ILLUMINATING THE MOOD

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Some of the older homes I walked into as a youngster had one- or two-bulb ceiling fixtures in the middle of the room, operated by a long pull chain that hit any tall fellow in the head. These lights, the fashion of the time when electricity first came to old houses in old villages, were literally illuminating after gas fixtures, but they were awfully harsh, directing shadows on people and furniture, as in the film noir treatment of a Raymond Chandler mystery.

So it is that I have erased any trace of ceiling fixtures in every home I’ve owned, save the kitchen. And even there task lighting not only makes for better veggie cutting but sets the mood. Kitchens, like living rooms, and certainly bedrooms, are all about mood.

My Spring Valley, N.Y., grandfather had a wonderful “standard lamp,” which others call floor lamps, but the British moniker sounds more accurate since movable lighting became common fare almost as quickly as did ceiling fixtures. It was the “standard” or normal lamp in, say, a living room. 

     Grandfather had his placed next to a large and comfy chair, and the 100-watt bulb seemed to provide the sun’s touch for many a youngster’s reading of the Saturday Evening Post or a New York City tabloid.

His lamp, like the original ceiling fixtures, had a pull chain, not a twist knob, not a push-pull contraption, both of which you fumble for in the dark, almost knocking over the fixture. Worse, still, would be the foot-operated button, which always seems to be under the couch.

The standard lamp in Spring Valley had a longish pull chain with a glass bauble at its end, which swung and hit the lamp’s upright pole three or four times. The light was easy to locate because of the glass and the chain itself. Its action was smooth, and during the 15 or so years I sat next to that standard lamp, the chain never failed. I can still hear the sound.

There was certainty in its action, yes, and also sureness that I would soon be comfortable in a chair where while others in the family talked, I could get lost in a tabloid or magazine.

Contrast that pull chain, which turned on a world of delight, to the dangling ones from ceiling fixtures that cast harsh light, the mysterious mood of which was dreary.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. Reach him at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is adapted from an earlier version.

THEY ‘SUNG’ FOR US

April 13, 2009

     There is no workplace rhythm – this necessary, life-sustaining tempo, this melody, this song – without the interplay of people. Bosses, the ordinary grunts, specialists, the guys and gals who do the job, or who do the job better than others, the slackers, the prima donnas, the ego-feeders and the ego-needers, the rear kissers, the independents, the saints, the sinners, the long-termers and the in-and-outs – all are essential to what makes a particular shop or store or business sing its anthem. Success, the name and reputation, the lasting memory ride on this music.

     In the old-style newspaper business, my craft, when editors “dummied” or sketched pages of stories, photos and graphics on style sheets that printers would try to follow in the upstairs composing room or the “backshop,” usually making corrections that resulted in a much better newspaper, we editorial types soon learned to “make a friend of a printer,” for you were sunk if you did not. No matter how accurate you thought your story lengths were, or how tight the pictures were cropped, and especially if you believed your headlines would fit the column space, once you stood next to the printer, that compositor making up your page in cast hot metal, you soon realized you weren’t worth a pot of ink.

     That’s when printers like Tom D’Auria and “Big John” DeSevo saved your ass, particularly on deadline. Tom, who was close in age when we worked together in the 1970s, and Big John, who was a bit older as we toiled in the 1970s-’90s, were originally linotypists or typesetters at a country then suburban newspaper named the  Rockland Journal-News in the 1950s and ’60s. They also did page makeup, placing type cast from molten metal in “chases” or forms, with photographic and advertising “cuts,” locking that heavy mass  with a special wrench and then sending the form to a “mat” maker. The mats were filled with cast lead in half-cylindrical shape to be placed on rotary presses for printing.

     That precision work gave way to photo-offset printing in the 1970s, and Tom and Big John became “paste-up artists” who laid down columns of type, photos, graphics and ads on full-size heavy-paper sheets, which were then photographed to produce offset printing plates made of tin. It was a less precise process than hot type and eventually was replaced by computer design direct to printing plate, the standard in newspapers today.

    In their time, printers like Tom and Big John, the former always making a joke and the latter puffing away on a cigar and working quickly, were your friends in composing, deftly trimming stories, rearranging the layout to make it jump, helping fill out headlines, etc. They assisted you in making deadline and getting the work done in what is the daily birth of a newspaper.

     Both Tom and Big John were affable people, two of the songbirds in the wonderful rhythm of the old and then changing newspaper composing room. Their banter, their yells for trims, for more type, set against the clank-clank of the Linotypes and then the whirring of the offset cameras, gave cadence to a craft.

     Few who read the old Journal-News out of 53 Hudson Ave. in Nyack, N.Y. knew Tom D’Auria or Big John DeSevo, for as in most jobs, the staff was unsung. Yet like the mason who sets the first block best, the foundation for any one day’s newspaper was assured by their presence. Gone now, both of them, as surely as is their style of newspaper composing, but I can still hear their music.

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

REMEMBERING FRIENDSHIP

October 1, 2018

 By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     Friendship recalled can be like the whiff of old wood that reminds you of your grandfather’s garage, or you come across a country farm stand and you remember apple-buying at the Concklin place, or you simply have a flash of memory that gives you goose bumps.

     Not all friendships last long enough, so they require some connection to bring recall. Some are lost on the way — life happens — and you would rather not have the memory return to your senses. Other friendships are best left to a short time, even a day, for the gem there, soon discovered and admired, cannot be kept polished. Too good to be true.

     And then there are those friendships that, once bonded, are in place for life, with frequent visits, family gathering shared, phone calls, now texts. The friend becomes a sister, a brother.

     The most undefinable friendships are the ships passing in the night, affecting those who almost bond with another but do not. Hands reaching out but not touching. If you believed in reincarnation, you might say the individuals had met before, perhaps were the deepest of friends, but in this life there is no need to do that again. Or maybe a future life will have you together, and the passing-by is just a taste of things to come.

     Once made, a friendship can give to each, take from each, share the other’s emotions, even the very being. 

    In some special friendships there is poetry, a reassuring hum, like when conversation flows easily and the silences, too, are reinforcing. Those are the friendships that cannot leave memory though there may be no contact. Even if there was hurt, which can happen in the truest of friendships because of ignorance, selfishness, immaturity, there is acknowledgement that there was a song, a reassuring rhythm in comforting routine; there was understanding that could bring goosebumps. You are forever grateful.

 

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

     

STILL, CROSSINGS ‘TOO FAR’

View Toward Gotham from the old Tappan Zee (Gunther)

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     The mighty Hudson River in New York, not a western route to Asia through the Northwest Passage as Hendrick Hudson hoped it would be in 1609, but to the great port of Albany, is now relatively beautiful, as the explorer found it. Once assaulted by industrial discharge, its waters are these days enjoyed by boaters and those who live in expensive housing along the shore as well as those who can get to the river’s edge and view sights from New York City to the Palisades escarpment, to Hook and Bear mountains, to West Point, enjoying many of nature’s gifts on both the eastern and western shores.

     The river is crossed by several bridges, including the newly opened twin-span Mario M. Cuomo, replacing the historically named Tappan Zee, built in 1955.  Both river crossings, from South Nyack to Tarrytown, were — are — controversial, and not only because the new one is named by a sitting governor, Andrew, for his father, also a former New York chief executive.

     There were two principal players in the decades-long buildup of the old Tappan Zee Bridge, which is an essential part pf the New York state Thruway, from Buffalo to the Bronx: the “progress” people, including land speculators, and, on the other side, those who sought to keep Rockland County semi-rural. The preservationists lost, and many of the old ways and more than 100 other homes and the South Nyack village downtown are long gone. But the “progress” people did not win, either, since hurried, poorly planned development has brought drainage, traffic, infrastructure and quality-of-life problems. And now there is the “graying” of Rockland, with an older population, development homes requiring renovation and perhaps not enough tax money going forward. No one knows what the future will bring, especially with the continuing decline of the middle class. Who will step up to rebuild and reinvigorate overbuilt Rockland?

     Yet interstate travel, especially trucks, the real winner in the construction of the Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge, will continue, and even a shiny new set of crossings across the Dutch “zee” or sea will not solve Rockland’s woes nor the growing traffic concerns and the utter need to renovate the Thruway in the county. The new spans may well prove to be bridges “too far.”

     The original $80 million Tappan Zee — $668 million in today’s dollars — camemto be because in the later 1940s New York Gov. Thomas Dewey proposed a super highway in the German “Autobahn” style, from Suffern/Hillburn, at the New Jersey border, to upstate New York, to foster commerce. But it soon became apparent that the Thruway bond holders could not be paid off without a big revenue source, and so the idea of extending the road to New York City via a Hudson crossing at South Nyack was quickly adopted, thus providing a nicely ringing “cash register.”

    Trouble was that non-quality materials and a cheap design were used to construct the Tappan Zee. Eventual overuse put the bridge in danger of major failure, and in October 2011, at the direction of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Thruway Authority and the New York State Department of Transportation jointly proposed the two new spans, which eventually will include pedestrian and biking lanes and lookouts for viewers.

     The “progress” legacy of the first crossing has not proven nearly as grand as first advertised, since rapid suburban growth has overtaxed local planners, zoners and the infrastructure. The new crossings will bring even more interstate travelers through geographically small Rockland, and there seems no benefit to residents. The interstate network will still have major flaws in the lower Hudson Valley region, and though a poorly planned and built 1955 crossing has been replaced by wonderfully engineered, safe structures, they will connect to overworked interstates on both sides of the Hudson.

     The first Tappan Zee was built as a “cash register,” not as a well-planned conduit for progress.” It witransfer that legacy to the new spans.

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

AROUND THE BEND

“IN THE FALL,” painting by AHG

By Arthur H. Gunther IIII

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

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 and nudge you to “do it again.”

The light is different, incrementally as the weeks pass, but soon the imperceptibility loses its subtlety, 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 as you get ready for warmer garments carried on your frame. That is natural to all, since the cave days.

But 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 who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is adapted from an earlier work.

WOMEN CAN SAVE US ALL NOV. 6

September 10, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     If I were a woman and it was Nov. 6, 2018, I would vote as if it were as important as childbirth, a fulfilling career, a great relationship or just being happy with whatever lifestyle was desirable. Those wishes aside, this is the time for women — it has arrived. We Americans require the strongest of female conviction and action — now.

     Suffrage is nearing its 100-year anniversary, at least for white women. The me-too movement is outing out boors and worse. Women with articulation are winning congressional nomination primaries in Boston and New York City. There are increasing revelations in male bastions such as the Catholic Church of abuses hidden by men. And there is a man in the highest office of the land who should have been kneed decades ago.

     Would that more women were in powerful seats. Would that more women were heard in their commonsense voice. Would that more women were recognized as not only equal to men but often superior. Would this were all so, and the nation, the world would not be so deeply in the horror it is.

    Some faiths honor the mother of renewed humankind. Children’s books hail the mom. Women are often the remembered teachers. Who tells us how to tie our shoes? Who wipes the tears?

     Then why do we — men, sometimes women — abandon their wisdom, their learned ways, their ingenuity, their gifts?

     Vote Nov, 6, men and women, but especially women. Vote for candidates, hopefully many female, who will insist on ordinary decency, who will push us all to our better side.

     It’s as if Mom is getting us ready for the first day of school. Clean clothes, lunch made and packed, and, most of all, the greatest, reassuring hug that carries us through the last day of school, even life. Women rock, and we all need more of their mojo now.

Vote.

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

 

‘GHOST LIGHT’

September 3, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     “Ghost lights” are the incandescents traditionally left on in darkened theaters, perhaps for safety though the superstition is more romantic, that the lit bulbs are for the ghosts  surely in every theatrical house.

     There isn’t an actor worth her/his emoting who won’t admit to that. Whatever well the thespian pulls from must include those who played the part before, or something like it; who uttered the very lines and showed the very expressions that become another’s because, though we are individuals, we also are products of others. Ghost lights, behind the open curtain during performance, cast upon the stage nevertheless, you see.

     So it is, too, in great buildings, like museums, like the White House where Abraham Lincoln, honest or not, has been seen by many occupants and visitors, including Winston Churchill. That the triumphs, the awful mistakes, the probable criminality, the end runs around democracy, even to save a republic, yet soaring, hopeful rhetoric and deed, too, are to be forever dismissed without karma is foolish thought. The ghosts are there, in that great house of the people, in this place where the elected leader is but temporary in a remarkable, continuing experiment.

     Though the ghost light at 1600 Pennsylvania is at present long off stage, for today’s performance is seeming endless with the light from smart phone tweets at 2 a.m., it will return. The lead actor will leave. The house will go dark, the light again left on. We will all get a good night’s sleep.

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

DO NOT TOLERATE INDECENCY

August 27, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     Whether a teacher would have made the schwachkopf write “I will think before I tweet” 100 times on the blackboard; whether a mother might have put soap in his mouth for his anti-humanity words; whether a woman would have kneed him for pushing himself as a barbaric lout, the verdict would be the same: There is no justification for a person of indecency as the leader of the free world.

     Forget political views; all have a place for debate and compromise and action in the White House. Forget that there have been other oafs, cheaters, liars, etc., at 1600 Pennsylvania. The entire point of a progressive nation, specifically this experiment of a republic, is to learn from mistakes and not repeat them.

     That the dummkopf-in-chief still occupies his position, after a tainted election, yes, but more so after racist, ignorant, false comment about government officials, ethnic groups, immigrants and almost everyone, defies reason. Resignation should have come instead of too many resigned to someone who would be long gone in private-business America.

     Those who believe in him are overlooking indecency because it is convenient to their views. Yet, no matter how strongly felt the loyalty, it is grossly, ashamedly misplaced, as surely as it was in 1933 for another fellow. 

     A strong economy may make one smile, even if the guy waving the flag does not admit the groundwork was laid before he came on the scene. The stock market may be soaring though the sand underneath may be slipping in regulation rollback. There may be low unemployment, though the jobs are relatively low-paid without pension and not enough health insurance. But exalt, if that is the cry in the stadium. 

      Just don’t let this fellow at the podium lead in the chanting. Chose another to rally your cry, as others of different political persuasion do the same this Nov. 6. The American way.

     The present indecency must be faced by a turning-away, an abandonment of the oaf, or we become that person in complicity. We sell our soul for a shiny set of clothes. What happens when we take them off?  

    Hawk  beliefs, surely, fight for them in the way the late John McCain did. But keep the principles of decency, as he showed us. 

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

       

     

BEING ALIVE …

August 20, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also appears on Facebook)

     A small room in Brooklyn, an old, cheap-to-rent apartment not far from the docks where a seaman could find work but today so expensive a neighborhood that one year’s pay in 1918 would not cover a week’s fancy dining; in that small room a child, a girl, was born to my Grandmother Mary Bonner Lyons. Patricia would live just months, the victim of the terrible worldwide Spanish flu epidemic.

     The pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people — about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed  20 million to 50 million, including about 675,000 Americans. There were no drugs or preventive vaccines. Public places, including schools, closed, people wore masks and funeral homes and cemeteries were overwhelmed.

     This just as the world was nearing the end of the Great War with its own unbelievable loss of life. More than a few probably thought “apocalypse.” Then a decade of heady, greedy false “prosperity,” followed by the awful Great Depression, which ended only because another world war created defense jobs.

     That the Aunt Patricia I never knew also did not live to see and interact with all that history, and some of what has come after is more than effect of circumstance. She may have helped discover a wonder drug. She may have raised children who were good people. Patricia might have made her younger sister, also named Patricia — my mother — smile.

     Pandemics, war, economic depression and very poor, even evil leadership take away promise, and that is why those living must seize the day.

     In a time when war, greed, challenges to the economy, unconquered disease and denial of human rights remain, actually a moment when there are strong forces determined to reverse progress, there is an imperative to do some good. Not as a do-gooder but as someone afforded air to breathe.

     Societies must advance in decency, and the way to do that is in the enlightenment of being alive.

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

NO FLUORESCENT LIGHTING

August 13, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Fluorescent lights never fit cafes where a small corner table has a lady sitting without fidget, staring a bit into space, her hands holding tight a hot cup of tea. A moment of reflection? Simply a shopping break? Waiting for someone? Has a romance ended? Did it fail to start? Or is it just a coldish day, and the stronger Irish tea available at this place suits a relative non-moment? Whatever the story, garish lighting will not do, in the cafe, in life.

     Ambiance is vital, a must, if there is to be purring, if the day can coast without hills, without downshifting, without gunning it. Special atmosphere is rare enough, and it can never come in a place with fluorescent lighting or the metaphor of that.

     Maybe a walk on a trail will do the trick, or some old-fashioned motoring,  conversation with another or with silence that is not uncomfortable, far from it, reassuring actually.

     It may be that a fire on a chilly night, tea at hand, maybe a small drink, something to read, alone but immersed in imagination. No fluorescent lighting.

    You’ve met up with a former colleague, from the days when daily output on the job, in the career, was steady, coming from a well-oiled machine, together. Recalling that mutual success brings calm, its own purring.

     The family is grown, moved away, even if just a few miles. You have done your job, they are good, giving people. Warming your hands around a cup of Barry’s tea is your reward. It’s more than enough.

     These are turbulent times, as has always been, though the present angst seems overwhelming, as if we have all been herded into a large holding area under harsh fluorescent lights.

     But teatime comes, you know. As the Irish proverb goes, “Life is like a cup of tea, it’s all in how you make it.”

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