‘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

REASSURANCE

August 28, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Received a chatty, welcome letter from a special friend whom I have not seen since 2006, and before that the early 1990s, and before that 1981 and 1966. Might seem odd that there was a letter at all since what sort of friendship meets on just four occasions in 50 years?

Yet friendships are not defined by physical presence. The best of them have to do with the elemental, where touchstones are again stepped upon, as children do crossing a stream. You grow, and there are important things to do, you live your life, but things are still tucked away in the closet.

In such friendships, there does not have to be deep emotion involved or a sharing of private lives — the real living that counts with the significant people in your existence. Such friendship, with a rare letter, or note or comment, is like recalling a teacher long ago, or the walk you took downtown to the bus.

There are many similar seconds or even minutes in life, and reconnection is reassurance that you have lived and that it has been worthwhile. And you do not have to dwell in or on the past to appreciate that. Most can manage a smile in quick reflective thought on seemingly unimportant events.

The friend’s letter was prompted by my own, simply to keep in touch with two people who share with me  a common upbringing in what was once a rural place. So, chatty stuff, not earth-shattering news — this and that about each other’s family, reports that despite the usual afflictions of getting older there is good health.

Like I said, it was crossing the stream again, hopping on those old rocks. Reassurance.

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

 

A HELPING HAND

August 21, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

NYACK, N.Y. — As a former trustee and now volunteer at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in the birthplace home of the famed American realist painter, I have heard noises here in the early morning quiet of a Federalist/Queen Anne structure that gives off warm vibes.
It could not be otherwise, I figure, since young Edward, from an early age, was encouraged to draw. His parents even sent him to art schools after Edward’s 1900 graduation from Nyack High School, a rarity in an age when middle-class families sought professional careers in the medical and legal professions for their offspring.
So, the house at 58 North Broadway, now number 82, must have been with enough family purring. Mother Elizabeth and sister Marion also drew, and father Garrett, a dry goods merchant in town, would rather keep the quiet and read and read.
I have done handyman work at the Hopper homestead for about 10 years, literally following in the footsteps of many volunteers who in the 1970s saved the then rundown house from possible demolition. They tore up floors, restored the wide-plank pine boards, fixed sash, poured a basement floor, rewired, added a bathroom and restored and enhanced the gardens. Then they offered it as an art center to showcase artists of all persuasion.
Today, the mission continues, with archival material from Edward’s Nyack years, more art installations and plans to showcase the house as interest in Hopper’s iconic work continues. Hopper House receives visitors from around the world. (edwardhopperhouse.org)
Continuing my handyman work early last Sunday, installing electrical service and computer cables, I was drilling holes in a closet in the “new” master bedroom added about 1882 to the 1858 home when I again heard creaking noises, footstep-like sounds. And, again, they did not bother me, and I did not bother the ghosts.
I tolerate ghosts, have seen them in Rockland and at the old North Church in Boston, and have never felt threatened. I usually say something aloud, such as “Hi, hope you can leave this place and join happy eternity,” figuring a ghost is in this world because he/she still has an earthy connection that must be released.
Back at my handyman duties, snaking cable from the upstairs bedroom to a downstairs office, I had to drill a half-inch hole in the closet floor. The first one was off the mark, so I did another a foot away.
Eventually, the cables were in, but I was left with an extra hole and knew I needed a plug. Just as I banged the last nail, the very piece I longed for came popping out of nowhere in the closet. Fit like a glove.
I guess Edward, or someone at Hopper House, was my ghost-assistant. Thank you.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@hotmail.com or thecolumnrule.com

THE SABERS RATTLE

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com

If, at the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of each year, from 1918 on when “The War to End All Wars” was over, you would begin to toll a bell 20 times a minute for the 37,468,904 total in casualties, it would take more than 30,000 years to somberly do so.

Today, on the August anniversary of Great Britain’s 1914 declaration of war against Germany, and also in the month that the United States said it would not get involved, but eventually did, the dead, the wounded, those with “shell shock” must not be recalled simply as numbers.
Why didn’t this First World War prevent all others? In one of the costliest battles of the 1914-1918 conflict, the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, the British suffered 60,000 casualties on the first day. When it was all over and just six miles gained for the Brits, there were 1,219,000 dead and wounded. And that does not include the emotionally afflicted, people who in World War II we would term suffering from “battle fatigue” and now, as the wars continue, “post-traumatic stress syndrome.”
War does not end because greed is always with us — greed of nations, individuals, the military-industrial complex that profits so well. War does not end because of power and false pride by nations who are really little children taking affront in what begins as a playground insult and escalates into utter horror, as happened when the dominoes toppled in 1914. The entangling alliances of that time over Belgian neutrality and world trade, culture, ethnicity, old hatreds  were the excuses to rally patriotism.
Soon enough, the voices of the eager volunteers became the shrill cries of the brave as they went over the top, and as quickly, the deep stillness of the forever graveyard. War is folly, and in the end it creates little that could not have been gained by compromise and common sense, long before madmen such as Hitler have a foothold that can only be broken by war.
In “All Quiet On the Western Front,” the famous post-war novel by  Erich Maria Remarque,  which details his fellow German soldiers’ physical and mental harm during the war and  the isolation and detachment from ordinary life when back home,  the character “Kropp” says, “”It’s queer, when one thinks about it … we are here to protect our Fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who’s in the right?”
And, “We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from the true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left.”
Now, more than 100 years later, the long trenches of the Marne, Passchendale, Verdun, so many other battlefields, still echo in history with their artillery fire, machine guns, death and madness, for war never disappears. The great still is indeed today’s all quiet on the western front, 2014, but the battles are stirring elsewhere. Is the Korean Penninsula next?
On this anniversary of the beginning of a war meant to end it all, and, coincidentally the 53-year mark of America’s accelerated effort in Vietnam, a nation with whom we now trade, the bells must continue to toll, for nations are ruled by men, too often by the folly of such.
As in “All Quiet …”:  “While they (the pontificating teachers and politicos) continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger.”

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

 

DIVERSITY THE NORM

August 7, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

One of the givens in growing up in the semi-rural county of Rockland, New York, in my 1950s years was that we were surrounded by diversity. It had always been that way, since the Dutch days and before that those of the various, mostly intinerant Native-American tribes.
A major 1600s landowners was a free black man. There were early settlements of Irish, Jewish Orthodox and Latino. Since the county is so close to the port of New York, a mix of peoples was inevitable.
So, as a young fellow, it never seemed strange that an old man with a yarmulke sitting in Tiny’s Diner in Spring Valley would ask for a “glass tea,” a Lower East Side expression.
Nor would my brother and I, then living in nearby Tallman, even question why the limping fellow who ran the Sunoco station on Route 59 would be called “Mr. One-a-Minoot,” pronounced that way in his Italian dialect.
This nice man sold 10-cent Dixie Cup ice cream, the ones with Hollywood movie star pictures on the inside covers. They were half-vanilla, half-chocolate, or strawberry/vanilla, and you devoured the treat with a spoon that you licked down to the bare wood.
“Mr. One-a-Minoot” was always busy, handling the gas pumps, working in the small garage and selling ice cream to first- and second-graders like my brother and me. But he was never rushed, never grouchy. He didn’t talk to us, but he was kind, simply saying, “one-a-minoot,” so that he could get us the Dixie Cups.
The given that was diversity in my place and time extended to ethnicity. I do not recall anyone in school saying he or she was “Italian,” or “Irish” or “Puerto Rican” or whatever. We were all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, of course, in joint celebration, but since there was so much diversity, since it was common from birth, we just did not single out people as this or that. Guess it was just a simpler time.

“Mr. One-a-Minoot” remains a favorite character from my childhood, not because he was of Italian descent but because he was a nice man who sold us a Dixie Cup treat, asking us to wait a second so he could get the ice cream.

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

WHITHER A EULOGY?

July 31, 2017

By Arthur Henry Gunther III

Not all eulogies are truthfully written, because there is a natural spin to comments made about the departed, much like the wailing of a relative or two at a wake for someone they actually disliked in life. The good-form factor seems to kick in, in the balance we seek as decent people.
Truth is, though, there is something positive to say about almost all of us: “He wasn’t so bad, after all. I miss him.” The average person on this earth, given individual circumstances — hardship, wealth, emotional makeup, health concerns — does pretty good overall as a human being and deserves a final tribute as well as the recollections that continue in those who remember long after.
What of the people who deserve no eulogy, such as a Hitler? Nothing good can be said about such a person, who might not even be human but of a devil, the actual Devil, if you will. History is written after such a man or woman, noting the violent death of millions whose eulogies cannot be uttered for there are too many dead at once. The collective eulogy later emerges as a holocaust memorial.
It is custom to be grand in expression after a public figure dies, such as a U.S. president. His administration may have been controversial, the achievements relatively small, the public support generally unenthusiastic. But he was president, and there has been dignity in that office for a long time, despite politics.
So, the military parade takes place, there is a laying-in at the presidential library and heartfelt speeches are made by those who saw fewer warts than others as well as more restrained comment by those who noted some achievement that could be mentioned at passing.
Not unlike those relatives at the wake who disliked the deceased in life, but on balance, followedgood form and found something to applaud.
We do not know what future eulogies will be said for particular leaders when that moment is necessary. The answer may be that again there will be none for an individual, but many for the victims.

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

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.