‘CHANGEABLE’ WORLD

June 28, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

     I did not have to look up, as I was arranging my pocket money, to know the age of the fellow counting my change. He had to be about 62 or older. The clue? The bill was $11, and I gave him $21. Quickly, I was given $10.

There was no electronic register in this farm store, just a man in work jeans who moments before was hauling plants off a skid and, looking over at the check-out counter, saw me waiting. He just ambled by, nodded hello, added up the cost of my items in his head and said “$11.”

I had no $10 bill, just a $20 and some singles but did not want a bunch of singles back, so I gave him $21, which of course meant that he would flip back a ten spot. I had another motive, and that was to see if people really could still add in their heads and also recall how such common sense currency exchanges as $21 against $11 was the norm.

The fellow came through with flying colors — never hesitated, though I think he was a bit surprised by my old-fashioned move. Until he looked up himself and saw his contemporary.

Today’s electronic registers will also instruct cashiers to give $11 in change after the operator inputs $21, but I can tell you, when I have tried to give some clerks $21, they have handed back the $1 bill, saying “You gave me too much.”

This isn’t a complaint about electronic registers. Progress happens.  It’s just that my generation and the ones before and perhaps for a few years after, had to use their heads to add and subtract, divide and multiply. You could grab a piece of paper, yes, but at least in my fourth-grade class with Mrs. Still, we had to do the arithmetic in our heads. It was a challenge, and I still do it today as a brain exercise.

Countermen and women of years back did it in their heads, too, or added the bill on the same paper bag that would contain your goods, the fellow or gal pulling a pencil from between the ear and head, sometimes wetting the tip out of habit, as if to sharpen skills and be precise, and then do the bill.

A lost art. Quaint perhaps, but also somehow an intimate connection in an ordinary shopping experience. One that came even if you and the counterperson didn’t exchange a word.

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

JUST DOING THE JOB

June 21, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     While away from the daily deadline of the newspaper business (regrettably), I forever remain one of the irreverent, questioning, doubting souls with a heart that melts. So in this born-again era of claimed “fake news,” once termed, “You can’t believe everything you read in the newspaper,” I stand stage left, in the wings cheering on working colleagues.

     I tell them they are not “civilians”  and that they should thank the gods daily, for they belong to a group many like to hate, even plan deviously to dislike. They are the messengers.

     Without them, there would be no search for truth. They are not gods; in fact they are so Damon Runyonesque that at best all they can hope for is a long stay in purgatory before reaching heaven. Yet, as charged with reporting the “who, what, when, why, where and how,” they present facts that save lives, expose wrong-doers and celebrate the better side of humanity along with exposing its horrors.

     It matters not how they offer reporting – on a stone tablet, nailed to a board in the meeting square, via the telegraph, the telephone, the printing press, the Internet, by the jungle tom toms – people salivate for news, and the scribes must deliver.

    Others in the trade, distinctly separate from the reporters, are those who take facts and then offer analysis. 

     Yes, great and small mistakes are made – injecting opinion in reporting, emoting when presenting facts, hyping stories, working for news outlets that have an agenda. Yet, “leaders” and governments have fallen, advances for humanity have been achieved and ignorance has been revealed by those who have holes in shoe leather from pounding the pavement.

     “Fake news” is sometimes that and is generally shown for what it is. But no news at all is to pull covers over our heads and walk to cliff’s edge.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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WORDS STILL TO BE READ

The McCullers home, South Broadway, South Nyack, N.Y. /gunther photo

June 14, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

In a coincidence, if there is such, recently I walked past the late writer Carson McCullers’ Broadway house in South Nyack, N.Y., went home, and on TV was the film of her 1940 first novel, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” Now I know there is no such thing as an accident of talent. Nor of heartbreak and suffering that bring us explanation and beg our understanding. Nor of soulful givers to humanity.

     The Southern-based novel, set in real time, sweats with what the Civil War did not end and which the nation must still face or perish, in every corner of America.

     Carson McCullers walked Broadway in the village described in her sentence: “I was always homesick for a place I had never seen.” She wrote two last novels and the short-story collection “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe” there. Her passing in 1967 at 50, after strokes and other affliction, did not quiet a voice the vowels and consonants of which today would have us look at ourselves as the nation sits at precipice, democracy pushed to the edge.      

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SOME OLD WAYS …

June 7, 2021

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

Envelopes — legal sized or not — may be an anachronism in the digital world, in this morphing time of Tweets, Facebook posts and cell phone text shorthand, but using them can prompt memories that probably will not happen if you hit the smartphone in 20 years.

For example, I cannot fold a letter, a piece of paper, to place in a legal-sized envelope without recalling a near magical trick by someone I was in touch with years ago. She was one of the responsible “Distributive Education” students when high schools once actually had Business Departments and prepared legions of secretaries, bookkeepers and office managers for commercial work. (Imagine that most useful approach to post-high school life?)

Part of the course of instruction was to write various types of business letters, and I am certain that went just fine, for this classmate was quite good at whatever she turned her hand to. But she offered an added twist, one which I cannot duplicate no matter how many times I try.

Magically, as noted, the lady could fold a letter, a single or multi-layered effort, exactly along two lines so that the top and bottom of the paper(s) met exactly. Then it could be put in the envelope, as neatly presented as was the final, flawless typing, with proper grammar and spelling. It was all part of the package, this precision.

On letters to be put in envelopes, once writing them was a social grace, a courting effort, a vacation must, a keep-in-touch activity that linked people across town, the nation, the world. Can you imagine the emotions at play if we could read any sampling? Actually, we have, when PBS or someone finds letters sent home from soldiers in the Civil War, or Woodrow Wilson’s love notes (he was quite a writer) or various other missives from the famous, from ordinary people.

No one is saving the Tweets, though.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is modified from an earlier version.

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