Monday, July 30, 2012

COINCIDENCE OR...?



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
columnrule.blogspot.com
In one of life’s seemingly strange coincidences but which probably are orchestrated by the gods, karma and the pull and push of each person’s life, I found myself last week, on July 26, in a small bedroom in Upper Nyack, N.Y. I had just finished installing an electrical line for one of four grandchildren, this one Beatrice, daughter of Arthur IV and Laura, and then sat down in a chair even older than the 1929 house. I would end up with more than a rest on this day of the handyman special.
The house Beatrice’s parents own suit their personalities. It is compact but enough for their needs. It has a front porch and is in a walking village. Life there seems no different than decades ago. Neighbors know each other, say hello, sit a bit on the porch or on its steps, glance at the seasonal view of the Hudson River and get in their car less as stores, places and activities are within walking distance.
My grandchildren are yet another a series of  pups who have grown up in this house, once owned by the Buckout family. Beatrice’s room was some other child’s space, and the dreams within, the growth there, the changes in one's life and in the world between two wars, in the Great Depression, in the resurrection after the second war and in the great challenges of suburbia -- all took place in the lives of people once young who lived in Beatrice’s room and who eventually took their leave  to move on in adulthood.
Now Beatrice is there, having left a crib in a smaller room and into a big girl’s bed in freshly painted  space with a ceiling fan installed by Gramps. Her own dreams, her private world, the world outside as she and this house continue will begin in that room.  The fan will help, certainly in the very hot summers we now seem destined to have, the result perhaps of other changes in the evolving world.
Glad to help, of course, with some expertise that saves the family a bit of cash and which does a good deed for my granddaughter. That’s how I felt as I headed for that old Mission-style chair on July 26, 2012, taking in a bit of the river from the northeast window. 
I sat a while, thinking I might get myself a coffee next on my way home, once the tools were gathered. But before that, in the half-daydream minute that such a rest gives, I suddenly realized (or was I “told”?) that this July 26 was my dad’s 90th birthday and that the chair I was sitting on was the one his father had bought for my grandmother so she could rock my father.
Later that day we would quietly celebrate my dad’s birthday in the no-fuss fashion he enjoys, but I had my own celebration of sorts in realizing that I was sitting in his chair on his birthday in his youngest great-granddaughter’s room.
And how many dreams are ahead, in that chair, for Beatrice and then for whom?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

'CALL FOR PHILIP MORRIS!'



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
columnrule.blogspot.com
Northvale, N.J. -- Once, the smoking lamp was lit throughout most of the world. Now, how about a 5-foot by 10-foot cubicle? In what may be the biggest come-down since a millionaire lost his pants in the ’29 Crash, smokers in or about the local supermarket here are herded into a small corral, an outdoor, glass-walled bus-type shelter. There they may smoke, and presumably get 10 re-puffs to the puff since all the occupants re-breathe each other’s smoke.
It seems cruel to sentence these smokers to solitary confinement, or at least confinement of 10 people. A decade back, you could smoke in the supermarket, or two decades back in the doctor’s office. John Wayne took his on-screen last puffs as a wounded soldier. Physicians endorsed cigarette brands. So did athletes. So did cowboys. So did the movies. What would “Now, Voyager” be without that shipboard cigarette scene between Bette Davis and Paul Heinreid?
Two years ago, you could have smoked in the supermarket lot, and now it is frowned upon -- someone downwind, frozen in space obviously, might take in a puff. Today, you head for the smoking “shelter.” 
Now, I am not a smoker. Tried in in my wayward youth, as most of us did, but it hurt my teeth in the fourth grade.  I never got hooked (of course, no one told me that I had to inhale the smoke -- I just took it into my mouth and let it go, along with a coughing fit). I come from a family of smokers, and my brother Craig remains a major financial supporter of the Camels manufacturer. I worked as a newspaperman and could hardly see the copy for the smoke in the city room.  Just after high school, I dated a girl who dragged on Parliament, and she let the ashes defy gravity on a long kiss. Then it was back to the cigarette. The addictive effect obviously was not my doing.
So, I respect smokers, in the past and today, though I’d rather they had never lit up and never will. Smoking is demonstrably bad for your health, others too, costly, smelly and not cool.
But up in smoke should go overreactive regulation that sends outdoor smokers to a small corral. Maybe the Big Kahuna also wants that they should  wear placards with the letter “S” in 72-point type. 
Hey, I can move away if I’m in the wind.

Monday, July 16, 2012

PROTECT TENANTS



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
columnrule.blogspot.com

If you are in business, then you want your employees to be well-trained, your equipment to be in top shape, your materials the best you can buy. You want all that if you also seek to offer reputation along with product. Should it be any different when you are a landlord? Actually, responsibility for the “product” -- your tenants -- is even greater. They must be well served as fellow humans, protected from rent gouging and kept safe from building neglect that compromises safety and health. 
Not enough landlords pass this reputation test. Yes, the business of owning rental property is difficult to begin with -- tenants come and go, creating income instability, some don’t pay their rent, some abuse property. Taxes and utility costs continually rise, and the property has to be maintained. But it’s a business the landlord chooses to run, and, as such, there is an obligation that it be conducted properly. Since people are involved, that means government has to be as well. And it’s an instance where the least government the better can’t be the rule. Officialdom must be proactive.
For example, consider a situation last week in Spring valley, N.Y., where some tenants in 10 apartments could have perished in a large fire. The blaze, perhaps caused by an unattended candle and maybe an electrical problem, and made worse by a delayed call to 911 and then low hydrant pressure and blocked firetruck entry, was a perfect storm in which government is partly to blame.
Some 55 people were left homeless, and volunteer firefighters from 11 departments and other responders battled heat exhaustion in the continuing high temperatures in the Northeast. Thankfully, there were no deaths, no major injuries. But the situation could have become a disaster. The tenants, the landlord and government lucked out. Now the task now is not only to rebuild but to help save lives in the next fire; indeed, to reduce the chance of one occurring.
Spring Valley is major rental territory, and the Village Board must take steps to better protect tenants. After the recent fire, investigators found some inoperative smoke detectors, and one illegal room conversion, which can prove a deathly maze for firefighters lost in heavy, choking smoke. To the good, the village says that all 66 apartments in two buildings at the fire site have smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors, and that the property owners are working with the village to comply with all codes. That’s the hoped-for future. In the past -- just last week -- responders were hampered by low or no pressure in hydrants, forcing them to use tanker and pumper trucks. But the back gate of the apartment complex was blocked by residents’ cars and had to be cut through so tankers could get in.
According to media reports, the government’s response so far is a planned resolution requiring supervisors of multiple-family dwellings throughout the village to check rental units quarterly to ensure smoke alarms are installed and operating. Not enough, people.
Don’t depend on landlords, who are usually absentee and who hire local “superintendents” already overworked, poorly trained and underpaid. Instead, the village’s annual fire inspections must become not only quarterly but official, conducted by paid, free-lance volunteer firefighters, ex-military and others who could supplement retirement income. The municipality would not incur any costs, with inspections set at $50 per building of say 50 units. That’s $200 a year, per building, not much to keep your tenants safe.
In addition, Spring Valley should:
  • Immediately require hard-wired (with battery back-up) smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in all proper locations. Hard wiring will override situations where people remove batteries if the detectors are annoying.
  • Insist that police patrol fire lanes every single shift and immediately call landlords if areas are blocked. Cars should be towed. Volunteer firefighters and paid responders, including the police, cannot have their lives jeopardized by blocked fire lanes.
  • Fines should be stiff, with jail time in some cases, for landlords who allow illegal room conversions or who are repeat offenders on fire and building code violations. 
  • Utilities should be held legally liable if they do not maintain sufficient water pressure in hydrant mains. Spring Valley can help here by using their muscle and also advising the Planning Board and Zoning Board not to approve any more building units until water pressure improves. Spring Valley is undergoing massive urban renewal, adding hundreds of residential units. Has that compromised water pressure in very old mains?
  • Tenants should be offered more instruction on fire safety, including avoiding electrical overload, use of candles, etc.
Tenants, landlords and government all have a responsibility to protect and save lives in municipal multi-unit dwellings. But it is government that must be the leader. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

COMMUNITY OF WORDS




By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
columnrule.blogspot.com

PEARL RIVER, N.Y. -- You don’t need a summer reading list here, in this “expat county” of Eire. The word reading and the act itself are more than fundamental – reading is a way of life, words to soul as notes to a musician. Not surprising -- ever meet an Irishman who wasn’t lyrical?

Once an enclave of German descendants, this hamlet of Orangetown has morphed in post-World War II suburban growth to house the Bronx Irish and a mix of those not far removed from the Gaelic land itself. A parade as famous as New York City’s is held on Central Avenue near the time of St. Patrick’s Day, the local supermarket has Irish treats, and there is a delicatessen that boasts its Irish-Italian partnership, a notation on the Bronx roots. Irish workmen’s caps are as common as baseball hats, and there is a strong tie to the civil service list as Gotham police, firefighters and bus drivers make the daily commute.

Pubs there be, and many, too, with Guinness always on draft, but perhaps the most popular place is the local library, a Pearl River gem that predates the Irish arrival. It is a well-supported house of literature and allowable pretensions to such and has for many decades been an example of community putting its money to proper use.

On a recent day, taking a walk on the small oval that now sits where the old Pearl River High School fields were located, I glanced over at the library and saw its stream of patrons –  young, old, of any age really. I expected that – it’s the usual scene.

What I did not imagine was what was spotted on the other side of the walking path, on Central Avenue, where this fellow, perhaps in his 40s, was making his way along the sidewalk. He was looking down with intense gaze, not at a cell phone or digital notebook, which is so common these days, but at a real book, its skin of beautiful maroon, its pages many. He was reading whatever. But he was reading. The fellow looked “Irish,” and you can say that since some people do indeed look Irish, praise be, though they may be far distanced from Eire.

So, putting one and one together, it adds up that this largely “Irish” community, with its popular library and a people known for the wit of the word, the soul of the word and the gift of gab –  those words that are the stuff of legend and the flying colors of storytellers –  this community is its own magical land, a  special place where the music is in the words and the people are the words.

Monday, July 2, 2012

AS WE NEAR THE FOURTH



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
columnrule.blogspot.com

The president gives his State of the Nation address in January; we the people take stock July 4, our collective birthday, though most of us cannot trace American roots back to then.

So what is the State of the Nation as we near July 4, 2012? There are the scary negatives: Colorado fires, power outages in and around Washington, D.C., extreme heat across the country; unemployment; foreclosures; special interests that lobby not for the people; banks sitting on investment capital; Afghanistan and an extended, overworked military; and a deficit that if we had that amount for cash might wipe cancer out and provide college or post-high school training for all.

The positives: freedom, despite an overreach of rules and regulations since 9/11; Horatio Alger opportunity still works, though as always, with some sweat and luck; front-porch values there for the application; freedom of speech, press, religion, petition and assembly; freedom from want, freedom from fear; 236 years of group and personal sacrifice through war, slavery, the immigrant experience; birth of cities and suburbs and our rural land and their endurance; the ballot box opportunity, the better leaders among us and government when it works; and acceptance of the Churchill dictum: “… Democracy is the worst form of government except all others that have been tried.”

So, as we soon gather to have our July Fourth rest, picnics, fireworks and fun, we see the balance in this land still tipped in favor of what democracy, however imperfect, can do, has done, will do.

On Jan. 6, 1941, in an address to Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told us: “Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change -- in a perpetual peaceful revolution -- a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions -- without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.”
A better statement of this USA there is not.
Happy Fourth!