Monday, January 19, 2015

IT'S THE MIDDLE CLASS

     By Arthur H. Gunther III
     It’s all about the middle class, and it's not a selfish thing. The people in the middle historically prove to be the rescuers of both the lower and upper classes, the lower because when you have a vibrant middle class, long-term, benefit-added professional jobs are created, and that economic stability builds hope, grows compassion and renews  neighborhoods. The upper classes, well they actually make more money, for investment in enlarging the middle class and making it hum brings economic stability that multiplies. (The post-war G.I. Bill took non-high school graduates from the Great Depression and sent them to college and trade school and so brought the prosperity of the 1950s and beyond.) 
     Today, after decades of declining re-investment, insufficient re-tooling and a lack of smarts by American business, after years of well-intentioned but bureaucratically misapplied government over-regulation and, now, because the dictatorship of the uber-wealthy by special interest rules our nation, the American middle class, created by the Industrial Age, Progressivism, two world wars and manifest destiny, is surely disappearing. And with it, the re-nurturing of democracy that the Founders intended. 
     Corporate greed is sending jobs to China and elsewhere. Focusing on the bottom line instead of the future of the economy is creating a third world-like underclass that permanently will be out of work or in low-skilled jobs with no pensions and self-purchased health care. 
     At stake is much more than the loss of buying power. No democracy long sustains  without a healthy middle class. Small towns and suburbs will further decay, and costly, debilitating  crime and social problems will rise. Some cities will fall as well, though parts of others, like Manhattan, will be protected enclaves for the penthouse rich. Children will be lost as progress regresses for the almighty dollar.
     When you have government that wisely regulates business, as did Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, when there are commonsense rules to control greed, when business reinvests in the workers that make them money by providing reasonable wages;  by assuring pensions and health care; by supporting collective bargaining; by investing in infrastructure; by paying corporate taxes because that money regrows in job renewal; by fair trade practices; and, mostly, by an attitude that those who have must help those who have not, the pay-it-forward theme of human decency, then you rebuild a nation once proud of itself.
     It is appropriate on this day, which honors Martin Luther King Jr., to quote the late civil rights leader: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Injustice is also cause for possible rebellion, the  “Let them Eat Cake” dismissal of the growing greedy the match that could light the fire.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, January 12, 2015

'FIRST LADY OF NYACK, ALWAYS'


By Arthur H. Gunther III
NYACK, N.Y. -- Helen Hayes, once and for a long time the “First Lady of the American Theatre,” soon will no longer have her distinguished name on Broadway. The Helen Hayes Theatre on West 44th Street, the second to honor her since 1955, will change its marquee, the new non-profit owners selling naming rights in that wonderfully awful new tradition. Yet this grand thespian, who owned an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, will never lose her mark in the village she called home from the 1930s to her passing in 1993 at age 92.
Actress Hayes, who called herself Charlie MacArthur’s wife in this Hudson River village, the lady who entertained World War II troops at the Camp Shanks embarkation camp in Orangeburg, the president of the Nyack Garden Club who had meetings among her beautiful backyard roses, was well sought after on stage and screen but in Nyack, the ordinary pace of life was just as much a lure.
Though the death of her daughter Mary in 1949 devastated her and put her husband, co-author of the famous “The Front Page” play about newspapermen, in never-ending sadness until his own passing in 1956, Miss Hayes made the show of her life go on, increasingly in extensive charity work. Her particular devotion to the Helen Hayes (rehabilitation) Hospital in West Haverstraw was a long-running, deeply felt effort until her death.
Often, notables are splashed in self-promoting, even outrageous and scandalous behavior on the front pages of supermarket tabloids, magazines and now in social media, Helen Hayes preferred her publicity to be her body of work, her village life in Nyack and her charity efforts.
Yet, as one theater critic wrote, Katherine Cornell (Miss Hayes’ friendly rival and also variously known as  the “First Lady of the American Theatre”) played every queen as a woman and Helen Hayes every woman as a queen.”
I can attest to that, having waited about 10 minutes on the old living room couch in Miss Hayes’”Pretty Penny” mansion before she came down the grand stairs so that I could get photographs for the old Journal-News.
This actress, who played Mary Stuart and, of course, Victoria, eventually descended the curved stairs, but slowly, almost pausing on the first landing, which was next to a large portrait of her as one of the English queens.
It was grand entrance, quite theatrical, but totally lost on a country bumpkin like me who was already thinking about his next photo assignment.
The photos were taken, and Helen Hayes was most accommodating. (I found that almost all actors I photographed took easily to the camera and especially to directions, as they knew their best poses and also were used to stage and screen nudging).
Now, so many decades later, I wish I had spent more time on that assignment, which was one of perhaps four or five that shift. I wish I had taken more shots of  the actress, even asked a polite question or two. What opportunity was lost.
Broadway will soon lose “Helen Hayes” in lights, for a second time, but the memories this lady of the boards for 80 years left the masses and the individual will continue to shine most brightly. She will always be the "First Lady of Nyack.'


(Perhaps the firm that buys naming rights to the present Helen Hayes Theatre will simply buy them in her name, keeping Miss Hayes on Broadway for years to come.)

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

REASSURANCE IN AN OLD DINER


By Arthur H. Gunther III
Small diners in my part of the world in lower New York State a few decades back were known for tasty, homemade food served by owners and their staff who seemed like family, especially for the regular customers. They were homes away from home. Actually they could be small theater for the characters within.
Each diner -- Hogan’s, Tiny’s, Sparky’s, etc.,  often several in every village and town -- was small enough -- like an old railway dining car -- that you were intimate with the other patrons but also, if you buried yourself in your newspaper, you could be by yourself. Not unlike the table at home where your siblings might be jabbering away but quiet you wanted to be lost in your thoughts. It was possible even in small spaces. 
Our diners, like small-town eateries anywhere and even the intimate ones in cities back when the eateries were just that --simple -- knew their customers. Those regulars would be greeted accordingly, usually with voices loud enough so that the rest of us took notice and either said hello or mentally checked off our list that another member of the “family” was in the “house.” Reassurance, again. 
Diners offered further intimacy with staff, including the waitress who knew all about you, who had your order placed even before you sat down, who kept a pencil in her hair and a check pad in her apron pocket, even if she took your order by memory.
And there was the grill cook, the fellow at the “flat top,” who had home fries simmering on low heat in the back left and who used the full surface to griddle pancakes, eggs over easy, burgers, onions, without burning anything, his hands quick to open up the left-side refrigerator where he took out American cheese or reached overhead to pull bread from the Pullman loaves left by the local commercial bakery, Ramapo or Widman’s. The cook was truly intimate with the customers, some of whom would purposely sit in front of him to watch him work. One advantage was that you could fine-tune the time on your eggs. Some of these grill cooks, like others in the old diner industry, were itinerant, and they came for a few months in summer and went south in the winter. But they were as regular as a clock in showing up at the right time.
The customers were regular, too, in their often quirky ways, as in any family. One fellow I recall stirred his coffee about 15 times, after loading it up with five spoons of sugar. Then he banged the spoon on the rim of the green java cup as if to wring out the last drop. Finally, with an “ah,” he began to literally slurp the coffee. Did this each and every time. Did that routine for years. And, funny as it was, it was reassuring to the other regulars in the old diner. Reassuring to him, too.
In those days, the police chief came in, the mayor, the auto mechanic, the principal. Everyone knew each other or of one another, often going back generations. So there would be nods and small questions, like “How’s the vegetable patch this year, chief?” Overall, it made for trust, especially with the police. They were your neighbors.
Maybe the world, at least parts of the American world, especially our cities and anonymous suburbs, could use a few of the old diners, their staff, their food, their patrons. They could use reassurance from "family."
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, December 29, 2014

BOOK: 'STOP AT THE RED APPLE'


Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com
     Some of us go home again by passing the house we lived in as a child. Others visit the old neighborhood. For Elaine Freed Lindenblatt, it’s a restaurant, or at least the building that remains. Not just any eatery, but the famous Red Apple Rest between Tuxedo and Harriman, New York.
     Reuben Freed, Elaine’s father, opened the restaurant in the 1930s, and it operated through the 1980s on what was once the key road to the New York “Alps,” the largely Jewish summer hotels in the Catskills that gave respite and recharge to families trying to escape the summer heat in broiling Manhattan and the other boroughs.
     Elaine, who knew about lox, chopped egg and many delicious, homemade foods before she learned her times table, has written a book about the Southfields restaurant and her beloved father and family: “Stop at the Red Apple” (State University of New York Press, Albany). Its 265 pages, with photographs, is at once a love letter to Reuben Freed; then applause for those who build a business from scratch and invest day and night for more than five decades; and, finally, as the sunset of the restaurant became inevitable, a historical journey about part of American culture.
     The Red Apple Rest was known to every budding and  successful entertainer who performed in the summer resorts but also to Route 17 travelers and locals. It was family. It was a way stop, a place to refresh, to rest your feet, to kibbetz with your fellow motorists, to meet other people, to have a good nosh, and above all, to enjoy. Heading north to the Catskills had to include a long moment at the Red Apple, for it was an old friend that had to be visited to make the trip complete. A visit up, a visit on the way back. And this was true even after the Thruway was constructed in the early 1950s, Travelers would get off at Hillburn and then take 17 just to visit the Red Apple.
     Elaine Freed Lindenblatt is a masterful writer. She is at once accomplished in her prose and then poetic because she releases the emotion of the family and its business that were so thoroughly enjoyed by so many for so long. 
     This is a book to sit with and savor in another "visit" to the Red Apple. It is beyond a family story. It is many stories, and so many are the enduring, revealing characters, so well described as are the decades and the culture in those years.
     (For more information about “Stop at the Red Apple,” visit www.sunypress.edu.)
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

WHAT PRICE DEMOCRACY?



By Arthur H. Gunther III
Just months after World War II ended in August 1945, the Nuremberg trials began with impressive agreement among four of the Allied nations that those who commit atrocities in war are to be held accountable, that “following orders” is no excuse. Pity that such unanimity against horror -- war is the ultimate “atrocity” -- did not prevent the world conflict in the first place, the one that came after World War I, “the war to end all wars,” but such is the politics, often of convenience, among countries. Yet it can be said the Nuremberg trials of the Axis Powers participants were a moral watershed. Pity, again, though -- and again for the rationale of “convenience” -- that the 1945 moral purpose is now tainted by the U.S. in its deliberate sanctioning of sophisticated torture by CIA operatives and associates in the name of preventing terrorism.
That the operatives are also free of any crime since they were “following orders” is an insult to those men and women, children, Holocaust victims and civilians who lost their lives or suffered physical and emotional trauma during World War II. That horrible time owed surviving humanity a higher moral plain, and the Nuremberg trials set the stage. Pity, again, that a key actor left the stage and marched into the same shadows of rationalization to justify the end, by whatever means. Civilization is not civilized if such thinking endures. And torture is just that, be it by megalomaniacs or those “defending” democracy. There is no democracy if it is tainted.
A key principle at Nuremberg was that following orders -- or even interpreting orders that results in torture and depravity --  does not wash. The Nazis were guilty of ordering, encouraging, enabling “war crimes,” or as the charter establishing the “International Military Tribunal” stated in part: “War Crimes: namely ... murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war ... .”
Following that reasoning, torture, which surely includes water-boarding, threats to kill detainees’ relatives and mock executions, all cited in the recent Senate report on CIA operations involving suspected terrorists since 9/11, is inhumane, is criminal.
While this is not new controversy -- the U.S. Justice Department had investigated for some years and said it had insufficient evidence to convict anyone -- a democracy employing such interrogation is guilty of ignoring human rights in the name of protecting same, a moral impossibility.
There will be some -- many, perhaps, who conclude that avoiding future mass attacks on this soil justifies obtaining information no matter the means. Others, perhaps purists, including myself, contend that either you are a democracy and adhere to its humane principles or you are not. I do not want my flag saved by mock executions or shocking someone standing in water. I would rather fight -- even die -- to save that flag, with other “citizen soldiers.” Even die but keeping values intact to the finish.
To what end, this torture? The information gained is necessarily suspect given the way it was obtained.  And the $300 million or so spent in the CIA interrogations was squandered while Detroit went bankrupt, while our middle class was (is) losing jobs,  when there was so much need to assist Americans.
The Founding Fathers believed  in universal rights,  in human dignity, that the government later defined by Lincoln as that “of the people, for the people, by the people” must be directed by the people, that it cannot behave as it pleases. Our recent government has done just that, and with utter shame. What price democracy?
    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, December 8, 2014

HUMANITY IN WAR


By Arthur H. Gunther III
     In war, the human story trumps the “sturm und drang,” the storm and stress played out by the good guys vs. the bad guys. If not for the human element, each side might just as well blow up the other, for war is never the solution. It is inhumane.
      And so it was about 70 years ago, just before a war-weary world readied as best it could for Christmas and Hanukkah or had already observed holidays of peace amidst chaos, that the last major German offensive of the War, “Unternehmen Herbstnebel,” the Ardennes campaign, now so famously called the “Battle of the Bulge, began. There would be many stories of humanity, reported and not, in the largest sustained fight on the western front, which continued for three weeks with much life lost and thousands of casualties. 
    Before the Bulge and after, a related American push to secure the Hurtgen Forest on the Belgian-German border also raged with exceptionally deep loss for a campaign later criticized as tactically unnecessary. It would prove to be the longest fight between U.S. and German forces in World War II.
     It was in the Hurtgen where an exceptionally reaffirming story of sacrificing humanity unfolded. There, on Nov. 12, 1944, German Leutnant Friedrich Lengfeld, 23, died of severe wounds sustained while attempting to pull an American soldier out of a minefield. A plaque was set in the Huertgen military cemetery, proclaiming in both German and English: “Here in the Hürtgen Forest, on Nov. 12, 1944, Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld, a German officer, gave his life while trying to save the life of an American soldier lying severely wounded in the 'Wilde Sau' minefield and appealing for medical aid." The lieutenant’s memorial is the only known one for a German soldier placed by opponents in a German military cemetery.
     That an act of such compassion and bravery by Lt. Lengfeld and then, even with the great horror of the Bulge and the terror of the Hurtgen (where artillery fragments rained down on troops), that one enemy would honor the other side, reveals once again that war can never kill God’s purpose, which is, of course, humanity.
    The writer is a retired newspaperman whose Uncle, Winfield Gunther, lost three fingers to Hurtgen artillery “rain” on Feb. 10, 1945, his son’s birthday. This essay may be reproduced.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

THANKSGIVING


   By Arthur H.Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com
Thanksgiving -- the traditional American one -- and any gathering in any nation among any people at any time that seeks to express individual and community gratefulness for their bounty, however small, is affirmation that we do not live by bread alone. That we can celebrate such awareness by breaking bread is further proof of thanks.
     When I was a child, my family’s Thanksgiving was simple and as expected in a blue-collar household where Thursday’s holiday was followed by Friday’s work: The day had special significance. That I had just one surviving set of grandparents made the moment even more of an anchor.
     The day in Spring Valley, N.Y., at my grandparents’ home, offered the fine, deep smell of slow-cooking turkey, though I never ate that, preferring American cheese, I am afraid. But I enjoyed cranberry sauce, without which there would have been no Thanksgiving, and my Nana’s well-mashed potatoes, which tasted just right, particularly so on this occasion.
     The windows, single pane, were clouded by condensed water, for the house was very warm with the oven and the people. My brother and I made circles on the glass and looked up and down the quiet streets of Summit and Ternure, just as my father and his brother had done years before.
     After the main course, there would be the homemade apple pie and a cake from Tancos Bakery downtown that my father had picked out for the day. Usually a lemon variety.
     The dessert would come a bit later, for dishes had to be cleared and hand washed, and our stomachs were full anyway. I spent the time waiting by getting awfully comfortable in my gramps’ recliner, next to a big standard floor lamp with a bright, 100-watt bulb. The stack of Saturday Evening Post magazines awaited, and I usually got through three.
     Dessert came, and while the adults had their usual conversation, I went back to the chair cocoon, happy that I had experienced yet another Thanksgiving in that wonderful 1914 house, in a very small town where my dad grew up, where I went to school, walked to school, where I had friends and where adult cares, challenges and the highs and lows and promise of all that were yet far off.
    Like I said, a traditional Thanksgiving, for no matter how you celebrate the day or something like it, no matter where you are, what happened on your “thanksgiving,” especially as a child, if you were so fortunate, eventually makes the man, the woman of you.
     But, first, it gave you precious childhood memory.
    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com
This essay may be reproduced.