Monday, May 4, 2015

ANNA




By Arthur H. Gunther III
This morning I will take a car ride with Anna, and we will have 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.
Anna and I are riding past Bear Mt., a famous part of a lower Hudson River Valley range and site of the nearly 100-year-old Inn by the same name. I have had other conversations  in this area, though not for decades, and the description already given about how both water and relationships proceed or stumble or end or diverge, as nature intended, fits. Somehow you never forget the journey.
My Anna, though I am not sure she is truly mine— it is an assumption never to her made though often done — is actually a painting, an acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 24, and we are headed for the members’ show at the Garrison Art Center, a fine gallery that is up Route 9D about five miles from Anthony’s Nose, the mountain that looks across the Hudson at its brother, Bear Mt.
Anna will no doubt be shy among better work from far better artists, but she’s in the room, and her friend is happy about that. Good enough.
Who is Anna? Maybe my conversation with her will tell me more in a discovery that  leads you somewhere, even if to tributaries that are do not extend very far.
Anna began as color. I deliberately chose her green coat, or perhaps blouse, and her Red Irish lass’s hair. She stands against a background of yellow ochre and similar color mixed and applied to show the stain of the wood, far preferable to me than canvas. She might even be in a wood somewhere.
Her expression came last, for that is her soul, and we humans only know that in exquisite moments, if we ever see the individual soul at all. I drew her sharp nose, mouth and chin first, guided by intuition, which for me is the ever-deeper well of prior observation. I have seen such line before. When her eye was painted, and the rouge of Anna’s face applied, she was there.
I like her. I may even love Anna, not as an art piece, for it may not be that at all, but for the feeling.
Off to our car ride now. Who knows where our conversation will lead?
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

GET YER NEWS! 'NOISE' IN THE CITY!

By Arthur H. Gunther III
It used to be that the smog from coal furnaces and smokestack industry defined cities, along with dark alleys and film noir scenes, but with the urban renaissance, things are now much more in vibrant color rather than black and white. There has always been the upbeat, of course, and it’s just perspective that is in cyclical renewal. The glass half-full or half-empty thing.
Yet one constant has always defined Gotham — our New York City — or most cities, overseas included: the tabloid newspaper. Want to see pictures and read stories about murder, mayhem, social oddities, the fellow who feeds pigeons off a tenement rooftop, the Damon Runyonesque characters who are the heartbeat of cities? Read the tabs.
While the New York Times (or the other broadsheets, of which there are fewer and fewer as readership declines in a digital age) report on government and politics, finance, social issues of import and investigative matters, it is the tabloid that takes from the fast current which is the urban stream of life.
Even today, with many immersed in smartphones or tablets, you’ll find tab readers on the subway, in city parks, at the lunch counter, eager to catch the grisly murder (New York Post: “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” or gossip/social news: “Lady is  a Trump,” another Post headline, telling readers about Donald’s Trump’s third marriage.  You don’t find those headlines in a broadsheet.
And then there’s the comical. Last week, New York City’s two remaining tabloids, the Post and the Daily News, each reported on an unusual 311 hotline complaint. (The hotline is the city's "main source of government information and non-emergency services".) Seems 311 has been called numerous times by apartment house dwellers who can’t sleep or otherwise enjoy quality of living because their neighbors make too much noise while having sex. Honestly, that was the substance of 311 calls, with the most complaints coming from Brooklyn and lesser numbers from Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan. None from Staten Island, though, which might bear a separate investigation.
That people might actually call a government hotline over a personal matter which  they could handle by a simple knock on the neighbor’s door perhaps speaks to classic urban anonymity and chutzpah. That tabloids report such news in a front-page story is also classic, highly so. ("This Couple Has there Loudest Sex in NYC," the Post.)
Ah, cities never sleep (some people, obviously). Nor do the tabs. Bless 'em. They report on the slices of life that show foibles to faux pas to the fantastic to the familiar.
  The writer is retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A TREE, ITS BRANCHES

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com
     When a son loses a father, there is such a flood of emotion that it will take perhaps the rest of the younger’s life to sort things out: No father-son relationship is ever fully understood. Here you have the offshoot of the tree, which itself was an offshoot. Which branch is the stronger, the more dominant? Is there a twist to the branch, a different  look, an architectural sculpting that sets it apart? All those branches, all the sons of all the fathers, spend their worldly time looking for their own light, their chance to shine, away from the father’s shadow, which can be a long cast, indeed.
     When my father passed last week at 92, a relatively quick moment since he had been quite well — independent, living alone until a month before — suddenly there was no Dad to visit, no one to argue with, no one to ask about family history. 
     I have spent the last 20 years of my life trying to figure out who my father was. Survival of self depends on knowing where you came from, how your positives and foibles fit a pattern, how the roots nourish the tree, the branches. This has become even more  important since I have two well-grown sons, and even as I tried to fathom my Dad, they want to understand me. 
     In my journey with my father over these decades, I came come to know the man, the young man who he was, the economic difficulties faced in depression and wartime, early  marriage and the climb to middle class in the great post-World War II opportunity.
     When my father died, I was a little boy again, but my Dad was not by my side, walking away from the hospital on that long sidewalk. He was back there, gone, but my hand instinctively reached for his. For all my life, my father was present, even in our strong argument. I expected him to pass one day, and I was practical about it — assembling  legal papers, asking him about final arrangements, etc. I am now my father, the oldest of my family, and there are others who walk beside me on that sidewalk. I have responsibilities.
     Yet the little boy does not want that, not completely. He would rather be in the Sloatsburg woods looking for trees at age 4, or playing with his father and brother in Spring Valley’s Memorial Park at 7. Or helping move into the Hillcrest house at 10. Or talking to him after high school graduation, the school that was his, too.
     As  so often evolves in father-son pairings, a son relates more to the grandfather, the very person the father himself had moments with. Perhaps that is because the grandfather carries regrets that he was not the full father — no one ever is — or maybe it is because the grandfather recalls his love/dislike relationship with his own dad.
     Such are the dynamics of the man, the son, the tree, the stronger and heavier branch, who begets another branch, and that limb brings forth another.
     In my Dad’s passing, in my recognition of my own mortality, in my observation of my sons who are my family tree’s branches,  I see that life continues. I see almost a plan, a blueprint of things that had to be. I look back for a moment at my now vast tree, just as you do yours, and I am at once immensely proud, grateful, sad, wistful, regretful. Most of all, I am thankful that the apple does not fall far from the tree, however unpolished at times it is.
     Thank you, Dad.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

THEY SPOKE; WE DID NOT LISTEN

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     With the beginning of World War I just a bit more than 100 years ago, with the lessons of that first of two cataclysmic 20th century death-rendering events as unlearned as they are in all conflicts, there are words that still draw emotion, words from the once living, words inscribed by 20-somethings, many of whom did not survive to build their lives.
     In Naours, France, near the Somme battlefields where more than a million men were killed or wounded, and where all were somehow afflicted forever, there are some 2,000, century-old inscriptions recently discovered, or perhaps found anew by others, as is the way with history.
     At Naours, there is a two-mile-long complex of tunnels 100 feet or so deep with side chambers dug over the centuries,  used in the Middle Ages for shelter during invasions in northern France. The caves became a tourist attraction, and during the Great War, they were visited by soldiers, who left graffiti.
    Gilles Prilaux, an archaeologist for France’s national archaeology institute, began a three-year study of the tunnels last July and found the World War I markings by British, Canadian, Australian and U.S. troops. A recent Associated Press story by Greg Keller also reported that “Photographer Jeff Gusky has tallied 1,821 individual names,” names of people who “wanted to be remembered.”
     Well, yes. These are soldiers who knew they might die the next day. Here was a chance to leave an epitaph, a diary entry, a comment on it all. “It shows how soldiers form a sense of place and an understanding of their role in a harsh and hostile environment,” AP quoted historian Ross Wilson of Chichester University in Britain.
     One inscription reads:  "HJ Leach. Merely a private. 13/7/16. SA Australia.” He was a 25-year-old from Adelaide who was killed in action less than a month later during the Battle of Pozieres. The AP story noted that his father would add his own inscription to a stone on Pvt. Leach’s grave in the Australian cemetery in nearby Flers: "Duty Nobly Done.”
     How many more words might have been written and spoken in full lifetimes by the soon-to-be lost souls who visited the Naours caves in respite from the trenches? And what of the many who perished on other battlefields, in other wars, then and now? Do we hear them speak? Do we listen?

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


     


Sunday, March 29, 2015

A COLLEAGUE, A TIME

  By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com
     If you combined a well-composed, British statesman-like fellow, complete with ever-present smoking pipe, and a fan who could give "da" loudest Bronx cheer at a New York Rangers hockey game, that would be Dick Yerg, the late newspaper sports editor.
     Dick and I began our days at The Journal-News in Nyack, N.Y., in the earlier 1960s. I was a young photographer and he was the newly named Rockland sports chief after Joe Dineen was drafted. We worked together on many assignments, with Dick always in the field with both notebook and pipe. As a Nyack/Rockland native, he knew everyone in local sports. His father owned the village Buick dealership, and that showroom introduced Dick to even more people. Having such connections quickly paid off, with the new sports editor obtaining exclusives and adding much color to his well-written stories.
     In those 1960's and early 1970's days, The Journal-News Sports Department was a raucous group, not beyond throwing volleyballs across the room and cheering as the radio shouted out yet another baseball or football game. Dick was the mother hen in all this, letting the kiddies play but fully expecting top work. As such, he was a beloved boss, almost unflappable, very professional.
    Back when newspapers were in every home, sometimes several papers, morning and afternoon editions, the local sheet earned its bread and butter in its sports reporting. Little League games, high school football, every sport for boys and girls, in every school, in every town and community, that was news. Countless scrapbooks have been filled over the decades because of local newspaper sports departments, and Dick Yerg was among those editors directing scribes and photogs in the gathering of memories.
     Newspaper writing is often at its most colorful and descriptive in sports, because the full range of emotions is played out: victory, defeat, cheers, joy, tears, sportsmanship, the buddy system, even cheating when the sport goes dark. When Dick was in charge in Nyack, and later at the sister newspapers in Westchester, this sort of “color” writing was routine, expected. What a productive moment for both reporters and readers. Now so much less in the growing disappearance of newspapers and any writing longer than a Tweet.
    Though Dick retired and moved to Florida after decades in newspapering and in Nyack, he never forgot local sports and his hometown village, often posting on Facebook commentary about Nyack, Rockland, and, of course, his favorite team, the New York Rangers.
     Dick Yerg: A true class act.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A LIFE'S JOURNEY (CONTINUING)

By Arthur H. Gunther III
    There is, of course, a cycle to life — a beginning, an end and if the gods are with you, much in between. The beginning begets most of that fill-in-the-blanks, with so many tangents formed, much like the branches of a well-rooted tree. And the apples do not fall far from the tree.
     In a wink of an eye, it seems, my father, who is one of the roots of my tree, has aged, sent off to hospital with the ailments of his moment, soon to a try at rehab and then we will see. A man in his 90s, driving up to a week ago, living alone long after my mother passed, independent, cleaning his home, cooking, washing, never a complainer. An hour at OTB, the local news on TV or in the paper, short visits from his sons and my own son — that made him happy enough. Not a hermit, not a recluse, but a man of solitude, of quiet. 
    Then came “sudden” medical complaints — blood thinner overload, dehydration, an infection. And the worst ailment of all: utter helplessness when you cannot walk. You cannot stand. When you fall and it takes two hours to drag yourself to a phone just across the room and call someone, and that person, once so fearful of his father’s authoritative voice, hears instead a child-like plea. 
     You get to his home, only four miles away, but it seems to take an hour, and you find your dad wedged behind a chair. He is not hurt — doesn’t yet need medical help, doesn’t want anyone to come anyway — the independence, self-reliance still at work — so you try to get him to bed. But he is dead weight, this father once of strength, and you no longer can  lift dead weight. You drag him by the shoulders of his sweatshirt down the hall to his bed, both of you laughing at the absurdity of it all. You have not been this close physically to your father since the two of you, with your brother thrown in, wrestled in the first grade.
     Once at bedside, thankfully a low one, you manage to get a leg up and to cantilever your father onto the mattress. He is pleased enough and falls asleep. But the next day, you both realize an ambulance is a must, a hospital stay inevitable. You tell 911 it is not a dire emergency, and the Orangetown police, South Orangetown Ambulance Corps and the paramedics  are superb — understanding, so professional.
     Later that day, after your dad is settled in the emergency room and is awaiting admission, and you can do nothing for a time, you leave to do your Thursday duty, to walk two grandchildren home from the Upper Nyack Elementary School. Sam and Beatrice sing and skip, and even when you tell them that you had to take great-gramps to the doctor, that does not sink in, as innocent as their time can be and ought to be.
     You go to their house, in a beautiful old Hudson River village where so very long ago their great-grandfather at similar age walked with his dad, and you find yourself sitting in a rocking chair, the same one your father’s father bought his wife Maud so that she could comfort infant Arthur Henry Gunther Jr., my dad.
     In one day, my elderly father’s roots come full cycle, and though time is now very limited for him, and by relation and relativity for me as well, the laughter, the silliness of my dad’s great-grandchildren playing as I sat in that family chair reaffirmed that the tree continues to grow from its roots, as in the beginning, the end, as in new seasons, as in fresh apples falling not far from the tree.
Arthur H. Gunther II is a retired newspaper editor who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

Sunday, March 8, 2015

'SEA LEGS 'IN THE SNOW



By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Ride a bicycle and you never forget. Years, decades later, and you hop on as if you were still the eight year old though your  joints may creak more than the bicycle chain. Not that much different when you have the coldest/snowiest February in Northeast America since 1934. You get in the swing again.
       Most of us weren’t around in 1934, and even if we were, it may not have been in the Northeast, but there have been enough snowy times in most lives that while recent winters have not been so harsh in my area, at least, we can recall when snow was piled high, icicles overhung our house gutters and we could not get warm enough though we might carry 15 pounds of layered clothing.
     Of course, we all exaggerate, so it is common to hear many of us say, “When I was young, the storms were relentless. …” It’s as if there was a Blizzard of 1888 in each existence, though the individual may have been born in 1988. Or we say, “This is an old-fashioned winter” when all we ever saw of that was a Hallmark card, complete with sleigh, a Victorian home up a drive and an ice pond filled with skaters. Perhaps we all want to feel nostalgic even when we may well be tired of the snow. It surely is true that the first snow of the season brings the greatest childlike excitement, but like young love, the effect can be wearing if it continues too long.
     For me this winter has been about the survival instinct. So back to the bicycle analogy. When the first flakes fell in February, and the road had ice beneath the snow, I drove 9-20 mph on a six-mile trip at 2 a.m., with few others on the road. If I had been 16, I probably would have hit 30-40 and tried to fishtail my car. If I were 40 with kids in the car, I would have been cautious, but confident, perhaps traveling 25 mph. But as a senior and not having driven in heavy snow all that often in the past few years, I could not immediately find my sea legs. I was on the bicycle but didn’t get balanced.
     That ended quickly, right on the return trip that icy morning, when confidence returned and the “feel” of the snow road came through the tires to the brakes and to my foot. I was again at 20-25 mph, with assurance. Now, five or so storms later, I am an old hand, as if all our winters were like 2015. It’s even fun to drive a bit in the snow.
     While the false bravado of youth has not returned, recognition of experience and application of commonsense sure do truss you up and make you feel as of you can tackle the winter beast.

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