‘LEAGUE OF THE QUIET’

November 29, 2021

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

It was cacophony, you see.

C-A-C-O-P-H-O-N-Y. Great noise, all about, everywhere. A person could not think. A person could not speak. Every kid in town had a head full of noise.

Televisions had no on and off switches and blared MTV, cartoon language and commercials 24 hours a day. Everyone’s laptop – and everyone had a laptop – played music and video games and would not turn off.

Mothers, even quiet ones, raised their voices. Dads were yelling at Little League umpires. Sisters were taunting brothers. Brothers were bouncing baseballs off walls.

Teachers scratched chalk to a high and long pitch on the blackboards. Principals shouted at parents over the telephone. Parents answered back over their cell phones. Policemen used their whistles constantly. Firefighters could not shut their sirens.

Politicians talked without stopping, though no one noticed. Trash collectors banged cans all day long. Restaurants banged pots. Drummers banged drums.

So, you see, it was cacophony, the Great Noise, everywhere. It was a world crisis.

That would not do for Hiram, Esmerelda and Jules, buddies in and out of school, with Hiram the quiet, introspective one; Esmerelda the smart, witty problem solver; and Jules the fellow with the engineer’s mind.

For days now, in this world of noise, the three had to signal each other to be noticed, to communicate. Even when they found an isolated place to sit and talk, they had to shout. Esmerlda was not an easy shouter; Hiram needed quiet more than most; Jules found loudness interfered with his thinking.

The three friends could not take it anymore, so they went to the school’s boiler room where the hiss of steam and the rush of gas firing the furnace would at least drown out the cacophony that was growing and growing in their school, in their town, in their state, in their nation, in the world.

What are we to do?” asked Hiram. “Well,” said Esmerelda, “Let’s think this out. It seems we are the only people in this school, in this town, in this state, in this nation, in this world to be aware of the noise. It is up to us to restore the quiet. We need a solution.” “Solution?” Jules chimed in. “Solutions are what engineers work on.” Hiram added, “Hmm, I must ponder this within, deeply.”

The three buddies then went outside and sat down in the middle of a large field near the school, Hiram to think soulfully, Jules to think like an engineer and Esmerelda to think practical.

Hiram, who was first cousin to anything quiet, plugged his ears with cotton and put on a football helmet so he could concentrate on finding a cacophony-free zone. Jules began drawing a structure where the quiet could begin. Esmerelda told both of them, “I’m going to take a snooze over there under that pretty tree and wait for you two to wake me up with ideas.”

Hiram thought and thought and became so tired that he also went over to sit under Esmerelda’s tree and rest. Jules drew and drew and soon was awfully tired too, and he joined his buddies. Pretty soon, Hiram, Esmerelda and Jules had their backs against the tree trunk and were asleep, snoring loudly.

When one made a big sound after a deep breath, another exhaled in a different pitch and the third made another sound. This unique combination of snoring produced such a special frequency that a big — hugely big — sound wave began to grow and grow. The wave carried itself across a pond and then a field and then to the road and then to the highway, to this town and the next; to this state and the next; across the oceans to every nation in the world went this sound wave.

And suddenly there was a great pop! It became quiet everywhere. The hugely big snoring sound wave, begun under a small tree in Congers, N.Y., was enough to break the hold that the Great Noise had on the world.

This new Great Quiet awakened Hiram, Esmerelda and Jules, and the engineer among them realized what they had accomplished – by chance, yes, but also by their faith that they could end the Great Noise. They looked at one another, saying nothing, simply marveling in the moment caused by their snoring, which came after they tried so hard to find a solution while awake.

Finally Esmerelda said, “Let’s take a quiet walk back to our quiet school. We have not done that since I don’t know when.”

And that’s how the League of the Quiet began. Soon it had members and chapters worldwide. And while noise returned to the earth, it was less because quiet, too, had come back. People simply took rests under beautiful trees and snored.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This story is adapted from an earlier piece.

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‘FOR BEANS’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahho.com

     I should have known the bean counters were coming for my coffee, and it wasn’t the ones in the grinder they were aiming at. It was my wallet. And yours.

     Coffee is sacred; it begins the very early – 5 a.m. – day, and if it isn’t fresh, strong but in “regular” taste – no double-espresso latte mocha for me, though I will defend the right for anyone else – I growl. Also like the brew mid-day, so that’s where this saga began just recently.

     The local store – guess it was once a grocery but is now called a “deli” (an outrageous abbreviation of a really great-sounding word – delicatessen) – has changed hands. The brewed-in-urn coffee remains very good, far above the pale liquid from the famous chain down the street where almost the best coffee anywhere used to be had but hedge-hunter takeover and the always following cost-cutting has brought deliberately weak java.

     Back to the little store and mid-day coffee. I didn’t want a large- or medium-sized coffee, so I reached for what we have long called the “regular” heavy paper cup.Took a millisecond to fill, to pay the fellow and then put it in the car cup holder, where it disappeared.

     Detroit, knowing how Americans are obsessed with auto cup holders, long ago assigned 247 engineers to design location, depth, width, etc., for the 8 or so spots in the average vehicle.  But they did not count on cost-cutting like the coffee cup manufacturers who now offer delicatessens and convenience stores (another term -“convenience” – would you go to a “non-convenience”store?) the smallest “regular-size” container ever.

     The one I picked up was so tiny that it went deep into the cup holder, and I had a hell of a time getting it out. Really needed coffee after that.

     For my money, all this product downsizing is getting to the silly point. Cookies half the original size, donuts looking – tasting like –  hockey pucks. And paper coffee cups that disappear in auto cup holders. This grab at greed is for beans.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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THE SCENT OF IT ALL

November 15, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@hotmail.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 friend of mine, U.S. Army, 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 got up, went outside and shuffled in the snowy driveway a bit. My protest. 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. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

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LIFELONG TEACHERS

By Arthur H. Gunther III

the columnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

The average teacher’s pay amounts to about one cent per hour if you consider that for almost all humans, at least one educator proves to be our lifelong teacher, frequently remembered, still instructing us. Yet respect often does not come with the job, at least from government, from taxpayers, even from some parents.

Now, off the bat, there are some poor teachers, those who should never have taken the job nor kept it after failing to learn how to relate to the young and their minds. But there are also poor business people, poor law enforcement, poor clergy, poor everybody. 

In my time, the several teachers who still come to mind when I make crucial decisions, when I do math, when I read history, when I seek to be honorable enough, were poorly paid, about $100 a week in the 1950s. Mr. Hopf supplemented teaching science with bagging at the local A&P. Mr. Gram, the English instructor who strongly influenced my writing, had two gabardine suits, both gray. One morning he came to school in a car with a leaking radiator. And the next day, too. A lady social studies teacher lived in a rented room for her entire 40-year career, after losing her husband of one week in the Great War.

Each of these people managed to teach fairly large classes of students from mostly lower- or below-middle class, blue-collar families, half of them day-dreamers. Yet as our preliminary Regents exams in the eighth grade would reveal, they instructed us well enough.  And to this day, I think of Mr. Gram when I write essays; Mr. Hopf when I read about science; the social studies teacher when I watch the History Channel. These three, and others, teach me every day, and sometimes I can still hear, and emotionally feel, the sting of a reprimand or the gentle persuasion of  “Why not try it this way?”

Now-a-day talk of overblown salaries, inflated pensions, poor teaching and failing schools rankles. There are problems everywhere — in government, in education, in security, in society — and blame is easily placed. We are all such quick and easy critics, especially with the tweets of Twitter so easy to post.

Step into a teacher’s shoes. Go to the seventh grade, where hormones block out every third word a teacher utters. Go toma first grade where 90 percent of the students are learning English as a second language. Go to an urban classroom where there are no recent textbooks and where an empty seat in the third row yesterday held the promise of a young girl killed by a stray bullet in her neighborhood. Go to the great promise that is every child. Maybe a teacher brought that out in you.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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THE ONE-HANDLED WASH BASKET

‘The Clothesline’/gunther

November 1, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

My mother had a straw laundry basket for years because she had no clothes dryer and hung the wash outdoors on a line, as so many once did. The clothes were fresh with spring, summer and fall air, and if Jack Frost made an early call, the garments would be stiff as a board.

The basket, of good size and heavy weave, had long ago lost one handle, so my brother and I, collecting the wash off the line, had to wrestle with the clothes and basket. Then it was a chore; today it is a fine memory. 

My parents probably had enough money to replace the one-handled clothes basket, but back in that time, people used up what they had, even if the item developed infirmities.

Same with my mom’s ancient ironing board, which would fall if you didn’t open it just so. Yet we had it for years, no Amazon to log into and order a replacement for next-day delivery. Maybe same day.

Of course, a vibrant consumer economy today depends on obsolescence and replacement. Jobs are created, stores pay taxes and more buyers fuel the consumption cycle, which in turn prompts recycling pickup every week so that the landfills don’t explode.

Trouble is, with fewer one-handled straw wash baskets as family tradition, there seems an uncertain anchoring to warm memory. You can well recall one old basket, one crazy ironing board, but you forget the basket of the month from Amazon.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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AUTUMN

‘FALL’/gunther

October 25, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther IIII

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     Autumn arrives as a state of mind, prompted by the foliage change to wonderful hues or by memories of fall’s past that tug at your senses. 

     The light is different, incrementally as the weeks pass, but soon the imperceptibility becomes noticeable, and sitting in your living room chair or at a kitchen table, your mind wanders, you look at the incoming window light, and there it is, fall.

     Somehow, that signals body change — mental surely, as you begin to think of coming winter and the fortification that will require physically when you get ready for warmer garments carried on your frame. That is  natural to all, since the cave days.

     Then there is the emotional switching of gears. You have come down the pike either hellbent in a fast-paced summer or you have had the cruise control set at 20 mph for a lazy, hazy, hot season, relieved by the beach. Now you see color, beautiful color, as you near the bend, and you get a whiff of cool air, not quite winter’s breath, but enough that you know where you are headed.

     The journey is made all the easier by the appearance of nature’s tapestry, a light show outside, overflowing to the innards of both your home and yourself.

     Fortification, there she comes, this autumnal change, this brilliance of light in hues meant to tell you that though the heat of summer is gone and the cold of winter is approaching, fall’s color will be your cloak into the change. Nature’s mental protection, as it were.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

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APPLES

October 18, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

About this time of year comes the memory of the apple smell, sweet fragrance that for me opened the door a bit to Heaven when I was a child at my grandmother’s house. She made apple pies, as many nanas did and do, from scratch.

 My grandfather would peel the apples, quite slowly and deftly, within a few millimeters of the skin so as not to waste anything. I never have had the patience for that, my own pared apples probably about two-thirds of the original product. My gramps sat on an upturned apple crate to do the job, outside, of course. And that is where the apple fragrance came from.

Making an apple pie brings its own wonderful, delicious smells, especially when the spices are added to the mix and, of course, when the pie is baking. And when that pie just seems to sit forever on the windowsill awaiting our tasting.

Perhaps the real eau d’apple came from the drops, those decaying, over-ripened, never-picked discards from my grandfather’s small tree. The drops always landed near his 1900s garage, its old, wooden floor soaked with the car oil of decades gone by. The garage, particularly when it was warmish, offered its own beckoning smell — of automobiles, wrenches, human labor, all a promise of what was to come for a future motorist, even at age 5.

When I visited my grandparents, a few miles from my own home, the whiff of the garage in fall made me feel extra welcome, not that it was difficult to achieve at that house, at that home. And when I also smelled the drops, all was extra sweet, and my fingers almost crossed that my grandmother was making a pie.

She usually was, and on those days, at that time of year, even without introduction to any of God’s religions, I knew there was a Heaven.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

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THE UNORDINARY CAT

October 11, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     There is the unordinary cat, thank heavens.

     Remember kindergarten? Teachers encouraging individuality. Playing games together but drawing separately. Come the next grade and the ones afterward there are desks, increasing structure, necessary standards, all for progress, yes, but much more for the collective than the individual. Society cannot otherwise maintain and advance.

     But in the process, the cats come to look alike, even as some are as round pegs squeezed into square holes. 

     Some cats, like Tom Edison and Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs and that odd girl or fellow sitting in the back row deliberately do not get aboard. They are not ordinary cats, and the real progress comes from them. Were it not for such individuality, there would be no train, no tracks ahead for the rest of us.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

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ONCE THE MUSIC

October 2, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     The cadence of life is the music we exist by, live by, endure by, thrill by, emote by, give birth by, laugh and cry by, die by. It is to each a unique song. Some sing better, some are almost tone deaf. Some never set the volume right. Others are a full orchestra. Some are simple notes. Others are complex chords.

     Once, a long time ago – time is relative, though, so the moment could be now – a particular rhythm caught my step, and I was on top of the world, four beats then two repeated as the riff for the full melody. Plans and worries did not exist in the young world – the future would play out; somehow matters would fall in place. For now, for then, it was the music of romance.

     Little things gave sustenance – a car ride; the goose bumps of just talking and listening when there seemed to be sync between two; she borrowed your jacket in the cold; moments of silence that were not uneasy but rather proof that two could chill, could let the 4/2 riff continue before the next conversation.

     In time, the music changed, at least the tune. It never died, but other scores were written elsewhere, with new songwriters.

     As with any mix of notes, melodies, the mind can replay a certain tune from a certain time, especially when the special riff pops into your head.

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

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‘PROGRESS’ AND MOLD

September 27, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Once in my parts, a section of the Northeast where as yet not all the woods have been bulldozed by “Progress,” we measured fall’s coming by morning humidity on the side of a white clapboard garage. The glisten was subtle, almost like a fine spray of matte lacquer, not the obvious, invasive, sweating droplets of August dog days. Accompanied by brisk air and the first whiff of turning leaves, those who enjoy changes in season were pleased.

Today, such dew still hits “Novelty-style” siding on the fewer white garages standing, but more often the glisten must endure co-ownership with an intensifying  summer ravage: green and black mold.

Summers in the Northeast seem much more humid (whether that be a condition of Progress or not), and the moist air particularly likes vinyl siding, which is Progress’ answer to repainting garages. Even the embossed woodgrain look provides shelter for water to tarry and invites mold to come stay a spell. Most of this mold is green, though it goes to dangerous black on some really humid sites. And while the north side is favored, mold creeps around buildings, cheered on by tree and shrub overgrowth that come to the Progress celebration.

Now if all this seems a metaphor for what comes in the swath of growth, of Progress, it surely is. The building lot, the raw material for Progress, includes centuries of trees, meadows and other vegetation, lowlands and highlands that the bulldozer often does not respect as to intended contour for good water runoff and proper land use. A house built on it may eventually be overgrown by poorly trimmed trees and close-foundation shrubs, and then the inevitable mold. Storms arrive and basement flooding or downed power lines result, the collateral of the march of Progress.

Of course, Progress can go in for annual check-ups, for maintenance, so that the quality of living in a nice home can be protected for both homeowners and the neighbors affected downstream. And not every property – in suburbia, in Gotham, in rural scape – is visited by mold, this metaphor for the general house cleaning required as homeowner responsibility. But, still, there’s more mold out there these days, it seems.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

 

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