Sunday, December 29, 2013

LEAN ON ME


By Arthur H.Gunther III

     “LEAN ON ME,” said the healthy pine to its brother, the roots of which were torn from the earth during Superstorm Sandy in fall 2012.   In a metaphor, how many Rockland County, N.Y., residents required help as they did without power and heat, some for weeks?
     The mighty pine, a symbol of the Northeast and a non-deciduous offering to get us through sometimes harsh and colorless winters, has shallow roots, a reminder that life is fragile but enduring. That some pines grow and stand for decades is due to the closeness of their neighbors in a forest buddy system.
     But Sandy was extra-mean, and this poor pine at the Nanuet School District park off Convent Road in the Town of Clarkstown had just one brother, to its left, and none to the right, making it vulnerable. It tilted in a great burst of wind and could not be righted. Nothing could “put this Humpty-Dumpty together again.”
     And so the metaphor went for Rockland in the Sandy aftermath. Not all came back as they were, but in the troubles, there was certain and sure neighborly help.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who lives in Blauvelt, N.Y. Reach him at ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, December 23, 2013

MESSAGE AT CHRISTMAS



     For some years, my son Arthur IV, a writer too, offered a holiday story published in this space. Reprinted here is his Dec. 24, 2007, piece.

     Franklin was a man of routine. Perhaps such a person had become an antiquated notion in this day and age, the very word “routine” summoning visions of safe havens and early dinners. Someone for whom risks were akin to strangers at your night door. What a shame to reduce a person to such a narrow universe. There had been a time where Franklin would have been moved to debate and argument over such labeling of his being.
     He was older now and less ready to argue. So old in fact that he would rather not seek new memories for fear of crowding out the old ones which kept him warm, the ones that had made him who he still was. This was easier than it sounded. The year itself, with its familiar cycle, cooperated nicely. The ebb and flow of the seasons lent a rhythm to his days that evoked memory at every turn. Despite the changes that had settled around his town, there was still so much to remind him of his past days.
     Which brings us to Christmas. Here it wasn’t so easy. Franklin himself had never been what most would call religious. He never attended a church or other religious house, even on the most popular of churchgoing days, Christmas. His wife had been another story. Molly had been a regular churchgoer, attending church every Sunday morning for the entire 55 years of their marriage. She rarely spoke of her beliefs, preferring to let the way she lived her life do the talking.
     Franklin did not label himself some kind of heathen. He had plenty of belief in God. Proof was everywhere. Franklin saw God in snowstorms and surprises, laughter, nature and seeming coincidence. Franklin had seen God every day for 55 years in his wife. Church just was never a place where he sought Him.

     Franklin’s wife had been accepting of his ways. She never asked him to attend church with her. On Christmas Eve, she may have dressed a bit nicer and left a little earlier, but she still attended alone. When Molly died a few years back, Franklin was stunned, as he knew he would be, though her passing was not unexpected. Slowly, however, he found those familiar routines and let the memory of all the sweet days before settle in more deeply than ever. In his own way, Franklin’s wife walked with him through his days.
     It was on Christmas that Franklin was at a loss. He had depended more on living vicariously through Molly’s routine on that day than he had realized. Franklin first tried ignoring the holiday, but that didn’t seem right. He had never ignored religion, just celebrated it in his own way.
     The second year after his wife’s passing, Franklin instead sought distraction and tried hiking  in the woods, but this wasn’t much better. Before he knew it, here came the season again.
     By Christmas Eve, Franklin was restless. After trying to distract himself with some of the old Christmas movies that his wife and he had always appreciated, he put on his coat and went for a walk. He decided to head toward town and maybe see if he could find a place open where he could drink hot chocolate. As he walked south on Broadway, he noticed more cars than usual parked on the side streets. People left and right were emerging from their cars dressed quite nicely. Slowly Franklin realized that these must be the extra people who always attended Christmas Mass. Without consciously making a decision, Franklin found himself following the crowds up the hill toward the church. As he crested the rise, he was taken with how the building flooded the normally quiet Tuesday night of the street with light. This was a street where Franklin rarely found himself, never having a reason to walk here. He couldn’t remember the last time he walked this way.
     Franklin stopped at the corner adjacent to the church and stood still. As he contemplated whether to go inside, he suddenly was startled by the noise of a collective standing up. An organ note rang out as all the lights around him went out. His first thought was that a blackout had occurred, but then Franklin saw that inside the church candles were being distributed and lit. Candles were soon being passed around for those who stood outside on the steps, too. Franklin guessed that the church must have been filled to capacity. Thinking his decision had been made for him, he turned and was about to walk home when a little girl ran up to him with a candle. “Here you go,” she said and was quickly gone.
     Franklin had forgotten to wear gloves, and his cold hands dropped the candle as quickly as it was handed to him. Bending down to pick it up, he noticed that he was standing not on a sidewalk but on a brick walkway. The bricks were all engraved with dedications. Franklin read the ones he could see illuminated by his candle: “John, with love from Elaine.” Then another: “Margaret and Stuart, 45 years” and finally: “For Franklin, thank you for your faith, always, Molly”.
     Franklin was frozen in place. He read the brick again to make sure he wasn’t seeing things and then slowly stood up. He could hear the church choir start to sing as he turned to walk away. Maybe next year he would return and go inside, Franklin thought. Maybe tomorrow he would walk down this street again. For once, Franklin was glad he had changed his routine.
      Arthur H. Gunther IV, a schoolteacher, lives in Upper Nyack, N.Y., with his wife Laura, son Sam and daughter Beatrice. His e-mail is clausland@yahoo.com

Sunday, December 15, 2013

IT'S ILLEGAL, PEOPLE



By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

     Nanuet, N.Y. -- There’s a shopping center here that’s never been without parking vehicles since it was built in the later 1950s, a remarkable thing because such strips in suburbia -- actually almost all of America -- just seem to multiply, knocking one another off, their inevitable fate weed- and litter-covered lots and empty storefronts. But not the old E.J. Korvette complex.
     This large discount chain of mostly Northeast stores, some with supermarkets, furniture outlets and tire centers, operated in Nanuet, a hamlet 20 miles out of New York City, for about two decades, until bankruptcy in 1980. Ever since, the site has been home to various retailers operating in divided E.J. Korvette space. That means the huge parking lot, about the size of three football fields, has always been used. And therein lies the heart of this essay.
     Since the old Korvette store is a long building, it has a fire lane stretching about 60 percent of the length of the parking lot. And it is usually blocked. Maybe it’s a Clarkstown, N.Y., thing, or a Northeast habit, but the cars are ignored by the local gendarmes, at least the ones I have observed.
     A run into Posa Posa pizza, or A.C. Moore or the UPS store or other shops means some irresponsible motorists leave the motor running in a lane clearly marked by the traditional yellow lines and painted curb. Newly painted.
     Should there be a fire, which certainly is a possibility given the age of the old department store and the modifications made over the years, volunteer firefighters might not be be able to park their rigs, wasting valuable, life-saving moments  setting up  the “job.”
     Motorists park illegally since they are not challenged, at least not often enough. I am in that center about once a week, have been for years, and there is just about always a vehicle or more in the fire lane.
     Nearby, in another shopping center, the same situation. I once asked a state trooper, who was also parked in the fire lane while getting a bagel, why he didn’t  ask the fellow sitting in the car in front of him to move out of the lane. He said that it wasn’t his “jurisdiction.” Did not know that fire hazards were defined by jurisdiction.
     A suggestion beyond the obvious, which is to use common sense and not park in fire lanes, and for police to enforce the law: Keep the fire lane yellow, with diagonal lines and curb in that color, but overlay with deep red markings. This would make the lane more noticeable and make the offenders stand out. It would also pay tribute to our firefighters, volunteer and hired. Red is their color.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who lives in Blauvelt, N.Y. He is reachable directly at ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, December 9, 2013

BREAKING THE VETS SNAFU



By Arthur H. Gunther III

     In this time of holiday parties, we went to see Jerry Donnellan at his West Nyack, N.Y., home. For decades now, he has been the veterans guru for Rockland County, and Jerry’s daily, weekend and evening life is centered around helping his fellow comrades. It is a God-given thing he does, and though Jerry is a local government employee, his job is to muddle through the red tape officialdom creates so that the ordinary soul receives his/her due, sometimes in an extraordinary fashion.
     The holiday affair was just fine at Jerry and MariEllyn’s place, as it always is since they are humble, gracious hosts. What made this year special, though, was that Jerry told us more than half a million souls have now been afforded treatment at special veterans clinics throughout the U.S., apart from the usual veterans hospitals. Not too many years ago, there were no veterans clinics, and those who served under our flag often endured the indignity of the bureaucracy in getting an appointment and/or treatment at the vets hospitals. Not enough funding, insufficient staff, long trips  and the indifference of any large organization made our veterans wait and suffer even more. Government can sure shoot itself in the foot and then trip up its citizens.
     Jerry saw the need for change, and he made his voice quite clear, calling upon a willing C. Scott Vanderhoef, the Rockland County executive, to help provide limited funding for a local clinic in New City. Almost immediately the walk-in was a success, assisting vets in getting checkups, prescriptions and care. It has proven a blessing to thousands of ex-servicemen and women.
     And the idea took off, spreading nationwide from Rockland in great numbers. All without a big fuss. All without D.C. direction, all without legislation that today surely would be debated, filibustered or somehow labeled anti-American.
     Jerry Donnellan saw a need, and he and Scott acted on it, homegrown-style, can-do style, the sort that won a world war in the 1940s when creative Yanks took bulls by the horn and made things work on the  battlefield even as the generals debated tactics.
     Good work, fellows -- those guys then and Jerry and Scott now.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who lives in Blauvelt, N.Y. He is reachable at ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

OF A QUIET EVENING


By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

December 2, 2013

     For someone like my grandfather Arthur Sr., the Information Age began with a flood of great daily New York City newspapers like The World, the New York Times, and in his early 20s, the New York Daily News. He also had an early crystal radio set, the popular way of bringing in stations as far away as Chicago when the atmospherics were just right. You can just imagine how his own parents, raised in a slower age of communication, reacted to the more instant delivery from the wireless.
     Arthur Sr. would continue his fascination with both newspapers and radio until he passed at the early age of almost 67. After his daily job as foreman of a smoking pipe factory in Spring Valley, N.Y., and supper, he would take to a very comfortable easy chair with ottoman, next to a standing lamp set with 100-watt bulb, and pore over the papers from cover to cover. Then, at about 8 p.m., he would listen to the radio, particularly the “Bing Crosby Show” on Thursday nights. He liked the popular crooner’s voice and also the fact that he smoked a pipe. Between the newspapers and the radio, he kept current with information and was entertained, too.
     This evening time with the papers and the radio shows offered quiet. Unlike television, which brings constant movement in the flickering of the screen and action as well as the the blaring of dialogue, the radio, even with its sound effects, caused the listener to stare into space, to close his/her eyes, almost to daydream in imagination. With newspapers, there was a similar quiet as you mulled what you had just read, or re-read something.
     These were moments that relaxed, unlike the visit with what can be an elephant in the room -- the TV set. That window on the world and society, the foreground and background screen for a fast-paced age of information and entertainment, is also a look at the business of humanity, including dysfunction and the outlandish. It can give you a headache.
     My grandparents did buy a TV in the early 1950s, but the radio programs continued for a time, and so did my grandfather’s habit of listening to them. He would not look at TV during the day, even in retirement, instinctively understanding that to do so, to bring in constant sound and motion, would be to disturb the quiet rhythm required for his existence. His information age might have been busier than his parents’, but he understood their need for peace.

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

EDWARD HOPPER AND 'ROOM IN BROOKLYN'





By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com
NYACK, N.Y. -- In the birthplace village of Edward Hopper, the famed American realist artist (1882-1967), it is a simple thing to note the early morning Hudson River light that he bottled and used in all the paintings of his long career. That was his gift, and it is has been shared with generations, especially in his present renaissance in America, Europe, elsewhere. Yet we humans, and Hopper was that, too, also have the most ordinary of moments, no matter the ability. Some even suffer in the ordinary for the ability.
When the artist was studying in France and also living in Nyack and in the lower New York City neighborhood where he would spend most of his life, he received short letters -- almost conversational tidbits -- from a friend, Alta Hilsdale, whom he seems to have loved. But the emotion was unrequited, and reading the Hilsdale letters, 1904-1914,  is a sad experience. It is a classic relationship in which expectations are not shared and are in fact so different that you wonder how it could have lasted a decade.
But it is also a known tale, and that is why moving romance novels have been written in hoped-for explanation. Hopper did not write, not often anyway (unfortunately, we don’t have his letters to Alta). Nor did he speak much. He painted. That was his language, his expression.
Writer Beth Thompson Colleary offers Hopper fans, and actually anyone who explores human interaction, a chance to look into Hopper’s art and mind in her recently published Hilsdale letters collection, “My Dear Mr. Hopper” (Yale University Press). The book is scholarly in that it offers primary source material, and it allows the reader to enter the Hopper-Hilsdale relationship. Perhaps the last two letters are the most compelling and revealing. The first, Sept. 18, 1914, just two paragraphs long, tells the artist: “I suppose I shall have to begin to tell some of my friends that I am to be married soon to Mr. Bleecker ... We are to live in Brooklyn, at 42 Sidney Place ... and if you should care to come over, I would be glad to see you. Always your friend, Alta Hilsdale.”
Imagine, after 10 years, such a short and explosive letter. Hopper may have assumed a developing romance where he should not have done so, but, still, the letter is cold. The second letter, written from Brooklyn on Oct. 14, is a bit longer though still short. More a note than a letter.  It begins, “I cannot tell you how sorry I am to have made you unhappy.” And it ends with, “I thank you with all my heart for all you have done for me and offered me, and beg you to forgive me for causing you unhappiness. Most sincerely, Alta Hilsdale Bleecker.”  That last letter is probably her most emotional one in all the 10 years. (The assumption is Hopper wrote back between Sept. 18 and when she penned the letter on Oct. 14.)
Who knows how the artist handled this loss. He married painter Josephine Nivision 10 years later, and that seemingly less-than-romantic union probably informed his art, since he became most productive and, finally, sellable, with Jo at his side. And, surely, Alta is in the artistic effort, even if a painful memory.
This brings me to the point of my essay. Hopper appears to have painted just one work set in Brooklyn, where Alta moved in early marriage. Most of his works are about Manhattan or  Cape Cod, Maine and Vermont, with some western U.S. scenes. “Room in Brooklyn” (1932) is quite an emotional piece, as Hopper’s paintings are, but this one is different. Almost all Hopper women are voluptuous or at least sensual, many nude or nearly so. The woman in Brooklyn is fully clothed in a modest dress, sitting in a rocking chair and looking out the window while also apparently reading. We do not see her face, but the brown hair is set in the exact style Alta wore in an early 1900’s portrait of her, perhaps by Hopper. The Brooklyn room is sparse, with an unset table behind the woman. The view is toward what some Hopper scholars see as Hopper himself, that long row of Brick tenements, such as in “Early Sunday Morning.”  (It is repeated in many paintings.) On the floor near the woman is a shaft of light, the traditional Hopper pointer, as if he were a teacher revealing knowledge.
Is “Room in Brooklyn” a look at Alta 18 years after her last letter? Is she alone for a reason? Is she looking at Edward or the memory of him? Is she re-reading his  letter? Is she clothed as the virgin he remembers, or as a woman not fulfilled? Who knows? Hopper is a mystery that even he spent a lifetime exploring.
   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, November 18, 2013

FIRST PERSON: THE LOSS OF JFK


November 18, 2013

FIRST PERSON: THE LOSS OF JFK

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Nearing the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, so much reflection has already been written, some by younger writers who were not alive to absorb the year 1963, the 1950s and God, what happened in the killing’s aftermath, that turbulent continuation of a decade still changing America.
     Kudos to scribes who analyze and who get it right, especially if they did not feel the earth, smell the air, taste the water of the time. Yet, first-person reflection is as valuable as primary research, for setting the record, for authenticity. It’s a check on analysis after the fact. So, here goes, from someone who was there, before, during, after. 
     Fifty years ago, Nov. 22 was a Friday, as it is in 2013. About 12:30 p.m. I was flipping TV channels when I paused at WCBS-TV, New York. A soap opera was in progress, of no interest to a young fellow age 21, but the long thread of its story line, including every emotion there is, caught my interest and I lingered. But not for long. Quickly, on the simple black and white set, with just seven channels available through a rooftop antenna, came a bold screen with large letters shouting “CBS-TV NEWS BULLETIN.” Then the signal switched to a live newsroom, Walter Cronkite at a small desk, professional but with almost incredulous tones, reading wire service copy: “There has been an attempt on the life of President Kennedy . …” The venerable reporter and commentator did not leave his post for a day, and this America remained glued to the TV for even longer, over an increasingly somber weekend and through JFK’s burial.  
     So much changed on Nov. 22, 1963, when 90 minutes later, after numerous news flashes of increasingly negative tone,  Cronkite read another bulletin: “From Dallas, Texas, the flash is apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. today, Central Standard Time, 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.” 
     As a young man, idealistic as so many of us were in that folk-singing era when youth had infused stodgy government, when hope seemed a sure bet despite a lingering recession, the Cuban missile crisis and still-distant war drums in Vietnam, the president’s death shortened our sunny days, coinciding with the coming winter solstice. In JFK’s place was an older man, the less articulate, old-style politician Lyndon Johnson. He reassured the country as an uncle might after you lose your cool dad, and perhaps that made you get into bed, feel a bit tucked in and have some sleep. But the next morning you knew things would never, ever be the same.
     And they have not been the same. Presidencies since JFK have become increasingly isolated, surrounded by necessary security to protect our national leader from nuts but in the process putting the person into a cocoon apart from the people. Elect a president and you never see him (her?) again except through the filters his advisers employ. They have his ear, these special interests of whatever bent, not the citizens who cry when their presidents are taken from them.
     Ever more complex is our government today, and the super economic power concentrated in the secretive military/industrial complex that Eisenhower the old warrior warned us about is much stronger and deeply entrenched. Moneyed lobbies increasingly rule the nation.
     Today no president has simple choices, for the world is so very complex. Idealism seems reserved for the political stump, not for the Oval Office.
     John Fitzgerald Kennedy, may he rest in peace, kept the stump with him for much of his short tenure, continuing his well-phrased speeches, strumming the rhythm of the song of hope. What success or failure or a mixture of both he might have brought to the nation – in the economy, in dealing with the Cold War, in Vietnam – can only be conjectured. Was his the last approachable presidency? That, too, is speculative.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. Reach him at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, November 11, 2013

WARS CONTINUE -- SO DO OUR VETERANS


   By Arthur H. Gunther III

     On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour in 1918, World War I mostly ended with the hope that such a dramatic finish would cement the promise: “The war to end all wars.” No such luck, and World War II, Korea, Vietnam and all the conflicts to the present in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere continue the folly of some -- too many -- leaders, the failure of diplomacy, the effects of special interest that profit from conflict but surely, too, the bravery of the grunt soldier, airman, Marine and seaman, all the military men and women of wartime/peacetime. 
     I say leaders’ “folly” because even in good intent, the mistakes -- repeatedly -- are many and often disastrous. Consider the Hurtgen Forest campaign of September-December, 1944, during World War II, which saw 33,000 U.S. killed or wounded -- including my Uncle Winfield, who lost three fingers -- and 28,000 for the Germans. Historians contend that the American  battle plan never made strategic or tactical sense, though the sacrifice and bravery of the fallen can never be challenged. Had the generals thought it through and established an objective rather than fight as if replacements were unlimited, the battle might have been won. Actually, it did not need to happen in the first place. 
      And so it is in any war. Name any, and you will see mistakes, lack of good sense, why it might have been avoided, and in some rare cases, why it had to happen. What is most common, though, is that everyone who serves in  a war theater and those who do so in rare, blessed  peacetime, deserve all the applause, if you can applaud a war or the preparation for it.
     Today is Veterans Day, which is the old Armistice Day in the United States, the day that commemorated the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the last war ever. Now, after the wars that have followed, it is Veterans Day, honoring the living and the dead. The focus is on the ordinary man or woman who shows up to do his or her duty, not so much the generals and almost never the politicians.
     What happens in war can only be understood by those who have been there, absolutely no one else. Stephen Crane, the Civil War author, came close when he described the thin line between bravery and cowardice in “The Red Badge of Courage,” but the rest of us who have never been baptized cannot. Those who have gone to war return far different, changed forever. Perhaps more thankful. Perhaps more forgiving. Perhaps hateful. Perhaps possessed by unseen but constant demons.
     My uncle lost fingers in the Hurtgenwald but went on to live a productive life as a husband, father, worker, son, citizen. Surely he had his emotional difficulties, but he was able to handle them. Other vets were -- are -- not so fortunate.
     When we die, the hope is we pass over to the other side. The believers call it Heaven. If we could return having gone there, we would be changed forever. Well, our veterans, so many of them, have gone to hell, and they came back changed in certain ways. Know that, appreciate that, and until they use their free pass to Heaven, nod in respect, this and every day.

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

COULD NOT GET THEM DOWN



By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

     New York City -- With the April Boston Marathon bombings still pulling at the heartstrings of runners everywhere, some 45,000 of them rallied Sunday in indomitable spirit in the resumed New York City event, canceled last year in the lingering dark clouds of Superstorm Sandy.
     My son, Arthur 4th, was among the participants, and we are proud to say that he finished 134, 114 in his gender, 17 in his age group (40-44), with a 2:43:14 time in 26.2 miles. Awfully good, considering a headwind for the first several miles and those hills in Brooklyn and Manhattan. And the fact that he ran past his mother’s early childhood home in Bensonhurst, my mother’s birthplace in DUMBO and my great-great-grandparent’s home in  Yorkville’s “Little Germany,” well that covers a lot of family history.
     But my son would leave the applause to others, as humble as he is, and which makes him a great man, father, husband, teacher. From the time he began running with Coach Bob Hudson in the Tappan Zee schools, he has always been there for teammates, and they for him.
     This race certainly was about team spirit, though runners, of course, are individual sorts. But this year, following the tragedy in Boston, knowing that so many remain displaced by Superstorm Sandy, and in a nation where, frankly, government cannot seem to get to the finish line, it is most reassuring to see that some people at least will not let themselves become dispirited by the nation, by the world, too. 
     Perhaps it should be a requirement for public office that one complete a marathon, even on foot, so as to know what team spirit, what individual drive means and can achieve.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com Any or all of this essay may be reproduced. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

LIITLE FALL COLOR, BUT HUES ANYWAY


By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Whether it be global warming, the Tea Party, the Democrats, cranky Mother Nature or nothing at all, fall color seems to be coming later every year. We were in old industrial-town North Adams, Mass., and Stockbridge, last home of Norman Rockwell, during what was supposed to be peak “peepers” season, but it wasn’t. Nippy mornings, yes, and the usual fog that comes in Berkshire land with its mountains and valleys, but most leaves were still on the trees. It was as if the Washington shutdown had furloughed the process, and time was suspended.
     Actually, time has moved on in North Adams, once a very large industrial center where the fabric for Union Army clothing and then electronics for atom bombs and missiles were manufactured. More than 200 years were invested by workers and industry in this community, with 26 original buildings along the Hoosic River now part of MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, The site includes courtyards, bridges, viaducts and Industrial Age architecture that are works of art in themselves. So, while we found so little autumn foliage to see, the visit was worth it for the richness of the art installations and the results of preserving and enhancing American history. In a nation that has always been on the march, building and building, it is reassuring that some record of the past is kept.
     In Stockbridge where artist Rockwell had a home and studio, continuing his Saturday Evening Post covers and later a 10-year association with Look, there also was little fall color, though the artist’s museum offered enough of every hue from the palette of America’s chronicler of what makes us who we are. As Rockwell said, “Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.” And that includes Americans. His Look covers, coming as they did in the 1960s after the John F. Kennedy assassination, depict a nation in transformation, and the worry and uncertainty of that, including major work on civil rights and other social issues.
     This trip brought light traffic, a rare delight, and while we did not fill up on the great reds and yellows of autumn foliage, there was fine color for the soul -- the art work and historic preservation in  North Adams and the catalog of a national treasure in Stockbridge. It made us forget the drab grayness of a forlorn Washington, D.C. 

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com. Any or all of this essay may be reproduced.


Monday, October 21, 2013

RECOGNIZABLE


By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

     Spring Valley, N.Y. --  The time: 2:55 a.m. Place: parking lot of the United Church. Reason: Tuesday start for the Rockland (County) Interfaith Breakfast Program. What’s unusual: a special whiff of fallen leaves returning to nature in early fall.
     Deciduous leaves drop every autumn in so many parts of the United States and world, some in beautiful colors. And drying leaves, kicked about on sidewalks by youngsters and oldsters and those in between is common, too, as is the wind gathering a dozen or so and swirling them about as if in Dorothy’s cyclone. The  “taste” of all this is in the smell, even the fragrance of leaves losing their living liquid and drying to crispness, then morphing to mulch and renewal.
     In Spring Valley, at 2:55 a.m. on a Tuesday that would soon be bustling at United Church as a cook and food preparers and servers volunteered in common effort, the leaves, some anyway, had fallen, and there was the expected whiff, so pristine though life of a sort was ending, as pristine as a spring and emerging flowers. With a slight chill in the air, you knew fall was coming, and wasn’t that just fine. For some of us, wonderful.
     What made it unusual, this moment shared by so many thousands worldwide, was that I stepped out of the car at age 70 but in a millisecond I was again 12 and at this same church, then the Dutch Reformed. There for a Boy Scout meeting on a Friday night, I had walked from my home about two miles away and had rustled the leaves with my feet, taking in the smell of old oaks and maples.
     Now I have done this, rustled leaves, hundreds of times since, and there is always the special fragrance. Yet, this time, at 2:55 a.m. in Spring Valley, in the parking lot of United Church, under an ancient oak that predates my grandfather’s time in the village, I instantly caught in my nostrils the very same smell I had in the very same place 60 years earlier. That fragrance has never been duplicated elsewhere.
     Can one place, even in different times, give you the identical smell? Maybe. Maybe it’s in a community’s DNA.
      A fine morning start that Tuesday was.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com. Any or all of this essay may be reproduced with credit given.









Sunday, October 13, 2013

SOMETIMES, NO CIVILITY



By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

      Civility is what it is these days, which generally means watered-down manners, some to the point of not being recognizable social behavior. It’s as if no one taught some clowns how to act toward others.
     In my parts, north of New York City in the burbs, some public meetings become shouting matches and physical altercations as if town hall were the place for a street rumble. And there is always the incivility of the street, with impatient drivers, including myself. 
     But the lack of manners most distressing is in communication, or the absence of it. Too many people, “important” ones, too, fail to answer letters and e-mails, even when they solicit same. I have written or emailed (on required forms) to the president, to Ford Motors headquarters, to Ford engineers, to Dunkin’ Donuts and to others. All these business and people pay big bucks to solicit your opinion and some have flashy websites announcing just how “valuable” your view is. Yet write a constructive, balanced criticism with helpful suggestions, and you not only do not get a form-letter reply when you should receive at least a considered individual response, but you don’t get a reply at all. None of my letters or emails in the past few years have been acknowledged. That is bad manners, and it is not civil. 
     If people do not listen to others, there is no communication, and that is sloppy for society. The individual writer may have a harebrained idea, but if he or she presents it in a non-shouting, well-considered, non-offensive way, it should get a reply.
      Adding to this social incivility are some tradesmen. I recently considered installing a gas fireplace insert to my home and requested quotes from three businesses, all local. Two never replied, though they run ads shouting for business. One firm sent a fellow who never got back to me, despite several calls to his office.
     The bottom line is that my project is probably too small for their effort -- the companies could use their staff on bigger jobs, with more profit. Not civil behavior. Bad business, too, as I won’t speak well of these outfits.
     When some of us went to school, we were taught how to write personal and business letters. We also penned replies. The point was not only to learn how to compose such missives but to reinforce the standard that in a civil society, communication -- the back and forth of it --  is necessary and expected.
Not today, it would seem.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com. Any or all of this essay may be reproduced at will if credit is given.

Monday, October 7, 2013

WORDS, SILENCE





By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com
Always in an age, a theme. In 2013 it is the words and non-words from Rome and Washington. What the new Pope Francis is saying is not being said in D.C. The theme is survival of the middle.
The pope is trying to regain the Roman Catholic middle, the core that is the engine for the church’s mission. In Washington, no one -- the GOP, the Democrats and especially the Tea Party -- is courting the middle, that class which rose largely post-war and which drives the American (and world) economy, which assures stability for achievement and human progress and which, most of all, protects democracy from the wackiness and jaw-boning of mostly non-accomplishing rightists and leftists. The middle class is the hope of the lower and the check for the upper.
Francis offers a message to the church: Lose the pomp and regalia, think forgiveness, empathy, giving, humility, simplicity, which is the message of Christ. It is also pragmatic since the wish is that the lapsed middle’s ears will hear and hopefully agree, and then act on such faith. And, if it does, the entire world, not just the Roman Catholic church, will benefit, leaving behind the decades of “me” and excess.
In our nation’s capital, no one is courting the middle class save the false voices from talking heads, largely propped by the puppeteers of special interest, who care not a whit for the workers, citizens and families that offer stability and who can carry the banner toward an ever-new American frontier. In a “governing” system that is so broken that it must be re-invented, a handful of strange politicoes has seized the great Congress, our Congress. And, we the people seem as impotent as were the good German citizenry following the burning of the Reichstag.
The crazies tell us Obamacare will bankrupt a nation already spending beyond its debt limit, rescued only by printing more money. They want large entitlement cuts; reversal of laws protecting gays, lesbians and women’s reproductive rights; abandonment of environmental protection to drill for oil (for China); and severe limits on federal budgeting, pushing a balanced spending plan but one that first grants banks and super corporations tax perks which no one in the middle class would ever see.
As with all messages that galvanize one section of the public or another, there is some truth in our overspending, in sometimes mismanaged entitlements, but in this time so long past the Founders’ declarations on the American mission, the social progress, the betterment that has been the American Dream must not be abandoned to let the odd ones win their hollow, selfish argument. We have to figure out ways to provide opportunity and show humanity, but without overcharge, special interest, mismanagement and personal irresponsibility. There are riches for all in such selfless pragmatism, financial and otherwise. But first, the middle must hear the call to action. And there is but a whimper in D.C.

    Pope Francis may prove disarming. His humble message, so welcome in a world that seems off its nut, may in the end be rhetoric, however earnest the man. Still, his is the language of hope. In Washington, there is no such tongue.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. Reach him at ahgunther@hotmail.com. Any part or all of this essay may be reproduced at will, with credit given. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

VERSE, FOR A CHANGE



September 30, 2013

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Though I am a newspaper writer -- editorials and essays mostly -- I do verse from time to time. So, this week, with not much else to ponder about, I’ll offer three pieces, the last of which  is song verse. Thanks for reading.

#1: A GLIMPSE

I saw a love
of long ago.
She moved swiftly
between my dreams
and reality, appearing
clearly, although
the facts were otherwise.
I reached out,
grasping for a moment
never realized.
She looked at me,
then left so quickly
that I knew she was
never there. Nor was
the moment.

#2: ARMCHAIR GENERALS

War drums begin, the old come alive.
Visions of battles never fought.
Now the chance to march 
from the safety of a desk.
Young go to fight, marshaled 
by the marshals of battle,
exacting in righteous allegiance 
to what they insist is just.
Old men who pick up no weapon
beyond pen and phone 
to issue this order or that.
Great destruction is their right,
these old men say, for the fight
is to save us all. Trust demanded.
Mistakes by command cannot 
be undone. Limbs, psyches torn asunder, 
continual dying for the lifetimes 
of the once young.


#3: GONE

I locked the door last night, though it never had a key. You are gone, and I must forget.
Forget the soulful moments, the depth we reached without a word said.
Forget you in my arms, fitted like a glove, your heart in mine, my soul with yours, facing eternity.
Forget our plans together, though I never cared for detail as long as you were here.
Forget your eyes were blue and magnetic, that looking into them made me feel weak but so warm.
I locked the door last night, though it never had a key. You are gone, and I must forget.
Forget the calm we were at, our silence speaking for us. 
Forget that being together was a book of understanding. Forget I came upon old doubt and could not trust real emotion. I left the embrace and could not return. Now I have locked the door, and there is no key.
You have gone away, and I must forget.


The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com. His work can be republished at will, in any form, with credit given.

Monday, September 23, 2013

CHALLENGE FOR NEWSPAPERS



By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com


     If true readers were the only people newspapers and Internet information providers had to be concerned about, there would be little reason for my essay. They are hooked on the news, educated and brought up and matured to understand the value of a free press in a free society, warts and all. An imperfect world, but what would be the alternative? Therein lies a great danger, because such readers are becoming rare, especially among younger people.
     Since printing began and the first sheets of paper brought news to individuals, private companies could count on people to buy enough dailies and weeklies to keep the print profession going; to support advertisers; to hold circulation stable. Now there are too few of these readers. 
     The Computer Age and the Internet, the IPhone, video games and the many morphings of television all snatch concentration time away from people, who seem busier than ever with seemingly endless schedules. There are fewer lunches spent with a newspaper; fewer evenings after dinner in an easy chair with the editorial page or columnists; fewer open pages of The Daily This or That spread across the kitchen table.
     Now it’s the constantly-on computer and Google. In milliseconds, much information appears --  too much, too quickly. News is read in headlines and short paragraphs, barely digested. Photographs and other images steal viewer time, reducing the brain's word count.
     This means fewer print readers and fewer newspapers sold, putting some out of business. What were once cash-cow businesses that left the newsroom to do its job without interference are profit-driven companies that enact cuts everywhere and which call their papers “products” which require front-office managing by non-newspapermen so as to guarantee the bottom line. Once the city room was a church of sorts, an information sanctuary, left unsullied by businessmen who could never understand news people anyway. But they made money for the bosses. Now they don’t make enough.
      More than ever, newspapers are decided by profit, and that affects what to cover; how deeply reporting goes; how thorough the editing is; and whether the traditional “who, what, when, where, how and why” of journalism will continue as creed or whether one or two of the pillars of fact gathering fall to cost-cutting, thereby weakening the story and journalism itself. And democracy.
     The Computer Age, with its great but flawed ability to offer “facts” and commentary so quickly; to spread such information around the globe; and to keep it in reference form that eventually can out the wrong-doers presents an opportunity to add to individual knowledge and so empower him or her to self-educate. And since education leads to questioning, the hope is that the Internet’s ever more vast store of words, data and images will make our younger people more like the newspaper readers of other years -- those who question, those who think.
     The challenge for newspapers is to present Internet information in such a way as to make the reader interactive, to want more details, to then ask questions in e-mail letters, in Internet forums and blogs.
    There will always be a thirst for information. Humans have craved news since the first of us scrawled something on a rock wall. And businessmen will always want to make a profit. If they can do that in the information delivery business, fine. Might even make some of them feel a lofty goal is being met. 
     What we all must do, whether we are the kind who grew up with three newspapers a day in the house seven days a week or if we are online perusers of news, is to support information delivery. Buy newspapers. Read them. Turn on the Internet but truly seek information and understand it, and then question. The “who, what, when, where, why and how”  still must be satisfied.  We must read, in print or online, then question, then react. And most of all, if there is no “why” or “how,” if any key word in the pursuit of a free and open press is missing, we must let the bean counters in the media know.
     Otherwise, the free press will lose the ammunition it needs to keep us safe from individuals and groups seeking to control the information flow for their own anti-democratic, greedy purposes. They would rather not have the media watching them.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. Reach him at ahgunther@hotmail.com  ahgunther@yahoo.com or 845 548 7378.

Monday, September 16, 2013

THE APPLE DROPS




By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

     About this time of year comes the memory of the apple smell, sweet fragrance that for me opened the door a bit to Heaven when I was a child at my grandmother’s house. She made apple pies, as many nanas did and do, from scratch as my friend Elaine does as well in the present. And she is a grandma, too. My grandfather would peel the apples, quite slowly and deftly, within a few millimeters of the skin so as not to waste anything. I never have had the patience for that, my own pared apples probably about two-thirds of the original product. My gramps sat on an upturned apple crate to do the job, outside, of course. And that is where the apple fragrance came from.
     Making an apple pie brings its own wonderful, delicious smells, especially when the spices are added to the mix and, of course, when the pie is baking. And, then, oh then, when that pie just seems to sit forever on the windowsill awaiting our tasting. But the real eau d’apple came from the drops, those decaying, over-ripened, never-picked discards from my grandfather’s small tree. The drops always landed near his 1900s garage, its old, wooden floor soaked with the car oil of decades gone by. The garage, particularly when it was warmish, offered its own beckoning smell -- of automobiles, wrenches, human labor, all a promise of what was to come for a future motorist, even at age 5.
     When I visited my grandparents, a few miles from my own home, the whiff of the garage in fall made me feel extra welcome, not that it was difficult to achieve at that house, at that home. And when I also smelled the drops, all was extra sweet, and my fingers almost crossed that my grandmother was making a pie.
     She usually was, and on those days, at that time of year, even without introduction to any of God’s religions, I knew there was a Heaven.

     Contact this retired newspaperman at ahgunther@hotmail.com

Monday, September 9, 2013

BACK TO SCHOOL/2013



By Arthur H. Gunther III

     ANYWHERE, USA -- It’s back-to-school, and while many cliches can be uttered about that, the fact is this is like spring planting. The renewed hope is there that the new field of fertile, young minds will see germination in gained knowledge, reasoning and a healthy outlook on life. Hope they have fun, too.
     Teachers will tell you, and you will recall yourselves that each school year and each collected class is different. The feeling is not last year’s, the classroom is physically apart from others, the mix of students may have been altered and the teacher is probably new to the group.
     And the world has changed, and the individual student’s self and environment, too. Likes, dislikes, friends, needs, desires, what has happened over the summer, how the community has morphed, and the state, the nation, the world -- all this bears on the back-to-school moment of any particular year.
     This means some students will fare better than others, and some will do very well, others not and probably the majority will be fine. The chemistry of the new school moment will help decide, though free will, as free as it may be, can turn the tide, too.
     Nationwide, school budgets continue to be slammed. Inflation in supplies, health care and other benefits, utility charges and the costs of this program or that seems 50 to 100 percent against the  recorded U.S. rate (August) of 2 percent. Doing more with less is yet another challenge for teachers, students and parents in this back-to-school moment.
     And then there are the tests, the push to have students meet some sort of standard, though those who set them do not seem to agree on what they should be. In-the-trenches teachers will cringe at lost time “teaching to the test” and will wonder why so many non-educators, or those so long out of the classroom, decide on the test. Yes, standards are required, goals must be in place, but the best teaching comes from teacher to student and  student to teacher. Too much gets in the way -- parental over-managing, distracting environment at home and in the streets,  extra-curricular overload,  too hands-on administration. Teachers should be trusted more to teach and given the support to do so.
     Good luck to those going  to school 2013, particularly the ones just beginning the journey in kindergarten. When you first get ready to sow a field, you till the soil well and then you fertilize. You don’t simply cast seed willy-nilly on hard pack. In this nation of the growing rich, the accumulating poor and the disappearing middle class, not enough attention has been paid to preparing schools and our young for the first years. Will the crop be what the children need, what the nation requires?

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be e-mailed at ahgunther@hotmail.com

Monday, September 2, 2013

OUR GOVERNMENT -- WE ARE IT



By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

     America’s Labor Day has morphed beyond the usual public time off -- picnics and other respite -- that recognizes all workers. Now it is also 24 hours of heightened uncertainty. There is worry over whether the job you have now, if you are working, will be there next year. And if the part-time spot will ever turn into full time. And if health benefits will continue, if they exist. Pensions? Forget them -- they have largely disappeared. Instead, you go it almost alone with a 401K, without much help from employers, and you will probably deplete that long-term investment to pay bills along the way. Retirement may mean poverty.
    Yet past Labor Days have been tough, too. The Great Depression brought extreme unemployment, and some men held no job until they were drafted for World War II. That conflict ended the economic malaise, and America, not battle-ravaged Europe or Asia, was ready to restart civilian goods factories. Times boomed and prosperity brought us suburbs, super highways and a large middle class. Enduring the deep, dark hopelessness of the Depression and a number of recessions in every decade since were part of the trudging journey. 
     Today, just a few years after the nation narrowly avoided another depression in the irresponsible greed of the mortgage/banking crisis, our jitters, the undermining of confidence in the American Dream, are bone-deep. We trudge again.
     The light at the end of the tunnel is remembering that America, our great America, began long before the Boston Tea Party, Lexington and Concord and the Revolution. It grew from the footsteps of those men, women and children who landed at Plymouth Rock and in the Virginias and then spread in every direction, especially west, which metaphorically is our never-ending frontier. The self-reliance, independence and  ingenuity, the can-do, survival, make-it-happen attitude set us apart from old Europe. Our Declaration of Independence celebrates all this in stirring, inspired language that sets the ground rules for government of the people, by the people, for the people.
    Yes, we must admit to terrible racism, the horrors of the Civil War, mistakes like the World War I Sedition Acts and the 1940s internment of the Japanese, and, most of all, the long-ago forced relocation of the only people in this nation who should not need a Green Card -- our Native Americans. But the instruments of our success, the Declaration and the Constitution, have in time righted many wrongs while others await remediation. 
     It is in America’s greatness, in its original intent, derived from the DNA of its peoples, native and immigrant, that our oratory can steer us straight once again. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech were born of us all.
     So, on this workers’ holiday in our great America, we recall the beginning and know our source of strength, purpose, direction. This is a worrisome Labor Day, with a disappearing middle class and all that means for economic stability and progress; with the threat of more war; with so much debt from others; with Washington polarization seemingly set on party ideology but truly well-directed by greedy, even sinister special interest as puppeteers can move mouths. We Americans must again be revolutionary and demand of the government that is us that it truly be us once more.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Friday, August 30, 2013

'WELCOME FRESHMAN,' AND THEN?




By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

I do not know where you live in this world or where your mind is in it, but I will tell you about the future of this planet. It could be seen clearly, not far from my Blauvelt, N.Y., home.
Driving down Western Highway, just before Dominican College, a private, Roman Catholic four-year institution, there was a “Welcome” sign on campus as volunteers directed freshman and their parents to parking areas. Vehicles filled with luggage, bedding, lamps and electronics and also jammed with adults plus young people came in an almost endless stream. You saw the anxious, sometimes puzzled, somewhat curious look on parents’ faces and, from students,  a mix of excitement and apprehension. This was a scene repeated in almost countless locales across the United States, and with varying custom, in Europe, Asia, the world. It was the setting of another field of hope, the soil plowed, the fertilizer in place, and now new seeds were to be planted.
Yet there were storm clouds, too, and hope was mixed with worry. In these United States, where super-sized student loans are necessary to get most people through ever-more expensive colleges, the last fields were harvested just a few months ago, and the ripened fruit of four or so years of labor, following on 13 years of public or private school plus pre-school have yet to sell. There are few jobs for 2013 graduates, or 2012 graduates or 2011 graduates. ...
In America, the middle class is shrinking, and with it the bulwark of democracy is weakened. Greedy special interests bent on maximizing profit without re-investment in society, in our young, in workers, in the promise of life are simply not employing enough people, firing longtime workers and hiring part-timers with little or no benefits. Pensions are disappearing.
And yet fresh college fields are plowed each summer, readied for a new crop of hopefuls who face unemployment and, if they work, a change of jobs many times in their lives.
Post-World War II America prospered  because of the G.I. Bill for returning veterans, which educated professionals who could serve industry and big business, greatly enlarging a middle class withered by the Great Depression. There was strong economic growth and enough profit for many. The world benefitted as trade and commerce grew.
Today, despite the “Welcome” sign at our college campuses, even while seeds are planted in fresh fields of hope for our precious children, the storm clouds of unemployment and income grown principally for greed are ominous.
We should all show apprehension on our faces, not just freshman and their parents.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.