IMPOLITENESS, INCIVILITY

August 6, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

Impoliteness and incivility are what they are these days, which generally means watered-down manners, some to the point of not being recognizable social behavior. It’s as if no one taught some clowns how to act toward others. And this is from someone who has been a clown himself, though not so much recently.

In my parts, north of New York City in the burbs, some public meetings become shouting matches and physical altercations as if town hall were the place for a street rumble. And there is always the incivility of the street, with impatient drivers, including myself.

But the lack of manners, the impoliteness most distressing is in communication, or the absence of it. Too many people, “important” ones, too, fail to answer letters and e-mails, even when they solicit same. I have written or emailed (on required forms) to the governor, to Ford Motors headquarters, to Ford engineers, to Dunkin’ Donuts and to others. All these business and people pay big bucks to solicit your opinion and some have flashy websites announcing just how “valuable” your view is. Yet write a constructive, balanced criticism with helpful suggestions, and not only do you not get a form-letter reply when you should receive at least a considered, individual response, but you receive a reply at all. None of my letters or emails in the past few years have been acknowledged. That is bad manners, and it is not polite.

The individual writer may have a harebrained idea, but if he or she presents it in a non-shouting, well-considered, non-offensive way, it should get a reply.

If people do not listen, do not pay attention to others, there is no communication, and that is sloppy for society, especially today when emotions, not clear-headedness, often rules.

Adding to this social incivility are some tradesmen. I recently considered having construction work done in my home and requested quotes from three businesses, all local. Two never replied, though they run ads shouting for trade. One firm sent a fellow who never got back to me, despite several calls to his office.

The bottom line is that my project is probably too small for their effort — the companies could use their staff on bigger jobs, with more profit. Not polite behavior, though. Bad business, too, as I won’t speak well of these outfits.

When some of us went to school, we were taught to write personal and business letters. We also penned replies. The point was not only to learn how to compose such missives but to reinforce the standard that in a civil society, communication — the back and forth of it —  is necessary and expected. (Tweets don’t count.)

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com. This essay is adapted from an earlier version. 

VERY HUMAN MOMENT

July 30, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     A “human” story, of which there have been too little in this age of orchestrated hate, prejudice, judgment and punishment. …

     I have not shed a tear in my hometown of Spring Valley, N.Y., in many decades, but Tuesday last the drought ended for a brief but soul-touching moment.

     Volunteers were doing their remarkable thing, as they and their forebears have done since 1985 in a free breakfast program, no questions asked. We work out of the old gym/meal-gathering room of the 1865 United Church building, a place where I attended Boy Scouts in the 1950s, at an age when it was easier to cry, though there was no reason to.

     Lots of memories in that room, including  the emotions that rise and play out as you see humanity in all its wonderful hues, idiosyncrasies, fears, joy, hope and frustration. Sometimes it chokes you up; other times you are so very proud of your fellow human.

     Last Tuesday, having finished my part as a cook — the pancakes, sausages, soup, oatmeal, desserts seaboarded to the serving area and almost gone — I moseyed from my flattop grill sanctuary to where the ladies ladle out the soup and offer the other foods. 

     Standing behind Jane and Margaret on the pancakes/sausage, with Sally on the soup, Moucille on the oatmeal, Phyllis handing out donated and purchased clothing and toiletries from her “store,” and Christine, Ann, Olive and Maryann on standby, I looked at the serving line to see this young man, as tall as can be, as thin as all get out, plate in hand, ready for food. For whatever reason, he locked his eyes on mine and said “I’m sorry, father.” He had  tears on his face. I wanted to end the emotion right then and there because there was no need for this young fellow to apologize to me. I extended my hand, shook his tightly as he repeated, “I’m sorry father.” 

    I think I left him with reassurance that all was OK, and that if he wanted “forgiveness,” the handshake did it. Quickly, I slid back into my sanctuary, with a tear or two myself, something that rarely happens.

     I was certain that the fellow felt better. And once the emotion subsided, I was grateful that I was there to do something, which came not from me but from whatever decency almost all of us can summon when we are given the chance to do so.

     Driving home, NPR on the radio, the report was about  more claims of “fake news,” how illegal immigrants are supposedly taking jobs from Americans, how government blocks big business, why “America needs to be great again.” Lots of negativity.

     I turned off the radio and thought back to a tall, skinny, lost young man who sought forgiveness from his “father.” That was real news. 

     

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

KEEP THE WATCH

July 23, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In the 1939 political comedy/drama, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the naive but principled Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is supposed to be a do-no-harm bumpkin replacement for a deceased U.S. senator from an unnamed western state who will not interfere with wheeling and dealing. Instead, he proves to be the American eagle who soars above impacted greed and graft to remind us of higher ideals.

     This classic by director Frank Capra gets the point across by involving the freshness and promise of youth (boy rangers), human kindness (the encouraging Harry Carey, Senate president) and the re-born (all-business political operative Jean Arthur). 

     War is just beginning in Europe, and its growing shadow is heading toward America, the Great Depression is still on, and democracy’s values are questioned as to practicality. 

     The film’s hero, in climax, endures a 24-hour Senate filibuster over a land grab to reaffirm the American ideals of freedom while disclosing the true motives of the greed scheme, yet none of the senators are convinced. 

     Is this the end of the American Founders’ hopes? Is the nation no longer a beacon for the world, lost in favoritism for the rich and powerful? 

     When all seems hopeless, the chief Senate wheeler-dealer, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) realizes his guilt and affirms to all Smith’s true, unselfish nature. The bumpkin is, in his seeming naiveté, the inherent goodness of man, the hope of it anyway. 

     That was 79 years ago, in a fictional U.S. Senate. There was, as now, wrongdoing and special interest benefitting individuals and groups rather than the ordinary citizen. There were rigged votes. There were lemming-like politicians willing to be told untruths and to uphold same to stay in the club. Most of all, there were those few like Jefferson Smith, those fertile seeds in an arid wasteland of diverted moisture and nutrition, who articulated in 24 hours of growing hoarseness the values of decency to which we in America aspire even as we stumble so very greatly. It was 1939. It was fiction. 

     Or is it 2018, this time not a movie?

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

 

SILENCE, BEYOND GOLDEN

July 16, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

I talk too much, can be overly gregarious, especially when there is a seemingly captive audience. That’s rude, isn’t it? Yet most of us do not listen, at least not fully, so while doing so is defensive and protective, it can be a put-off as well.

Human nature has us repeating our idiosyncracies over and over, and that at least is a marker for the friends we do keep and for the relatives and co-workers who have little choice. It’s like driving a particular car — you know what the quirks are, what buttons to push, what to ignore.

What about silence, though? If with a stranger, it can be awkward, uncomfortable. If with a talker, relief. If with someone who might often talk and talk but with whom you also share comfortable, mutual, give-and-take conversation, silence can at times produce goose bumps, understanding that needs no words. Reassuring, perhaps even a purring moment, surely reinforcement that a mutual existence continues. 

Truly, human beings do not have to jabber on to be understood. In fact, silence can tell you more, reveal more and become a hand-holder that is reachable even when those involved are not present.

Besides, the quiet that silence lives in is a true security blanket.

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

AFFIRMATION

July 9, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

A recent painting, “Abstract on a Red Wall,” came about because what I had on the canvas was not working — there was nothing there that told a story or suggested one. The colors could not stand on their own. The form, the line, had no structure that beckoned. It wasn’t frustrating because it was just media and paint and a missing ingredient — inspiration. It wasn’t the end of the world.

I had other things to do: take a walk, watch a favorite British do-it-yourself show (amazing how the English build with older techniques and tools), maybe eat a donut or just chill.

     The eventual rescue, and rescues usually do come, was in letting go. The painting did not have to get done, not that day or week or month. I wasn’t earning a living at it; it wasn’t going to be recognized as exceptional. It wasn’t going to complete my soul. I would not have dreams about the painting.

     Letting go did the trick. Whatever mundane tasks I went off to complete, whatever time spent doing not much of anything, chilled me enough to return to that particular canvas.

     In its execution, I soon found I was painting a wall, with the hint of a hallway to the left. The work itself became largely red, much like the hue you see in a Piet Mondrian (though hardly approaching that artistry). 

     The upper righthand corner of the piece soon included part of a second painting, a painting within a painting, an abstract of various colors and angles in its own frame.

     There — the work was done. There was “color field,” predominant red but other colors, too, that stood on their own. Yet there was a story as well, suggested by the hallway, the angles in the painting, the overall look.

     It was, in its very own small way, art imitating life. The hallway was my walk-out from the original painting that was not working. The angles were the this and that which I did away from the work. And the red, so much of it, was renewed zest.

     A small thing overall, just a time in the life, affecting no one but affirming existence. We have all been there.

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

HOW TO HONOR THE CAPITAL GAZETTE FIVE

July 2, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Of all that was so sorrowfully missing from the presidency on the line-of-duty deaths of five newspapermen and women in Maryland last week, the saddest was a moment of silence. Had the non-president, even before he again flew off to his Bedminster, N.J., golf course for another taxpayer-funded weekend, bowed his head and led us all in respect for the fallen, perhaps that would have been a nod toward humanity. At last.

But, no, Trump offered so little and soon will return to his fake “fake news” claim meant to smear the messengers of fact and truth, however imperfect we are.

I took his ice-cold feelings personally, for I am a retired newspaperman who also blessedly worked in an at-times cursed and cursing local newsroom, as did the five men and women killed in the offices of The Capital Gazette  in Annapolis Thursday by a gunman on a grudge mission.

Too many hate the messenger, and if you are crazed as well, and if you can easily buy weapons despite that, all journalists are in the gunsight, emboldened by a “president” who called media coverage of the North Korean peace talks “treasonous.” Joseph Goebbels, step forward.

 All we citizens should take Trump’s despicable behavior personally. Where was his empathy for the fallen, as much in the line of duty, and now in the line of fire, as our military? Tweeting that he offered prayers for the victims and then leaving it at that is not enough. This was a mourning weekend in Annapolis, in America, and he played golf.

     Bury your dead, loved ones of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. Those of civility mourn with you.

     Perhaps the epitaph on all these tombstones should read, in the words of Pat Ferguson, Gazette reporter: “… buy a local newspaper.” Truth begins in covering local village and school meetings, all government doings. Cover the statehouse and the Congress. And, especially today, cover a presidency that is leaning fascist, playing representative government as fools, pushing an agenda fueled by racism, fear, hatred. Oligarchy, stand up.

     Today, those of decency bow in mourning for the five journalists. On Nov. 6, we show up at the polls to forward what the Capital Gazette Five we’re accomplishing. Do not let democracy die in darkness. Do not let their deaths be in vain.

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

IN A VILLAGE …

 

June 25, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com;ahgunther@yahoo.com

     In my childhood village of Spring Valley,  not far from New York City but at the time country enough to be “upstate,” there was a protective rhythm.

     My father had grown up there. My grandfather arrived as a young man, and this was his community for decades. My brother and I went through elementary and high school with kids we knew from early childhood. They were the children of children my father played alongside.

     The stores on Main Street changed little. The 14-cent-a-ticket movie theater was my dad’s youthful hangout, too, same price. The post office on Madison where I searched through discarded junk mail pretending I had received it was dedicated in a ceremony which my dad and his mother attended. My eighth-grade history class with Miss Christina Schopper began with an admonishment that “I hope you don’t act up like your father.” My dad just laughed when I told him.

     My grandfather’s garage off Tenure and Summit had Ed White’s marriage license nailed to the wall. Ed, who had lived in the house, owned a grocery and later a hobby shop, was a village trustee, too. My brother Craig and I went to school with his sons.

     The open ground off Church Street, near the old Consolidated Laundries, was overcome annually by the circus, not a carnival, but a true three-ringer. Every kid went, and we sat as we did in the public school assemblies or the elementary school at St. Joseph’s.

     Newly built Memorial Park offered swings and a hop-on, self-propelled merry-go-round where Craig and I met George Dloughy before we both were in kindergarten, recalling our fun until his last days.

     We kids of that time, in that village, with its long-serving stores, with teachers spanning generations, with neighbors who knew neighbors who knew neighbors for decades may not have had much materially, but the five or ten cents we occasionally carried in the pockets of the two pairs of pants or dresses our parent managed to buy for each school year got us three Bachman pretzels at Roth’s or a five-cent cherry coke at Arvanite’s. 

     The walk downtown to that treat, with our minds lost in thought about school, or friends or girlfriends and boyfriends or just idled in life’s ordinary but fantastic moments was beyond monetary value.

     I hope everyone gets to live in or near a village, somewhere.

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

THE GREAT INDECENCY

June 18, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     This imperfect experiment called America, conceived in great, precipice-style argument by the Framers, not fully realized as to intent and potential, nevertheless has endured. Winston Churchill, the half-American: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

     Therefore, citizens, accept the imperfection while eying the winter of our discontent, that the present time of unhappiness can and must pass. In particular, reject the great indecency of this moment because it is not American, not that of most of the republic anyway, but a re-emerging of our demonstrated racism by some, hatred by some, prejudice by some, violence by some, evil act by some. All such horror has been repudiated by those of decency.

     Slavery was part of the great indecency, as was the massacre of Native-Americans. “Irish Need Not Apply” was, too. So was jailing women urging suffrage. And the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry. And, now, the caging of very young children, torn from the love and protection of their illegal immigrant mothers.

     That the United States is currently “led” by a person who tweets falsehood, who encourages discord, who uses the bully pulpit as a Mussolini balcony, is the greatest indecency.

     This man does not deserve to champion Republican Party views, to be successor to presidents who have led the nation in war and peace. Were he the local school principal, the town attorney, CEO of a corporation or on the school board, his resignation or ouster would already have occurred.

     Those who support him, in the name of Republican or conservative or Tea Party or nationalistic “values,” prostitute those tenets. They close their eyes and kiss the derriere, hoping for a ride on the victory wagon while not realizing what a large piece of their soul they have sullied.

     Until we in this imperfect America strongly insist on the end of this present indecency, when, according to our history we should know better, until we again walk on the rut-filled path to progress toward the Framers’ goals, we are complicit. 

Those caged children’s tears are staining our decency.

     

     

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact him via ahgunther@yahoo.com

NEVER CAST A STONE …

June 11, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

     There is, in depression, a numbness, the nerve endings dulled by a sinisterly administered anesthetic. There is a cloud about you, as if you are in a daze. Little excites you, and if you have the energy to get up, it is the tasks of the day — brushing teeth, getting dressed, doing this and that until nightfall — that babies you along, pushes one foot in front of another. You truly “exist” not in this world or any other, but in a world of detachment. You seem without hope.

I know, I was there in my mid-40s, for two solid years and steps back for some years after. Job success (as a newspaperman), two wonderful sons, a loving and giving wife, family, friends — all kept me from falling away though they never knew it. 

     I was fortunate in that my depression was milder than most, and I could at times see rays of light toward the end of my tunnel.

As an individual, I am too self-sufficient, and I do not advertise my hurt. That locks people — loved ones — out. But it is also protective. I figure that I will mend myself so I can give to them. I prefer to give than take, which, oddly enough, is sometimes selfish. But it is me.

     “Me” was difficult to find in my depression. What had excited me about living was kept at bay by the cloud, and it was only the structure of work, with my writing coming easily, and my continuing ability to get basic tasks done at home, for the family, for my aging parents, that got me from one day to the next.

     That and a belief that there was a helper, an angel next to me. In those several moments when I thought I might be leaving, I reached out and squeezed air, though it was not that at all. Kept me alive.

     Slowly, as the months progressed, the cloud dispelled, a smile came at times, a re-invigoration developed, and living resumed. Though there were occasional pulls to darkness, I never again felt listless in a breathing body. 

     Though depression passed for me without seeing a doctor, without medication, without any consultation beyond squeezing that angel’s hand, that was my circumstance. Others similarly affected might do well seeking professional care. In fact, maybe most should.

     Having survived depression, which came as a ship in enveloping fog, not because I lost a job, or money or family, my thought is that some loss or addition in brain chemistry brought it about.

     We know so little about depression, about the brain’s chemical make-up. There is not enough research. Drugs, which make pharmaceutical companies obscenely rich, are not the answer, given the side effects. There has to be an understanding of nature, of how the body works and why it is assaulted.

     Society must also understand that suicide is not the coward’s way out but an act in a feeling of utter hopelessness. Hopelessness that somehow we must see and address. Never cast a stone here. We must note our fellow human’s pain and be that angel who offers a squeezing hand. It will save lives that can then thrive.

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

‘MY KIND OF JOINT’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

BETHESDA, Md. — Sometimes you have to leave home to go home again. That was the case on my last day, four days later, in this ever-expanding D.C. suburb. Government must water even the weeds here, so rapidly rise the office buildings, homes and retail space.

A bit too much for a homegrown fellow blessed with a semi-rural upbringing in Rockland County, N.Y., itself now in fast-track growth.

I was in Bethesda because No. 2 son, Andrew Edward, is relocating with Army physician wife Patricia and their two daughters from a posting in San Antonio. The replacement house requires a new kitchen, and your author has made enough home-improvement mistakes to qualify as installation/repairman. So, I spent four days doing electrical, plumbing, carpentry after a 259-mile trip that challenged my aging driving skills. Alone in the car at 3:30 a.m., God was my co-pilot.

Andrew and I managed well enough, and a considerable sum was saved. He is nearing the new kitchen.

Since we were in effect two bachelors, and there are no cooking facilities, we ate out, in places ranging from way too expensive to poor-quality offering to “home again.”

I will focus on the Tastee Diner, a 24-hour joint proud to call itself that, in downtown Bethesda.

Just wonderful. The grill guy cooks your order in front of you. It gets to the table pronto, with no stop under heat lamps until it can travel.

Old-fashioned, solid breakfast food, with coffee refilled by a “Hi, Hon” waitress. She knew the locals, of course. In fact, she probably has a degree in human psychology, earned on the job.

I thought I was back at Tiny’s Diner in the Spring Valley of my 1950’s youth, or at Billy Hogan’s or Sparky’s.

Nothing fancy. Everything reassuring. I was home again. Taxpayer-supported government, expanding outward from D.C., may be in the menu nationally, but the Tastee, serving Americana since 1935, has never gotten too big for its britches.

My kind of joint.

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