THAT WHICH ENDURES

June 26, 2017

By Arthur Henry Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

With Paris under recent attack in a discordant world in which bad people exploit differences and legitimate need, in a beautiful city of proud and diverse citizenry, there is a constant hum that cannot be quieted. It is reassuring in the punctuation of bombs and terrorism, in France and in too many other world sites.
It has been a few years since a visit to the Louvre, the national art museum on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1er Arrondissement, the First District.
A former fortress and palace, the Musée du Louvre opened in 1793 after the National Assembly of the Revolution decided that it should contain masterpieces. That it has and does, despite wars, depressions and the whims of humankind that try to depress the arts. The Louvre itself has benefited from strife, including receiving looted art in the Napoleon era, losing some to the British Museum after Waterloo.
Yet for the visitor trying to escape officialdom and the oft-sorry consequences, the importance of the Louvre or any place of art as to the constancy of culture, history and genius — the better side of life —  is priceless. It is akin to the flag still flying after bombardment.
When I visited in 2012, on a rainy day in which The Inverted Pyramid, the famous 1993 glass addition, was covered with drops that gave an Impressionist’s view of people and place, September 2001 had passed, though the wounds did– have — not, but the terrorism of 2017 was yet to come.
Yet Paris, its people and its famous Musée had already long endured war and the other follies of humankind. Displayed on the Louvre walls and sculpture platforms were proof that not everything is about horror, that the tread of culture cannot be ripped apart.

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

ON FATHER’S DAY, MEMORIES OF A GRANDPA

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Bahgunther@yahoo.com

If you are fortunate, before you grow up but as you so quickly grow up, you’ll get to spend a few years with a patient, somewhat quiet, a bit odd grandfather like I did, who had a knack for fixing almost anything with a pocketknife or a squirt of oil from the old-style cans, made of metal with a long spout. You thumbed the bottom, which was made of spring steel, and out came the oil. My grandfather could handle so many household problems with basic tools that it became a metaphor for building confidence.

To this day, the sound of the popped can brings me to a place where I did not pay bills, where I was fed without cooking for myself, where I was chauffered in my parents’ car, where I was tucked in at night, where the sunrise and chilled air of spring promised a good day of day-dreaming and hope for the future.

My grandfather did not say much, perhaps because he was raised in a time when you sat at the table with parents and simply ate, speaking only when spoken too. That he came from a Prussian family probably enforced the discipline. Yet he talked a bit at his own table, and certainly went beyond his usual word-thrifty ways when he took time to explain carpentry to me, or a fix for a leaking faucet or to tell me my bike needed oiling. Even if it did not, I would ask him to do so, having ridden the three miles from my home to his for that reason and others.

Out to the garage he would go, an old, wooden structure with “novelty” siding, the floorboards of which had absorbed so many car leakings that the warming sun produced a woodsy, oil smell which in time would no longer be an odor but a tug at great and warm memory whenever I come upon a similar scent.

So out to the garage my grandfather went, grabbing the copper oiling can from a shelf in the corner, just below markings my father made in the garage when he was my age. The bike would be oiled, as my dad’s bicycle had been, and I would be off on the same streets he rode upon.

That ride home would mostly include a look for friends, or a stop at the small downtown A&P for a plum or two or three at 19 cents a pound, or some thoughts about where I would be in a few years, driving a car, not a bike.

I did not usually think about my grandfather on that ride because I foolishly took him, my grandmother, their fine home and everything then existing for granted. I never thought that all could go away.

Now I know better, which is not a better thing. It is simply reality, so nicely interrupted when I again hear the spring sound from my own oiling can.

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

CITY’S GOT RHYTHM

June 12, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — If music is a leveler, the proof is here. This city of mixed heritage, constant politeness and high temperatures seems to sing its way through the day and evening with song. There is music everywhere.
This traveler, however reluctant, did finally make it back to where a son and family live, had a truly good time with two grandchildren and managed to make quite a few electrical repairs. In all the doings, there seemed to be music.
When I went to hardware stores or big-box retailers, I heard country tunes. There were Mexican-style tunes in restaurants. The Alamo was festive with mariachi. Cars stopped at lights vibrated with a mix of music.
It could be the heat that drives the rhythm, for you don’t think about the weather as much when the radio is on.
It could be the rich mix of Spanish, German, Czech and cowboy that has all these differences communicating in a common element.
It could be the easy smiles of so many here and a slower pace of life that actually allows them to think about noticing other people that gets the daily jukebox jumping.
For certain, folk here go about their lives just like anywhere else. They work if they have a job. They eat in public places. There are families in the dog parks. There is romance. There is seriousness. There is sadness, too, and newspaper stories about bad things.
Yet when the day dawns, and I head for 6 a.m. coffee at the Valero mart, already you hear the tune-up for the daily rhythm.
Each city, each region, each nation, each town, even the smallest village, has its music, more audible, more vigorously expressed in some than others. Or more delicate or classical in some.
You might have to bend an ear to listen, but the melody and, more deeply, the lyrics, are to be discovered.
Sure plugged in at old San Antone.

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

THE HUMAN ‘ABSTRACT’

June 5, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

If you could see a person’s emotions, thoughts, likes and dislikes, even the soul, you would be looking at an abstract painting, for the elements of each reveal existence.
Line, form and color are the abstract, however jumbled some or even many may term the painting, but if you would look closely, each of those are not only suited to the totality of the work but the colors, even their shades, the shape the painting takes and the lines that form it define the theme, the essence, the motor that runs. You then have a name, an identity, for the painting, whether it is from the artist or what you prefer to call it.
Same with people. The individual can be part of a group, type, region, country, and so the picture of the person fits a general look, something you might well expect. Yet no two pictures truly are alike, however similar. The shape, the line, the hue of the individual constructs the man, the woman, the child.
And if you care to study the human “painting,” you will see emotion reflected, not only in the present but what has drawn lines in the individual’s experience. Good times, not so good, joy, elation, sadness, etc., are there.
Even the form of someone can be shaped by living, so very recognizable by those who care to look. The coloration is its own thing, and the rainbows of life itself are visible.
Some viewers criticize abstract paintings, even offering the view that a child might easily do one. But, first, a child’s imagination and creativity can be near-genius, for it has not yet learned the world’s restraint. Second, the best of the abstracts are from within, and there the gift of wonder, questioning and willingness to take a chance reside.
Abstracts contain the elements — the foundation — of all paintings, even well-executed portraits, landscapes and realism such as Edward Hopper’s American view.
And so it is with humanity. We are each an abstract that shapes us from birth to passing.

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

THE FALLEN SPEAK

By Arthur H. Gunther III

ahgunther@hotmail.com

No Memorial Day, USA or elsewhere, is without heartfelt words and tribute, parades, wreaths, re-mourning. What is always missing, though, are the voices of the fallen. Would that we could hear them. What would they say?

“Mom, I was as scared as you, but I could not show that with you there. So I never really said ‘goodbye’. …”

“Dad, you told me about your ‘war stories,’ and I figured we’d swap them when I came back. …”

“Mary (any sweetheart’s name), I was crying inside when you were showing tears, and we both felt that we had been pulled from our door to the future so that I could enter another, for a time only, but. …”

“Mr. Singer (any teacher’s name), I know you expected me to be the same distracted fellow day-dreaming in the back row, but I was really awake that final day, and I remembered you telling me to pay attention. It helped my pals in the squad, the ones who say urvived. …”

“Mayor Jones (any public official), I know there are speeches every Memorial Day, and parades and gun salutes and tears and then the barbecues, fireworks, leisure. Understand that all this is fine with me. I’d be there, too, if I could. But also believe that the man who fell next to me, the ‘enemy,’ isn’t one for me any longer, and he has mourners, too. …”

“I read the ‘Red Badge of Courage’ in Miss Rouy’s literature course and could not understand then the fine line between courage, the chance of it, the millisecond for choice, and the instant when cowardice could win. I thought it was black and white but now understand it is not really so, that military training and society’s expectation may of necessity set it up as clear choice, but in the moment of decision, there is fear, opportunity and the possibility of both heroism and cowardice. There is much more humanity to it. …”

And it is for humanity that I am ‘gone,’ the hope of it anyway. I am not truly ‘gone,’ of course, since I have not died in vain. The sacrifices of any of us, dead or living, is for betterment, for that continual ‘thirst’ for the world’s life and its great possibilities. Otherwise, why did you all lose me? …”

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

GETTING LOST

“On a Hill,” acrylic on wood

May 22, 2017

By Arthur Henry Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Every child, kid, needs a place to get lost. You can’t always be with parents or siblings or even friends. There has to be your own spot, be it imaginary, through reading or day-dreaming, or actual.
I day-dreamed enough to be spotted by more than one teacher and surely would have absorbed more in class if my mind did not wander. But if thoughts didn’t take the road less traveled, I would not be writing this or any other piece that ended up paying the bills and fulfilling me.
In my youth, there was also a real spot where I could get lost and be with myself, actually several. The key place was a large tree in an apple orchard near my second-grade home in Tallman, N.Y.
Very rural this hamlet was, with light traffic, a number of farms and many areas in which to play when your mother expects you to leave the house on a Saturday morning so she could clean.
The big tree in the orchard was high on a hill, and it was majestic, so tall. Though surrounded by apple trees, they were not competition. The big tree seemed their elder, even if not of the same species. It commanded respect.
For me, the large tree was a friend. I trusted that it would always be there, be majestic, be available to lean against while I day-dreamed.
It was where I could get lost.

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

THE HARVEST PROMISE

“APPLES AT SINK”

May 15, 2017

By Arthur Henry Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

In the Rockland County, N.Y. of my late 1940s into 1950s youth, taking the same, long bicycle ride twice but a month apart often meant witnessing a disappearing landscape. This was post-World War II suburbia, and rural land so close to New York City was honey to speculators and builders.
Hurly-burly construction in a vacuum of sound planning brought too much growth too quickly, eventually nailing the boards on true downtown village shops in favor of endless highway strips, but that’s not the point of this essay. Rather, it’s all about apples. Peaches too. A few pears. Orchards lost to Huggy Bear Estates and similar housing development.
Those old bike trips, and many walks, too, would take me past the generations-old orchards of the Concklin, Davies, Brown and so many other families. No spring was without early fruit tree buds, virginal white, pink, too. It was a sight to behold but music, too, as the birds returned. Their notes were so hopeful as the whistling winds of winter morphed into the stillness of anticipation toward eventual harvest.
When the bees came to pollinate, nature and its cycles were really ready to perform.
In my prejudiced opinion, Rockland apples were the best tasting, and the varieties still grown by the two or so farms left make your mouth water long before you chomp on them.
As with many moments, a very simple experience like passing a blossoming fruit orchard can reset tempo, restore balance. I have walked in the canopy of nature in the confusion of the early teen years. When love was lost. When I had career concerns, family worries. Each time, the renewal that is the rebirth of an orchard served as a free counseling session, within, yes, alone, yes, but nevertheless introspective and with questions answered.
Nice place to grow up — where an orchard blooms.

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

BACK-PORCH SANDWICHES

May 8, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

My grandmother was used to seeing road-worn men in old but once-pressed suit jackets at her back porch in Spring Valley, N.Y. They were there during the 1930s Great Depression, hobos off the Erie line looking for a bit of work and the sandwich to follow.
Nana never had a job for them — my father and grandfather took care of 14 Ternure Ave., but she never turned away eyes in hunger. She had little enough food though my grandfather managed to keep his job as foreman for Briarcraft, a smoking pipe factory.
Some of the men would tell my grandmother about themselves, though most were shy and reticent, and as she said, well-mannered, perhaps recalling their own mothers or wives left behind. These men were not shiftless, but down-on-their-luck fellows who lost jobs, some good ones, in that catayclismic time when unemployment in 1933 meant 11 million jobless, almost 25 percent. Businessmen, farmers, even ex-industrialists road the freight rails, alone or in the comradeship that always gathers in calamity.
The Erie had a freight yard in Spring Valley where coal, lumber and feed were unloaded for the area. The hobos got off there, with some spending nights in the woods off Lawrence Street just as the homeless do today.
So many decades later, a few streets closer to the Erie rails, now the MTA Pascack Valley Line, a non-government program offers sandwiches to go, too, after a sit-down breakfast. Lots of volunteer grandmas there, a few grandpas, and no one asks questions. But they do listen to humanity, just as Nana did.

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

THE MUSIC PLAYS ON

May 1, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

I needed a large circular template for a painting, and since neccesity is the mother of invention, I glanced across the basement and saw an old 33 rpm vinyl record, and the roughly 12-inch disc did the trick. It was a bit of irony that the record had been shelved into a dusty pile by the iPad music app I listen to at high volume when I work.
There is great convenience in using the music app since I quickly hear tunes from Buddy Holly to Johnny Cash to Glenn Miller to the Beatles, etc., but as I put the old Johnny Mathis record back into its sleeve, I felt a tinge of guilt that the voice impressed in the vinyl had long ago been silenced. Not Mathis, just the recorded version I have.
I also realized that 100 years ago, when wind-up Victrolas were playing scratchy 78 rpm records made of shellac resin, listeners would have been overjoyed to have almost unbreakable, longer-playing 33 rpm vinyl that, if cared for, offered few scratchy sounds.
Yet even that would be relative since just a few years before 1917, parlors had Edison music players with tunes recorded on even scratchier cylinders. Before that, there were player pianos with music notes delivered by perforated paper or metallic rolls. Before that, whoever was playing an instrument. And in between the iPad and the 33 rpm record were tapes and various cassettes.
Such has been the progress that guarantees we can always hear the music.
Still, as noted, a wisp of nostalgia that in the ever-faster pace of our time, the iPad app just pops on while not long ago, we carefully pulled a vinyl record out of its jacket, blew off the dust, gently placed it on the console record player and sat down to listen.
Almost more civilized.

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

Rescuing the suburbs

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Thecolumnrule.com

I live in Rockland County, N.Y., a semi-rural land when I was young but now a New York City suburb that is graying with older housing stock, demands for more urban-like density, rising infrastructure costs and other threats to the quality of life. It is the typical U.S. suburb, sometimes a worrisome place with a future uncertain in an economy that may never again see a vibrant middle class. The middle class thirsted for the burbs, kept it going but today cannot afford it. Suggestions follow for Rockland as it faces the years ahead; perhaps they are applicable elsewhere.

Rockland municipalities must act now on joint planning issues if taxes, diversity and quality of life are to be best managed in the fast graying of suburbia. Some of the county’s post-World War II housing is among the nation’s oldest, and there should be common thought as to how to keep development stable as well as to renew it.

Towns and villages should come together, with the county leading, to devise shared standards for future growth and regrowth. What happens in one town or village affects the others, especially in infrastructure such as water supply and sewers, density, drainage, traffic and the county tax load.

Rockland’s cost of living is well above the national average, and its budget, which zoomed from about $489 million in 2001 to $674 million in 2017, is not sustainable. Those costs are directly attributable to population changes, including aging out and poorly planned density growth, as well as unfunded state mandates that should be protested jointly by all municipalities.

Economic and quality-of-life pressures will continue to push residents from the county, some taking with them a sense of history and dedicated community involvement that may not necessarily be replaced. The worry is that we will urbanize in anonymity, with 60-70-year-old housing not renewed, with some areas grossly neglected as the cost of home ownership rises.

Municipalities must prepare now to obtain the best outlook. Towns and villages, with the county in the lead, should form the “Rockland Outlook Consortium” to:

* Set common zoning standards for housing density, recognizing that much of the county developed after World War II has 1/3-acre or 1/4-acre housing plots with 1,600-1,800 square-foot homes. Redevelopment at greater density will invite a population increase that cannot be afforded by municipalities and school districts. The architecture will also overwhelm and green space will dwindle. There must be a planning balance if suburbia is to survive and redevelop with quality of living.
* Require sufficient drainage ponds and storm sewering with a look at what happens downstream. For example, irresponsible growth in Ramapo along the Pascack Brook affects homes in Orangetown, even in New Jersey. Residents elsewhere should not suffer flooding and remediation costs because Ramapo has licensed overgrowth. There must be a better look at the effect of development or regrowth in one municipality versus the quality of life in other communities.
* Seek balance in growth/regrowth. From its beginning, Rockland has been diverse, and that enriches our lives and our history. There must be housing for all incomes, but much better planned and in a mix. We must guard against decaying neighborhoods, leaning on unscrupulous landlords who take single-family homes and illegally convert them to boarding houses.
* Work with the Rockland fire coordinator and volunteer fire departments to require landlord-paid, six-month re-inspections of all multi-tenant housing for housing and fire code violations. Building inspectors must be much more pro-active, and the courts must jail repeat slumlords. Property appearance codes must be better written and enforced.
* Discourage suburban shopping, rezoning areas to prevent such  development. Instead, we must renew village downtowns and hamlet centers, with sufficient parking and walkable areas. Existing strip-shopping owners should be made to clean up their acts, with litter, poor paving and neglected storefronts rehabilitated.
* School districts should work even more fervently to support one another so that we do not have the imbalance that now exists — East Ramapo students without enough teachers and courses while just next door the Clarkstown School District offers relative educational riches. We should all be ashamed of such inequity in Rockland. Albany aid formulas, income-based school taxation and mandate relief must be the continuing agenda, and the better-off Rockland districts must help their brothers in the fight.
Rockland County will continue into this century, but with what future? Are we to face unsupportable deficits? Stressed schools and disenfranchised children? Run-down, unsafe housing? An imbalance of housing density that favors some and shuts out others? Perhaps a “Rockland Outlook Consortium” that agrees on common planning standards and even shames wayward municipalities can begin to steer our troubled ship off the rocks.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who lives in Blauvelt, N.Y. Contact him at ahgunther@yahoo.com.