GEORGE CHALSEN AND THE ‘FRATERNITY’

July 24, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

One of the customs of an old-style newspaper hot metal composing room — where printing type was cast in lead by brilliantly designed mechanical marvels called Linotypes and then placed in page forms called chases so that the process could continue to the presses and then your delivered newspaper — was men helping men put on their aprons.
Handling type was messy, with ink from the proofing machine and the lead itself covering everything. The blue, dungaree-type apron was a barrier.
Now, if the composing room of old were run by industrious women, there would have been no need to tie each other’s aprons. The 5-8 ladies I am privileged to toil with in a food program do not tie others’ apron strings, instead quickly fastening their own coverings with well-practiced, behind-the-back moves seemingly natural to the beautiful species.
For some reason, perhaps so much of it being tradition, the male printers were apron-helpless. They would hang the apron around their necks, turn to the nearest fellow and make a circular move with their hands to indicate the strings needed to be tied. It would be done.
Then it would be into the work day and men talking of sports or women or politics. At shift’s end, there was no similar call for untying aprons, just an individual loosening, a grab of the lunch box and a nod to co-workers, “See you tomorrow.”
That next day would bring the repeated bonding of tying each other’s apron strings.
So, it was no wonder that my late Journal-News co-worker and printer George “Weep” Chalsen would ask me or fellow food program worker Al Witt to tie his apron when we met,  not in the composing room but the kitchen. Both very hot places.
It was yet another fraternity, you see.

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

OBSERVER IN MANHATTAN

July 17, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Manhattan — It is said that the Statue of Liberty beckons  the “ huddled masses,” but this past Saturday in New York City, the great spectrum of people came to midtown instead. The area, from Grand Central at 42nd St. on the East Side to the 50s and Seventh Avenue on the West Side was just an explosion off humanity. Good weather and renewed interest in both Gotham and urbanity probably caused the adventure.

Fine for NYC, since tourist/visitor dollars help pay the bills, though I hope some of that money goes to dangerous areas in all the boroughs where crime, schools and humanity sometimes on the edge need much better attention.

Even in midtown it would have been nice to see the walking police officer so visible when I was an occasional visitor as a kid decades ago. Spotted not one in a 30-block walk over four hours. Visibility can dispel both civilian and police fears.

We visited the Museum of Modern Art, always a draw, and a great way to uplift the spirits in a troubling world. Yes, you may not “get” a 48-inch white canvas with a black border — why that is called “art” — but you can appreciate the opportunity to reflect. It’s better than sitting on a park bench kicking dirt.

You cannot visit Manhattan and expect to stand in place on a busy sidewalk, or you will be run over. Everyone is in a rush, choreographed by the street/avenue intersection lights. Many people, many smart phone-lookers, many stylishly dressed, weaving in and out of the ever-present scaffolding indicative of a still-growing city, sidestepping the homeless and those who at least live on the streets dayside.

As a country boy and lifelong observer of anything that moves and a lot that does not, I feel apart from — but still connected to — the fast-movers on the sidewalks, looking at many, wondering what their thoughts are, where they are going, where they came from. Glance away for a second, and there is yet another tapestry to ponder.

A museum of the streets, literally.

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

 

ON THE JOB

July 10, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

 

College is not for every one, and even for the collegiate, there may be a best time to go. It’s an individual moment, and getting there can be tough.
I was there, once, actually several times before the degree was conferred several years into actual work — newspapering — that I was suited to and in which I achieved some success.
In those 1960s days, you could sign on at a newspaper and begin schlepping as a copyboy, coffee gofer, office chair repair guy, whatever the minions of the newsroom wanted you to do. Some almost adopted you, calling you “kid,” and tossing you an extra 15 cents for java of your own. Others barely tolerated you, or so that seemed, but their gruff way was the teaching method. They, too, had been the copyboy.
If the newsroom liked you, if they saw a spark of talent — and they actually looked for that, for you must grow a new crop — they begin your training.
The “rim,” where the page layout editors sat in the old, non-digital days, would throw you a small story and ask you to write a headline of a certain point size that would fit the column width. The “slotman,” the rim’s chief editor, would look it over, maybe grunt, and if he liked it, would bundle it with the hard copy of the story and send both to be set in type, using a pneumatic tube system to the composing room.
The photography department might bring you into the darkroom and have you mix chemicals or wind exposed film on developing reels and then show you how to make prints.
You might get sent out with a reporter to watch him or her cover a story, or you might go with the photogs. You would never forget the adrenalin of that first fire or political demonstration, and you would feel empowered that the press gained access, albeit sometimes under duress, to accident and other scenes. You felt that you were helping get out the information that the people have the right to know.
Then you would go back to being a copyboy until that day came and you saw another eager fellow or gal walk through the newsroom door and learn your job. You had been promoted, thrown into the hurly-burly of newspapering as a reporter or photog or desk editor.
I made it to all three positions, as well as engraver and layout man, night city editor, editorial page editor, columnist. Also did my time in circulation and as general office fix-it guy.
These days many newspaper positions are gone as papers decline, or they have been absorbed into multitask, digital-driven jobs. The same zeal and search for information is there, though.
What is missing on most papers is the copyboy. You might need a masters in journalism these days just to get in the door. I had only a high school diploma through I obtained a college degree some years later, never telling the front office. What was the point? I already “held” a bachelors in on-the-job newspapering and would go on to get a seat-of-the-pants masters and maybe a Ph.D., thanks to the people who taught me, including the readers.
I was a lucky fellow to come through the newsroom door when I did.

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

 

HOPE, AT ‘HOME’ ANYWAY

July 4th Weekend, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYACK, N.Y. — You would expect July Fourth weekend — and the gathering in public area that comes with that — to be boisterous, noisy, of course, celebratory. It is all that in this village along the Hudson River just north of New York City, but this year there is an even stronger reason why America celebrates its birthday so heartily: the people who are here.
More than ever, there is a veritable league of nations in Memorial Park, partly because Rockland County, so close to the port of New York and diverse even before its 1798 founding, is becoming more so. Sitting near me in the park were women dressed in Islamic headwear, Orthodox Jews, people from India wearing red, white and blue shirts and saris, African Americans whose families have helped build Nyack for centuries, and men, women and children of so many national backgrounds that I cannot gather the total count of different countries.
And all here on July Fourth weekend, a distinctly American holiday that is probably new or certainly newish to many in the park. Some come from countries where no celebration is allowed save bowing to the national leader.
It is usual practice to recall America’s history on July Fourth and for politicians in particular to make note of how immigrants built the country after the almost suicidal chances taken by those at Lexington and Concord, by our Founders, by Washington and by the citizen-soldier. It is reaffirming to hear our narrative, even if over and over, even if we must accept the flowery praise of some of our speakers.
Yet nothing gives truth to the story like people — free people with many different faces — enjoying July Fourth fireworks on a majestic river, picnic at hand, family and friends there. That this is allowed — yes, allowed — is the greatness of America. It is our blessing. It is our hope. It is our present and our future, built on our past.
After this holiday weekend, government national, state, local will go back to “work.” Today we question what work is being done and how democracy can thrive through special interest, without common sense and with greed. We are a nation in trouble, in a troubling world. A downer if you mull on it. When I do, I switch the senses back to the Nyacks of America, where on July Fourth weekend the people’s faces give a different perspective.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. (Ahgunther@yahoo.com) Essay adapted from July 2013.