A RESETTING

May 20, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

One snowy evening a long time ago, with the temperature not so low that a walker would freeze and not so high that there would be rainy ice, and with the flakes delicate and inviting, I took a lengthy walk in Hillcrest, N.Y., just to chill — not to be cold but to find a bit of calm, like the purring a contended cat might seek curled up on the couch. (I do think that’s when cats recharge.)

The walk took about two hours, and in those days not one car was met. I made the only tracks down Karnell Street to State to Hillcrest Avenue to Route 45 to Williams Avenue to Hempstead Road to Brick Church to Route 306 to Viola Road to Eckerson to State and back to 25 Karnell.

No high blood pressure in those days, but if there had been, the walk in that magnificent, fresh, descending-from-the-heavens beauty would have dropped me to 100/60. Even the pulse rate would have been low, because in the unmeasured cadence of a leisurely walk I anticipated no surprise, just a real oneness with nature, a private journey that made living worth while. 

Whatever war, poverty, horror, tragedy there was in the world, whatever personal troubles existed for anyone, including me, all would be there when I reached home and the ordinary motor of life again kicked in. There would also be the exhilaration of living, too, the highs, the good works of humankind.

For the moment, though, in those two hours of calm walking in gently falling snow, there was a reset, at least for one person.

I found that just one street into the walk but the true embrace, the needed hug, came as I passed the barn at the Brown orchard near Viola Road. It had stood a long time, it was simplistically beautiful. It especially made the walk a reaffirmation.

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

TAKING TO THE ROAD

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Blauvelt to West Nyack, N.Y. — Along the Western Highway, simply named centuries ago because so few roads existed that there was no need to use developers’ favored children’s monikers, a three-mile walk to the great hullabaloo of suburban growth that is a major shopping center brought quiet that you can never get in a car here, even an effortless, whisper-like electric model.
I had an errand to run and someone to meet at a mall, and I drive enough locally to hit 16,000 miles yearly, so, on a decent day, with sun out and the humidity not yet oppressive even in the 70s, I combined exercise with contemplation. It was a trip of nostalgia, history, appreciation and relief. It was also hairy at times since Western Highway is a major road that has endless traffic, no sidewalks in my area and motorists who think they are racing for a pot of gold, so fast they drive.
Western Highway is as famous as many others in roads in this nation. Washington and  Lafayette went down it in wagons. It led to the major Northeast supply depot for the Continental Army. President Martin Van Buren, dining at the Clarksville Inn, came along. Long before that, of course, the original Native Americans forged the trail, and the Dutch built sandstones along it. One such house, the old Leiper manse, was a stopover for U.S. Army personnel and family during World War II, as it was near Camp Shanks, the largest Army embarkation port in the world. The Order of Battle for the D-day invasion was set at Shanks.
When I was a child of the 1940s-’50s, my father would take us to look at Shanks’ remains, then called Shanks Village as it became housing for returning GIs studying under the GI Bill at Columbia University. Situated along  Western Highway, Shanks Village was visited by university President Dwight Eisenhower, who called it “the best damn place to live in the world.”
Also along the road, the Hackensack River wanders in and out of a marsh, or what remains of one after suburban development. Species of the same birds and critters, including long-living turtles, call the marsh home. It offers the greatest peace on Western Highway, for looking at it is the reverse of studying “progress.”
It took just about 40 minutes of my Western Highway walk to get to the hullabaloo of noise, commerce and people that is the area shopping mall, but by then I was fortified enough by the appreciation of what has happened over the centuries along my old road. You see so much more on a walk than a drive.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com. This essay includes earlier writing.

DEDICATED TO GINNY

May 7, 2018

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In the tucked-away room, in the original attic, was a very tall radiator and a very small rocking chair where the ghost, quite friendly, dwelled much of the time, looking out the long window or seeing through herself in the mirror high above the radiator.

     No one saw the ghost except Ginny’s grandchildren, who, not yet educated away from imagination, knew no boundaries in flight and fancy. In playtime, in alone-time, one or two or three would run up the stairs and into the tucked-away room and exist with the ghost.

     It wasn’t that conversation was exchanged with the ghost, not back and forth-like, but that things, thoughts, feelings were understood. It was like Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, the imaginary world in which a fortifying foundation for the coming rigors of adulthood can be built. 

      The ghost, this friendly non-being, not in the world but also not out of it, was as real to the youngster(s) playing in the tucked-away room as were apple juice and brownies. The children were not afraid, for they had not yet been taught that, and the young are simply accepting.

     Ginny, though well-grown and having lived a long life of responsibility, had come to a time when the rhythm was slower and she could again hear the music of her own childhood. And, so, she put together the tucked-away room in the attic of her Clinton Avenue  home, with a very tall radiator and a very small rocking chair.

     She knew, as surely as she saw the curtain drawing, that her own reality would become something else, perhaps akin to that of unfettered childhood. Ginny herself might enter the tucked-away room and know the ghost, too.

     Her grandchildren were never in doubt there, though the door would beckon as adulthood neared, and Ginny would enter as they departed.

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

WHY SOME PAINT

“1956, Pink and Gray”

May 1, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumrule.com

Art — painting — is like life: abstract, realistic or symbolic, captured fragments of what could be a full conversation or perhaps just the wisps of one. Sometimes you want the dialog, and sometimes the mystery.

Why someone morphs his/her own earthly moment into painting is probably best, maybe only, answered by a bigger force. But it is not the reason why that counts; it is the fact that the artist is there, that there  is compulsion to paint, that hands and fingers move to the rhythm of creating.

It may be — it often is — that the creation itself is not noteworthy to others, even to the artist. Yet, surely as we speak and write and draw and make facial expressions and do anything else human, painting needs no justification for its being.

In other times, perhaps ages beyond, what was dismissed may be seen in different light, and its language is then understood. So, work produced and thrown in a drawer in one era may, after decades of dust, prove worth another look. Or it may be summarily dismissed.

Artwork has its relative place anywhere, any time because it is the voice of someone, whether we want to listen, to tolerate, to ignore. But it is still there, as is every sentence uttered, every expression made.

We all creative for we are human. Some speak eloquently. Some draw. Some make things. Some hold others’ hands when necessary. Some create by a nod of approval, for that is engendering affirmation and so creating a path forward. And as with a painting, it may be years later that the gift is recognized.

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

THE ‘INDECENT’ REPUBLIC

April 23, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

The decency that was Barbara Bush, the late first lady, is in sharp contrast to the White House norm these days. That has to be said whether you are the tearful liberal Democrat or the Tea Party fellow or gal swallowing an ultra-conservative energy drink. This republic, in 1776 intended to be a democracy but stumbling more than ever, needs no bad manners.

Let the political philosophies hang out. Have debate. Show each other up on the ‘facts,’ fake news, prejudice and also what is so very true and fine about elements of liberalism, conservatism and the great moderation in between where most of America would like to hum.

This country was born in controversy, in argument, in voice that was spoken by a nation ever moving toward uncharted frontier, away from the forced tradition and heavy thumb of English royalty. But this America was also conceived in decency at least the pursuit of it.

Yes, insults along the way, deliberate falsehood, by candidate and by government, but by and large there have been corrections on hatred, according to time period.

The hatred of slavery was given blessing by government. Immigration prejudice against the Chinese continued for decades. Yet the error of our collective ways was finally discovered, and actions taken toward ending discrimination.

This republic of ours, though faulted because we are living creatures of both good and bad, even evil, has made great progress in seeking decency for all.

Now, there seems a deliberate indecency, a rabble-rousing call to summon our worst fears, our deepest prejudices, our uneducated ways that have us believe gossip, fake news, so quickly.

No matter what your political philosophy, no matter what you sincerely believe will make this nation greater, we should all reject a voice that, in translation, tells us to round up and lynch certain of our fellow humans.

The nation’s founders would have us continue the debate they began on the purpose of the republic — these days on taxes, employment, social programs, immigration, foreign conflict. They would have each of us have our say, from the poorest to the richest. They would not have us mired in an indecent land of deliberate hate meant to turn one against the other, meant to dismantle the republic.

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

SEEK INFORMATION AND LIVE FREE

Reading History in the Fog

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

If true readers were the only people newspapers and Internet information providers had to be concerned about, there would be little reason for this essay. They are hooked on the news, educated and brought up and matured to understand the value of a free press in a free society, warts and all. An imperfect world, but what would be the alternative? Therein lies a great danger, because such readers are becoming rare, especially among younger people.

Since printing began and the first sheets of paper brought news to individuals, private companies could count on people to buy enough dailies and weeklies to keep the print profession going; to support advertisers; to hold circulation stable. Now there are too few of these readers.

The Computer Age and the Internet, the IPhone, video games, the many morphings of television and especially social media with gossipy, often misleading or fake word bites all snatch concentration time away from people, who seem busier than ever with seemingly endless schedules. There are fewer lunches spent with a newspaper; fewer evenings after dinner in an easy chair with the editorial page or columnists; fewer open pages of The Daily This or That spread across the kitchen table.

Now it’s the constantly-on smart phone. In milliseconds, much information appears —  too much, too quickly. “News” is read in headlines and short paragraphs, barely digested. Photographs and other images steal viewer time, reducing the brain’s word count.

This means fewer print readers and fewer newspapers sold, putting some out of business. What were once cash-cow operations that left the newsroom to do its job without interference are stockholder-driven companies that enact cuts everywhere and which call their papers “products” requiring front-office managing by non-newspapermen so as to guarantee the bottom line. Once the city room was a church of sorts, an information sanctuary, left unsullied by businessmen who could never understand news people anyway. But the ink-stained wretches made money for the bosses. Now they don’t make enough for the greed coffers.

More than ever, newspapers are decided by profit, and that affects what to cover; how deep reporting goes; how thorough the editing, if any, is; and whether the traditional “who, what, when, where, how and why” of journalism will continue as necessary creed or whether one or two of the pillars of fact-gathering fall to cost-cutting, thereby weakening the story and journalism itself. And democracy.

The Computer Age, with its great but flawed ability to offer “facts” and commentary so quickly; to spread such information around the globe; and to keep it in reference form that eventually can out the wrong-doers presents an opportunity to add to individual knowledge and so empower him or her to self-educate. And since education leads to questioning, the hope is that the Internet’s ever more vast store of words, data and images will make our younger people more like the newspaper readers of other years — those who think.

The challenge for newspapers is to present Internet information in such a way as to make the reader interactive, to want more details, to then ask questions in e-mail letters, in Internet forums and blogs.

There will always be a thirst for information. Humans have craved news since the first of us scrawled something on a rock wall. And businessmen will always want to make a profit. If they can do that in the information-delivery business, fine. Might even make some of them feel a lofty goal is being met.

What we all must do, whether we are the kind who grew up with three newspapers a day in the house seven days a week or if we are online perusers of news, is to support information delivery. Buy newspapers. Read them. Turn on the Internet but truly seek information and understand it, and then question. The “who, what, when, where, why and how”  still must be satisfied.  We must read, in print or online, then  react. And most of all, if there is no “why” or “how,” if any key word in the pursuit of a free and open press is missing, we must let the bean counters in the media know.

Otherwise, the free press will lose the ammunition it needs to keep us safe from individuals and groups seeking to control the information flow for their own anti-democratic, greedy purposes. They would rather not have the media watching them as they dismantle democracy.

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman. Reach him at ahgunther@hotmail.com  ahgunther@yahoo.com

OF TWO SEASONS

April 9, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Spring has not yet sprung in this part of the Northeast, a bit north geographically of New York City but with a history and flavor set distinctly apart. There may be daffodils in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, especially in the wonderful Botanical Gardens, but they do not compare to those once grown in the Burns greenhouses off Second Avenue, Spring Valley.

That was a long time ago, so many springs past but even a long winter of discontent, of snow and cold, cannot remove the scent of its moment.

Schoolchildren in that area back in the day attended either the North Main Street School or St. Joseph’s parochial. I was at the former, and come spring the walk home was sometimes changed from a straight run up Main to Hillcrest to a longer, leisurely hike up Ewing Avenue then down toward Pascack Road. This took me to the back of Slinn Avenue and the woods there, filled in early spring with daffodils, presumably from the large commercial Burns holdings.

By my time, so much of that was gone, and the “Hill” area of Spring Valley in Rockland County, N.Y., was soon to see explosive housing growth, part of the post-World War II boom. My moment with the daffodils was just two short seasons.

Appropriate, actually, as I was growing up and soon any flowers for a mom would naturally move to flowers for a girl or two. 

Yet in those two spring moments, with the beautiful emergence of seasonal renewal tempting enough to take a longer walk home, a few daffodils were picked and given to a mother who truly deserved so much more.

 

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

KETCHUP ‘PASSED MUSTARD’

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

It may seem hilarious and even back-woodsy, but there was a moment, a long one, when at 2 a.m. in a diner, say Hogan’s in West Nyack, N.Y., when you instinctively pulled up your feet as the floor guy came by, splashing Clorox and water at the terrazzo floor. Hey, if he hit your shoes, they were washed too — for free.
Hogan’s, the old one, the place that looked like Edward Hopper’s image of a diner, was not fancy, although the food, short order mostly, was so well practiced a craft there that it could have been cordon bleu. Hogan’s would not be fancy — it’s clientele would not have that. It was just a down-to-earth comfortable joint, and joint was OK. It connected the dots in your life.
I’d sometimes hit the place after my photographer shift at the also old, original Rockland Journal-News in nearby Nyack. I might sit at the counter, where stools were placed on a bulkhead, so you didn’t worry about the floor guy. Other times I was too tired for that and needed a rest at my back, so I took to one of the 8 or 10 booths along the defining front windows of the railway car-like diner.
Also at about 2 a.m., the waitress would come by and swing a fresh bottle of ketchup across the table, and you hardly noticed that either, reflexively reaching for it with left hand while grabbing the near-empty with the right and then swinging that back to her in a return shot. You did this with the sugar, too.
It was life in an old diner, and if you were a regular like me, you were family, so you helped out. You may not have known the cook, the waitress, the floor guy by name, but a wink or nod was all you needed to keep in touch anyway. Diners weren’t much about talking.
Ketchup was a quality marker in the old diners. Hogan’s used fresh stock to refill, but some others watered the mix. Aficionados, and they went to old diners, too, understood that ketchup, a freshly filled bottle, had to be slapped at the bottom to get the flow going. Or you could use the old slide-in-the-table-knife trick. If a full bottle poured easily, it wasn’t choice.
Like everything else at Hogan’s, the ketchup passed mustard. In that, and in the place itself, the new day’s anchor was set at its mooring for night newspaper stiffs like me.

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

 

JERRY DONNELLAN

March 26, 2018
By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

The “Barn Playhouse” at the original, small Rockland Community College campus in Viola, N.Y., was left over from the self-sufficiency days of the county Almshouse, the home for the aged and the poor and the near-infirm. In 1966, it had become the center for theatre arts run by the talented James Naismith. It was also where I first met Jerry Donnellan, the late director of veterans services, a properly revered man for all his accomplishment.
As a Journal-News photographer assigned to take a publicity shot for an upcoming production, Naismith brought me to a small table with a 40-watt bulb barely lighting the script. The barn itself had little illumination, and focusing my camera was difficult, but the student at the table made it easy, quickly helping me set up a shot that told the story. He was Jerry Donnellan, son of two native Irish and even then full of wit.
Not long after that assignment, Jerry would be drafted, and his biggest production would begin, this time on the stage of life.
In October 1969, Jerry was shot and hit with a grenade in Vietnam’s central highlands, leaving him barely alive, without his right leg and full of shrapnel. A long rehabilitation followed, then an amazing career as a stage manager for Frank Sinatra.
In the later 1980s, about 20 years after I took Jerry’s photograph at RCC, he, the newspaper and I would meet again when he walked into the West Nyack newsroom, asked for the Editorial Page editor and sat down with me.
Jerry had helped organize the Rockland Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America and was wondering if The Journal-News could assist in getting the word out. So, again, Jerry and I were meeting for publicity purposes, neither of us recalling the 1966 photo assignment.
The later 1980s was the beginning of a more educated look back at Vietnam, that unnecessary war driven by government that hid the facts and the need. The unpopular conflict brought protests and confused the warrior with the war. Returning military were spat upon, and for years Vietnam veterans did not get their due, as World War II vets had. Jerry was determined to change that, and fortunately, Rockland government, especially C. Scott Vanderhoef, the former county executive, saw Jerry’s potential and agreed to help.
The newspaper assisted, too, especially through the efforts of Paul Janensch, then executive editor. Stories and editorials were written. Jerry was named Rockland veterans affairs director, and in that long-serving role he created innovative programs copied across the nation, such as veterans’ clinics.
But Jerry Donnellan’s most significant achievement was in sharing his soul with his fellow vets, from all wars, all eras. That was his mission, and he knew it. The day Jerry was so severely wounded, with a lifetime of pain and night sweats ahead, the gods signed him to an enlistment he could never quit until he passed away and saw his old dad again, and his buddies.
He was among those who survived, this Jerry Donnellan, this not-sold on the Vietnam War, average RCC student with admitted warts. He lived, though he thought he would die. For that, he somehow knew there would be payback, and though Jerry spent many working years in the Sinatra days and nights, the gods finally rang the bell and said, “Jerry, time to make the doughnuts. Organize those loosely set, long-disrespected Vietnam-era brothers and sisters and help them stand tall, as they deserve to do.”
It was not their fault that a country reeling from JFK’s lost youth initiative and disillusioned by a military that did not have Ike’s understanding of war would spit at the citizen soldier who turned up at the Whitehall Street induction center and elsewhere, did his job and maybe came home. It was Jerry’s time, when he rallied those vets, and then the gift of organization became evident and he was given the county job.
It was his mission, his reason for being. Hell, maybe he was wounded and maybe he survived so he could do the job.

The gods are proud of him. Anyone who ever knew Jerry Donnellan is proud, even those you argued with him. His mojo happened.
RIP, sir. Your service has been fulfilled. May your soul be at God’s right hand, Irishman.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

THE REAL WAY TO ‘THANK’ VETERANS

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Why does war often begin with a parade and end with one? At the first, youthful excitement, naiveté, innocence, natural inclination and lack of experience and judgment as to horror fuel the adrenalin of patriotism as the quick steps of those who would save the world or avenge a wrong rush to enlistment. On the return, slow march, the wounded, the hardened, the ones now in the know, step forward arm in arm with the ghosts of the fallen, accepting the gratitude of a citizenry that can never grasp the horror of conflict for they were not there.

In each parade, organized first by fever and then on return by politicians, there is the constant cadence of background music for “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the 1930 American film based on a book the previous year by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of the First World War.

The novel, the film, describe the extreme mental and physical stress of the battleground and how civilian life is never the same for many, if not most veterans. The book and movie may be about an older war, the frightening technology of which is far surpassed today, but a young, as they now say “warrior,” mind was then as now a heartbeat from the mother’s womb and embrace. It is easily and perhaps irreparably damaged.  Read or see “All Quiet …,” and you know today’s story for post-Iraq and Afghanistan U.S. vets.

The genuine reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, events brought a surge of young people who enlisted for the cause in a parade of honest patriotism for conflicts now recognized as both debatable and mismanaged, war that put us into debt when we need investment for a shrinking middle class, infrastructure and quality of life. And certainly for veterans’ care.

Now, yet another parade is planned in Washington by a president who, like me, never saw war, as a tribute to all who serve and have served. Who can deny these vets their march down Pennsylvania Avenue? Who would not feel pride and a moment of gratefulness for the men and women who went off so willingly and quickly? But the cost alone, perhaps $10 to $30 million, could feed all homeless vetrans for several weeks.

When the parade is over, when our veterans are home alone with their nightmares, thinking of lost comrades; when so many are unable to get or hold a job; when a major national newspaper reports that one U.S. veteran commits suicide almost every hour; when brain-damaged or emotionally disturbed warriors barely exist with seizures and drugs as long waits for woefully underfunded and bureaucracy-laden care never seem to end; when we forget our veterans except to give them a parade, how “quiet”  are we the American people? Too quiet.

Rather than a parade, every American should take a vet to lunch, or buy him or her a coat, or obtain medicine or give a hug. That would be real “thanks”.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is adapted from an earlier piece..