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

 

‘UNDER THE INFLUENCE’

 

Der Einfluss,’ acrylic on wood panel.

September 4, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

In German, “Einfluss” means “influence,” and so that is how a recent painting gained its name. I was intrigued by a photograph taken by a Deutsche designer and decided to do my interpretation via acrylics and wood. She deserved some credit, and the German title was it.
I am not sure if I could have gotten through life this far or if I can move along the future path without influence. Pig-headedness aside and allowing for the many times when I’m nfluence has been ignored, there is little accomplishment without someone else’s input.
My favorite teachers, and even the one or two who were not on the list, continue to influence me many decades later. For example, when I add numbers and carry the ones, I cannot escape the influence of Miss Margulies, my arithmetic teacher. When I write, which I am driven to do, it is always another weekly composition for Mr. Gram.
My newspaper photography career was influenced by Andy Dickerman, Al Witt and Warren Inglese.
Today, an interest in local history is influenced by masters like Wilfred Talman, Craig Long and Win Perry.
My family, living and gone, influence my actions. The nation and its leaders or, sadly, at times non-leaders, influence a strong belief in the Founders’ vision and the utter necessity to see it further unfold, certainly not to see such promise wither.
Acquaintances of old, such as childhood friends, have their continuing influence, even if they do not know it.
Truth is, the nerve synapses do not work on their own in this body of mine. Each past encounter, many a conversation, a learned lesson, failure, a fleeting glance, a lingering touch, a kiss, a handshake, an act of charity, a heroic moment, all this and so much more are the directional signs in life.
It is gratifying to be under the influence.

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