Monday, January 25, 2016


January 26, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
The news clip said that New York City and its suburbs were “paralyzed” by the snowstorm, which dumped two inches per hour and which totaled more than in the famous Blizzard of 1888. OK, but the date was not Jan. 23, 2016, but Dec. 26, 1947. Life, it seems, is deja vu.
Yet there are differences between the two snow events, and I use that phrase because it is part of the contrast. In 1947, the few media outlets delivering live news would never have reported on a  “snow event,” just a snowstorm. Language often gets inflated when you hype something. And weather is a most-hyped event in this age of instant news via smartphone, tablet, computer and ever-repeated TV segments.
Yes, the snowstorm that hit my area in lower New York State was big enough, though on my mailbox indicator, it was slightly more involved than average. I have lived at my Blauvelt address since 1973, and we have had a few storms that almost buried the mailbox, which is about 3.5 feet off the ground. This system came up about 1/3 the way. And while some had high winds, we did not. A big storm, but not the biggest.
From all the hype the four days before, you would have thought the earth was heading out of orbit. There were Facebook pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets. Governors were warning they would close roads, which they did (states south of New York, never ready for a big snowstorm since they are rare, ran into trouble. Even the president’s motorcade was held up in the D.C. snow.)
The 1947 newsreel indicated that millions of dollars were spent or never realized in cleanup costs and lost business. And, of course, there were associated injuries, even deaths in the storm. Truly sad. But in 1947, there was little hype about the coming snow. It came quickly, the day after Christmas, and common sense got everyone as prepared as they cared to be. Kids enjoyed the extra holiday present (including my brother and I, then living in Sloatsburg, N.Y.).
But I don’t think bread flew off the store shelves or gas stations had lines with motorists fueling up as if rationing would soon begin.
It’s now a faster-paced world, and “news” has the shelf life of a few seconds. Hype seems the only way to get people's attention.
It’s paternal pride, but I think my son Arthur IV had the best take on the 2016 “snow event.” Interviewed by FIOS One (Verizon) TV News while he was running in the storm on Broadway in Nyack, he was quoted: “This is New York. It is supposed to snow.”
Yes, and no one had to hype that.
 The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via

Sunday, January 17, 2016


By Arthur H. Gunther III
     Literally, if you think about it, re-tying one’s shoes can pause your life just enough to alter things. It’s the same argument that if you had left the house one minute later, you might never have seen her face. Write your own story, but you see what I mean.
     Now, is this fate? Karma? Heavenly direction? Just dumb luck (or the reverse)? And if you don’t think about  it  — any one act slowing or moving ahead your life’s clock — how will you know the difference?
     Do not mean to get philosophical here, but surely we can all recall a delay or speed-up (you left the house early because you awakened early) that made that particular day different. And then maybe you took that day and made some more of the same because you liked it so much. And that changed your life.
     This isn’t to say free will doesn’t have play, that you are not the master of your fate. We largely are, though what we consciously plan may never come to past. However, we must move on,  roll with the punches (or be grateful that we were forced to smell the roses). It’s the adaptation that largely involves our free will.
    So, how did all this thinking arise? Did I have too much wine? No,  I really did re-tie my shoes this morning. My usual laziness has me just slipping my large feet into already tied shoes, but this time they needed a re-tie. So I did that. It made my day.
     Not the re-tie. I wasn’t in the best mood — down a bit — and I was simply plodding through routine when I noticed this father carrying his young daughter through the local home improvement store. The child had the most wondrous face — so very bright, lit up, cheerful, inquisitive. And in her hair she had an equally wondrous artificial flower. 
     My mood changed. The little girl did the trick. And had I not re-tied my shoes, well, darn, I would not have seen, would not have been in the moment.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via

Sunday, January 10, 2016


January 4, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
     While you cannot go home again, the gods, and nature, can make you think you are in a dream of past time, place. That was my experience Tuesday last when at 2:17 a.m., I rolled into Spring Valley, N.Y., the village of my youth.
     It was a snowy morning, the first such in the warmest Northeast December on record. Though where I grew up has changed in appearance, even some function, and so very many of the old storefronts, and, more important, their business people, their customers, are gone, the fresh snow that morning was like the white scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” A blanket of white is in metaphor the handmade down comforter on a four-poster bed. It simply evokes the warmth of childhood.
     And that’s what I felt, what I saw in my mind’s eye as I drove into the community of my father, my grandfather, my friends, my teachers and some special people. Times, places change, and you may no longer have the keys, but memories can unlock what was yours. Fresh white levels the field, literally, since the color of snow is the universal hue. A snowman, no matter who builds it in whatever age — in front of your house or what was your home — is yours.
     It was with a bit of whistle, or the sounds that pass for that from a man without rhythm, that I drove through Spring Valley’s snow, headed to the regular Tuesday gig as a non-profit cook who tries not to poison anyone. 
    While any Tuesday morning at the United Church is routine — knocking large pots about, getting 15 pounds of pancake batter ready, muscling the ancient oven for baking, opening eight no. 5 cans of soup and bringing flavor to that, plus the myriad tasks that are done so that later Phyllis, Carol, Moucille, Mary Anne, Denise, Elnora, Christine, Olive and sometimes others can add their magic — the snow, still falling and glistening in the streetlights, made the effort festive.
     The fact that at this time of year, the homeless in Rockland can participate in the Safe Haven overnight shelter program and not see the snow as an enemy removed any guilt in enjoying the white stuff.
     The Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program, begun in 1985 by a group of clergy of various faiths in Rockland County, has had many volunteers for Monday-Friday  breakfasts in its long, continuous run. There have been numerous snowy days, and not all were as easy to drive in as last Tuesday’s, though the volunteers are tough, and there have been rare times when staff was low. 
     Whatever motives push a volunteer to his/her task generally stay in the mind, the heart, and, of course, the soul. Volunteers figure they are lucky to do what they can and want no recognition, God forbid. That would redirect the spotlight from the good being done. Yet the rewards are many, and sometimes the gods give a fellow a bonus, as it were, like the Currier & Ives scene of my old hometown on a snowy, early morning. I saw so many on the deserted streets that day, and I had not seen them in decades.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via All essays can be reproduced.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


 December 28, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
     I am increasingly asked why I stay in my hometown, actually the county where I have lived my life, and my father before me, and my grandfather a bit and now one of our two sons and his family. My simple answer is this Rockland, the geographically smallest county in New York State, though almost over-populated, is where my roots are. To leave, even though it would bring greater economic comfort and a landscape horizon more like that I enjoyed in youth, would give me a deep ache when I awoke the next morning in a different world.
     It is silly, I know, but even as a younger fellow, I did not like to travel, to take a atmosphere break. Now, nearing the year 2016, there is every reason to move on, save the nearness of family and the memories of so many places, even more so, individuals. But you can have family visit when you go, and you can take your memories of people, places, moments with you, for that’s where they reside — with you, anyway. How often do we see the old places, family, teachers, friends and those we connected with in special ways? Most are gone, times have changed, and the stage sets no longer exist. You cannot go home again, yet leaving, for me, would be unplugging. I cannot do that. 
     But there is reason, logical reason, to move on. The rural quiet is gone, and you still cannot get used to the rudeness of some who brought hustle, bustle and cacophony with “progress.”  The outer library you once lived it had the rule observed: “Please Be Quiet.” There is no funding for that place today, yet there is constant, even greedy and self-centered investment in unplanned growth.      
     You are still angry with the Thruway builders for bulldozing your wooded hut in 1951 (rudely so — they didn’t tell the third grader), and that un-acceptance mushroomed and was reinforced when development after development was built, strip shopping, too, and both helped shove aside downtown community life and fostered suburban isolation. Taxes rose, and still rise.
     Perhaps another place would be more affordable; maybe there would be better land-use planning; the diversity must  continue, if you sought such a new place, and that would be necessary since you grew up with a mixture of people. Rockland has always been proudly diverse.
     So many people you know have left for warmer climate, or cheaper areas or lifestyles easier to take as life marches on. If peace could somehow be made with myself — with the leave-taking — would I go? On an afternoon, having survived the busy roads, after having paid my tax bill and having opened the utility charges, I seem fortified to look at real estate ads. But then comes the evening, and I am comfortable in a house where long we have lived. Then comes a peaceful enough sleep with memories as a warm comforter —those people are with me — and in the morning, so very early, I drive to buy three newspapers, also my life’s blood, and the roads are nearly empty. Old Rockland is back, in a way, for a short time.
     I realize the bills will get paid. And I will have new chance to complain about “progress,” as is my want. I will see everywhere the progression of life — that of my family, some gone, some here,  that of my friends, those I knew in a certain way, or who taught me, who showed me this land and why it cannot be separate from me or I from it or them.
     My resolve is reinforced after the morning ride and I purr anew — until the afternoon, anyway.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via

Sunday, December 13, 2015


December 14, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
There is comparison to be made to the fellow or gal standing in the corner of the dining room surfing a smartphone and a man/woman the same age sitting in a quite comfortable reclining chair in 1956. Both seeking information about local events, city, state, national, the world. Both thirsty for news. And each getting their fill.
The 1956 individual, home from all-day labor or still at home after duties there, dinner and chores finished, then finds time for relaxation with a newspaper. Perhaps he/she had several to choose from  — the unfinished morning tabloids (two) and the afternoon dailies (three) plus the weekly local paper. Much to read.
Not all is read. Too much news to take in, so there is headline scanning and exploring some stories just three paragraphs in, more than enough to learn the “who, what, where, when, how and why,” written in what we old newspapermen learned was “pyramid style” — put the key facts first and fill out later. Don’t bury the substance of the story in the middle-to-last grafs. Almost a lost art now, though.
The 1956 fellow/gal might also move on to favorite columnists — sports, society, financial, commentary — and have “conversations” with them as these were well-invited guests each day to his/her home.
All in all, the man/woman back then, blue collar or professional or housewife, could rise from an evening easy chair well-read. Great for the individual. Excellent for an informed democracy.
Now to the 2015 fellow/gal standing with smartphone. No time to sit, as in 1956, or at least no effort to do so. On the run. Smartphone scanned for the latest e-mail in a constant stream, or text; or for “news” stories that actually are headlines and quick, but often incomplete summary grafs; or the latest Tweet from a public figure, a personality, a fellow Tweeter; or a Facebook posting; or the most recent (1 minute ago) picture of something or another.
So much information, and that is just from the short time spent scanning the phone screen while standing in the corner of a dining room. In 15 minutes, another scan, perhaps in the supermarket line. Then one in the bathroom. Or as a recent, funny cartoon proposed: a couple on a date, each scaling up the smartphone, not looking at each other, no conversation. But, hey, one can always text the other, then and there.
Though my heart and mind are with newspapers -- I cannot get through a day without them -- this piece is not to declare on my own that the 1956 man/woman absorbing information so very deeply in an easy chair was a better deal than the 2015 flood of “news,” etc., that is obtained in constant looks at the smartphone, or vice-versa. It is merely to comment that such were the scenes then and now. It is life morphing, as it always has. Will it be better for an "informed democracy?" We shall see.
  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at

Sunday, December 6, 2015


By Arthur H. Gunther III
     POSTED on Dec. 6 for Dec. 7 — No American can go through this day without recalling Pearl Harbor, because it is etched on our timeline. Most modern-day citizens have no recollection  of the “Day of Infamy,” as President Franklin Roosevelt put it in asking for a declaration of war against Japan on Dec. 8, 1941, and not all know their history, but the sudden, devastating attack is common knowledge. That was deliberate action against one nation by another. Today’s Pearl Harbors, like the dreadful San Bernadino killings, are cults against people, and the battle lines are much more difficult to draw.
     President Roosevelt properly addressed a joint session of Congress in the constitutional way — the only way we should operate in a democracy — asking for a declaration of war. Subsequent presidents fudged thinking on Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and bypassed the voice of the people, their Congress. Doing so ill-defined the battle lines and even the order of battle, brought death and destruction that need not have occurred and fueled the growth of the military/industrial complex that Gen. Eisenhower warned us about. The argument can be made that while all this was happening, America — and the world — ignored the growth of terrorism, which is our enemy today.
     It is time, then, for the president to appear before Congress in the  constitutional way to ask for a declaration of  war on terrorism. Armed with that mandate from the people, America would (1) work with other democratic nations in an allied fight; (2) seek to address worldwide conditions of poverty and neglect — a direct consequence of once-colonial powers abandoning their territories without preparing for democracy — that fuel ISIS and other cults; and (3) deliberately hail and support the “Four Freedoms” that FDR reminded the nation and the world about in a State of the Nation speech to Congress on Jan. 6, 1941: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. 
     I repeat here what FDR told us:
       “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.  The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.”
     Why is it necessary for Congress to declare war on terrorism? Why must the voice of the people and the president repeat the “Four Freedoms?” Simple: to avoid those special interests who make money on war, who would see us in lockdown and security checks “for our own sake,” who would even deny free speech “for the duration” so as to better fight a “war,” who  would clamp down on all Muslims, denying freedom of speech, who in greed would continue to neglect the backbone of the American economy and its progress, its opportunity, by withering the middle class (“freedom from want”). 
     Terrorism thrives when these four freedoms are denied, anywhere, in any age.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, November 30, 2015


November 30, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
     Coffee under brew can define your day, or at least open the door. Universally, whether you enjoy java or not, a whiff reminds you of mornings as a child, or the early trip to an old diner where the urns were behind the counter puffing away. I use the memory association in a local food program, and it is rewarding to see how people smile when there is such welcoming aroma. Add a sacrificial pancake or two grilled a bit to the dark side — another compelling whiff — and whatever is baking in the oven, and the cold of a long night on the streets fades a bit. A parent is in the house, as it were. At least a friend.
     Such bouquets are not class-conscious, of course, and welcome the rich as well as the poor. There were many wealthy children who hung around mansion kitchens with the great cooks. Perhaps they even learned a thing or two to the good from such wise folk.
     An old Army friend of mine, pinned down in the hell of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, told me about the packet of coffee he carried and opened from time to time just for the memory (and so, comfort) it evoked.
     It is said the sexes are attracted to one another through biochemical perfume known as pheromones, perhaps a deliberate part of nature’s mate selection that may be tied to genetics and the push to procreate. Yet beyond the science, if it is so, is the undeniable fact that we all like certain scents in one other, and we like them in some people more than others. Add association to those old flavors, and even a 90-year-old can recall great love long shelved when she (he) thinks of a certain scent.
     The opposite is true, too, whether it be people or food. Some whiffs can drive you away from unpleasant memory of someone or association with what you did not want to eat. For example, I don’t like asparagus, and the tang of it reminds me of a cold night in 1947 Sloatsburg, N.Y.,  when my mother put the dish in front of this almost five year old. My brother ate it, as he did most everything, but I shuffled in the snowy driveway a bit, where I went for a breather. Not sure if I got anything else to eat that night. Would not have blamed my poor mother.
     So, the power of scent is enough to boost or reject a mood, a person, a time, a memory. I’d rather choose the “boost” side, though. 
     Off to make that morning coffee. …
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at