‘TICKET TO RIDE’

‘Light at Hopper House’

December 10, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     Our ancestors, living in caves, then huts, then small cabins, all without much benefit of light — there were no Andersen double-glazed, energy-efficient windows then — must have grabbed, mentally, emotionally, at any sliver of brilliant shining as does a young child marvel at a big, dripping icicle. What power there is in light, the ancestors must have thought.

     In time, first with the light of day to hunt and then with the light of fire to cook, there began a dawn of illuminating existence. We are now all travelers of that first light though enough in humankind have always sought to extinguish it for others. 

     Nor has society fully taken the gift of light and hopped on it to our dreams. The harnessing of light could end poverty on earth through free energy, clean water, crops, but we allow the  ministers of darkness, be they greed, power, prejudice, hatred or just plain evil, to deny a share. 

     The rays of light cast through a window can be mesmerizing to a child, staring through his daydreams, the same young being decades later, a life gone by, grasping at the same light in his/her long hours of reflection.

     Dawn brings newness with the return of light just as dusk and light’s withdrawal tells us to cozy ourselves to sleep, to rest if we can, with the promise of return.

     Perhaps day-dreaming is mostly light, the horse in the sky we choose to zoom away on in a gallop or to amble in a meadow. It is a gift, our ticket to ride.

     

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

     

THE MAGIC WINDOW

December 3, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     Before there were smartphone screens to stare into, children looked out the window, their eyes portals for real but mostly imaginary scenes.

     Cars passing, dogs chasing squirrels, a neighbor mowing. Raindrops, snow flakes, the falling sun, a full moon. Millions of kids saw all that if they were lucky to look out windows at all, in peace.

     A day off from school, maybe in a snowstorm, perhaps a hot summer night trying to catch a breath of air at the windowsill, the ledge the edge of a stage for whatever was happening.

     Usually, ordinary things were taking place — still do at the window. Even mundane. Seen before, so many times. Yet reaffirmation in that as ordinary living continues.

     Continues even in boredom, and that was — is — where the window truly could open up. How many noses have been pressed to glass, how many chins have rested on the sill as Acts I, II, III took to the footlights? How many fantasies were seen? How many fake battles? How many romances, wishes, journeys into any neverland?

     Imagination is a free ride, though you must be willing to take the bus. It can make you think, it can make you chill out, it can make you the master of your destiny.

     A window is one place to get a ticket to ride. There are others.

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

WHEEL NOT REINVENTED

By Arthur H. Gunther III

the columnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     One of the non-dynamics of “progress” is that as new technology replaces the old, tried and true habits honed by trial, error, ingenuity, make-do and survival are sometimes cast aside, even lost.

     For example, in this age of omnipresent air conditioning, a simple concept like hot air circulation is forgotten. A few years ago, I was in an old New York village on a very hot day attending a gathering in a late 1800s building, three stories high. No AC, and it was stifling with perhaps 100 people there. The windows were open, but they were awning types, so there was no circulation like you get with double-hung windows. Wiping away the sweat, I looked up, and near the ceiling there were other windows, all shut but with long chains dangling. It was obvious that the chains were pulls meant to open the upper windows so that the heat could escape, replaced by cooler ground-level air.

     Once upon a time this building would have had a sexton whose job it was to open those upper windows, or there would have been a fellow who understood the common sense of air circulation that he simply wouldvhave pulled on those chains. An art lost, it seems, in the modern AC age.

     You can extend this thinking to other things: When I was younger,  there was a neighborhood carpenter who would fix furniture so that you didn’t have to throw it out. Someone brought him a large table, probably 100 years old, most likely made from wood that was 200 years in the growing. The table had split after decades of drying, and it looked lost by today’s standards. But this crafty fellow, after scratching his head a bit, reached into his coveralls’ upper pocket, took out his folding rule, measured along the table’s 8-foot length, went over to an old woodpile, pulled out some oak scraps similar to the table’s stock, hand-cut these pieces into wedge shapes, traced them on the table, cut holes and then glued everything together with huge pipe clamps, the tools also made from scrap — old plumbing.

     That table is still in my friend’s house. Today it might be on the junk pile, replaced by a new one much younger and perhaps less beautiful.

     The lesson of the story is that in a faster-paced world, on the quick journey, we sometimes forget to bring along the skills that once made us survive, those efforts that also instilled pride in what we could accomplish.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is based on an earlier piece.

EDWARD HOPPER AND WHAT’S RELATIVE

Credit: Christie’s

November 19, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     Relativity isn’t confined to Einstein. It applies in the art world, too. Most recent example: the Christie’s auction sale last week of “Chop Suey,” the Edward Hopper 1929 painting, which hit a record at $91,875,000. The famed American realist artist netted $1,000 or less from his agent, the Rehn Gallery. Relativity.

     Most famous artists have to be gone from this void before their pieces are worth a fortune. Hopper never took in more than about $8,000 for any of his works, living well enough though frugally in his Washington Square, Manhattan, rental until his 1967 passing.

     Even the locale for “Chop Suey,” an upstairs Chinese restaurant, suggests living on a budget. Such places, in Hopper’s time all over Manhattan and usually on the second floor or in the basement for cheaper rent, offered inexpensive, satisfying food, with wonderful tea in sage-green cups that had no handles.

     Hopper and his wife, artist Jo Nivison, would walk to these eateries. When he returned to his Nyack, N.Y., birthplace, they went to the upstairs Chinese restaurant off North Broadway.

    A look at “Chop Suey” shows two women, neither of which have smart phones, instead having what seems to be pleasant, face-to-face conversation. The meal appears over, since there is only a teapot and a bowl that may have held nuts. A man and woman are at a rear table, she smiling, he looking down. Outside is the iconic neon sign, and in one window is an abstract design, perhaps Hopper’s reference to the then current painting style.

     What does “Chop Suey” say? That depends on what you see, what the artist meant or was looking for. For me, it’s relativity, the state of being relative to the period, the moment.

     Edward Hopper would probably be offended by the auction price, by today’s greed art market, with investors and the one percenters largely unappreciative of what he was searching for in “Chop Suey.” His currency was his interpretation of his innermost feelings and observations. That is what we see in the Hopper works, whether they cost $1,000 or $91,875,00.

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

THE GUNS OF AUGUST …

November 11, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

When, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, 100 years ago, the guns of August 1914 were finally silenced, 40 million casualties could still be heard, their plaintive cries ignored as the path to the next war was already under construction.

So, what do you say to those who sacrificed, who died in their country’s service, no matter the nation? The mechanical horrors alone of the Great War — super-big artillery, first use of tanks, mustard gas — should have been enough to thwart World War II. But no. Even the later atomic bomb and the threat of world annihilation have not ended conflict. Humankind’s thirst for power, and especially money, combined with the embers, then flames of hatred and prejudice, constantly bring us war.

So, what do you say to the soldier, sailor, marine, airman, mother, father, brother, friend of the fallen, the physically wounded, the emotionally struck of the Great War on this centennial? Wasn’t their sacrifice enough? 

One of the  last soldiers, dying in the mud in the Second Battle of Guise, November 4-5, 1918, might have had hope that his son, his baby, would see a better world. His eyes closed on that hope. But the world let him down.

There will be many tributes on November 11 to mark 100 years. Big leaders will come (or not, as Trump, the American president, was a no-show at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in Belleau, France, citing rain though the dead perished in slogging mud). 

There will be articulate speeches, great memorial wreaths. And elsewhere some dictator will be killing the innocent; some horrible people will be practicing genocide; some war-profiteer will be getting even richer.

Yet the hope for a better world persists, as it must, if those who perished shall not have died in vain.

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

WOMEN AND THE AMERICAN SOUL

Nov. 5, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     Tuesday, Nov. 6, will be the women’s election. 

     Females give birth to men (and women) who go on to be powerful politicians. That gender endures the pain of creation to produce us all. Given the almost karmic force of the recent focus on female abuse, disrespect and empowerment, women can turn the tide Tuesday on deliberate indecency in a nation that is collectively acting like children gone astray. Mom is needed. Women are needed.

     We are all the lifelong children of our mothers, our female teachers. We all continue to learn, if we choose to do that. Now we must. Too many Americans, too many in this America, are left behind, deliberately neglected by a system that favors the rich over opportunity to enter the middle-class and remain there. No nation survives without a middle class.   

    Appealing to the citizenry through fear, racism, anti-immigration and discriminatory nationalism means someone will get hurt. It’s a call to be a bully, and no mother wants her child to be one.

     Across the aisle, the well-meaning may offer an articulate voice against fear-mongering, against the animalism of an excited crowd but can easily patronize small-town America, the blue-collar with frayed shirts for lack of jobs. Where are the solutions?

     The mid-term elections will define America. Either we try to be the decent people most moms want us to be, or we descend into Hitlerites. We are at a precipice, at a greater height than ever before, urged to jump a chasm by the unreasonably powerful. They offer no safety net, and Hell is below.

     As Frank LoBuono, a fellow journalist from South Nyack, N.Y., puts it, “This is a struggle for the soul of America.”

     Women give birth to our bodies. Our souls are left to us, but in that choice, remember who your Mom wants you to be.

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

SAVING THE DAY

October 29, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther  III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

Quietly done, not-fussed-about, get-it-finished moments strike deep chords in the reflections of older life, or so it appears in a Halloween memory.

More than a few seasons ago in Tallman, N.Y., then a little hamlet of fruit orchards, an equally small church offered a Halloween party, and someone told my father, who was then working at both a nearby hospital and in a nursing home. He was trying to make ends meet, though my brother and I never knew it, so kept were we from the home economy by both our working parents.

In this second-grade year, excitement was had by playing in the apple and peach orchards off Cherry Lane (never saw a cherry tree there) and watching horses train at the polo club where actor Burgess Meredith kept a steed. There was no downtown to walk to, a luxury I would come to enjoy when we again moved back to nearby Spring Valley. For this part of young life, imagination had great latitude and deep encouragement in a rural setting where sitting in a tree and day-dreaming was as good as watching “Captain Video and his Video Rangers” on TV.

My brother Craig and I did manage to get together with other boys and some girls, however, and the Halloween party was to be one of them. It was a last-minute invite,  an offer made by a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital who thought it would be fun for us.

My father left the hospital and picked us up at the Airmont and Cherry Lane schools, and we both sat in the 1939 Dodge as it made its way to the small church and its basement. When we arrived, the very nice woman organizing the party opened the door, saw us and quickly came outside. It seemed neither my brother or I had costumes, which are expected at Halloween parties. My father had had no time to get them and would have been pressed financially anyway.

The church lady who dashed out to save us embarrassment just as quickly had my dad bring us right across the street where there was another kind woman, a seamstress who worked from her home. In a jiffy, this lady whipped up two creative costumes, pinned together in flourish. We were fun-ready, my brother and I.

The memory of that 1949 Halloween party is now a blur, but its circumstances and three good people — the woman at the hospital, the one in the church and the seamstress — can never be forgotten. Nor can my father’s efforts.

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

‘SENSUOUS DATE’

October 22, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrulecom
(also on Facebook)
     Some seasons ago, quite a few really, the no. 6 red naugahyde-covered twirling stool at Tiny’s Spring Valley, N.Y., diner 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 kept under a heat lamp.
     Tiny was a big man, and as they say, with a large heart to match. He was jovial, and his diner was of the standard expected at highway stops before fast food sped up the gearing to assembly line quick-a-motion and little home-cooked flavor. My grandfather moseyed on east to Tiny’s for java on a Saturday morning, nursing it for a longish time with a 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, vanilla and butterscotch puddings and those wonderful slices of top-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. (I always avoided no. 4, which perhaps was Tiny’s favorite, for extra weight or something heavy had loosened it.)
     Planted at no. 6, I was about to order the usual, but before the overly busy counter waitress got to me, the cake case’s magnetism kicked in, the fluorescent light behind the gleaming chrome and tempered sliding-glass doors shining just right on a piece of iced lemon 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 date 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 was the kiss that ended the night, and that date, you see.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier piece. ahgunther@yahoo.com

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.