By Arthur H. Gunther III
If you could capture images of the past and store them as memory files that could be flashed on a computer screen, then I would show you what my bedroom in Hillcrest, N.Y., looked like at age 19, in another century literally.
My room – almost 60 percent of the Cape Cod-style attic – was cavernous enough so that the Armstrong cork tile floor, in shades of dark, medium and light brown, could accommodate layers of newspapers, simply dropped there by a teen who thirsted after the ink sheets and who did not have to pay for them since the daily rags were bought by my father.
There was the morning Daily News and Mirror, the afternoon New York Journal-American and the New York World Telegram & Sun, all out of New York City, and the local Rockland Journal-News, the original 1889 daily that was absorbed into a three-county paper in 1998. I liked features in every edition: the gritty tabloid reports in the Mirror and Daily News; the “double-truck” (two pages, facing) photo spread in the News; the numerous columnists in the Journal-American and the World-Telegram; the financials and society news of the Telegram; and the local reports of my growing suburbs.
I would look over these papers in favorite position – reclining on a “Hollywood-style” single bed – on and off through the day and into the evening. I should have been at my studies, but I was not. I also should have been keeping the room, really a luxury for a young fellow because of its size and privacy, neat, but I did not. A few years back, my mother had refused to clean it anymore or to straighten up, since I was supposedly a big boy and could do that on my own. Well, I didn’t.
Not that there was food about or other unsightly stuff that might bring bugs or the Health Department. I was simply lazy, didn’t get checked on it, didn’t have the right conscience about it and utterly enjoyed my sanctuary. The sight of those papers lying there was like walking into a private library.
And I loved libraries – formal places such as the Finkelstein in Spring Valley, near Hillcrest. But often the books were “untouchable.” I had difficulty reading at length, actually concentrating, which was discovered some years later and which I learned to compensate for based on a speed-reading technique.
Yet I had no trouble scanning newspapers. The photos were interesting, and I greatly enjoyed the forceful speech in the News editorials. The opinion cartoons there, especially C.D. Batchelor’s on the dangers of drunken driving (wow, in 1961?) were great. The columnists in these papers were at times poetic, strong, emotional, charmingly aloof, and all-in-all interesting. They were my kind of reading.
I did not know it, but poring over the papers every day, even in the “mess” I created, was my first post-high school education. In a few years, without deliberate intent, I actually found myself working for a newspaper, The Rockland Journal-News, and in my 42 years there would photograph, report, edit and write what I think were forceful editorials as well as pen a weekly column much like this one.
So, Mom, I did make a mess, but it turned out to be for a reason, praise be.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.