Sunday, April 26, 2015

GET YER NEWS! 'NOISE' IN THE CITY!

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

Monday, April 13, 2015

A TREE, ITS BRANCHES

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

Sunday, April 5, 2015

THEY SPOKE; WE DID NOT LISTEN

By Arthur H. Gunther III

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

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