ONCE THE QUIET MORNING

November 29, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
Contact: ahgunther@hotmail.com

We all have our time and mood anchors, those moments of memory that moor us in the ordinary as well as during the storms that hit our lives. Stress of any sort — financial, emotional, health — drive us to port, and we are grateful for the safe harbor. 

 When I was a youngster, one of my safer slips was early morning in winter, about 6:30, when the house heat had started to come up and I was rousing to get ready for elementary school. My working mother was already off, and my father, on the night shift, would be getting breakfast for my brother and me, a simple affair of Rice Krispies or hot oatmeal, as well as making our lunches. 

 In those years, when there might be a new school to attend (we moved around a bit), friends to make, classes to get used to, different woods to explore in the semi-rural areas in which we lived, having the routine of a small breakfast prepared by a busy dad, in a house just getting nice and warm, with the dark of winter yet to raise its nightshade on dawn, with the wonderful smell of my father’s fresh-brewed coffee and the sound of New York radio’s Martin Block on 1130 AM, there was reassurance that the day would proceed in good-enough fashion. 

 The scene was the same, you see, no matter where we lived, so it was one of those safe harbors. The available anchorage continued through high school, and the memory of it still comforts today. 

 When I was older but not far beyond my teen years, yet some seasons removed from my father’s breakfast morning routine, another early-day moment came my way and also reassured. 

 In that time, I drove a friend daily to a New York City college, and since one of my many faults happily did not include honking the horn for someone to come out, I was invited in to wait a short while. In the winter, the same sort as my youth, in the dark, I again felt the rising heat of a household and the strong whiff of coffee brewing as my friend’s mother prepared breakfast for her daughter. 

 Not much conversation passed between me, shy enough, and the mother, though it was more than what was said between father and son just 10 years or so before. Yet nothing had to be spoken. It was the reassurance of the moment. The memory of this woman’s welcome, as with my dad’s morning routine, was one of those small treasures available in the box that you open to begin your day. 

 A polished jewel, really.

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

‘DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER’

November 23, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

(contact/comment: ahgunther@hotmail.com)

     “Gimme rewrite!”

     Once, there was a “Front Page” in every community, newspapers and characters straight out of the famous 1928 play/movie by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, but now the city rooms are fast shutting their lights as the roar of the presses gives way to smart phone clicks and word/visual bites, blared gossip and falsehoods on social media instead of informed articles that can thwart democracy dying in darkness.

     Newspapers continue to disappear, some after a century of providing the who, what, where, when, how and why that is essential to the republic, victims of fewer readers and folk who prefer the immediacy of the iPhone. Victims of advertisers who flock to the internet. Victims of hedge-hunter investors who sell off newspaper assets for quick profit.

     Town boards, school boards, planning/zoning boards are not covered in depth any more, if at all, and so many shenanigans can occur in that dark. Newspapers also help bring communities together in local sports reports, feature stories, coverage that reinforces pride, the good news counterpoint to the crime news of imperfect humanity.

     The recent presidential election and Trump’s dictator-like assault on facts, his reliance on cultivating fear and worry and change and stroking it with false promise, was the swollen river difficult to cross as far fewer newspapers could offer facts. The depth of ignorance he mined is so very great, and the worry going forward is that it will lie like an ember until he or his like are next on the stage to ignite the real “fake news.”

     The bromide quote is that you shoot the messenger, and that’s why newspapers have always been derided. “You can’t believe what’s in the paper.” “Good to wrap the garbage in.” “Only liberals work at newspapers.” Common comment, and actually healthy, although not intended. Always question what you read, check things out, be skeptical, write a letter to the editor. Such is the forum of democracy.

     But embrace the messenger, too, for without the irreverent tribe of women and men who take names and poke and poke, only the con men will rule.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

                                     –30–

‘IS A PAINTING EVER FINISHED?’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Many painters don’t title their works or provide only cryptic ones, perhaps  because they do not know what the pieces say, preferring that their “language” speak for itself. Maybe even tell the artist what “it” means. And, besides, it may be in the eye of the beholder anyway. 

     Is a painting ever finished?

     Take this piece. I can offer various stories for my “Woman on the Stairs,” as can anyone. 

     When I paint, I usually do it from a “flash” — something I’ve seen quickly, on the street, in a film, in a magazine or on social media. It’s like writing these columns. A flash of thought comes, and I build a narrative. In that, as in my newspapering days, I “make deadline” and move on to the next cycle. Some of the output is better than others, as are newspaper days. It all gets done — and forgotten. Wrap the fish in newsprint.

     Since I am trying to get better at painting, I usually post an image for comment on Facebook and Instagram. Typically receiving a handful of replies, some prove critical, which is great. Humility can be a kick in the rear, but it is instructive. After the wounds are licked.

     And the comments show varied interpretation, which is also great.

     For example, the painting with this column had some viewers seeing a woman on the edge of a bed, not the top of stairs; one said it was “racy,” to which I replied, “Hope so” since the physical is present in everything; “She looks like she can’t take it any more” offered another viewer; a “non-political piece about pure beauty,” said another, and yes, the woman is beautiful, as all women are; and “alluring.” Yes, that too. What woman isn’t if you care to find out?

      My take is that the woman in the painting is just thinking, in quiet, in her space. She’s happy. You can fill in the blanks should you care to.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ANY COMMENT TO: ahgunther@hotmail.com

   –30–

JOE, KAMALA ARE IN; NOW THE PEOPLE

November 10, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Joe is in, so is Kamala. Next, it’s gotta be the people.

     Kamala Harris cannot have her office in Washington, where the K-Street lobbyists and other special interests buy elections and pull strings for clients from domestic to foreign, from the military to the industrial.

No, the first female vice president, the first person of color in that office, must establish rotating offices in the heartland, in the inner cities, in those suburbs that are decaying. She must help push the right buttons to restore dignity to those who have lost manufacturing and other jobs; she must help address the lack of job retraining and affordable health care, the scourge of substance abuse, the loss of hope. Harris must hug beyond red tape those who face despair, even suicide. Do all this from a regional vice-presidential office with direct access to the president, agencies and officials who can make progress happen.

     What must Joe Biden do? Many things, of course, since a president must lead the nation in all matters domestic and foreign. And he has an even stiffer job since such presidential action and example have not been seen for four years.

     Biden must get the people “in,” in the war room of actual change, by creating a new cabinet post, “Secretary of the People,” as powerful as the Secretary of State. It would be filled by someone who advises the president, who can bring to that person’s ears the drowned-out voices of all the diverse people.

     If there were such a secretary sitting with other counselors of government, perhaps the White House cocoon that is inaccessible these days to ordinary folk would at long last have an inside person to get to the president.

     To prevent special-interest wooing of the Secretary of the People, the post would be held for just one year, with the president appointing each successor from somewhere in ordinary America. The chief executive would not select the individual himself, but rather an independent, volunteer group would search the nation far and wide and make a recommendation. Senate ratification would be almost a given, in the spirit of cooperation and to avoid lobbying by groups sure to be hurt by “common sense.”

     Special interests already have their counselors, appointed and otherwise. Why not the people? Perhaps there is no other way to gain access to the White House for them.

     Joe and Kamala are in; now the people, too.

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

                                  –30–

THE GATHERING OF DECENCY

      November 2, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     It should be un-American to hate, to be a bigot, to let fear and want from loss of job and community change to bully others from speaking, to let your religion tell you it is right to exclude non-believers. It should be un-American, but it is not.

     Trump has said such thought, such behavior, IS American, a not-so-subtle reaffirmation that white is good, and only white is good. And his way of boosting his ego. Trump is only about Trump.

     No matter that except for Native Americans, we are all immigrants on stolen land, paved over in the march for “progress” and white manifest destiny.

     It has been wholly convenient in our short U.S. history to deny our racism. Cities were built. Industries rose. Opportunity increased. Great advances were made in technology, medicine, the standard of living. And, admittedly, in human relations. But all at the cost of ghettos, the poor, the disenfranchised, the drug-addicted, the mentally afflicted, chased from sight so we could live the white version of “progress.”

     When, in the course of growing maturity in this American democratic experiment, the one envisioned by the founders, we saw leaders like Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy trying to cast light on the neglected, telling us the debt must be paid for paving over paradise and putting in a parking lot, we shot them.

     Now in the age of Trump, who would never sit down at Mar-A-Lago with the white victims of job loss and poverty, the crowds he lies to in false promise, there must be a reckoning. We must face our sins.

     Far-right, greed-driven politicians, long-removed from the Dwight Eisenhower era of progressives and compromisers, today join special-interest lobbies ruling from K-Street offices in D.C., deliberately obstructing change that would help the middle class, the generational poor, minorities and the fully forgotten. While this influence is at work in both political parties, it is truly sinister in the hijacked GOP. The Democrats are flawed, yes, but they are currently capable of seeing the error of their ways.

     The nation’s bleeding offers perhaps the last moment to turn the tide in special-interest influence, in a Republican Party that has lost its way, in a Democratic Party that offers decency, and thus hope, in Joe Biden.

     We must, in this election, begin to reclaim government for the people, to defeat racism, to educate, train and provide jobs for forever-neglected African-Americans, Native Americans and other minorities, including poor whites.

     The money is there — in the vaults of the super-rich. The “hope” is there in articulate voices, particularly women today.  The means are there in this nation that overcame a civil war, the Great Depression and led the world 1941-’45. We can devise a plan of action, as FDR did, as the Marshall Plan did for post-war Europe.

     The timing is right. Flip the switch Tuesday. Begin the gathering of decency.

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

                 –30

HUMILITY AND SERVICE

Hugh Bonner’s funeral, St. Patrick’s Day, 1908, NYC

October 26, 2020

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     I am partly of Bonner heritage, Irish through my grandmother Mary and also Scot as the family was Bonnar there before some went to Donegal. This matters to me mostly, in 2020 especially,  because I am distantly related to Mary’s Great-Uncle Hugh Bonner, the first chief of department of the newly formed Fire Department of New York and later the sixth fire commissioner. It matters because this is a dramatic, pivotal election year, and this is the United States, the nation that has the “welcoming” Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor. It matters because I want to see more Hugh Bonners — white, black, brown, red, yellow, female, transgender, gay, straight in humble service.

     And it matters because Bonner, who passed of pneumonia in March 1908, after working a job — yet another Gotham blaze — was a man of humble service who rose from immigrant roots in the Irish Great Hunger and the poverty of crime-ridden Five Points in Manhattan to help direct the heroism of the fire department and to offer lifesaving tools without claiming patent. He also authored a  treatise on fighting fires in tenements with central light shafts that acted as chimneys when there was a blaze. Those shafts were banned in future construction, saving many lives.

     The New York Times’ report of Bonner’s passing noted that he “owed his position in the department to his high sense of duty.”  A Times editorial read: “In Hugh Bonner this community has lost a man who placed its Fire Department at the head of similar organizations in the service of the world’s great cities. He ran New York’s first self-propelling fire engine and its first chemical engine; he operated the first water tower ever used; he invented the life net and various devices for reaching the heart of a fire more quickly … New York proudly mourns his death.”

     It is the accident of birth that brings this humble man of service to my lineage, but knowing his history makes me more deeply bow to the great possibilities of people rising from hunger and want who grow to serve through stacked odds. That’s my kind of nation, and I tremble that it will disappear in the current indecency of false prophets. 

     Today, so many potential Hugh Bonners  do not survive to achieve; so many are pushed aside, wounded and killed by racism, prejudice, by the greedy who send their jobs away, by the elected who don’t walk the talk of equal opportunity, by the fakers who proclaim rescue while picking the pockets of the gullible.

      Hugh Bonner is why I voted so proudly in this presidential election.

     

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

                   –30–

SYNCHRONICITY

October 19, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In another century, it seems, there were conversations about everything yet nothing of great import. Those two were not going to solve the world’s problems nor were they going to impress each other with pontification. Even the exact words did not matter, for it was the expectation that long drives and long talks would be a Friday and Saturday evening routine that counted most. It was that and the rhythm of it all.

     And the silences between many spoken — and heard — paragraphs were welcome as well, accepted not as moments where either had nothing more to say but as a minute or two or five to savor what already was said, much like you do in a several-course dinner.

     Now all this may seem remote, unimportant and unconnected to the reader, but you have been there. Recall when you were with someone and felt more than comfortable. There was trust, reinforcing habit and a feeling of mutual worthiness. 

     I guess for some in such situations the conversations and their routine might be the stuff of romance, though in that case perhaps fewer words the better. But goose bumps can come from talk alone.

     Even if the romantic is never reached or even proves impractical, it cannot be denied that two people purred in common language for a long moment, once upon a time.

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

THE ROAD

October 12, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is a road on the South Mountain, a winding, hilly journey that has long defined the lives of farmers and artists. It is the plan of the gods for there is little difference between the two nurturers who plant and harvest that which is from nature.

     In life there is also such a road for us, though the actual route may simply be a metaphor. Windings, hills, downward slopes, fertile ground, seeds sown, watched over, the harvest — all are part of life in degrees. Storms, too. Drought, poor soil, inattention, that “reap what you sow” whisper from off-stage.

     Then there is what some call the divine, or at least intended, meant to be. The road comes into your life. It takes you for a ride. You leave for other byways, but you return in moments of reflection to the original route.

     There is an actual South Mountain Road near me, in New York State, descending from the Concklin Orchards at Pomona to the slopes of High Tor mountain across from Dutch Town in Haverstraw. “The Road” has been home to playwright Maxwell Anderson, artist Henry Varnum Poor, actors and others gifted as those who describe the human void. There is magic in such creation, as there is atop the hill in the 1700s Concklin farm spread.

     My father would drive us along South Mountain, my brother and I rolling side to side in a 1939 Dodge as Dad maneuvered the turns. In high school, I rode a bike there in great effort. In early romance, there were walks and talks and silence and hope and goose bumps of a summer.

     In the working years as a newspaper stiff there were the photographs I took of road celebrities, the writing, the commentary.

     In retirement there have been stylized photos and paintings.

     All in all, quite a few decades of pull from The Road at South Mountain. I thank the gods.

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

CURIOSITY

 

October 5, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Curiosity, we are warned, killed the cat, but the naysayers never tell you about the nine lives.

Curiosity was a welcome trait for Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, who thought out of the box, who applied independent, non-conformist learning skills to their journey.

Einstein’s son Hans Albert said that his father was “withdrawn from the world even as a boy.” Had he been the traditionalist, he might have ended up a fine professor instead of spending 10 years daydreaming about gravity and the speed of light and whether a fellow saw himself in a mirror the same way traveling through space as he would moored to earth. His E=MC squared formula might not have been written. And, so, the good, and as Einstein noted, the bad in “progress.”

Thomas Edison tinkered in his lab with a similarly inspired staff, trying this and that out of curiosity much more than straight applied science. Had he followed strict dictum, he and his people might have given up. If they had let curiosity kill the cat the first time out on light bulb filaments, there would have been no ninth life, no pushed curiosity that found carbonized thread as the winner. And then there was light, literally.

Edward Hopper, the famed American realist painter whose works of solitude are so especially defining to the crazy world right now, spent long, non-painting months in utter curiosity, going to 1930s movies, peering out his Washington Square studio window, looking away from the sea at South Truro, Mass., walking Gotham’s streets and reaching into his file cabinet of a mind for human and architectural sketches filed on so many trips of curiosity. He took what he needed, and when the time was right, he brushed in strokes of interpretation that make us shiver.

So, I say to all of you, especially the young yet unspoiled by too many limiting rules: Go for it – be curious, day dream, move to a different, unique place in your mind. Be independent, dare to “go to infinity.” This America, in particular, this nation right now in a time of virus, in this suffering moment of wrongs and inequalities, needs your innovation.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

‘HARSH TRUTH’

September 28, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

The “American Dream” has always been “just white,” and until the nation admits that, some of those who have arrived will keep people of color and immigrants from success. And some of those who do achieve the dream, no matter the ethnicity, the skin tone, become “just white” in their thinking, unconsciously or not. Until that, too, is recognized, strong areas of white superiority, with all the hatred, racism and fear, will rule — by whites and non-whites — on the “right side of the tracks.” Harsh truth.
Securing the American Dream in our earlier history was in part a horror story because it brought the displacement and genocide of Native Americans and was built on slavery as well, yet there is also the undeniable human advancement in this great experiment set by our founders, which has given the full world benefits as well. This movement was born out of old European religious persecution and non-responsive government. Its journey has assured progress, fulfilling manifest destiny in this land of always seeking a new frontier. Material and social growth, witnessed by the forging of the Civil War and after, the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the great rising of a middle class post-World War II, were possible because of the Dream. It gave us the can-do spirit of World War II. It brought us respect and leadership in the world.
But as with all such achievement, once inside the new house, the well-kept community, the land of good schools and no tenements, too many who get in close the door. You are the new white man, not even the white woman, and the kind from which you came have no seat at your table. Harsh truth.
We are not a “melting pot,” nor should we be. The “melting” reference is really saying, “become just white.” No, we absolutely must be diverse — it is the strength of humanity — but surely with the common purpose of equality, opportunity in a land of promise, a continuing experiment begun by the founders. Until that becomes the true American Dream, an inclusive one that also addresses horrible wrongs against Native Americans, we will have nightmares, as 2020 is showing us. This is the time to make the American Dream all the colors of the rainbow.

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