you celebrate the day or something like it, no matter where you are, what happened on your “thanksgiving,” especially as a child, if you were so fortunate, eventually makes the man, the woman of you.

But, first, it gave you precious childhood memory.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com

This essay may be reproduced.

PICTURES AND POEMS

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

No essays this week, just pictures and the “poetry” that seems to go with each one.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

SONG

Woods, solitude,
wind whispering

as nature writes

a melody

in a long,

wonderful breath

apples

APPLES

In their season,

at picking,

the best first

Then the ones

not noticed

but still worthy

The poor ones

gone begging, just
ahead of the drops

Cape Chair

SAND

Beach sand

awaiting impression,

particles of glass

diffused

Until flesh

compresses

Life stamp

before the next

leaves a mark

awakening

AWAKENING

Asleep, dreams

from the mind’s

collected bits

On a journey

of the fanciful

Alarm sounds,

reality returns

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This may be reproduced.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A BEGINNING: Optimism

f1 copy

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Look at the photograph above these words, and what do you see? Is it dawn or dusk? The answer might mean you are an optimist or a pessimist. Or perhaps you like endings better than beginnings.

This image was taken in the morning near Dennis, Cape Cod, off the King’s Highway and near the bay. The tree has survived winter storms and had lost a main trunk, but it has lived. Its fate could have been different if the tree faced the Atlantic across the island at Falmouth. Optimism.

When I shot this photograph some years ago, the brightness of that particular morning, the briskness of it, made me think fall was coming though it was still summer. I suppose that was my early-day optimism, certainly not shared by the beach-goers who would arrive two hours later in high-80s temperature. “Yes, thank you,” they would say to the sun. To me: “Go home, autumn lover.” Optimism began for the vacationers when the bright sun kissed their rental bungalow screens with the beckoning of a full day of light and heat.

On the Cape at least, the setting sun can also mean optimism, for it is the ritual there to gather waterside and clap as the bright orb sets for its nightly nap. It’s like tucking a child in bed, the parent reassured that all is right, and that the promise of growth will continue after a good rest. So, too, with a rising sun on the next new morn. Optimism.

After I made this shot, I headed off for coffee, which is another optimistic time for my mornings. The caffeine rush, the strength of the brew, the childhood recollection of working people in my hometown diner drinking java from green glass cups — all set the day right for me, from the start.

So, on Cape Cod,  in my Blauvelt, N.Y., home, or wherever you are, I hope it’s the freshness of the rising sun that gets you going.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com. This essay may be reproduced.

TWO AMONG THE LARGELY UNSUNG

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Many personalities and almost that number in characters passed through my Editorial Page desk at the old Journal-News in Nyack, N.Y., 1978-2006. Like a farmer pleased with a bumper crop, I was always provided with a fertile field of human emotion, accomplishment, sadness and elation for commentary. To a man, to a woman, to a child, all these people’s  stories made you feel humble, for the tales of the human world are life itself, no matter the age, place or time.

So many unknown among us achieve without notice. So many suffer from this ailment or weight upon shoulders but get the job done. And so many do good, paying their own relative fortunes of whatever sort forward. Their stories are largely left untold.

Editorial pages, which may soon no longer exist, the victims of cost management in the shrinking print media, traditionally have heralded the extraordinary who die in office, who have served the people. But the journalist writing those pieces, him(her)self usually a bit jaded by the hoi polloi and more attuned to the common folk, really chew better on testimonials for the ordinary achiever whose praise would otherwise be unsung.

And, so, we come this day to two such people, presented here in appreciation and respect, not on an editorial page but at least in words. While both were Rockland County, N.Y., people upon death, each could have lived anywhere in the world for their kind are in every community.

My first person of note is Albon Platt Man IV of Palisades, a community volunteer and peace activist for most of his 95 years. Albon was a most articulate fellow, precise in speech and manner, and a stickler for correct grammar and word usage. Yet his kindly ways nudged his criticism rather than applying it hammer-like. He spent a total of 45 years in two publishing and editing jobs.

He was a local historian who helped publish books for the Historical Society of Rockland. He volunteered in many community ways, including at a home for the developmentally disabled.

Admiration for Albon Man comes easily, but for me it is anchored by his sacrifice for his beliefs. As a young man and then as a retiree, he opposed war, and he walked the talk by serving three years in prison for refusing induction into the U.S. Army.

When I was asked by the Historical Society to collect 100 of my newspaper essays and Albon and the late Associated Press writer Jules Loh edited them into a book, Albon asked me which was my favorite. “A fraternity of life and death,” I said, which was commentary on the World War II film, “Saving Private Ryan.” Though a pacifist, Albon, a man of dignity and great empathy, also understood “the fraternity of battle death,” of brothers in war but beyond it. In a way, I was talking about the ultimate peace. Albon knew. It is both the warrior and the peace-maker who can end all war and instead concentrate on the good the world can offer.

Albon Man contributed much in his own ways. I have rarely met such a principled, selfless person.

My second person of note is Jean Kathleen Sammes Gardner, a longtime Nyack resident who was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England (what a wonderfully sounding location). “Top girl” at Reigate County School, Jean volunteered in the London Civil Defense Corps, helping manage underground subway stations filled with residents during the Nazi “Blitz” bombings. Later she was in the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force where she was a radar reader in top-secret work. She met her husband, Harvey C. Gardner, an American, and moved to Nyack in 1953.

Jean was an ardent community activist, fighting particularly for Rockland parkland and the Hudson River.

Our paths met at a stop sign of sorts in the later 1990s when I editorialized that Nyack might remove some of the large oak trees in upper Memorial Park so that the Hudson could be better seen and more directly linked to the village proper.

Jean, in a reply worthy of Winston Churchill’s bulldog stance against the Axis, quickly set me right. The trees had been there since just after World War I, when they were planted, each one of them, in memory of the men fallen in that “War to End All Wars.”

I felt humbled. I felt ashamed. I vowed to research better. And I still stand up straight when I hear Jean Gardner’s name, as if a schoolboy chastened in proper fashion.

What gifts we have on this earth when we meet such people as Albon Man and Jean Gardner.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

 

 

MESSENGER’S NEW MEGAPHONE

 

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

There were no Twitter moments in the information revolution of my youth, which was the transition from radio to television. Entertainer Milton Berle, newscaster John Cameron Swaze and funnyman Jackie Gleason came to life, literally, as most TV was live programming, replacing the on-air radio voices and sound effects. It was magical, this slapstick and haphazardly directed programming. Imagine, live “video” in your home. You no longer stared off into day-dreaming space listening to radio drama or comedy.

Yet that — radio — was a revolution, too, in my grandfather’s time, when small crystal radio sets without battery could pick up nighttime signals in New York from as far away as Chicago. Imagine, voices in your living room, replacing a an occasional trip into town to see the traveling vaudeville show.

And, of course, vaudeville replaced whatever entertainment came calling in the 1800s, 1700s — before.

Today’s Internet, Twitter, Facebook, other information/entertainment/social media, are the fleeting moment’s new getting-out-the-message modality, challenging or replacing TV and radio and vaudeville, the theater and whatever else that used to have us sit for a spell and actually absorb in minutes, even hours, rather than the seconds pushed by “hashtag” this and that.

Ironically, the hash sign — # — now commonly called hashtag, is used in Twitter and elsewhere as part of an information search. But in my early newspaper days, and for generations before me, a hash symbol was required at the end of each typewritten page or “take” of a story to indicate to the copy editor that more material followed. So, essentially, newspaper #s meant “more.” So do Twitter hashtags. New version of same old.

What goes around comes around, or as Yogi Berra would put it, “If you’ve seen it, then you saw it.” Radio was an extension of vaudeville made possible by Hertz, Marconi and others; television pushed information delivery thanks to people like Farnsworth and Zworykin. Then came the Internet, with Twitter, Facebook, digital newspapering. Ahead are additional ways to deliver information. Truly next is “#” — “more.”

I did not get to enjoy a vaudeville performance, so I cannot comment on how my mind would have absorbed the sights and sounds and come to any conclusions about the entertainment. I did not attend the Lincoln-Douglas debates, so I don’t know how I would have taken in that live information.

But I have been through radio, television, early and later Internet, now Twitter and Facebook. I was also a newspaperman for 42 seasons and am still one by instinct and practice. Information is my suit, ands for that reason, I am in awe of the possibilities ahead, just as my grandfather probably was in 1914 when he listened under the covers to the “nether” via  his crystal radio set. I just hope we take the time to digest — and question — all that massive information, given so quickly and often without vetting.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

RETURNING TO EARTH

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Whether it is worry about family finances, or county government, the state of the nation or the world, the realization that we are but specks in time can put things in perspective. Quickly, the headache that comes with self-absorption is gone, and life can exist in the greater scope of existence.

No, this is not day-dreaming gone wild or too much pre-bedtime wine but the effects of the Internet, that remarkable portal to information, which has shrunk the world and perhaps the universe, too. Another way of expanding our limited outlook.

Working the Net recently, a teaser appeared on a story about the NASA’s onboard Mars rover Curiosity Mastcam recording of what looks like a petroglyph, the stick figure which has appeared since cave days all over the world. And now on a planet far away.

Of course, it could be coincidence that the rock on Mars has an indentation which  simply looks like a petroglyph, but is it also coincidence that stick figures from continent to continent, thousands of years apart, are so very similar?

In those times, despite what 2014 smart phone users might believe, there was no Internet to spread the message, to promote copy-catting.  Not even newspapers or books or TV. No Facebook or Twitter.

So, was civilization more advanced than now? Or were we (are we still) visited by others not of this world, who left (leave) their mark? Or did we advance and then horribly put the world into a dark age from which we are still emerging, rebuilding technological greatness?

Ah, perspective. It can bring you back to earth. Or is it the other way around?

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced. 

A POLICE OFFICER’S RESPONSE

   On Aug. 18, I offered an essay, “It’s a two-way street,” which argued that policing is a super tough job, and the officers deserve respect while being trained to know the community. It also  expressed concern about using military equipment and what I described as para-military clothing. Joe Badalamente, a retired New York City police officer, writes an articulate response in my space today.

 

By JOE BADALAMENTE

Thank you for your recent column about the police. Although I have been retired for nine years, your words struck a chord. Even after all that time, I still feel very much a part of “the police” in general, and the NYPD, specifically.

I spent twenty years with the NYPD, from 1985 to 2005. My field training took place in Brooklyn before I was transferred to the Central Park Precinct in July ’85, a little more than a month prior to the murder of Jennifer Levin by Robert Chambers.

Although I agree with the spirit of your argument, and again, very much appreciate any support of police, I must take issue with a couple of points. Regarding salaries, I’m not sure how you define the Northeast, but I’m pretty sure outside of the immediate New York metro area, cops aren’t pulling down anywhere near Orangetown and Clarkstown money. I’m currently working as a financial investigator at a large bank, and my 29-year-old team lead is making roughly 125k after only two years, with only an undergraduate degree from SUNY. A 20-year veteran of the NYPD at the rank of Police Officer can’t come close to this without putting in a ton of overtime; not to mention cops in hundreds of small towns from  Boston to DC. It seems living in places such as Rockland, Westchester, Bergen, Nassau and Suffolk counties skew the public’s perception of police salaries.

Perception is a great lead in for my second point: Your opinion of cop’s uniforms. In 1995, the once and future NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton brought back the department’s original dark blue uniform shirts and issued us nine-millimeter handguns. The confidence that one-two punch instilled in the rank and file was exponential. We no longer looked like bus drivers (not that I have anything against them!), nor felt so outgunned. The nine millimeter’s 16-round capacity afforded us a better chance in any potential gun battle — reloading a fresh magazine into a semi-automatic weapon takes much less time than fumbling with a speed loader, the “fast” way to reload a revolver. Numerous cops over the years and around the world have been killed while reloading during firefights.

As for the combat-style boots you mentioned, on patrol, support is the most important thing, whether trying to catch a perp or fighting with one. As for uniform pants, I’ve never seen camouflage on a city or Rockland cop, so I can’t speak to that. However, the paratrooper/cargo type pants are utilitarian, containing many more pockets than standard uniform trousers. Having spent most of my career on patrol, pockets are important; it is quite difficult to reach into the front pockets of regular uniform trousers while wearing a gun belt; the cargo-style pants’ leg pockets come in very handy for the average patrol officer to stuff their memo book, extra pens, flashlight or what have you. (I know it’s leading with my chin to those who think all cops are corrupt to go on about the importance of pockets for police, but I’ll take that chance!)

The “demilitarization” of the police is something I keep hearing and reading in wake of Ferguson. Yet, at least in the NYPD, it is the Emergency Services Unit that utilizes such equipment, and they are called in when appropriate, such as when people are rioting and looting. Patrol cops are ill equipped to deal with rock and bottles being thrown at them. Helmets are needed, as are armored vehicles when the rocks suddenly turn into Molotov cocktails. Or would people prefer numerous police officers going on sick leave with injuries caused by these projectiles?

I find it difficult not to devolve into sarcasm here, but it amazes me how everyone is an expert on police tactics now because they watch “Law & Order” and “Blue Bloods,” or the latest ill-researched blockbuster churned out by Hollywood.

You seem to imply that civilians “feel” a certain way in reaction to how a cop might be outfitted; frightened, intimidated — perhaps non-verbally bullied? Yet, society tells us how one “feels” when walking towards a group of kids whose pants are hanging below their asses, baseball caps turned sideways, toothpicks in their mouths and cursing up a storm, or seeing a bunch of bikers with ZZ Top-type beards outside a bar, or a couple of want-to-be Tony Soprano-types hanging in front of a social club in Bensonhurst is “profiling?” Aren’t you or your theoretical law-abiding citizen profiling any particular officer because he or she prefers to wear boots and paratrooper/cargo pants? Isn’t it more about your perception than about what a particular officer may or may not be trying to project?

A historical note; in the late ‘70s, leather jackets were taken from the NYPD because some felt it made them look like the Gestapo. The city even went so far as to change the names of groups of precincts from Divisions to Areas in an attempt at demilitarization. Yet crime continued to soar in and around the five boroughs through the ‘80s into the early ‘90s, until the aforementioned Bratton was brought in. Of course, the improving economy and Roe vs. Wade’s 20th anniversary dovetailed in with CompStat and the new weapons and uniform changes, all of which may or may not have had something to do with crime stats falling off a cliff. (And let us not forget how Rudy Giuliani took the credit for it all!) Lest I digress,  my main point is that the  confidence created by our being outfitted with more stylish uniforms and modern weaponry created a much more professional and potent police department, which played a major role in the drop in crime, in my not so humble opinion.

I know first-hand that no department, no officer is perfect. There are many problems in policing, including blatant racism, that interfere with how the public should be serviced. But like any other group on the planet, it is a small percentage of cops who tarnish the image of the rest. All I ask is for people to keep this in mind while consuming and digesting the so-called news.

‘AUTUMN IN NEW YORK’

tinted fall

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Fall — autumn sounds better — is when you are supposed to let go of summer, even if you dread winter’s coming and want to hold onto the beach, fire pits and the light as long as possible before darkness arrives. In my part of the world where we have seasons, some seem almost never to give up hope that warm, even hot weather will push into fall and provide enough memory fuel to get through at least one inevitable cold, snowy day.  If you want to feel that way, rave on, but I’d rather envision fall as the song goes, Autumn in New York,” a 1934 jazz piece by Vernon Duke for the Broadway musical “Thumbs Up!.”

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK

Autumn in New York
Why does it seem so inviting?
Autumn in New York
It spells the thrill of first-nighting

Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds
In canyons of steel
They’re making me feel
I’m home

It’s autumn in New York
That brings the promise of new love
Autumn in New York
Is often mingled with pain

Dreamers with empty hands
May sigh for exotic lands
It’s autumn in New York
It’s good to live it again

Lovers that bless the dark
On benches in Central Park
It’s autumn in New York
It’s good to live it again

     There’s not much more I alone could write to add poetic description to God’s gift.  I wish you bon voyage in this special time, even if you still are wearing shorts.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com

IGNORING OUR DIGNITY

Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

I won’t vote for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the popular New Yorker seeking re-election. Nor would I for President Obama, if he were able to run anew, though I supported him twice. And I will be pleased when Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, steps down. Why no support for these three? Not because of their abilities or accomplishment, though each man in each category is subject to grades ranging from A-plus down. Both have been electable and applaudable for service. Yet these officials fail my confidence test, a right of my citizenship. And, I suspect they are the tip of the iceberg in a society that offers systemic indifference to the ordinary person.

It is a little thing, my motivation that drops these three from the nice list, but it was small things becoming bigger that led us to our American Revolution and changes for the better, or at least the hope of those, hope still being chased.

Each of these men are in highly visible, important, powerful positions where the expectation of good and full service to the citizenry is a given. The president and the New York governor ran for office as approachable people who empathized with the growing concerns of Americans without jobs, or long-lasting ones, or decently paid ones or ones that will put and keep them in the bulwark middle class that marks stable democracy.

They were cheered on, these two, and sent off to do their work. But then the doors slammed behind them, locking out the people. Handlers came in, pros they are in security, in media control, in distancing the “men of the people” from, well the people. The ordinary men and women of these great United States are held back by these handlers, who would lock down the universe to keep their man away from humanity, from regular concerns, hopes, heartache, the yin and yang of living.

How real is it for a president, a governor in office? Their lifestyle is not like most people. Yes, they see the death-bringing results of war, of natural disaster, but then they return to comfortable quarters after the handlers have arranged a trip or two.

When you write these leaders, as I did several times to Obama, Cuomo and to the appointed but still-in-the-trust-of-the-people Bharara, snail-mail letters even, as I sent off  to the governor and the U.S. attorney, cogent, well-thought-out argument that required answers from those in our employ, in our trust, the answers never came. Acknowledgment of the letters never came. And the president, whose office bragged that it would be the first to set up an e-mail response system, failed mightily, with no replies, no acknowledgement of missives.

That is bad form. It is not democratic form. It is rude and insensitive and snubbing behavior. It matters not that my questions may have been relatively small ones, not so imperative as foreign affairs and state budget woes. Communication with the people is never un-important. Little things add up and become symbolic of high-and-mighty affront that ignores the people and their concerns, their needs, most of all their dignity.

The system no longer works, and if the snubbing of the common man and woman continues, democracy is in trouble. We cannot elect high-placed people nor see grand poohbahs in important positions who are then shut behind doors and kept from public discourse.

So, I would not vote for Obama, Cuomo, Bharara or anyone who ignores we, the people, even if it is their staffs doing the insulting deed. That makes it even worse, adding to their distance from the citizenry.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

STILL, A BRIDGE TOO FAR

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

HUDSON RIVER, N.Y. — This mighty waterway, not a western route to Asia through the Northwest Passage as Hendrick Hudson hoped it would be in 1609, but to the great port of Albany and so through canals, lakes and on land to the American frontier and all the greatness and achievement of that, remains as beautiful as the explorer found it. Once assaulted by industrial discharge, its waters are these days enjoyed by boaters and those who live in expensive housing along the shore. Visitors can view the wonderful landscape, from New York City sights to the Palisades escarpment to Hook and Bear mountains, to West Point and on to Albany, enjoying many of nature’s gifts on both the eastern and western shores.

Last week, I was privileged to take a boat ride on the Hudson from Haverstraw south to the Tappan Zee Bridge at South Nyack  and back, courtesy of the Historical Society of Rockland County. I was the principal speaker on the history of the bridge, which was constructed in 1955 and which will give way to two new crossings in a few years. I offer some of that talk here for anyone interested in how a bridge was built and how that brought “progress,” not always a cherished effort.

FROM THE BOAT TRIP:

“I said at the beginning of this talk that there were two principal players in the decades-long buildup of the Tappan Zee Bridge: the “progress” people, including land speculators, and those who sought to keep Rockland semi-rural. The preservationists lost, and many of the old ways and more than 100 other homes and the South Nyack village downtown  are gone. But the “progress” people did not win, either, since the great and continuing cost of hurried, barely planned development has brought drainage, traffic, infrastructure and quality-of-life problems. And now there is the “graying of Rockland,” with an older population, development homes needing renovation and not enough tax money for truly good living going forward. No one knows what the future will bring, especially with the continuing decline of the middle class. Who will step up to rebuild and reinvigorate Rockland?

Yet interstate travel, especially trucks, the real winner in the building of the Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge, will continue, and even a shiny new set of crossings across the Dutch sea from South Nyack to Tarrytown will not solve Rockland’s woes nor the growing traffic concerns and the utter need to rebuild the Thruway in Rockland. The new spans may well prove to be bridges “too far.”

The Tappan Zee Bridge is part of the New York State Thruway and now also belongs to the I-87, I-287 interstate network that leads upstate, to the west and to New England. It is the longest bridge in the State of New York, with total length of the crossing and approaches at 16,013 feet. The cantilever span is 1,212 feet, providing a maximum clearance of 138 feet  over the water. The bridge is about 25 miles north of midtown Manhattan and is one of the primary crossings of the Hudson north of New York City. It carries much of the traffic between southern New England and points west of the Hudson.

Work on the $80 million Tappan Zee — $668 million in today’s dollars — hit peak intensity by 1953. It opened to traffic on Dec. 15, 1955, and is part of what was once called the Dwight D. Eisenhower Defense Highway network. It can be used in the event of war for materiel and troop transport.

The bridge came to be because in the later 1940s New York Gov. Thomas Dewey  proposed a super highway in the German “Autobahn” style, from Suffern, at the New Jersey border, to upstate New York, to foster commerce. But it soon became apparent that the Thruway bond holders could not be paid off without a big revenue source, and so the idea of extending the road to New York City via a Hudson River crossing at South Nyack was quickly adopted, thus providing a nicely ringing “cash register.”

Trouble was that non-quality materials and a cheap design were used to construct the Tappan Zee. Since 1955, overuse has put the bridge in danger of major failure, and in October 2011, at the direction of Gov. Andrew  Cuomo, the Thruway Authority and the New York State Department of Transportation jointly proposed a replacement structure, the “Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing.” The two new spans, which will include pedestrian and biking lanes and lookouts for viewers, are now being constructed.

The “progress” legacy of the first crossing has not proven as grand as first advertised, since rapid suburban growth overtaxed local planners, zoners and the infrastructure. The new crossings will bring even more interstate travelers through geographically small Rockland, and there seems no benefit to them. The interstate network will still have major flaws in the lower Hudson Valley region, and though a poorly planned and built 1955 crossing will be replaced by wonderfully engineered safe structures, they will still connect to ill-advised interstates on both sides of the Hudson.

The first Tappan Zee was built as a “cash register,” not as a well-planned conduit for progress.” It will transfer that legacy to the new spans.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

ROCKS IN YOUR HEAD

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com

When you are walking with young children, in this case one 7, another 5, and you have to pass the time of day as the clock seems to run awfully slow, you have to be inventive.
Kids have fertile minds, and they are not yet cast into the tight thinking cubicles of adults. They also appreciate unusual humor and like weird, even absurd thinking, for theirs is still the land of the fairy tale, of limitless imagination. A pity that they grow up.
So it was, that on Broadway in Nyack, N.Y., the other day, just past the former home of the late actress Helen Hayes, we three came upon a virtual riverbed of small, smooth stone set not in a stream but between the sidewalk and the curb. An inventive way, perhaps, for a lazy fellow to avoid mowing more lawn.
So unusual was the sight that it required immediate comment, for we three like to make such proclamation upon seeing the unusual. It was also a way to, as I wrote, pass the time.
“Why are the rocks there,” asked the little one, a female. “Yeah, did someone go to the beach and get all those stones?” the elder, a male, chimed in.  “No,” the grandfather said. Then why are they there, both young ones wanted to know.
I had to come up with an answer, and fast, and believable, though these kids either take everything I utter as absolute though strange gospel, or they tolerate my musings and make it seem they agree so as not to hurt the old man.
“How many words did you learn in first grade?” I asked the male “Ten?” “100?” Sam answered, “More than that.” Beatrice gave no comment, for though she has learned words, quite a few,actually, she has yet to glean them from spelling tests in public school (she will in a week or so).
“Well, Sam, every time you learn a word and get the spelling right in the Upper Nyack School just a short walk away, the teacher places a rock, a small stone, in this spot.”
“Oh, c’mon,” he replied, then “Really?” “True,” I said. “You know how I am always saying  that you have rocks in your head?” Well, each rock you lose makes you smarter.
I think the kids are still trying to figure this one out.

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

THE TWO-WAY STREET

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

 

Police exist by the people’s command, and only by that direction,  because we cannot secure ourselves. Theirs is a dangerous, usually thankless job, and the officer’s whole being is often in the sewer of humanity. So, it takes an extraordinary individual to do the work, to be invested with such power, to always remember how it is derived, to constantly understand that it is temporary and that it should not be misused.

In return for the job’s difficulty, especially the wear and tear that accumulates mentally and physically, officers must be properly compensated, and in the Northeast anyway, they surely are, though that was not always the case. Officers also deserve the respect of the citizenry on a blanket basis. Individually, that is up to the officer. There can be no arrogance, no expletives, especially no attitude, all of which may be difficult for an officer used to being in the trenches, his/her senses assaulted by domestic incidents and difficult situations that can warp your head.

Yet that is the job, and, yes, it requires extraordinary self-control from extraordinary officers. Otherwise, don’t apply. The men and women in blue must show respect and always, always allow others their dignity. That is Job. 1.

A case in point: Bill Bratton, the New York City police commissioner,  tells citizens not to resist arrest. That sounds right if you recite from a  Police Academy training manual. But then there’s the real, mean streets where over-stressed cops see and feel the full range of human emotion so overwhelmingly each day that they need a shrink at shift’s end but also where too many citizens think they must wear ID on their backs in 2-inch type because they feel they are in the Third Reich. On the streets, the interplay is not Academy textbook, and police must show dignity and respect.   Citizens, for their part, must calm down, accept police respect when given, and just go with the flow. Hopefully, the courts will bring justice in the individual case. So, respect, yes, but it must be mutual.

Truth is, NYC police, all police,  must be respectful of each and every person, as difficult as that may be day-in, day-out. The people hire the police and grant them special temporary powers because they cannot police themselves. Security is not gestapo. The cops must, hard as that may prove in their environment, remember that they work for the people. That must be key in their training. They must not be allowed to lapse into a protective fraternity of “them against us.”

In the recent New York attempted arrest of an individual said to be selling loose cigarettes, a man with obvious physical disability who died as police pinned him down, common sense should have brought not an arrest, but an appearance ticket. If this had been 1950 NYC, a beat officer walking the streets, as is so rarely done now, would have known the man, understood the community. The situation would not have happened, at least not the way it went down. But police have disappeared from the streets, and both they and the people no longer trust each other sufficiently, at times not at all.

Commissioner Bratton would do all a great service by taking more cops off desk jobs and certainly out of darkened-glass patrol cars and put them on street patrol. If the police get to know the neighborhood and interact with the people, the way it used to be, they would realize that most citizens are decent and law-abiding.  The Berlin Wall of distrust that has risen so high would come down.

The nation must also “de-militarize” the police. They are not military, not even para-military in everyday life.  Officers should look like they always have: dressed in standard, ordinary blue, gray or brown uniforms, with regular shoes. No paratrooper boots or camouflage pants. Those outfits make police feel more powerful than they have a right to be. Bring all this post-9/11 out-of-balance security down to earth.

Policing is a super tough job, and the officers deserve respect. But only if they earn that. That sort of training must be in the manual at the Academy and reinforced every morning at patrol shape-up. And we citizens ought to shape-up each day as well, approach an officer, even in a darkened patrol car, and say hello. There is a failure to communicate.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.

THE GUNS OF AUGUST AND BEYOND

 

Flanders, Before Blood

Flanders fields, before the bloo(painting by author)

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

      If, at the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of each year, from 1918 on when “The War to End All Wars” was over, you would toll a bell 20 times a minute for the 37,468,904 total in casualties, it would take more than 30,000 years to somberly do so. Today, on the 100th anniversary of Great Britain’s declaration of war against Germany, and also the date that the United States said it would not get involved, but eventually did, the dead, the wounded, those with “shell shock” must not be recalled simply as numbers. Why didn’t this First World War prevent all others? In one of the costliest battles of the 1914-1918 conflict, the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, the British suffered 60,000 casualties on the first day. When it was all over and just six miles gained for the Brits, there were 1,219,000 dead and wounded. And that does not include the emotionally afflicted, people who in World War II we would term suffering from “battle fatigue” and now, as the wars continue, “post-traumatic stress syndrome.” War does not end because greed is always with us, greed of nations, individuals, the military-industrial complex that profits so well. War does not end because of power and false pride, nations who are really little children taking affront in what begins as a playground insult and escalates into utter horror, as happened when the dominoes toppled in 1914. The entangling alliances of that time over Belgian neutrality and world trade, culture, ethnicity, old hatreds, were the excuses to rally patriotism. Soon enough, the voices of the eager volunteers became the shrill cries of the brave as they went over the top, and as quickly, the deep stillness of the forever graveyard. War is folly, and in the end it creates little that could not have been gained by compromise and common sense, long before madmen such as Hitler have a foothold that can only be broken by war. In “All Quiet On the Western Front,” the famous post-war novel by  Erich Maria Remarque,  which details his fellow German soldiers’ physical and mental harm during the war and  the isolation and detachment from ordinary life when back home,  the character “Kropp” says, “”It’s queer, when one thinks about it … we are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who’s in the right?”

     And, “We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from the true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left.”

     Now, 100 years later, the long trenches of the Marne, Passchendale, Verdun, so many other battlefields, still echo in history with their artillery fire, machine guns, death and madness, for war never disappears. The great still is indeed today’s all quiet on the western front, 2014, but the battles are stirring elsewhere.

      On this centennial of the beginning of a war meant to end it all, and, coincidentally the half-century mark of America’s accelerated effort in Vietnam, a nation with whom we now trade, the bells must continue to toll, for nations are ruled by men, too often by the folly of such.

    As in “All Quiet …”:  “While they (the pontificating teachers and politicos) continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger.”

    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Fladers, Before Blood

REPORTING ON HUMANITY

51uJUCh2S6L

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

 

Much progress in humanity, though it is often one step ahead, two back, comes from symbolism, such as the iconic nature of photographs that pull at our conscience and tell us, “We must do better.” For decades now, the mostly black and white work of Dorothea Lange, the famed social documentary photographer of the Great Depression, has been such a tug. And rightly so, for Lange, employed by the Farm Security Administration but also shooting from her soul, was gifted in capturing candid and semi-posed expressions of many trails of tears, suffering, endurance, just plain grit, survival and resurrection in that economic debacle. Yet, her work, like that of any reporter of an age, must always be subject to re-interpretation, not only to dispel myth but to add to fact, to the constant, deeper understanding that betters humanity.

Recently, I was introduced to the works of three people, one a British graphics designer/photographer who has reset Lange’s images as color true to the age, and a sister team that wrote and photographed in similar fashion during the Depression.

Neil Scott-Petrie from Cambridgeshire has produced an amazing tribute to Lange, and even more so, her social realism subjects, 1935-1939, by taking Lange’s black and white photographs and deftly and intricately adding accurate color. In doing so, he has brought realism to realism, and the viewer sees these iconic images of the huge ex-farmer migration from Oklahoma to California as if they were taken today.

Previously, when we looked at Lange’s work, while we focused with empathy on the hungry, perhaps “lost” children and distracted adults in search of work, trying to survive in a great calamity, we also saw their period clothes, the Model Ts, filling station signs, etc. That caused us to set the age apart, apart from reality other than that moment. We saw the images almost as fine art pieces, set for a museum installation. But with Scott-Petrie’s reworking of Lange’s shots, we view another time in humanity’s long struggle relative to today. And that is much to the good.

As the author notes, “This book is not about improving Dorothea Lange’s work, her images are amazing and cannot be improved. This is about showing her work in a different light, in color, bringing the real events closer to the observer, giving you a more realistic view of how things were during the migration to California … (after all) the world was not black and white.”

Indeed. I would urge Scott-Petrie to seek  wider viewing of his added perspective of Dorothea Lange’s defining reportage, perhaps in a national gallery installation in London or New York. They would be a sure hit and would add to the story of humanity in struggle, a continuing novel that sees chapters even today in the worsening immigration problem in the United States.

  (Neil Scott-Petrie’s “Dorothea Lange, color, The Migrant Experience 1935-39” may be accessed via dorothealange.com).

Lange was not the only social documentary reporter of the Great Depression. Also there were the Babb sisters, Sanora, a writer, and Dorothy, a photographer.  Joanne Dearcopp, a longtime friend of Sanora, reminds me that  Dorothy photographed migrant camps in the late 1930s and her sister wrote the novel, “Whose Names are Unknown.” Therein lie many stories. Sanora helped establish the FSA government camps for migrant workers in California, and her Dust Bowl refugee novel began there. Apparently, Random House was planning to publish this “exceptionally fine” writing but later claimed the market was saturated with the bestseller “The Grapes of Wrath,” the classic John Steinbeck novel on the same subject. In 2004, the University of Oklahoma Press published Sanora’s novel to strong appreciation and recognition that there were other incisive voices reporting on the Depression years and its social issues.

Sanora’s sister Dorothy was said to have offered literary criticism to her, and the former’s photographs, some 250 or so, provided their own exceptionally compelling reportage of Dust Bowl refugees.

Both sisters were among the young writers of their time affected by Depression conditions. As a website for the Babbs notes, “Adversity and a concern for social justice joined these young writers in an informal freemasonry of goodwill and progressive ideals that has seldom existed before or since in American literature.”

    (For more information about Sanora and Dorothy Babb, visit http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/web/babb/gallery/)

In this America of today, not recovered from a recession of a few years back that almost became a depression, in a United States that must make choices that better humanity rather than harm it, choices over a dwindling middle class, immigration, health care, political direction and world responsibility, revisiting the social documentary work of Dorothea Lange through Neil Scott-Petrie’s added perspective and through the writings and photographs of the Babb sisters, makes us understand better the journey so far and reminds us of the utter responsibility we have for each other.

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

A DOOR KNOB, LAST DAY

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

I had a friend named Ginny, who was a fellow trustee at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, N.Y. A very effective communicator, she was particular about doing things right, to a standard, and she spoke her mind in polite but underscored words. Ginny was outgoing, quite sociable and gathered lifelong friends wherever she lived — in New York, Boston, Chicago, elsewhere. To the individual, she was all ears, as if you were the only one she ever spoke to. She was a feisty debater, even playing the devil’s advocate when she was in argument over similar beliefs.

That all this, her lifestyle, brought smiles to Ginny’s face, especially in her last years in South Nyack, N.Y., was a blessing for her and the people she touched.

A vital part of that picture was her beautiful 1850s home on Clinton Avenue, a gracious structure not unlike Ginny’s own bearing. She bought the timeworn but well-constructed house from the Deed family, which was appropriate because it had been owned by Bob, once a journalist and then a book writer. Ginny could not live anywhere where words were not well spoken, read, written. This house was a sure fit.

In her particular ways, Ginny redid the structure so that it became her home, one that would host parties, family gatherings, trustee occasions and a local historic house tour. She

assembled just the right tradesmen, almost adopting each fellow who came into her circle. In turn, these people learned that mother wanted things done her way, and that meant realigning molding if it was off level or not mitered exactly. It meant replacing and redoing work. In the end, the house became a home and quite beautiful at that.

Ginny also depended on a few people who volunteered repair work, but she held these men and women to the same standards as the paid tradesmen. I was privileged to be in that volunteer group, installing such things as deadbolts, electrical fixtures and radiator valves.

The last time I saw Ginny Garbers was on a repair job, which by then had become an excuse for conversation and some wine, for debates on government, for talks about art and Hopper House, for quiet, mutual pause, for the slightest mention of an illness that would soon take her life.

On that last day, Ginny greeted me at the door, this beautifully restored original entrance that had opened to visitors long before automobiles and electric lights. She had a shiny brass knob in her hand, meant to replace the original, which would pull off its shank from wear. Ginny had searched far and wide for just the right knob, sending back one that was too small. The proper handle arrived, she called me, and when I got to the house, Ginny met me with a huge smile as she held the shiny knob in her hand. I set out to install it, Ginny hovering in her usual foreman’s stance. Install not once but four times, so that the feel was just right, just right for Particular Ginny.

     I did get it right, and then we sat down in her well-finished living room to conversation that ran all over the place and some red wine labeled  “Menage à Trois,” a French reference that Francophile Ginny laughed about. At some point, the usual-of-late, delicate, not prying but concerned question came up: “How is it going?” Ginny, though she kept health and other private matters in limited conversation, as was her upbringing, did mention her nighttime pain, her rejection of another chemotherapy round and wondered out loud, “I just don’t know how long …” We dropped the subject and shared more words on this and that.

It was time to leave, and Ginny, with another huge smile on her face, went to the door, took the polished brass knob in hand and grandly opened it. It was almost as if she had yet another beautiful child to glow about.

So full of life Ginny was that day, just weeks before her passing, that you could not have expected it. Maybe six months, I thought, maybe a year. I’ll be here again. But I did not return. Nor did the many friends Ginny had.

Now, the door knob, the final capping of her home, so appropriately placed at the entrance to her grand achievement, will serve to welcome other life, as Ginny Garbers would have it. Job completed, in her particular way.

 

But I did not return. Nor did the many friends Ginny had. Now, the door knob, the final capping of her home, so appropriately placed at the entrance to her grand achievement, will serve to welcome other life, as Ginny Garbers would have it. Job completed, in her particular way.

 

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

 

OFFSPRING, ON THEIR BIRTHDAYS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

How do you thank a son, who at 43 this very day, July 14,  is light years ahead of who you were at that time? How do you speak, father to offspring, beyond a pat on the back and saying “Happy Birthday”? Effusive emotion is a non-fitting suit for both.

Conceived in the uncertainty but — still — progression of youthful marriage, when a career with all its pulls and pushes was building, and with all the worries about this and that so much heavier than the carefree years just before, the birth nine months later of a little being never in your world changes that world, whether you are prepared or not.

That the first son we had, and then his brother, too, would bring me, especially, to greater maturity and some accomplishment in meeting needs and standards is a gift from both. One that keeps on giving.

Parents are proud of their children, as they should be. Today, expansive social media such as Facebook announces that to the entire world, and that sort of spotlight may be like endlessly watching the neighbor’s old 8mm home movies. It is far better, perhaps, to have others acknowledge, without prompting, that your children are good people.

In our case, we are fortunate not only because the sons are such, but they don’t bring attention to the fact. After all, the first requirement of living is to be a good person, and the second is not to expect applause for that.

It’s my hope that all parents out there see in their children the individuals they are, that they find their offspring secure in every way, for even with the child now well grown at 43, you recall tucking in at age two. You never stop tucking in the son, the daughter.

If the child achieves, in career, in being a good person, in expressing traits others admire, in succeeding on the job, in being a parent himself, herself, if that happens, in progressing through the years by following the standards we all should expect, then you see on that person’s annual natal day a renewed gift coming to you as well. For parents such as myself, blessed with two fellows who have surpassed expectations, saying “Happy Birthday” to each of them is our own blessing.

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.  

 

 

 

 

 

WHERE IS ‘ANDY HARDY’?

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

ANY TOWN, USA — Ironically, as Americans fatten up through fast food and lifestyle, it is also slimming down to overly thin in its public look, in its parks and on its once-shaded streets, those oak- and maple-lined boulevards that looked like “Andy Hardy’s” Hollywood set. That Mickey Rooney’s village of Carvel was purely fictional does not forfeit the fact that it was as all-American as ever can be.

Once, many U.S. communities looked this way, and some, fortunately, still do or at least have semblance. Yet post-World War II suburban development helped push aside the picture of tree-lined streets leading to downtown neighborhood shopping. Developments like the typical “Huggy Bear Estates,” “The View” or “Hillside Condominiums” offer landscaped lawns and kept shrubbery but lines of well-placed trees along sidewalks and downtowns are not usually in the mix. Walkable neighborhoods rarely happen in this relative anonymity.

That’s a loss, for while Andy Hardy was a fictional character and his father the judge, girlfriend Polly Benedict  and friend Betsy Booth, played by Judy Garland, were make-believe but ideal composites of small-town Americans, these people did exist in true communities, with vibrant downtowns and tree-lined streets leading to and from them.

Suburbia took the population to development homes, and many downtowns then deteriorated. Even the oaks and maples so well laid out on the boulevards were neglected, first by a stressed tax base that deferred maintenance, then by disease and, worst of all, by the interference of some citizenry who presumed to speak for the majority.

“That tree is blocking my view of the Hudson River.” “That tree’s roots are raising my sidewalk.” “That tree might affect my utilities.” And, so, all at once six stately oaks or maples or whatever are gone in a flash, victims of professionals in bucket trucks just doing their job with a work order.

Elsewhere in both Gotham and suburbia, parks are without funding, as are shade tree commissions. In a nation that sees its upper class wealth grow exponentially by the Gordon Gekko factor, there are so very few old-style Rockefeller, Carnegie and other corporate trusts that built and saved our green space. They were parents to our downtowns, to our parks, and now there are many orphans.

Pity. Foolish. Short-sighted. America is so much more than just self-sacrificing individuals, highly productive and caring. They are the essence of the old downtown, whether they lived there or not. Every suburbia has its roots in a tree-lined small American Main Street, and when, metaphorically, those tree-lined avenues are neglected, or the parks of both suburbia and gotham are  abandoned, we become less American.

The “Andy Hardy” set is long closed. Can we be next?

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

TWO WASHINGTONS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. — There are many ghosts in this town, some very good, some very, very bad, and a whole mix in between. Some do almost eternal penance for their sins against the continuing and great democratic experiment, those who lusted for personal power and in greed. Other spirits are here to protect the turf, to guard the hen house, and, yes, yes, to inspire us even as we feel so down.

These are not the best of days for America’s capital, indeed the seat of all democracy worldwide. Special interests, the money lobbies, overwhelming bureaucracy and way too many rules and regulations pervert this town, our land. The people’s business be damned.

We have a Congress that does not meet well in congress. It is a torn body of its own and grossly individual aims, of far-out politics, of non-cooperation. We also have a presidency seemingly neutered, with goals well-seconded by the people, with a president elected twice in that philosophy. Yet, the power that says it is the people’s legislative body would push this president into the Potomac.

So, nothing gets done. The middle class dwindles, and the rich grow ever more distant from the responsibility to better us all, that set by the great Republican himself, Teddy Roosevelt.

In our nation, so many with higher education or not are unemployed or underemployed. And the war bells seem to be ringing again, ironically as we near the 100th anniversary of the beginning of “The War to End All Wars,” World War I. Will there by more money for battle and so little for the nation at home?

Yes, a sad, even misdirected town, distant from its people, from the Founders. Yet it is still America’s city. I know, for I felt the presence of very good ghosts who reminded me that while lobbyists’ buildings grow in size and quantity on K Street, over at the Lincoln Memorial, at night with spotlights on the likeness of humble Abe, the crowds gather in equal humility and awe. Visit the memorial in the daytime, and it will offer its message of an America never to be divided, but see it at night, a beacon of light on the Great Emancipator alone in the great darkness covering its steps, and you will realize, profoundly, why this nation was born.
And why it must not die.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

COMMUNITY PRIDE AT RISK

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

      SUBURBIA — The New York State of my lifelong existence ranks among the top 10 nationwide in hosting foreclosing properties — about 15,000 — some of them traced to  irresponsible mortgage lending by banks that quickly flipped the notes for sure profit, others to those who never could afford the homes and, sadly, more than enough to people who have lost jobs as the middle class dwindles in the Greed Era. Now many of these homes are abandoned, with no upkeep. Neighbors who take care of their houses are essentially insulted for their effort.

     While Albany is considering legislation that would force lenders to recognize their stakeholder role, it should not be necessary to remind them of their responsibility to community appearance. Nor should anyone have to wonder why there is so little enforcement of town and village property upkeep laws, whether the land/house is in foreclosure or not. It all comes down to community pride, without which aging suburbia will continue to deteriorate.

     Abandoned properties are not only unsightly, but they attract rodents, break-ins and squatters. Many towns and villages declare, as my local Orangetown community notes in its “Chapter 24c, Property Maintenance Code,” that “Properties which are not adequately maintained and repaired may serve as an attractive nuisance … (they) tend to … detract from the appearance of adjoining properties, which may lead to the progressive deterioration of a neighborhood.” Absolutely, we all have seen that happen.
Such law is fine on paper, but what happens when the law is not enforced? When a homeowner keeps unregistered junk cars in his driveway, when someone leaves litter on his land, when trash and recycling containers are not removed after pickup, when fences are falling down, when gutters are hanging  off roofs, when sidewalks are not cleared of snow or are hazardous because tree roots have pushed up the slabs — where is the municipality watchdog? And what about shopping centers where debris is not picked up, the parking lots are shabby and the building facades run down?
These are real conditions in most communities, and it seems the onus is on neighbors to be the bad guy and make a formal complaint. Instead, the municipality should be noting the neglect and notifying property owners to correct.
One way to improve property appearance is by certificate of occupancy renewal whenever a home or business is offered for sale. The community sends out an inspector after a small fee is paid to cover that, and neglect such as poor sidewalks and yard litter are corrected before the property can be listed.

     We realize building inspectors are busy enough, but while they are in their cars going about to their jobs, they can jot down the addresses of unkempt property. So can police on routine patrol. For that matter, so can the mayor, the town supervisor, the trustees, council people, any concerned citizen. We all have a financial and quality-of-life stake in how our villages and towns look.

    If owners do not correct the neglect, the municipalities should step in and do the work, adding the tab to the annual tax bill. When the property owner cannot afford repairs because of illness, job loss, etc., perhaps community service organizations can  lend a hand and take on these properties as projects.
The point is to clean up blighted homes and to enforce the law, not just have it on the books.
Think of your mother, who I hope told you to wash your hands before dinner, to pick up your toys, to not track mud into your house. Well, communities are really homes and businesses held in common by the great expectation of observing standards. There is no room for pigs to spoil it for the rest of us.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.