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

THE FALL SEASON

October 2, 2017

By Arthur Henry Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Once, so very long ago, almost in another age but I know it still must relate to the accumulation of living, just part of me, you see, gave someone a small birthday present.
It was the first gift for a new someone, and I thought it out, not wanting to go overboard and push the relationship into uncomfortable territory. Yet I wanted the present to be both meaningful — an expression of deepening interest — and also classy, since the person was surely that.
I ended up at a small corner jewelry store in Westwood, N.J., still there after five decades, staring into the show window on Center Avenue. That was easier for a shy fellow than going to the counter and looking at offerings from the sales person, almost all of which a 20 year old without a job could not afford.
Happily, I did see what I thought was the just-right gift in the show window, and five minutes later, with the equivalent of what some day would be a week’s salary from my first job gladly exchanged for what was a then-popular scarab bracelet, I went home and kept the present until the October birthday.
As these things go, the person I was then, not the fellow I am now, gave the bracelet to the person she was then, and it was appreciated. I don’t think I pushed the relationship to where it was uncomfortable, being jewelry and all, but I am not sure.
This was my first romantic gesture for anyone, and though I have never absorbed the etiquette on that, I just went ahead.
So much growth since then — me, her, people in our separate spheres, the world.
Yet as surely as fall comes each year, and it is a favored season, an older fellow now usually remembers the bright stones of the scarab bracelet, which signify creation and renewal, according to Egyptian thought.
Sounds right. A pleasant memory.

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

ONCE, A GOTHAM

“Talking Skyscrapers”

 

September 25, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The area where I live is just north of this famous, at times infamous, metropolis, enough distance in my youth to have enjoyed a life apart —rural countryside, building huts in the woods, traipsing through fruit orchards, riding with companion on a summer night, car windows open, crickets joining the conversation. Yet we were close to Manhattan, too, and its four borough cousins to occasionally visit. It was an adventure every time.
It may seem silly now, having visited enough European and U.S. cities and in the process maturing in perspective and becoming less hayseed, that New York City once seemed so busy, so in a rush, ever so full of construction sounds that I had to flee after a day visit. In my youth, once my father crossed the Hudson River via the George Washington Bridge, we again heard the crickets, and that resumed  the reassuring purring of what was still not the suburbs.
Of course, it all depends on perspective. A Gothamite, returning to Yorkville or Chelsea or Hell’s Kitchen from my old, quiet Spring Valley would be reassured by the vibrance of the city.
(I was told the story of a city fellow, visiting the sticks for a high school graduation, who could not sleep through the night at his sister’s house and had to take a midnight bus back to New York. It was just too quiet.)
In truth, all cities are fascinating, and there is so much great diversity, food choices, history, and, most important, interesting characters within. So many different neighborhoods.
My own heritage includes city dwellers on both sides of the family, and all the sides before that, back to Prussian, Irish and English immigrants. Wish I could have heard their stories.
Ruralness long ago left my hometown, replaced by suburbia. The crickets have been drowned out by traffic noise, incessant lawn machines and leaf-blowers. Gotham is just as close geographically as it ever was, but it can take triple the old time to get there, given overgrowth and underwhelming transit planning. The suburbs are painted more and more with the city mix anyway, so there is not so much a need to visit.
But in my dreams, my parents pile my brother and I in the old green Studebaker, and we jump over the Hudson into Midtown, eat at a Chinese restaurant and walk in Times Square. It is thrilling, as always, yet the return ride, over the bridge and into country darkness and the sound of the crickets, is reassuring. It is my music. In my dreams anyway.

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

NYACK’S TEN

September 18, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYACK, N.Y. — This Hudson River village has a park with a usual name, Memorial, just like the one I played in as a kid in another community, though this also was an occasional spot for imaginary doings when my parents shopped here on long-ago Saturdays.
This Saturday past, after checking out Nyack’s “first” community fun fair in the park (though, truthfully, so many gatherings have happened there over many decades), I began to leave, deliberately taking the same circular steps to the original park area off Piermont Avenue.
I try to use these steps because my brother Craig and I played on them, and I don’t see much of him these days, so it is a touchstone.
But there is another such pull to the past. You cannot climb the steps — or run up them as I once did — without passing the listing of 10 names, young men from Nyack who perished in the “War to End All Wars,” the “Great War,” World War I.
What sadness came to this river village nearly 100 years ago, loss and tragedy repeated in every community, and then in World War II and other conflict since.
When I was a youngster hopping on those Nyack steps, I probably did not read those 10 names, for the young do not notice such memorials. Yet I did play among the 10 large trees planted on the old greenhouse grounds that make up the upper section of Nyack Memorial Park. Those trees stand tall against the Hudson just as the 10 lost men who left Nyack for France did on the western front.
So, a day in Nyack, of frivolity, fun, children eating snow cones, lots of purring in a true, long-diverse community. Leaving that enjoyment, so reaffirming in these national days of mistrust and even hate, I could not pass those 10 names and 10 trees without nodding in respect to men, once boys, who played where we all felt good.

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

AN ALTERED BEAT

September 11, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

There is rhythm to any of our lives, and when it’s seriously interrupted, the beat changes. And so it was with September 11, 2001.
When 9/11 hit in terroristic horror 16 years ago, I was at the old Rockland Journal-News building in West Nyack, N.Y., just 20 miles from the World Trade Center. As Editorial Page Editor, I had been at my desk since 4 a.m., getting advance pages and copy ready. My day, like any of us then, quickly changed. So did thousands of lives, forever.
The newspaper, as all media, scrambled at 8:45 a.m., even as we shook our heads and kept glancing at the TV images of the Twin Towers ablaze, the tragedy at the Pentagon, the smoking field in Pennsylvania when United Flight 93 crashed after courageous passengers diverted the plane from its D.C. target.
Later that Tuesday, there would be much crying in Rockland County over the loss of area civilians, New York City firefighters and NYPD and Port Authority police officers who were among the dead in the attacks.
About 3,000 individuals of all race and creed, economic and immigrant background and political persuasion were killed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Some “Dreamers” among them, by the way.
Funerals after funerals followed, many for those whose bodies could not be found, and they continue today for the 9/11 responders who developed cancer from building debris.
Communities noted hometown heroes like Welles Remy Crowther, an equity trader and “The Man in the Red Bandana,” who selflessly rescued people in the Twin Towers and died as the Upper Nyack, N.Y., volunteer firefighter he proudly was.
Area municipalities now have memorials and annual observances.
The War on Terror began, and the U.S. became another of the countries who have invaded Afghanistan over the centuries, America hoping to rout al-Qaeda but finding that quest illusive.
Billions since have been spent on the battle against terrorism, not all of it accounted for, and, sadly, some have profited either financially or by using this long moment of national, human tragedy to push the prejudice of painting all of one kind with a single brush.
Few commentators have noted that hatred helped bring on 9/11, and that such crop is fertilized if democracies lose their moral compass and encourage citizen neglect elsewhere by supporting dictators when that is convenient; if countries do not speak out for decency and act according to their stated creed. Hate grows abroad then, with the hungry easily persuaded through false promise.
At my old newspaper on 9/11, we did what we were trained to do — present the who, what, when, where, how, why of the terrorist attacks. We wrote the stories, including the sad but uplifting human reports, presented graphic images and offered commentary on it all.
The Journal-News, and much media, had done this before, of course, covering the world wars, natural disasters, death and destruction. That is the beat of information delivery, and we did what was expected.
What we in the newsroom of my generation did not expect was that our heartbeats would change, our rhythm would be different after Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The newsroom of December 7, 1941, had its own blips on the oscilloscope, and now we understood, too, about the horror of sudden attack on a nation but also the reaffirming heroism of so many of its people.

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

 

‘UNDER THE INFLUENCE’

 

Der Einfluss,’ acrylic on wood panel.

September 4, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

In German, “Einfluss” means “influence,” and so that is how a recent painting gained its name. I was intrigued by a photograph taken by a Deutsche designer and decided to do my interpretation via acrylics and wood. She deserved some credit, and the German title was it.
I am not sure if I could have gotten through life this far or if I can move along the future path without influence. Pig-headedness aside and allowing for the many times when I’m nfluence has been ignored, there is little accomplishment without someone else’s input.
My favorite teachers, and even the one or two who were not on the list, continue to influence me many decades later. For example, when I add numbers and carry the ones, I cannot escape the influence of Miss Margulies, my arithmetic teacher. When I write, which I am driven to do, it is always another weekly composition for Mr. Gram.
My newspaper photography career was influenced by Andy Dickerman, Al Witt and Warren Inglese.
Today, an interest in local history is influenced by masters like Wilfred Talman, Craig Long and Win Perry.
My family, living and gone, influence my actions. The nation and its leaders or, sadly, at times non-leaders, influence a strong belief in the Founders’ vision and the utter necessity to see it further unfold, certainly not to see such promise wither.
Acquaintances of old, such as childhood friends, have their continuing influence, even if they do not know it.
Truth is, the nerve synapses do not work on their own in this body of mine. Each past encounter, many a conversation, a learned lesson, failure, a fleeting glance, a lingering touch, a kiss, a handshake, an act of charity, a heroic moment, all this and so much more are the directional signs in life.
It is gratifying to be under the influence.

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

REASSURANCE

August 28, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Received a chatty, welcome letter from a special friend whom I have not seen since 2006, and before that the early 1990s, and before that 1981 and 1966. Might seem odd that there was a letter at all since what sort of friendship meets on just four occasions in 50 years?

Yet friendships are not defined by physical presence. The best of them have to do with the elemental, where touchstones are again stepped upon, as children do crossing a stream. You grow, and there are important things to do, you live your life, but things are still tucked away in the closet.

In such friendships, there does not have to be deep emotion involved or a sharing of private lives — the real living that counts with the significant people in your existence. Such friendship, with a rare letter, or note or comment, is like recalling a teacher long ago, or the walk you took downtown to the bus.

There are many similar seconds or even minutes in life, and reconnection is reassurance that you have lived and that it has been worthwhile. And you do not have to dwell in or on the past to appreciate that. Most can manage a smile in quick reflective thought on seemingly unimportant events.

The friend’s letter was prompted by my own, simply to keep in touch with two people who share with me  a common upbringing in what was once a rural place. So, chatty stuff, not earth-shattering news — this and that about each other’s family, reports that despite the usual afflictions of getting older there is good health.

Like I said, it was crossing the stream again, hopping on those old rocks. Reassurance.

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

 

A HELPING HAND

August 21, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYACK, N.Y. — As a former trustee and now volunteer at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in the birthplace home of the famed American realist painter, I have heard noises here in the early morning quiet of a Federalist/Queen Anne structure that gives off warm vibes.
It could not be otherwise, I figure, since young Edward, from an early age, was encouraged to draw. His parents even sent him to art schools after Edward’s 1900 graduation from Nyack High School, a rarity in an age when middle-class families sought professional careers in the medical and legal professions for their offspring.
So, the house at 58 North Broadway, now number 82, must have been with enough family purring. Mother Elizabeth and sister Marion also drew, and father Garrett, a dry goods merchant in town, would rather keep the quiet and read and read.
I have done handyman work at the Hopper homestead for about 10 years, literally following in the footsteps of many volunteers who in the 1970s saved the then rundown house from possible demolition. They tore up floors, restored the wide-plank pine boards, fixed sash, poured a basement floor, rewired, added a bathroom and restored and enhanced the gardens. Then they offered it as an art center to showcase artists of all persuasion.
Today, the mission continues, with archival material from Edward’s Nyack years, more art installations and plans to showcase the house as interest in Hopper’s iconic work continues. Hopper House receives visitors from around the world. (edwardhopperhouse.org)
Continuing my handyman work early last Sunday, installing electrical service and computer cables, I was drilling holes in a closet in the “new” master bedroom added about 1882 to the 1858 home when I again heard creaking noises, footstep-like sounds. And, again, they did not bother me, and I did not bother the ghosts.
I tolerate ghosts, have seen them in Rockland and at the old North Church in Boston, and have never felt threatened. I usually say something aloud, such as “Hi, hope you can leave this place and join happy eternity,” figuring a ghost is in this world because he/she still has an earthy connection that must be released.
Back at my handyman duties, snaking cable from the upstairs bedroom to a downstairs office, I had to drill a half-inch hole in the closet floor. The first one was off the mark, so I did another a foot away.
Eventually, the cables were in, but I was left with an extra hole and knew I needed a plug. Just as I banged the last nail, the very piece I longed for came popping out of nowhere in the closet. Fit like a glove.
I guess Edward, or someone at Hopper House, was my ghost-assistant. Thank you.

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

THE SABERS RATTLE

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 begin to 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 August anniversary of Great Britain’s 1914 declaration of war against Germany, and also in the month 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 by 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, more than 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. Is the Korean Penninsula next?
On this anniversary of the beginning of a war meant to end it all, and, coincidentally the 53-year 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.