OF COMMON LANGUAGE

September 13, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

All professions have shop talk, but that rhythm is more likely to play in tune not in the daily grind but after the job, most often in retirement. Such was the conversation the other night at an arts gathering at the Edward Hopper House in Nyack, N.Y.
The birthplace of the famed American realist painter offers “First Friday” shows for member artists in conjunction with other art exhibits in Nyack each month, and I am the wine re-filler, the fellow who opens new stock and makes sure there isn’t a dry glass in the house.
That can involve enough downtime that my feet fall asleep, but also moments when I am drawn into conversation, some of it polite, some political, some “Oh, how are you? Have not seen you for awhile.” And some about the arts or the artist Hopper.
Occasionally there will be shop talk if people I knew in the newspaper profession pop in. I will sometimes meet other scribes or editors, or in the recent moment, photographers. (I was a staff lensman for more than six years and continued that role on and off for 35 more.)
Pulling the cork on a sauvignon blanc, up walked Laurie Peek, a well-entrenched social documentary photog back in the New York City of the 1970s and ’80s. Then came Colette Fournier, a retired newspaper lenswoman.
Before we knew it, and oblivious to the crowd, we were sharing stories about camera mishaps, long sessions in the old “wet” darkrooms with their chemicals and the goose-pimply feeling of seeing a print come to life in a tray of developer.
Though the wine kept getting popped, and no one was neglected, we three, like anyone who share common work habits, became deeply immersed in our common language.
How satisfying it was to realize you can rarely, but still actually, find your comrades and communicate. Reinvigorating the bond was like meeting an old friend so special that while life continues well enough without contact, reacquaintance, however short, is locking into a special frequency.

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

A TIME TO BE PROUD

November 5, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYC — A parent has the right to “kvell,” even if you are not of the Jewish faith. I am not, but having been raised in a community of so many delightful descendants of Abraham, I picked up a few words and phrases that come in handy since they are so expressive.
I use “kvell” today because when you have a 46-year-old son who achieves a 2:41 finish in the New York City Marathon, coming in 131st of many thousands of males, you have to say something that underscores the moment.
Yet my son Arthur 4th would prefer silence since he is humble, even if his daily training — he has run almost every day since eighth grade — his persistence and his dedication make him a remarkable runner.
Arthur trains while juggling a job as a school teacher, husband, co-parent of two energetic kids, and without complaint. He loves running, just as Bob Hudson, his high school coach, instilled in him. And continues to do. (In fact, Coach drove Arthur to the city to begin the race procedure at 4:30 a.m.)
Every entrant in the marathon is a winner. Just enduring a 26.2-mile run through all the boroughs is a feat beyond the normal challenge. Yes, some are the top finishers. Some suffer more than others. But we must kvell for every one, especially in a time of deliberate national divide.
The marathon is a league of nations, a race of many peoples. Emotion expressed by participants and those cheering them on Sunday made America shine. We can all kvell for that.

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

SOUP, JUST SOUP

 

October 28, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

After weeks of little rain, this part of the greater patch — slightly upstate New York — is at this writing getting very wet, the bath due to a storm with its sights set more on Long Island and Cape Cod than Rockland County. Still, like the cozy coat you pull out for fall’s first chill, the sudden appearance of the wet changes the dial. All I could think of was soup.
It’s a bit of the fortunate that there is a change of seasons here, so the coat becomes reinforcement that you can get cozy in the chill, leaving behind long summer days and the fun, yes, but anticipating autumn color and the wonderful smell of fallen leaves.
Rain, especially if it has not thrown a kiss your way in too long a spell, gets the juices going for soup, whether you make it from scratch, pay way too much in a specialty store or simply open a can and have at it. When you have been missing something of a while, discerning is not usually top of agenda.
On such a day as this in my fourth-grade years, my mother, if she wasn’t concocting a red Irish stew, which was really soup with vegetables and her German noodles, had Campbell’s tomato with pepper steaming from the bowl as my brother and I came in soaking wet from the home-built huts in the backyard, our prairie.
Many a good meal begins with soup. It is the civilized way of eating, much like the proper introduction to a home via an inviting foyer: there is pause to anticipate what is next.
So, the day, this one at least, calls for the hottest of soup, simple fare that feeds so well that you could get complex about it.

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

 

 

THE HUMAN REQUIREMENT

As one of the many volunteers in the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program and as a strong supporter of the overnight/outreach program Helping Hands-Safe Haven, I was asked to write the following.

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

It is 1940, and the Great Depression is persisting after 11 years. At Maud Gunther’s Spring Valley, N.Y., home, not far from the downtown railroad tracks where the homeless slept even then, my grandmother is on her back porch, handing out sandwiches to hobos and other hungry people, made from the meager scraps she, her husband and son must share. But Arthur Sr. has a job. Many do not. Maud does her bit, as do quite a few Valleyites in that sad national time.
At night on any of those dark days, my grandparents sit in the dining room and listen to the radio, that after Arthur Sr.  has read The Rockland Journal-News, the New York Journal-American and the Daily News. Each of those information sources offer the same stories about unique, even groundbreaking relief efforts by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration as well as continuing political opposition in Congress and elsewhere. The poor, the down and out, the homeless are always grist for the political mill. Full bellies pontificate over the hungry.
Radio news says the opposition holds fast to its belief that lesser government involvement is best, that people can pull themselves up if only the economy is rebuilt — an old argument that never gets settled because greed intervenes. People still go without. In Spring Valley. In the nation.
One 1940 presidential contender, Robert Taft, states: “Let no one say that a sound fiscal policy is too hardboiled toward the more unfortunate among our people. It is the poor who will be cared for by a solvent government. …”
America has always had “solvent” government, but the poor, the needy, remain underserved and continue to be part of a false news, “welfare-queen” debate that is really ignorance perpetuated by the judgmental and the greedy. So, even in the best of times, the poor and others in need have been put on a meager budget line. Criticism of the unfortunate,  ignorance as to circumstance and outright refusal to accept that any of us could fall into sad situations are as firmly set in the national fabric as are the often heroic kindness and charity of so many. The needy are always an abstraction, always blamed for their misfortune. They are made sinners for that.
I wish those who contend that free will, gumption and grit alone make you thrive would serve meals any week day of the year, holidays included, in the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program at United Church in Spring Valley. Or assist with the Helping Hands-Safe Haven seasonal overnight offering. Then they would witness the debilitating effects of joblessness, depression, substance abuse, domestic abuse and health issues. And just plain bad luck.
RIBP served 18,633 breakfasts in 2016; Helping Hands provided 5,260 meals and overnight accommodations. None of these efforts would have been possible without volunteers, some 3,000 hours given. And not one of us, beyond normal individual human prejudice, openly judged anyone. We were not part of the historical debate between “gumption” and charity, one that continues even in a county as affluent as Rockland.
I am now Maud Gunther, deliberately serving the needy for 15 years in her village, my hometown, my father’s childhood community, the neighborhood of my friends, teachers, mentors. Like all the volunteers, I am paying my own good fortune forward. Privileged to do so.
On Tuesday mornings in the RIBP, we can rustle up a breakfast of sausage better prepared than in some upscale restaurants, slow-cooked for three hours in apple juice, brown sugar, honey and spices. Pancakes are made with eggs, brown sugar, honey and a bit of strong coffee. Chicken soup is simmered for two hours with my Irish mother’s recipe of black pepper and parsley. Total cost? About $2 a serving. In a restaurant, $16, at least.
I am no exception. There are better cooks, including professionals, who work free and offer chicken and other dishes that would pull in $20 a serving in an ordinary eatery.
Lunches, free to all, include freshly made sandwiches, fruit, a treat or two. Juice and coffee, cereal, oatmeal are available at breakfast. All prepared by volunteers.
And the volunteers do more than ready food, serve it and clean up. They bring in donated clothing. They buy clothing. Volunteers purchase food now and then, and kitchen items. If an individual client has a certain need, they are assisted out of pocket.
All this in the RIBP program. Then there is the Helping Hands-Safe Haven volunteer effort that besides all-year counseling and social services, offers seasonal overnight protection from the cold and bad weather, with space long donated by various religious institutions. (Rockland will soon partner on an overnight warming center and other services, thanks to recognition of the great need by the county Legislature and County Executive Ed Day.)
Again, we do not argue whether individuals deserve what we do. Nor do we pat ourselves on the back. We are just people filling a need as best we can. Some of us also do it for the churches and synagogues and mosques we belong to. Others offer service for the religion that is called humanity.
Society has an obligation to attend to the needy, perhaps asking questions later. But only later. We sometimes see babies and other  young children at breakfast, and you can ask nothing of them.
I hope whoever reads this, most especially anyone who continues the forever debate between requiring individuals to tough it out or asking society to meet obvious need, will take away two important points:
* RIBP, Helping Hands-Safe Haven and the other giving groups in Rockland do not ask questions. We do not vet the needy. We serve the needy, as religious belief and human decency command.
* We are cost-effective, probably spending  at least one-quarter what government or private services would require.
Finally, we have many volunteers, but we need more. We operate on a shoestring budget, and while Helping Hands and RIBP are uber-efficient, we still require funding to cover such unglamorous expenses as rent, insurance, salaries for our tiny non-volunteer staff and supplies.
Consider becoming part of the Helping Hands family through the donation of your time, your talent or your treasure.
(You can contact Helping Hands Director Ya’el Williams: ywilliams@helpinghandsofrockland.org)

 

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

THE BRASS NOZZLE

October 16, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

A very long time ago, I bought a nozzle for a garden hose so that I could water new shrubs at a new house. There was then just one child, who at almost three would turn the spray on me. That hose, with that nozzle, took a goodly portion of the free funds for a young family in a home in the ever more-taxed suburbs. But in a way, the nozzle has earned its weight in gold.
Over the decades, with greater income and savings, the temptation to buy a bigger and better nozzle was met over and over. I now have a drawer full of super-duper sprayers than can shoot water 20 feet, or give me 10 spray patterns, or save water. Together they probably have cost 30 times the price of the original, small, old-fashioned, solid-brass piece.
Some have held up reasonably well, though most are machined poorly, made cheaply in overseas factories where tolerances are not exact. But they look good, and that is probably why I bought them.
I had the money in my pocket, you see, and why not buy into the marketing theory that you simply must have the latest gadget?
Yet I always return to the 1973 brass nozzle. Either a new-fangled sprayer breaks down, or its lack of machined tolerance makes me not tolerate it, or it leaks, or I simply yearn for a simpler time when I could depend on an inexpensive, uncomplicated, design-proven nozzle to do the trick.
Besides, that sprayer was aimed at me by not one, but two sons. They washed their first cars with it. Hiking boots and running shoes were freed of mud. And these days, the guys and their progeny visit the old man, who can be found watering the now-big shrubbery with brass nozzle No. 1. It is an old friend, and I hold it in a tight handshake.

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

TWO OLD HOMES

October 9, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYACK, N.Y. — It was easy, at this fund-raiser aiming to protect and restore a 200-year-old village house, to imagine social gatherings in the 1930s-‘50s at which Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur held court. Easy to picture, leaning against the 1800’s living room molding.
Lawrence Olivier might have done that, or later Marlon Brando, or Debbie Reynolds at “Pretty Penny,” the Broadway house costing just that when the famous movie and stage actress bought it with her husband Charles MacArthur, the newspaperman and playwright.
Fund-raisers — most social gatherings — don’t offer interest, maybe because I had to cover so many for the original Journal-News, but this one was a must. It was sponsored by johngreencoalition.org to help rescue Nyack’s oldest remaining Dutch sandstone house, a few streets south from the Hayes mansion. Saving history is always worth the trip.
But back to the Hayes/MacArthur home, offered for the day’s fund-raiser by its present owner, art dealer/map collector Graham Arader.
It is now restored, in part according to the tastes of actress Rosie O’Donnell, who once lived here. When I was in the house about 1967 to photograph Miss Hayes for The Journal-News, the still-stately architecture needed a tune-up. She had been living there alone, but with a secretary, for decades after the passing of her daughter Mary and husband. Their son, Charles, had moved on to acting.
Yet you barely noticed the loose windows and the need for paint in the  mansion because Helen Hayes overtook the scene. She was a true theatrical presence as well as a genuinely charming Nyacker often seen walking into town.
The day I took her photograph for a feature story, I was asked to sit on a couch and wait. A little while after, Miss Hayes came slowly down her elegant staircase, a huge portrait of her as Victoria Regina on the wall. She literally paused for a second, and the shot was better than any photograph I could take. While a more-standard picture was published, I have never forgotten how stage-worthy the moment was.
It also reinforced a sense of history — a noted actress, a famous playwright choosing to live and participate in a old house in a Hudson River town where industry long flourished, in part because of movers and shakers like John Green. (The man was a powerhouse, helping to build commerce from Nyack’s riverfront to Suffern and beyond via the original Nyack Turnpike.)
The fund-raiser to save his home on lower Main Street, which, hopefully will become a community gathering
place along a waterfront that must always be open to the people, was appropriately held in another historic Nyack house, itself just north of the Edward Hopper House, the home of America’s foremost realist artist.
Soon, the Green House will be dwarfed off Main and Gedney streets by even more modern-day “progress” — townhouses for those who can afford them. Yet, as the house is rescued, a herculean effort to be sure, it will increasingly be recognized as an anchor to the past, of growth in its time, too, but also of community involvement, 200 years ago, now and in the future.
Playwright MacArthur could have written such drama. Actress Hayes could have played the part. Now the stage is set for this rescue. Visit johngreencoalition.org.

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

THE FALL SEASON

October 2, 2017

By Arthur Henry Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Once, so very long ago, almost in another age but I know it still must relate to the accumulation of living, just part of me, you see, gave someone a small birthday present.
It was the first gift for a new someone, and I thought it out, not wanting to go overboard and push the relationship into uncomfortable territory. Yet I wanted the present to be both meaningful — an expression of deepening interest — and also classy, since the person was surely that.
I ended up at a small corner jewelry store in Westwood, N.J., still there after five decades, staring into the show window on Center Avenue. That was easier for a shy fellow than going to the counter and looking at offerings from the sales person, almost all of which a 20 year old without a job could not afford.
Happily, I did see what I thought was the just-right gift in the show window, and five minutes later, with the equivalent of what some day would be a week’s salary from my first job gladly exchanged for what was a then-popular scarab bracelet, I went home and kept the present until the October birthday.
As these things go, the person I was then, not the fellow I am now, gave the bracelet to the person she was then, and it was appreciated. I don’t think I pushed the relationship to where it was uncomfortable, being jewelry and all, but I am not sure.
This was my first romantic gesture for anyone, and though I have never absorbed the etiquette on that, I just went ahead.
So much growth since then — me, her, people in our separate spheres, the world.
Yet as surely as fall comes each year, and it is a favored season, an older fellow now usually remembers the bright stones of the scarab bracelet, which signify creation and renewal, according to Egyptian thought.
Sounds right. A pleasant memory.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@hotmail.com or thecolumnrule.com

ONCE, A GOTHAM

“Talking Skyscrapers”

 

September 25, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The area where I live is just north of this famous, at times infamous, metropolis, enough distance in my youth to have enjoyed a life apart —rural countryside, building huts in the woods, traipsing through fruit orchards, riding with companion on a summer night, car windows open, crickets joining the conversation. Yet we were close to Manhattan, too, and its four borough cousins to occasionally visit. It was an adventure every time.
It may seem silly now, having visited enough European and U.S. cities and in the process maturing in perspective and becoming less hayseed, that New York City once seemed so busy, so in a rush, ever so full of construction sounds that I had to flee after a day visit. In my youth, once my father crossed the Hudson River via the George Washington Bridge, we again heard the crickets, and that resumed  the reassuring purring of what was still not the suburbs.
Of course, it all depends on perspective. A Gothamite, returning to Yorkville or Chelsea or Hell’s Kitchen from my old, quiet Spring Valley would be reassured by the vibrance of the city.
(I was told the story of a city fellow, visiting the sticks for a high school graduation, who could not sleep through the night at his sister’s house and had to take a midnight bus back to New York. It was just too quiet.)
In truth, all cities are fascinating, and there is so much great diversity, food choices, history, and, most important, interesting characters within. So many different neighborhoods.
My own heritage includes city dwellers on both sides of the family, and all the sides before that, back to Prussian, Irish and English immigrants. Wish I could have heard their stories.
Ruralness long ago left my hometown, replaced by suburbia. The crickets have been drowned out by traffic noise, incessant lawn machines and leaf-blowers. Gotham is just as close geographically as it ever was, but it can take triple the old time to get there, given overgrowth and underwhelming transit planning. The suburbs are painted more and more with the city mix anyway, so there is not so much a need to visit.
But in my dreams, my parents pile my brother and I in the old green Studebaker, and we jump over the Hudson into Midtown, eat at a Chinese restaurant and walk in Times Square. It is thrilling, as always, yet the return ride, over the bridge and into country darkness and the sound of the crickets, is reassuring. It is my music. In my dreams anyway.

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

NYACK’S TEN

September 18, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYACK, N.Y. — This Hudson River village has a park with a usual name, Memorial, just like the one I played in as a kid in another community, though this also was an occasional spot for imaginary doings when my parents shopped here on long-ago Saturdays.
This Saturday past, after checking out Nyack’s “first” community fun fair in the park (though, truthfully, so many gatherings have happened there over many decades), I began to leave, deliberately taking the same circular steps to the original park area off Piermont Avenue.
I try to use these steps because my brother Craig and I played on them, and I don’t see much of him these days, so it is a touchstone.
But there is another such pull to the past. You cannot climb the steps — or run up them as I once did — without passing the listing of 10 names, young men from Nyack who perished in the “War to End All Wars,” the “Great War,” World War I.
What sadness came to this river village nearly 100 years ago, loss and tragedy repeated in every community, and then in World War II and other conflict since.
When I was a youngster hopping on those Nyack steps, I probably did not read those 10 names, for the young do not notice such memorials. Yet I did play among the 10 large trees planted on the old greenhouse grounds that make up the upper section of Nyack Memorial Park. Those trees stand tall against the Hudson just as the 10 lost men who left Nyack for France did on the western front.
So, a day in Nyack, of frivolity, fun, children eating snow cones, lots of purring in a true, long-diverse community. Leaving that enjoyment, so reaffirming in these national days of mistrust and even hate, I could not pass those 10 names and 10 trees without nodding in respect to men, once boys, who played where we all felt good.

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

AN ALTERED BEAT

September 11, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

There is rhythm to any of our lives, and when it’s seriously interrupted, the beat changes. And so it was with September 11, 2001.
When 9/11 hit in terroristic horror 16 years ago, I was at the old Rockland Journal-News building in West Nyack, N.Y., just 20 miles from the World Trade Center. As Editorial Page Editor, I had been at my desk since 4 a.m., getting advance pages and copy ready. My day, like any of us then, quickly changed. So did thousands of lives, forever.
The newspaper, as all media, scrambled at 8:45 a.m., even as we shook our heads and kept glancing at the TV images of the Twin Towers ablaze, the tragedy at the Pentagon, the smoking field in Pennsylvania when United Flight 93 crashed after courageous passengers diverted the plane from its D.C. target.
Later that Tuesday, there would be much crying in Rockland County over the loss of area civilians, New York City firefighters and NYPD and Port Authority police officers who were among the dead in the attacks.
About 3,000 individuals of all race and creed, economic and immigrant background and political persuasion were killed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Some “Dreamers” among them, by the way.
Funerals after funerals followed, many for those whose bodies could not be found, and they continue today for the 9/11 responders who developed cancer from building debris.
Communities noted hometown heroes like Welles Remy Crowther, an equity trader and “The Man in the Red Bandana,” who selflessly rescued people in the Twin Towers and died as the Upper Nyack, N.Y., volunteer firefighter he proudly was.
Area municipalities now have memorials and annual observances.
The War on Terror began, and the U.S. became another of the countries who have invaded Afghanistan over the centuries, America hoping to rout al-Qaeda but finding that quest illusive.
Billions since have been spent on the battle against terrorism, not all of it accounted for, and, sadly, some have profited either financially or by using this long moment of national, human tragedy to push the prejudice of painting all of one kind with a single brush.
Few commentators have noted that hatred helped bring on 9/11, and that such crop is fertilized if democracies lose their moral compass and encourage citizen neglect elsewhere by supporting dictators when that is convenient; if countries do not speak out for decency and act according to their stated creed. Hate grows abroad then, with the hungry easily persuaded through false promise.
At my old newspaper on 9/11, we did what we were trained to do — present the who, what, when, where, how, why of the terrorist attacks. We wrote the stories, including the sad but uplifting human reports, presented graphic images and offered commentary on it all.
The Journal-News, and much media, had done this before, of course, covering the world wars, natural disasters, death and destruction. That is the beat of information delivery, and we did what was expected.
What we in the newsroom of my generation did not expect was that our heartbeats would change, our rhythm would be different after Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The newsroom of December 7, 1941, had its own blips on the oscilloscope, and now we understood, too, about the horror of sudden attack on a nation but also the reaffirming heroism of so many of its people.

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