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.

 

DIVERSITY THE NORM

August 7, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

One of the givens in growing up in the semi-rural county of Rockland, New York, in my 1950s years was that we were surrounded by diversity. It had always been that way, since the Dutch days and before that those of the various, mostly intinerant Native-American tribes.
A major 1600s landowners was a free black man. There were early settlements of Irish, Jewish Orthodox and Latino. Since the county is so close to the port of New York, a mix of peoples was inevitable.
So, as a young fellow, it never seemed strange that an old man with a yarmulke sitting in Tiny’s Diner in Spring Valley would ask for a “glass tea,” a Lower East Side expression.
Nor would my brother and I, then living in nearby Tallman, even question why the limping fellow who ran the Sunoco station on Route 59 would be called “Mr. One-a-Minoot,” pronounced that way in his Italian dialect.
This nice man sold 10-cent Dixie Cup ice cream, the ones with Hollywood movie star pictures on the inside covers. They were half-vanilla, half-chocolate, or strawberry/vanilla, and you devoured the treat with a spoon that you licked down to the bare wood.
“Mr. One-a-Minoot” was always busy, handling the gas pumps, working in the small garage and selling ice cream to first- and second-graders like my brother and me. But he was never rushed, never grouchy. He didn’t talk to us, but he was kind, simply saying, “one-a-minoot,” so that he could get us the Dixie Cups.
The given that was diversity in my place and time extended to ethnicity. I do not recall anyone in school saying he or she was “Italian,” or “Irish” or “Puerto Rican” or whatever. We were all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, of course, in joint celebration, but since there was so much diversity, since it was common from birth, we just did not single out people as this or that. Guess it was just a simpler time.

“Mr. One-a-Minoot” remains a favorite character from my childhood, not because he was of Italian descent but because he was a nice man who sold us a Dixie Cup treat, asking us to wait a second so he could get the ice cream.

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

WHITHER A EULOGY?

July 31, 2017

By Arthur Henry Gunther III

Not all eulogies are truthfully written, because there is a natural spin to comments made about the departed, much like the wailing of a relative or two at a wake for someone they actually disliked in life. The good-form factor seems to kick in, in the balance we seek as decent people.
Truth is, though, there is something positive to say about almost all of us: “He wasn’t so bad, after all. I miss him.” The average person on this earth, given individual circumstances — hardship, wealth, emotional makeup, health concerns — does pretty good overall as a human being and deserves a final tribute as well as the recollections that continue in those who remember long after.
What of the people who deserve no eulogy, such as a Hitler? Nothing good can be said about such a person, who might not even be human but of a devil, the actual Devil, if you will. History is written after such a man or woman, noting the violent death of millions whose eulogies cannot be uttered for there are too many dead at once. The collective eulogy later emerges as a holocaust memorial.
It is custom to be grand in expression after a public figure dies, such as a U.S. president. His administration may have been controversial, the achievements relatively small, the public support generally unenthusiastic. But he was president, and there has been dignity in that office for a long time, despite politics.
So, the military parade takes place, there is a laying-in at the presidential library and heartfelt speeches are made by those who saw fewer warts than others as well as more restrained comment by those who noted some achievement that could be mentioned at passing.
Not unlike those relatives at the wake who disliked the deceased in life, but on balance, followedgood form and found something to applaud.
We do not know what future eulogies will be said for particular leaders when that moment is necessary. The answer may be that again there will be none for an individual, but many for the victims.

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

GEORGE CHALSEN AND THE ‘FRATERNITY’

July 24, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

One of the customs of an old-style newspaper hot metal composing room — where printing type was cast in lead by brilliantly designed mechanical marvels called Linotypes and then placed in page forms called chases so that the process could continue to the presses and then your delivered newspaper — was men helping men put on their aprons.
Handling type was messy, with ink from the proofing machine and the lead itself covering everything. The blue, dungaree-type apron was a barrier.
Now, if the composing room of old were run by industrious women, there would have been no need to tie each other’s aprons. The 5-8 ladies I am privileged to toil with in a food program do not tie others’ apron strings, instead quickly fastening their own coverings with well-practiced, behind-the-back moves seemingly natural to the beautiful species.
For some reason, perhaps so much of it being tradition, the male printers were apron-helpless. They would hang the apron around their necks, turn to the nearest fellow and make a circular move with their hands to indicate the strings needed to be tied. It would be done.
Then it would be into the work day and men talking of sports or women or politics. At shift’s end, there was no similar call for untying aprons, just an individual loosening, a grab of the lunch box and a nod to co-workers, “See you tomorrow.”
That next day would bring the repeated bonding of tying each other’s apron strings.
So, it was no wonder that my late Journal-News co-worker and printer George “Weep” Chalsen would ask me or fellow food program worker Al Witt to tie his apron when we met,  not in the composing room but the kitchen. Both very hot places.
It was yet another fraternity, you see.

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

OBSERVER IN MANHATTAN

July 17, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Manhattan — It is said that the Statue of Liberty beckons  the “ huddled masses,” but this past Saturday in New York City, the great spectrum of people came to midtown instead. The area, from Grand Central at 42nd St. on the East Side to the 50s and Seventh Avenue on the West Side was just an explosion off humanity. Good weather and renewed interest in both Gotham and urbanity probably caused the adventure.

Fine for NYC, since tourist/visitor dollars help pay the bills, though I hope some of that money goes to dangerous areas in all the boroughs where crime, schools and humanity sometimes on the edge need much better attention.

Even in midtown it would have been nice to see the walking police officer so visible when I was an occasional visitor as a kid decades ago. Spotted not one in a 30-block walk over four hours. Visibility can dispel both civilian and police fears.

We visited the Museum of Modern Art, always a draw, and a great way to uplift the spirits in a troubling world. Yes, you may not “get” a 48-inch white canvas with a black border — why that is called “art” — but you can appreciate the opportunity to reflect. It’s better than sitting on a park bench kicking dirt.

You cannot visit Manhattan and expect to stand in place on a busy sidewalk, or you will be run over. Everyone is in a rush, choreographed by the street/avenue intersection lights. Many people, many smart phone-lookers, many stylishly dressed, weaving in and out of the ever-present scaffolding indicative of a still-growing city, sidestepping the homeless and those who at least live on the streets dayside.

As a country boy and lifelong observer of anything that moves and a lot that does not, I feel apart from — but still connected to — the fast-movers on the sidewalks, looking at many, wondering what their thoughts are, where they are going, where they came from. Glance away for a second, and there is yet another tapestry to ponder.

A museum of the streets, literally.

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

 

ON THE JOB

July 10, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

 

College is not for every one, and even for the collegiate, there may be a best time to go. It’s an individual moment, and getting there can be tough.
I was there, once, actually several times before the degree was conferred several years into actual work — newspapering — that I was suited to and in which I achieved some success.
In those 1960s days, you could sign on at a newspaper and begin schlepping as a copyboy, coffee gofer, office chair repair guy, whatever the minions of the newsroom wanted you to do. Some almost adopted you, calling you “kid,” and tossing you an extra 15 cents for java of your own. Others barely tolerated you, or so that seemed, but their gruff way was the teaching method. They, too, had been the copyboy.
If the newsroom liked you, if they saw a spark of talent — and they actually looked for that, for you must grow a new crop — they begin your training.
The “rim,” where the page layout editors sat in the old, non-digital days, would throw you a small story and ask you to write a headline of a certain point size that would fit the column width. The “slotman,” the rim’s chief editor, would look it over, maybe grunt, and if he liked it, would bundle it with the hard copy of the story and send both to be set in type, using a pneumatic tube system to the composing room.
The photography department might bring you into the darkroom and have you mix chemicals or wind exposed film on developing reels and then show you how to make prints.
You might get sent out with a reporter to watch him or her cover a story, or you might go with the photogs. You would never forget the adrenalin of that first fire or political demonstration, and you would feel empowered that the press gained access, albeit sometimes under duress, to accident and other scenes. You felt that you were helping get out the information that the people have the right to know.
Then you would go back to being a copyboy until that day came and you saw another eager fellow or gal walk through the newsroom door and learn your job. You had been promoted, thrown into the hurly-burly of newspapering as a reporter or photog or desk editor.
I made it to all three positions, as well as engraver and layout man, night city editor, editorial page editor, columnist. Also did my time in circulation and as general office fix-it guy.
These days many newspaper positions are gone as papers decline, or they have been absorbed into multitask, digital-driven jobs. The same zeal and search for information is there, though.
What is missing on most papers is the copyboy. You might need a masters in journalism these days just to get in the door. I had only a high school diploma through I obtained a college degree some years later, never telling the front office. What was the point? I already “held” a bachelors in on-the-job newspapering and would go on to get a seat-of-the-pants masters and maybe a Ph.D., thanks to the people who taught me, including the readers.
I was a lucky fellow to come through the newsroom door when I did.

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

 

HOPE, AT ‘HOME’ ANYWAY

July 4th Weekend, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYACK, N.Y. — You would expect July Fourth weekend — and the gathering in public area that comes with that — to be boisterous, noisy, of course, celebratory. It is all that in this village along the Hudson River just north of New York City, but this year there is an even stronger reason why America celebrates its birthday so heartily: the people who are here.
More than ever, there is a veritable league of nations in Memorial Park, partly because Rockland County, so close to the port of New York and diverse even before its 1798 founding, is becoming more so. Sitting near me in the park were women dressed in Islamic headwear, Orthodox Jews, people from India wearing red, white and blue shirts and saris, African Americans whose families have helped build Nyack for centuries, and men, women and children of so many national backgrounds that I cannot gather the total count of different countries.
And all here on July Fourth weekend, a distinctly American holiday that is probably new or certainly newish to many in the park. Some come from countries where no celebration is allowed save bowing to the national leader.
It is usual practice to recall America’s history on July Fourth and for politicians in particular to make note of how immigrants built the country after the almost suicidal chances taken by those at Lexington and Concord, by our Founders, by Washington and by the citizen-soldier. It is reaffirming to hear our narrative, even if over and over, even if we must accept the flowery praise of some of our speakers.
Yet nothing gives truth to the story like people — free people with many different faces — enjoying July Fourth fireworks on a majestic river, picnic at hand, family and friends there. That this is allowed — yes, allowed — is the greatness of America. It is our blessing. It is our hope. It is our present and our future, built on our past.
After this holiday weekend, government national, state, local will go back to “work.” Today we question what work is being done and how democracy can thrive through special interest, without common sense and with greed. We are a nation in trouble, in a troubling world. A downer if you mull on it. When I do, I switch the senses back to the Nyacks of America, where on July Fourth weekend the people’s faces give a different perspective.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. (Ahgunther@yahoo.com) Essay adapted from July 2013.

THAT WHICH ENDURES

June 26, 2017

By Arthur Henry Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

With Paris under recent attack in a discordant world in which bad people exploit differences and legitimate need, in a beautiful city of proud and diverse citizenry, there is a constant hum that cannot be quieted. It is reassuring in the punctuation of bombs and terrorism, in France and in too many other world sites.
It has been a few years since a visit to the Louvre, the national art museum on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1er Arrondissement, the First District.
A former fortress and palace, the Musée du Louvre opened in 1793 after the National Assembly of the Revolution decided that it should contain masterpieces. That it has and does, despite wars, depressions and the whims of humankind that try to depress the arts. The Louvre itself has benefited from strife, including receiving looted art in the Napoleon era, losing some to the British Museum after Waterloo.
Yet for the visitor trying to escape officialdom and the oft-sorry consequences, the importance of the Louvre or any place of art as to the constancy of culture, history and genius — the better side of life —  is priceless. It is akin to the flag still flying after bombardment.
When I visited in 2012, on a rainy day in which The Inverted Pyramid, the famous 1993 glass addition, was covered with drops that gave an Impressionist’s view of people and place, September 2001 had passed, though the wounds did– have — not, but the terrorism of 2017 was yet to come.
Yet Paris, its people and its famous Musée had already long endured war and the other follies of humankind. Displayed on the Louvre walls and sculpture platforms were proof that not everything is about horror, that the tread of culture cannot be ripped apart.

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

ON FATHER’S DAY, MEMORIES OF A GRANDPA

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Bahgunther@yahoo.com

If you are fortunate, before you grow up but as you so quickly grow up, you’ll get to spend a few years with a patient, somewhat quiet, a bit odd grandfather like I did, who had a knack for fixing almost anything with a pocketknife or a squirt of oil from the old-style cans, made of metal with a long spout. You thumbed the bottom, which was made of spring steel, and out came the oil. My grandfather could handle so many household problems with basic tools that it became a metaphor for building confidence.

To this day, the sound of the popped can brings me to a place where I did not pay bills, where I was fed without cooking for myself, where I was chauffered in my parents’ car, where I was tucked in at night, where the sunrise and chilled air of spring promised a good day of day-dreaming and hope for the future.

My grandfather did not say much, perhaps because he was raised in a time when you sat at the table with parents and simply ate, speaking only when spoken too. That he came from a Prussian family probably enforced the discipline. Yet he talked a bit at his own table, and certainly went beyond his usual word-thrifty ways when he took time to explain carpentry to me, or a fix for a leaking faucet or to tell me my bike needed oiling. Even if it did not, I would ask him to do so, having ridden the three miles from my home to his for that reason and others.

Out to the garage he would go, an old, wooden structure with “novelty” siding, the floorboards of which had absorbed so many car leakings that the warming sun produced a woodsy, oil smell which in time would no longer be an odor but a tug at great and warm memory whenever I come upon a similar scent.

So out to the garage my grandfather went, grabbing the copper oiling can from a shelf in the corner, just below markings my father made in the garage when he was my age. The bike would be oiled, as my dad’s bicycle had been, and I would be off on the same streets he rode upon.

That ride home would mostly include a look for friends, or a stop at the small downtown A&P for a plum or two or three at 19 cents a pound, or some thoughts about where I would be in a few years, driving a car, not a bike.

I did not usually think about my grandfather on that ride because I foolishly took him, my grandmother, their fine home and everything then existing for granted. I never thought that all could go away.

Now I know better, which is not a better thing. It is simply reality, so nicely interrupted when I again hear the spring sound from my own oiling can.

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

CITY’S GOT RHYTHM

June 12, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — If music is a leveler, the proof is here. This city of mixed heritage, constant politeness and high temperatures seems to sing its way through the day and evening with song. There is music everywhere.
This traveler, however reluctant, did finally make it back to where a son and family live, had a truly good time with two grandchildren and managed to make quite a few electrical repairs. In all the doings, there seemed to be music.
When I went to hardware stores or big-box retailers, I heard country tunes. There were Mexican-style tunes in restaurants. The Alamo was festive with mariachi. Cars stopped at lights vibrated with a mix of music.
It could be the heat that drives the rhythm, for you don’t think about the weather as much when the radio is on.
It could be the rich mix of Spanish, German, Czech and cowboy that has all these differences communicating in a common element.
It could be the easy smiles of so many here and a slower pace of life that actually allows them to think about noticing other people that gets the daily jukebox jumping.
For certain, folk here go about their lives just like anywhere else. They work if they have a job. They eat in public places. There are families in the dog parks. There is romance. There is seriousness. There is sadness, too, and newspaper stories about bad things.
Yet when the day dawns, and I head for 6 a.m. coffee at the Valero mart, already you hear the tune-up for the daily rhythm.
Each city, each region, each nation, each town, even the smallest village, has its music, more audible, more vigorously expressed in some than others. Or more delicate or classical in some.
You might have to bend an ear to listen, but the melody and, more deeply, the lyrics, are to be discovered.
Sure plugged in at old San Antone.

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