THE NEWS PILE

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III 

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

If you could capture images of the past and store them as memory files that could be flashed on a computer screen, then I would show you what my bedroom in Hillcrest, N.Y., looked like at age 19, in another century literally. 

My room – almost 60 percent of the Cape Cod-style attic – was cavernous enough so that the Armstrong cork tile floor, in shades of dark, medium and light brown, could accommodate layers of newspapers, simply dropped there by a teen who thirsted after the ink sheets and who did not have to pay for them since the daily rags were bought by my father. 

There was the morning Daily News and Mirror, the afternoon New York Journal-American and the New York World Telegram & Sun, all out of New York City, and the local Rockland Journal-News, the original 1889 daily that was absorbed into a three-county paper in 1998. I liked features in every edition: the gritty tabloid reports in the Mirror and Daily News; the “double-truck” (two pages, facing) photo spread in the News; the numerous columnists in the Journal-American and the World-Telegram; the financials and society news of the Telegram; and the local reports of my growing suburbs. 

I would look over these papers in favorite position – reclining on a “Hollywood-style” single bed – on and off through the day and into the evening. I should have been at my studies, but I was not. I also should have been keeping the room, really a luxury for a young fellow because of its size and privacy, neat, but I did not. A few years back, my mother had refused to clean it anymore or to straighten up, since I was supposedly a big boy and could do that on my own. Well, I didn’t. 

Not that there was food about or other unsightly stuff that might bring bugs or the Health Department. I was simply lazy, didn’t get checked on it, didn’t have the right conscience about it and utterly enjoyed my sanctuary. The sight of those papers lying there was like walking into a private library. 

And I loved libraries – formal places such as the Finkelstein in Spring Valley, near Hillcrest. But often the books were “untouchable.” I had difficulty reading at length, actually concentrating, which was discovered some years later and which I learned to compensate for based on a speed-reading technique. 

Yet I had no trouble scanning newspapers. The photos were interesting, and I greatly enjoyed the forceful speech in the News editorials. The opinion cartoons there, especially C.D. Batchelor’s on the dangers of drunken driving (wow, in 1961?) were great. The columnists in these papers were at times poetic, strong, emotional, charmingly aloof, and all-in-all interesting. They were my kind of reading. 

I did not know it, but poring over the papers every day, even in the “mess” I created, was my first post-high school education. In a few years, without deliberate intent, I actually found myself working for a newspaper, The Rockland Journal-News, and in my 42 years there would photograph, report, edit and write what I think were forceful editorials as well as pen a weekly column much like this one. 

So, Mom, I did make a mess, but it turned out to be for a reason, praise be. 

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

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IN THE MIX

‘COLOR’/gunther 2021

August 2, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     In these colors – black, white, brown, red, yellow – there is humanity and inhumanity. We do not see clear colors, untouched by others – that is impossible no matter the prejudice. You can live and die in one color, but your eternity is in the mix.

     The painting might just as well be fully black for that is the root of all human pigment. It is not because as in a brown planting field in season, the colors of the rainbow abound, giving beauty but then sustenance. 

     And variety. There are different tastes in the various hues of vegetables and fruits, preferable to individuals. In the finish, the compost pile has them all, mingled into stimulant for the next crop.

     In the end, no color stands alone forever, no gender is paramount, no political philosophy survives but in the mix. As the dying Indian says in “High Tor,” the 1936 Maxwell Anderson play, “Nothing is made by men but makes, in the end, good ruins.”

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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THE RIDE

July 25, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

One recent day, I took a car ride with an intriguing woman (all are), and we had conversation. Never sure where those mutual talks lead, as I draw from a stream of consciousness, and the partner usually does the same. That means you are in the current, and it can be fast-moving; it can swirl into a placid pond and linger a bit; it can go over rocks, even waterfalls and lead to lakes, even an ocean. Much like relationships.

The lady and I were riding past part of the lower Hudson River Valley mountain range. I have had other such conversations in this region, and the description already given about how both water and relationships proceed or stumble or end or diverge fits. Somehow you never forget the journey.

My lady, though I am not sure she is truly mine, is actually a painting, an acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 24, and we were headed for the members’ show at an art center about five miles from Anthony’s Nose, the mountain that looks across the Hudson at its brother, Bear Mt.

The woman in the painting will no doubt be shy among stronger work from far better artists, but she’s to be the room, and her friend is happy about that. Good enough.

Who is the lady? Maybe my remembered conversation with her will tell me more in a discovery that leads somewhere, even to tributaries that do not extend very far.

The painting, and so the woman, began as a search for color. I deliberately chose her green coat, or perhaps blouse, and her red Irish lass’s hair. She is a stand-out lady, against a background of yellow ochre and similar color mixed and applied to show the stain of the wood, a medium preferable to me than canvas for this piece.

Her expression was painted last, for that is her soul. We only find that in exquisite moments, if we ever see the within at all. I drew her sharp nose, mouth and chin first, guided by the well of prior observation. I have seen such line before. When her eye was finished and the rouge of her face applied, she was there.

I like her. I may even love the lady, not as an art piece, for it may not be that at all, but for the feeling.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier piece.

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DEFINING A PLACE

photo/gunther

 

July 19, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

Every home has its entrance, perhaps a front porch or steps or inside foyer. So it is with places, usually introduced by paths, then roads.

In Rockland County, N.Y., close to Gotham but oh so many miles away ifrom urbanity there is a winding, quite old road from Pomona to Haverstraw, through New City.

It is the road of artists, writers, thespians. So much creativity has begun there over centuries, fiiting experience to the annual birth of apples and peaches at the 1700s Concklin Orchards in the Ramapo hamlet of Pomona, named after the Goddess of Fruit

South Mountain Road, Pomona to Haverstraw, the route of artists and fruit farmers, of thespians and writers, of High Tor ghosts, also has a magic tree in the Concklin orchard. It is the doorman to this enchanted land.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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DOORS

July 12, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(ahgunther@yahoo.com)

     Stare at a door long enough, and it will open by itself. No, this isn’t telekinesis, merely but sometimes profoundly, a memory trip.

     We open and close, leave open and close doors throughout our existence, letting people, thoughts and life itself in or ushered out or kept out. We are at times hermits and social butterflies, frowns and smiles, sadness, exhilaration.

     Yet, if at all possible, and it must prove so if individuality is kept, we are the masters of the door. It hangs on hinges so that we can open or close, though others, sometimes uninvited, do the same.

     The locks on our doors are psychological keys to our personality, though obviously tempered by time and place. The multiple locks in urban setting speak to safety. The smart phone-connected cameras that accompany locks and doors today are about safety, yes, but also mistrust and worry in a vastly different age. Many, many doors of the past had long lost their keys, the welcome mat in place, even for the near stranger.

     The teen who stares at his of her childhood door, noticing the same paint chips, the remnants of posters and the lower smudges of the elementary school years is now in anticipation of going through that passage for the last time, off to college, off to life and other doors.

     Life drawing to a close sees the individual remembering in flashes of memory what happened as the door opened and closed, opened and closed.

     New to a house, to a room, memories begin for others as they glance, maybe stare at doors soon to be companions to life, to memories.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

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THE POTENTIAL

Painting by gunther

July 4, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

     TAPPAN, N.Y. – “When in the course of human events” begins the document crafted for July 4, 1776, a federal holiday now recognized as Independence Day. That the American Experiment has barely begun is as obvious as fireworks. As explosive too.

     This particular area of the nation that I write from gave birth to the Declaration of Independence in the Orangetown Resolutions posted two years before – to the day – on July 4, 1774. Those were the first organized stirrings protesting the extent of the British Crown’s claimed, over-reaching authority.

     Now, 245 years after 1776, on a day that is beach-going, includes parades, fireworks and, yes, the jingoism that is the politicians’ ever delight, the American Experiment which included the mission statement “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness …” is yet to flower in a field open to all. All are not equal. Many are kept from being so.

     The poor are not free from economic shackles held tight by greed and uncaring; minorities are largely unable to climb the ladder of progress; so many children face a life of under-education, crime and prejudice; there is yet no fair system of immigration that recognizes the many nationalities which built – and build – the nation; Native Americans who were herded onto reservations in our claimed manifest destiny are owed reaffirming recognition; the middle class, so vibrant that post-war it grew exponentially and brought the stability of home ownership is shrinking; gender facts of life become prejudice labels; forgotten factory workers, small farmers and salt-of-the-earth folk are manipulated into fear by political agenda that would never give them their due nor a roof over their heads. 

     All this and more await address and redress in the American Experiment. Yet the country, this America, this USA, has the potential to work magic, as has happened, to provide opportunity, to pay it forward.

     Note July 4 for its still-unfulfilled possibilities. Continue the experiment.

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

‘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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