A VILLAGE BECKONS

December 11, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
BLOG: thecolumnrule.com

NYACK, N.Y. — It has been a long time since I haunted Main Street as a shopper in this forever charming village north of New York City, a place never to be confused with Gotham. It has its own vibe — it’s not the city nor suburbia, which have their own great haunts.
Once, my parents shopped here, back when there was no suburbia nearby and downtowns were meccas with a bunch of shoe stores, several pharmacies, two five and dimes, hat shops, dress shops, a bakery, meat stores, small supermarkets and a soda fountain to relax in after hours of shopping.
But “progress” came, with strip shopping and malls and loads of cars on the roads. Downtowns could not compete.
Now, as online shopping threatens to similarly retire what progress wrought, a gentle walk through a village like Nyack takes you deja vu all over again. Some stores are back, some never left, like Koblin’s, a famed pharmacy.
I was in search of holiday cards and a watch battery. Found all four at Koblin’s and then went up Main to Herb Lack Paints, a hardware store, to buy an electrical switch that the big-box outlets have, too, but which was so much easier to pick up by just walking a few steps from one village store to another.
Herb Lack was once owned under another name, and as I gave the present people my money, I noticed I was standing above the same counter where so many years ago I had a key made to the front door of the original Journal-News at 53 Hudson where I would work for 42 years.
There was a warm feeling doing this Nyack walk, recalling when my parents shopped here with my brother and me in tow. I also remember others flooding the streets of Nyack, including a special friend who always did her Christmas shopping there with a stop at the old catacorner card store at Main and Midland. Then there is the present long-distance  correspondent who would leave rural Congers to weekend shop in the big village of Nyack.
I am guilty of not shopping enough in the Nyacks of my life, instead rushing off to the big mall or now online. I assisted in their decline and/or downsizing.
But the Nyacks are there, and is it ever so peaceful and fulfilling to mosey about.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

BEHIND THE CURTAIN

December 4, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

I have a friend in Colorado, a former Rocklander, one whose family roots go back to before the Revolution, who would walk into a room with sun trying to pop its buttons through a brilliantly lit window shade and focus just on that, even if the sky were otherwise falling. She is an optimist, and our emails, a daily feature since 2005, add the yin to my often pessimistic yang. Thank you, friend.
It is good and necessary to have such balance if life isn’t to take you into dark tunnels with no light in sight. Such a journey seems before the Republic now in too many ways. Arising again is more national meanness, prejudice, ignorance and deliberate falsehood meant to divert our attention away from the path upon which the founders set us.
We have often stumbled and fallen for long periods on that journey — slavery, civil war, the Great Depression, inequality, greed — but the innate goodness of the general populace and the mojo set forth in our Constitution have given us the courage to get up over and over and keep walking.
But now we are in a long, deep tunnel, with the pied piper leading us God knows where, playing a tune meant to rouse our fears, to suspect each other, to distrust humanity itself.
The piper’s notes are simple, deceptive, and we harken our ears to the tune because in all of us there is ability to hate. Most of us awake from such stupor, of course, but by then the damage may be done. (Witness the Hitler years.)
Somewhere in that dark tunnel is a stage to which we are all brought, and a dim spot light focuses on the juggler, but behind the curtain unfolds the real event, the dismantling of the republic, its heralded institutions, its natural progressivism, its enlightening goodness, our better self.

Now, my Colorado friend, a former teacher who obviously still instructs, would surely see beyond the curtain, beyond the false Wizard of Oz, to a brilliantly lit window and the sun behind it popping its buttons. Others would see the dark.

I pray optimism wins this one.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

DOORS DON’T JUST OPEN, CLOSE

November 27, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Doors can hold fascination because they are portals and keys to the ordinary things we do each day, like leaving the house or coming home and because they are metaphors for life, such as leaving a job or coming into a new situation. No matter what, if the door closes, so does something else. If it opens, so does something else.
A door can also be likened to emotion. A stuck door, one you struggle with as you open it, can trigger reflection about ongoing difficulty at work, or in a relationship. A door that always closes smoothly may be an analogy for a friend or loved one who is
dependable.
A series of doors can be a road map for a busy day, with each door closing symbolic of yet another task completed. If they all stick, maybe you should go back to bed.
Then there is the hallway, before the door, after it. Is it long? Is it bright or dark? What color is it, and does that sometimes set the day’s mood? Are there family pictures that remind you of what’s important?
How about the lock? Do you recall other doors in your youth with similar locks and how they clicked when a parent turned the
key?
Is the door knob shiny or loose or antique? How reassuring is it to grasp it, and is that a metaphor for any other anchor in your life?
Bet some of you won’t just sail through the next door you see.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

SEEK THE NEWS, PEOPLE

 

By Arthur Henry Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Since printing began and the first sheets of paper brought information to the masses, newspapers could count on people buying enough copies to keep the profession going; to support advertisers; to hold circulation stable; most of all to protect democracy by reporting and commenting on the news. Now there are too few readers, and the republic is in jeopardy.
The Computer Age and the Internet, the smart phone, video games and the many morphings of television all snatch concentration away from people, who seem busier than ever with seemingly endless schedules. There are fewer lunches spent with a newspaper; fewer evenings after dinner in an easy chair with the editorial page and columnists; fewer open pages of The Daily This or That spread across the kitchen table.
The constantly-on computer and its search engines are the prime information sources now. In just seconds, news is read in headlines and short paragraphs, barely digested. Photographs and other images steal viewer time, reducing the brain’s word count. And “fake news” spreads like the plague it us.
Yet, the Computer Age, with its great but flawed ability to offer “facts” and commentary so quickly; to spread such information around the globe; and to keep it in reference form that eventually can expose the wrong-doers does present an opportunity to add to individual knowledge and so empower us to self-educate. And since education leads to questioning, the hope is that the Internet’s ever more vast store of words, data and images will make our younger people in particular more like the newspaper readers of other years — those who question, those who think.
What we all must do, whether we are the kind who grew up with three newspapers a day in the house seven days a week or if we are online perusers of news, is to support information delivery. Buy newspapers. Read them. Call up the Internet but truly seek information and understand it, and then question. The “who, what, when, where, why and how” must be satisfied. And if there is no “why” or “how,” if any key word in the pursuit of a free and open press is missing, we must let the media know and demand answers.
Otherwise, the free press will lose the ammunition it needs to keep us safe from individuals and groups seeking to control information for their own anti-democratic purposes. What a terrible, creeping danger that is today.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. Reach him at ahgunther@hotmail.com ahgunther@yahoo.com or 845 548 7378.

 

OF COMMON LANGUAGE

September 13, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

All professions have shop talk, but that rhythm is more likely to play in tune not in the daily grind but after the job, most often in retirement. Such was the conversation the other night at an arts gathering at the Edward Hopper House in Nyack, N.Y.
The birthplace of the famed American realist painter offers “First Friday” shows for member artists in conjunction with other art exhibits in Nyack each month, and I am the wine re-filler, the fellow who opens new stock and makes sure there isn’t a dry glass in the house.
That can involve enough downtime that my feet fall asleep, but also moments when I am drawn into conversation, some of it polite, some political, some “Oh, how are you? Have not seen you for awhile.” And some about the arts or the artist Hopper.
Occasionally there will be shop talk if people I knew in the newspaper profession pop in. I will sometimes meet other scribes or editors, or in the recent moment, photographers. (I was a staff lensman for more than six years and continued that role on and off for 35 more.)
Pulling the cork on a sauvignon blanc, up walked Laurie Peek, a well-entrenched social documentary photog back in the New York City of the 1970s and ’80s. Then came Colette Fournier, a retired newspaper lenswoman.
Before we knew it, and oblivious to the crowd, we were sharing stories about camera mishaps, long sessions in the old “wet” darkrooms with their chemicals and the goose-pimply feeling of seeing a print come to life in a tray of developer.
Though the wine kept getting popped, and no one was neglected, we three, like anyone who share common work habits, became deeply immersed in our common language.
How satisfying it was to realize you can rarely, but still actually, find your comrades and communicate. Reinvigorating the bond was like meeting an old friend so special that while life continues well enough without contact, reacquaintance, however short, is locking into a special frequency.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

A TIME TO BE PROUD

November 5, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYC — A parent has the right to “kvell,” even if you are not of the Jewish faith. I am not, but having been raised in a community of so many delightful descendants of Abraham, I picked up a few words and phrases that come in handy since they are so expressive.
I use “kvell” today because when you have a 46-year-old son who achieves a 2:41 finish in the New York City Marathon, coming in 131st of many thousands of males, you have to say something that underscores the moment.
Yet my son Arthur 4th would prefer silence since he is humble, even if his daily training — he has run almost every day since eighth grade — his persistence and his dedication make him a remarkable runner.
Arthur trains while juggling a job as a school teacher, husband, co-parent of two energetic kids, and without complaint. He loves running, just as Bob Hudson, his high school coach, instilled in him. And continues to do. (In fact, Coach drove Arthur to the city to begin the race procedure at 4:30 a.m.)
Every entrant in the marathon is a winner. Just enduring a 26.2-mile run through all the boroughs is a feat beyond the normal challenge. Yes, some are the top finishers. Some suffer more than others. But we must kvell for every one, especially in a time of deliberate national divide.
The marathon is a league of nations, a race of many peoples. Emotion expressed by participants and those cheering them on Sunday made America shine. We can all kvell for that.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@hotmail.com

SOUP, JUST SOUP

 

October 28, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

After weeks of little rain, this part of the greater patch — slightly upstate New York — is at this writing getting very wet, the bath due to a storm with its sights set more on Long Island and Cape Cod than Rockland County. Still, like the cozy coat you pull out for fall’s first chill, the sudden appearance of the wet changes the dial. All I could think of was soup.
It’s a bit of the fortunate that there is a change of seasons here, so the coat becomes reinforcement that you can get cozy in the chill, leaving behind long summer days and the fun, yes, but anticipating autumn color and the wonderful smell of fallen leaves.
Rain, especially if it has not thrown a kiss your way in too long a spell, gets the juices going for soup, whether you make it from scratch, pay way too much in a specialty store or simply open a can and have at it. When you have been missing something of a while, discerning is not usually top of agenda.
On such a day as this in my fourth-grade years, my mother, if she wasn’t concocting a red Irish stew, which was really soup with vegetables and her German noodles, had Campbell’s tomato with pepper steaming from the bowl as my brother and I came in soaking wet from the home-built huts in the backyard, our prairie.
Many a good meal begins with soup. It is the civilized way of eating, much like the proper introduction to a home via an inviting foyer: there is pause to anticipate what is next.
So, the day, this one at least, calls for the hottest of soup, simple fare that feeds so well that you could get complex about it.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

 

THE HUMAN REQUIREMENT

As one of the many volunteers in the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program and as a strong supporter of the overnight/outreach program Helping Hands-Safe Haven, I was asked to write the following.

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

It is 1940, and the Great Depression is persisting after 11 years. At Maud Gunther’s Spring Valley, N.Y., home, not far from the downtown railroad tracks where the homeless slept even then, my grandmother is on her back porch, handing out sandwiches to hobos and other hungry people, made from the meager scraps she, her husband and son must share. But Arthur Sr. has a job. Many do not. Maud does her bit, as do quite a few Valleyites in that sad national time.
At night on any of those dark days, my grandparents sit in the dining room and listen to the radio, that after Arthur Sr.  has read The Rockland Journal-News, the New York Journal-American and the Daily News. Each of those information sources offer the same stories about unique, even groundbreaking relief efforts by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration as well as continuing political opposition in Congress and elsewhere. The poor, the down and out, the homeless are always grist for the political mill. Full bellies pontificate over the hungry.
Radio news says the opposition holds fast to its belief that lesser government involvement is best, that people can pull themselves up if only the economy is rebuilt — an old argument that never gets settled because greed intervenes. People still go without. In Spring Valley. In the nation.
One 1940 presidential contender, Robert Taft, states: “Let no one say that a sound fiscal policy is too hardboiled toward the more unfortunate among our people. It is the poor who will be cared for by a solvent government. …”
America has always had “solvent” government, but the poor, the needy, remain underserved and continue to be part of a false news, “welfare-queen” debate that is really ignorance perpetuated by the judgmental and the greedy. So, even in the best of times, the poor and others in need have been put on a meager budget line. Criticism of the unfortunate,  ignorance as to circumstance and outright refusal to accept that any of us could fall into sad situations are as firmly set in the national fabric as are the often heroic kindness and charity of so many. The needy are always an abstraction, always blamed for their misfortune. They are made sinners for that.
I wish those who contend that free will, gumption and grit alone make you thrive would serve meals any week day of the year, holidays included, in the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program at United Church in Spring Valley. Or assist with the Helping Hands-Safe Haven seasonal overnight offering. Then they would witness the debilitating effects of joblessness, depression, substance abuse, domestic abuse and health issues. And just plain bad luck.
RIBP served 18,633 breakfasts in 2016; Helping Hands provided 5,260 meals and overnight accommodations. None of these efforts would have been possible without volunteers, some 3,000 hours given. And not one of us, beyond normal individual human prejudice, openly judged anyone. We were not part of the historical debate between “gumption” and charity, one that continues even in a county as affluent as Rockland.
I am now Maud Gunther, deliberately serving the needy for 15 years in her village, my hometown, my father’s childhood community, the neighborhood of my friends, teachers, mentors. Like all the volunteers, I am paying my own good fortune forward. Privileged to do so.
On Tuesday mornings in the RIBP, we can rustle up a breakfast of sausage better prepared than in some upscale restaurants, slow-cooked for three hours in apple juice, brown sugar, honey and spices. Pancakes are made with eggs, brown sugar, honey and a bit of strong coffee. Chicken soup is simmered for two hours with my Irish mother’s recipe of black pepper and parsley. Total cost? About $2 a serving. In a restaurant, $16, at least.
I am no exception. There are better cooks, including professionals, who work free and offer chicken and other dishes that would pull in $20 a serving in an ordinary eatery.
Lunches, free to all, include freshly made sandwiches, fruit, a treat or two. Juice and coffee, cereal, oatmeal are available at breakfast. All prepared by volunteers.
And the volunteers do more than ready food, serve it and clean up. They bring in donated clothing. They buy clothing. Volunteers purchase food now and then, and kitchen items. If an individual client has a certain need, they are assisted out of pocket.
All this in the RIBP program. Then there is the Helping Hands-Safe Haven volunteer effort that besides all-year counseling and social services, offers seasonal overnight protection from the cold and bad weather, with space long donated by various religious institutions. (Rockland will soon partner on an overnight warming center and other services, thanks to recognition of the great need by the county Legislature and County Executive Ed Day.)
Again, we do not argue whether individuals deserve what we do. Nor do we pat ourselves on the back. We are just people filling a need as best we can. Some of us also do it for the churches and synagogues and mosques we belong to. Others offer service for the religion that is called humanity.
Society has an obligation to attend to the needy, perhaps asking questions later. But only later. We sometimes see babies and other  young children at breakfast, and you can ask nothing of them.
I hope whoever reads this, most especially anyone who continues the forever debate between requiring individuals to tough it out or asking society to meet obvious need, will take away two important points:
* RIBP, Helping Hands-Safe Haven and the other giving groups in Rockland do not ask questions. We do not vet the needy. We serve the needy, as religious belief and human decency command.
* We are cost-effective, probably spending  at least one-quarter what government or private services would require.
Finally, we have many volunteers, but we need more. We operate on a shoestring budget, and while Helping Hands and RIBP are uber-efficient, we still require funding to cover such unglamorous expenses as rent, insurance, salaries for our tiny non-volunteer staff and supplies.
Consider becoming part of the Helping Hands family through the donation of your time, your talent or your treasure.
(You can contact Helping Hands Director Ya’el Williams: ywilliams@helpinghandsofrockland.org)

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com
___

THE BRASS NOZZLE

October 16, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

A very long time ago, I bought a nozzle for a garden hose so that I could water new shrubs at a new house. There was then just one child, who at almost three would turn the spray on me. That hose, with that nozzle, took a goodly portion of the free funds for a young family in a home in the ever more-taxed suburbs. But in a way, the nozzle has earned its weight in gold.
Over the decades, with greater income and savings, the temptation to buy a bigger and better nozzle was met over and over. I now have a drawer full of super-duper sprayers than can shoot water 20 feet, or give me 10 spray patterns, or save water. Together they probably have cost 30 times the price of the original, small, old-fashioned, solid-brass piece.
Some have held up reasonably well, though most are machined poorly, made cheaply in overseas factories where tolerances are not exact. But they look good, and that is probably why I bought them.
I had the money in my pocket, you see, and why not buy into the marketing theory that you simply must have the latest gadget?
Yet I always return to the 1973 brass nozzle. Either a new-fangled sprayer breaks down, or its lack of machined tolerance makes me not tolerate it, or it leaks, or I simply yearn for a simpler time when I could depend on an inexpensive, uncomplicated, design-proven nozzle to do the trick.
Besides, that sprayer was aimed at me by not one, but two sons. They washed their first cars with it. Hiking boots and running shoes were freed of mud. And these days, the guys and their progeny visit the old man, who can be found watering the now-big shrubbery with brass nozzle No. 1. It is an old friend, and I hold it in a tight handshake.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

TWO OLD HOMES

October 9, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYACK, N.Y. — It was easy, at this fund-raiser aiming to protect and restore a 200-year-old village house, to imagine social gatherings in the 1930s-‘50s at which Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur held court. Easy to picture, leaning against the 1800’s living room molding.
Lawrence Olivier might have done that, or later Marlon Brando, or Debbie Reynolds at “Pretty Penny,” the Broadway house costing just that when the famous movie and stage actress bought it with her husband Charles MacArthur, the newspaperman and playwright.
Fund-raisers — most social gatherings — don’t offer interest, maybe because I had to cover so many for the original Journal-News, but this one was a must. It was sponsored by johngreencoalition.org to help rescue Nyack’s oldest remaining Dutch sandstone house, a few streets south from the Hayes mansion. Saving history is always worth the trip.
But back to the Hayes/MacArthur home, offered for the day’s fund-raiser by its present owner, art dealer/map collector Graham Arader.
It is now restored, in part according to the tastes of actress Rosie O’Donnell, who once lived here. When I was in the house about 1967 to photograph Miss Hayes for The Journal-News, the still-stately architecture needed a tune-up. She had been living there alone, but with a secretary, for decades after the passing of her daughter Mary and husband. Their son, Charles, had moved on to acting.
Yet you barely noticed the loose windows and the need for paint in the  mansion because Helen Hayes overtook the scene. She was a true theatrical presence as well as a genuinely charming Nyacker often seen walking into town.
The day I took her photograph for a feature story, I was asked to sit on a couch and wait. A little while after, Miss Hayes came slowly down her elegant staircase, a huge portrait of her as Victoria Regina on the wall. She literally paused for a second, and the shot was better than any photograph I could take. While a more-standard picture was published, I have never forgotten how stage-worthy the moment was.
It also reinforced a sense of history — a noted actress, a famous playwright choosing to live and participate in a old house in a Hudson River town where industry long flourished, in part because of movers and shakers like John Green. (The man was a powerhouse, helping to build commerce from Nyack’s riverfront to Suffern and beyond via the original Nyack Turnpike.)
The fund-raiser to save his home on lower Main Street, which, hopefully will become a community gathering
place along a waterfront that must always be open to the people, was appropriately held in another historic Nyack house, itself just north of the Edward Hopper House, the home of America’s foremost realist artist.
Soon, the Green House will be dwarfed off Main and Gedney streets by even more modern-day “progress” — townhouses for those who can afford them. Yet, as the house is rescued, a herculean effort to be sure, it will increasingly be recognized as an anchor to the past, of growth in its time, too, but also of community involvement, 200 years ago, now and in the future.
Playwright MacArthur could have written such drama. Actress Hayes could have played the part. Now the stage is set for this rescue. Visit johngreencoalition.org.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com, thecolumnrule.com