‘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

THE INCOMPLETE UMBRELLA

Acrylic on canvas/gunther

 

September 21, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is at least a single incomplete umbrella in anyone’s life, no pole leading to canopy, a metaphor for incompleteness, perhaps something unfinished or just plain out of sight to anyone but you.

     The journey taken, the one ahead, the one under way, well that’s yours, and you alone are the master of its fate. Is rain falling on the day you are going for that job interview? Is the umbrella at hand in which to disappear as you leave a love affair? 

     Is there protection in politically divisive times when those in charge would deny you the citizen an umbrella?

      You know how to “hold”  the umbrella, denied or not, for while its pole seems missing — incomplete — you know where it is. 

     Protection in life — and that’s metaphorically an umbrella — is what you make it, complete or not.

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

     

‘SLICE OF LIFE, IN A WAY’

September 14, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Some seasons ago, quite a few really, the no. 6 red naugahyde-covered twirling diner stool at Tiny’s Spring Valley, N.Y., place offered a fine view of the glass donut and sliced cake case, which, of course, was a most tempting time, even for a 19 year old usually seated for a grilled cheese right off the facing flat-top grill with fries cooked then and there, not an hour before and then kept under a heat lamp.

     “Tiny” Lazaroff was a big man, and as they say, with a large heart to match. He was jovial, and his diner was at the comfort-level standard expected of highway stops before fast food sped up the gearing to assembly line quick-a-motion. My grandfather moseyed on west to Tiny’s for java on a Saturday morning, nursing it for a longish time with a donut “sinker” from the glass case.

     What was in the case was not impressive by today’s expectations. There were no layer cakes piled high with two inches of genetically modified “whip cream” nor no “N.Y. cheese cakes” made in Sheboygan. No, just a few plain donuts, some chocolate, and wonderful slices of vanilla-iced lemon pound cake.

     I usually sat on red naugahyde stool no. 3, right opposite the grill cook, but one day Tiny’s was too busy for the regulars — a tourist bus had actually stopped in little Spring Valley — and I ended up at no. 6. 

     Planted there, I was about to order the usual grilled cheese, but before the overly busy counter waitress got to me, the cake case’s magnetism kicked in, its fluorescent light behind the gleaming chrome and tempered sliding glass doors shining just right on a piece of that pound cake, freshly cut from a true, 16-ounce loaf, unlike today’s 12.5-ounce fakers. Like a stricken young pup in a school days’ crush, I mumbled in shyness that I just had to have that slice.

     Tiny’s coffee, in a green cup on a green saucer, came along for the ride, and my time with that wonderful iced-top lemon cake was rather long and as sensuous as could be. I used a fork to parcel out 1-inch by 1-inch squares, starting at the bottom and moving ever so slowly toward the icing, which ended the night. The “kiss” as it were.

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

PUDDLES AS ‘RESET BUTTONS’

September 7, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     On a very hot and humid day, in the New York State that now is in summer more like Georgia, don’t avoid puddles. They instantly cool your soles and so give you reason not to give up the exercise walk that is keeping you physically fit but also sane in the restricted time of virus.

     When you are young, or when some of us were, you aim for the puddles. You might also play with mud, casting little buildings not unlike Pueblo Native Americans or early settlers daubing over chinked logs to stave off a bit of the winter cold.

     So, not avoiding the puddles, really or metaphorically, helps you accomplish something: as a kid, passing time, being creative, staying out of your mom’s way; as an adult, building shelter. Either way, don’t avoid the puddles.

     Walkers will tell you the best time to do so is in light rain. Umbrella or not, there is an insulating quality about it, your own security blanket of falling water that enables you to amble even in a crowd, your being, your thoughts protected. The puddles you jump over are accomplishment.

     It is a common photo, especially now that everyone carries a camera as smart phone, that reflections of buildings are caught in puddles, as if we can contain urban life and not be overwhelmed by its impersonal hugeness. It also makes for a pretty picture. 

     As it is with all simple things in a life that can be so complicated, with worries, with challenges, with ups and downs, an ordinary puddle (are there any other kind?) can be the reset button.

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

‘DEMOCRACY DIES IN DARKNESS’

August 31, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Rituals in our lives change, but that does not mean they are easy to get used to. They are even tougher to accept. Here I was in another town, USA, the location no less important than any, communities where life begins, passes, ebbs and flows in between. I was expecting 1980 or thereabout to remain the ruling time, but it was 2020, and I just did not get it.

     An early-morning ritual is to take a walk, have java and read the local newspaper. And so I sought a paper. But there was none at 6:30 a.m., long after morning editions have gone to bed, to press. 

     I asked a very polite but matter-of-fact store clerk when the newspapers might arrive, and I was told,  “When the man gets here, he gets here.” In other words, the news, the information that impacts our lives, which entertains, saddens, enlightens, exposes charlatans and connects us to the full range of human emotions, and which once would await no man’s delay under deadline tradition, would now “get here when it got here.”

     I was an active newspaperman for four decades and remain one in soul. Never missed a deadline, thank you.  No bragging – the first rule of newspapering is to get the info out on time, quicker than that, if possible. We all did it, do it.

     Now, many deadline clocks no longer tick louder and louder at the pressman’s hour. They are still. The daily printed word, the “who, what, where, when, how, why” of public meetings, government contracts, local sports, national and world news, and, yes, oh yes, presidential elections does not make deadline. Newspapers fold and fold, victim of the long trend of fewer print readers, consequently reduced advertising revenue and information delivered in bites rather than full length via Smart phones and iPads, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and TV/radio. 

     Sad, for a much fuller report can be had in print, all the better to be informed in a democracy that you want to keep. If a foreign power sought to dumb down a nation and have its people thrive on falsehoods, misinformation and gossip; if it wanted to turn elections toward zealots who build and keep a base by fear, then it would back hedge funds and other “investors” that buy declining newspapers and close them down for asset profits. You see, democracy dies in darkness, and that is the aim of some foreign powers. It is also the goal of some within these United States.

     While I waited in a strip mall parking lot for the paper delivery guy to get there, I saw descendants of folks like me, but they were not buying papers as their dads and granddads did or still do. Instead, they were in their cars, lined up at a bank, at ATM machines, to get money for the day.

     Once, we carried cash in our pockets from our pay checks for a week or two. And we used some of our pocket change to buy a newspaper.

     I doubt if many of the good, hardworking people on the ATM line buy a paper after they get their bank machine cash. Probably quench their thirst for information — and that remains a human constant — via mobile devices or computers. What they might swallow may be deliberately slanted “news” that does not go through traditional editing and vetting.

     The world has changed, and so has its ways. I simply forgot to get on the train. But I’ll never read about it in a newspaper.

 

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

                                       –30–

‘DECENCY NO LONGER HAS FIRST-CLASS POSTAGE’

August 24, 2020

By Arthur H.Gunther III

This painting of mine is rural America, where predictability, reliability, routine are the melody for living.

Conservatism, fear of government overreach service, Pony Express on, a life-stream of letters, parcels, farm equipment parts, seed, baby chicks, then medicine and whatever few checks might come in retirement.

From this house, still catching the light of awesome land, a family, then a man and wife, then perhaps just the woman, would go to the general store to mail something but also to gather a bit with far-flung neighbors in the decency of shared existence.

Now, so far away in Lobbyville, D.C., in the special-interest section at what was once the People’s House, a wink comes to make metal boxes in blue disappear from the country store, from city and suburban corners, too.

Decency no longer has first-class postage.

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

 

–30–

‘SEASONAL LOVE’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

A peach in season is like long-sought love that suddenly makes connection.  The heavens appear, but as in many a novel and short story, consumption does you in, spoils you for the ordinary. You can love no more past this time.

Until the next season.

It isn’t Adam and Eve here, forbidden taste of the fruit that brings guilt and addiction. The peach in season, freshly picked at maturity, never ripened as a green orb by gas in a truck or rail car from this place or that, is like the magical confluence of things out of this world when the tingle, heart patter and goose pimples of human bonding strike as lightning.

You are hooked for the moment. You do not question why this peach is so full of nature’s best taste, why the skin has a snap never arrived in the ordinary supermarket variety, picked weeks ago. You simply savor rich sweetness that almost makes you cry, humbles you so in the process that you thank your god or your lucky stars. You are filled with satisfaction, and that keeps the tank supplying until the next year.

Once, in this region called Rockland, the smallest New York county geographically outside Gotham’s five boroughs, tree-ripened peaches were the norm. But post-World War II development took most farms and some of the greatest fruit ever grown, given our particular climate and glacially derived rocky soil. Now, there are but a few farms, like the Concklins, the Davies family, the Van Houtens and others in the Rockland Farm Alliance, such as Bluefield, Duryea, Pfeiffer Center, Stony Point Center. In their place is what is an insult: stores in all too many highway strips on old farm land that, with some exception, sell peaches from states far away, perhaps wonderfully tasting in their own element, had they ripened there, but not in Rockland as gassed creatures that are so grainy inside that you must throw them away, even after you have paid dearly a pound in “season.” You had hoped, but. …

No, I await the homegrown, larger fruit that like the lover you recognize in the dark, has its own scent. For a few weeks there is this affair that has you coming back and back for more, even moving you to tears, for no man-made sweetness is comparable to a fresh peach, the skin of which produces a snap at first bite that is exquisite foreplay.

Once your time is finished, you will have to move on, for the fresh peaches are no more. But that is just fine, thank you. As with the deepest of love affairs, the sort that can be revisited in its season but never sustained in ordinary time, day after day, week after week, you are satisfied so deeply that routine will never do.

You await the next rendezvous. It is worth suspended time.

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

ANGELS IN THE ROOM

 

ANGELS IN THE ROOM

August 10, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

“Religion” is no longer organized or traditional for this writer though I have respect for all beliefs and for the utter great goodness of those humanitarians found within them who as reward regularly suffer the slings and arrows and condemnation of some institutional leaders and policies. An old story, lived vividly by the Christ of the Christians.
But this is not an essay on religion. It is about angels in the room whether you believe in them or not. Call the spirits what you will if you do not cotton to any god or hereafter. Yet I challenge you to say you have not met an angel in the room, your room.
A few years ago, off the Kings Highway on Cape Cod, not far from Welfleet, my family and I were gathered at a rented home the driveway of which was deeply rutted, not paved, just like the old orchard paths I walked along as a child in Rockland County, N.Y. On the Cape, on that driveway, I quite suddenly found an absolute calm, a warming feeling much like a comfortable blanket. Others were talking, but all I heard were the chirping birds you notice in your youth on a spring day, and a quieting — and you can hear the quiet — of my soul. I was both in the mortal world of a vacation landscape but also traveling with the angels. For just a very short time, all was right. I was cozy, without fear of any sort.
On only a few occasions in a lengthened life have I noticed the angels. Once on an evening walk on South Mountain Road in my county, again in quiet, another time heading to kindergarten and climbing a small hill to get there. A strong, rising sun, more quiet and those birds. Just 5, I felt life would be OK. Only angels tell you that at such an age.
Who knows what trials any life will bring? What happiness? What is just plain ordinary?
Just expect that out of the blue, faith and prayers or not, a very rare visit of utter calm and affirmation of hope will arrive. Perhaps that is all that is needed to endure. Angels in the room.

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

–30–

 

MORNING VISITORS

August 3, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Ordinarily, birds would not attract notice in the backyard. Laissez-faire: they go about their life, and I do the same. Do like their singing, chirping, fact that they are there, which probably means no horror story like a hurricane is coming or a win by the indecent in Election 2020.

     So, birds are quite welcome, as I hope I am to the creatures, for I both respect and feed them. But now, rather than a fact of living for this human, birds have become morning companions.

     In the time of virus, with so much stay at home, the rituals, the habits, the ordinary doings have changed. No longer rushing out the door to buy the papers, grab the coffee, park the car and read in that great quiet we must all have if only for a moment, the scene has changed to reading a delivered newspaper, making what may or may not be coffee at home, sitting on the back porch and having the birds drop in to eat their morning bread at the feeder/birdhouse.

     Never knew there were so many bluebirds, and that they are hogs, repeatedly swooping in to grab. There are sparrows, too, and a few colorful birds with red heads or scarlet coloring.

     They know when you are heading out to feed them, with the word passed along in rising chatter, the bird world’s telegraph.

     All in all, delightful morning guests. Or perhaps I am the visitor.  

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

A ‘SANITY’ FIND

July 29, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     When in the time of virus you are so bored that you run from the house screaming “I can’t take it any more,” how do you return to normal blood pressure?

     For me last week it was walking about the upper back yard surveying trees and rocks and some grass and more weeds that I usually do not look at. I can see the space just find from the lower lawn or a screened-in porch, so the upper yard is mostly a nice backdrop for the usual passing of time and day-dreaming.

     Walking about the place in Blauvelt, N.Y., a few days ago, I noticed something shiny, trapped by a tree root. Since my back yard was once part of a 1920s home, it is not unusual to find buried things that pop up as trees grow and the land evolves,  In the 1920s-’30s, homeowners did not always have trash pickup. They would burn paper, compost the scraps and bury tin cans and glass jars, though they might reuse the glass. My upper yard includes these items plus lots of coal cinders from the hand-stoked furnace days.

     When I saw the shiny bit, I figured it was glass, which I have occasionally dug up. I first used a small knife to carefully make my archaeological dig, then a shovel. I thought I would eventually pick out broken glass but, lo and behold, what I dislodged was a 1930s jelly glass, the kind that was meant for reuse as a drinking vessel during the Great Depression.

     Took a while to clean it up — nature had filled it with dirt, but it came out nice. Added the discarded wiring from a 1940s Mason jar.

     All in all, great respite in the time of virus.

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