By Arthur H. Gunther III
All periods in history have their idiosyncrasies, stylized to the individual, the mojo of the moment, the then-current trends, the arts, the music, whether there are wars or economic difficulties or actual progress of the species. If we live long enough to take the local and the express through several eras, it’s especially interesting to recall some in our own past.
For example, I was in an ordinary restaurant the other day, ordinary because they don’t let me in fancy ones for lack of palate, and I asked for water. It came in a tumbler with a straw added from the waitress’ apron. If I were in that same eatery say in 1948, my father would have asked for my water, and a fellow with a pitcher and a white towel hung over his arm would have begun pouring, first near the lip of the glass, then raising the pitcher about 12 inches as he filled the tumbler in an up-and-down option, full stream never missing the glass. Pretty cool, whether showing off for the six year old or just post-war restaurant style.
In 1955, you might have found a teenager with rolled-up cuffs on her jeans in a hallway closet, on a telephone with her boyfriend, her legs halfway up the wall as her head rested on the floor, on her ponytail. Her brother would be outside, nudging her. No smartphone clued to hand, 24/7.
(I knew a fellow who took calls for his home-run business from a phone atop a radio console in the living room. Cigarette in one hand, phone in the other, he leaned on the radio and crossed his legs for support. A stylized 1960s on-telephone-before-cellphone action. It sure fit the character of the man.)
In the 1970s we had a bookish reporter at the original Journal-News in downtown Nyack, N.Y., who could not write his town board story until he had two donuts, a coffee and a glass of water. He laid out the bakery supply and the liquid all in a row, and as he began to organize his notes, he took a bite out of donut #1, then from #2, then a sip of coffee followed by a bit of water. He did this until he was finished with everything, and then he wrote his piece. Left us to report for a wrestling magazine. His idiosyncratic approach was for himself, not an era, though newspapers attract odd balls — like another reporter who had to sit in his car covered by a blanket to think things through before he could put a story to bed.
We also employed a lady scribe who went on to become president of a national press association, who came in at 2 one morning to drop off copy. Fine, we could edit, place it in a page and make deadline. But her delivery was unusual: She was in a frilly nightgown and quite-fluffy slippers, and she said she had to run because her boyfriend was waiting. Uh-huh. I never said a word. It was usual to expect the unusual at 53 Hudson Ave.
If any of us look back at any time or place or individual in our lives, or if we peer at today’s generation, we will see idiosyncrasies — stylized behavior — that gives us a laugh or at least makes the reflection interesting in the continually passing scene.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org