Monday, January 25, 2016

SNOW: LIFE IS DEJA VU

January 26, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
The news clip said that New York City and its suburbs were “paralyzed” by the snowstorm, which dumped two inches per hour and which totaled more than in the famous Blizzard of 1888. OK, but the date was not Jan. 23, 2016, but Dec. 26, 1947. Life, it seems, is deja vu.
Yet there are differences between the two snow events, and I use that phrase because it is part of the contrast. In 1947, the few media outlets delivering live news would never have reported on a  “snow event,” just a snowstorm. Language often gets inflated when you hype something. And weather is a most-hyped event in this age of instant news via smartphone, tablet, computer and ever-repeated TV segments.
Yes, the snowstorm that hit my area in lower New York State was big enough, though on my mailbox indicator, it was slightly more involved than average. I have lived at my Blauvelt address since 1973, and we have had a few storms that almost buried the mailbox, which is about 3.5 feet off the ground. This system came up about 1/3 the way. And while some had high winds, we did not. A big storm, but not the biggest.
From all the hype the four days before, you would have thought the earth was heading out of orbit. There were Facebook pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets. Governors were warning they would close roads, which they did (states south of New York, never ready for a big snowstorm since they are rare, ran into trouble. Even the president’s motorcade was held up in the D.C. snow.)
The 1947 newsreel indicated that millions of dollars were spent or never realized in cleanup costs and lost business. And, of course, there were associated injuries, even deaths in the storm. Truly sad. But in 1947, there was little hype about the coming snow. It came quickly, the day after Christmas, and common sense got everyone as prepared as they cared to be. Kids enjoyed the extra holiday present (including my brother and I, then living in Sloatsburg, N.Y.).
But I don’t think bread flew off the store shelves or gas stations had lines with motorists fueling up as if rationing would soon begin.
It’s now a faster-paced world, and “news” has the shelf life of a few seconds. Hype seems the only way to get people's attention.
It’s paternal pride, but I think my son Arthur IV had the best take on the 2016 “snow event.” Interviewed by FIOS One (Verizon) TV News while he was running in the storm on Broadway in Nyack, he was quoted: “This is New York. It is supposed to snow.”
Yes, and no one had to hype that.
 The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

Sunday, January 17, 2016

TYING SHOES AS A LIFE CHANGER

By Arthur H. Gunther III
     Literally, if you think about it, re-tying one’s shoes can pause your life just enough to alter things. It’s the same argument that if you had left the house one minute later, you might never have seen her face. Write your own story, but you see what I mean.
     Now, is this fate? Karma? Heavenly direction? Just dumb luck (or the reverse)? And if you don’t think about  it  — any one act slowing or moving ahead your life’s clock — how will you know the difference?
     Do not mean to get philosophical here, but surely we can all recall a delay or speed-up (you left the house early because you awakened early) that made that particular day different. And then maybe you took that day and made some more of the same because you liked it so much. And that changed your life.
     This isn’t to say free will doesn’t have play, that you are not the master of your fate. We largely are, though what we consciously plan may never come to past. However, we must move on,  roll with the punches (or be grateful that we were forced to smell the roses). It’s the adaptation that largely involves our free will.
    So, how did all this thinking arise? Did I have too much wine? No,  I really did re-tie my shoes this morning. My usual laziness has me just slipping my large feet into already tied shoes, but this time they needed a re-tie. So I did that. It made my day.
     Not the re-tie. I wasn’t in the best mood — down a bit — and I was simply plodding through routine when I noticed this father carrying his young daughter through the local home improvement store. The child had the most wondrous face — so very bright, lit up, cheerful, inquisitive. And in her hair she had an equally wondrous artificial flower. 
     My mood changed. The little girl did the trick. And had I not re-tied my shoes, well, darn, I would not have seen, would not have been in the moment.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

Sunday, January 10, 2016

WAITING



January 4, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
     While you cannot go home again, the gods, and nature, can make you think you are in a dream of past time, place. That was my experience Tuesday last when at 2:17 a.m., I rolled into Spring Valley, N.Y., the village of my youth.
     It was a snowy morning, the first such in the warmest Northeast December on record. Though where I grew up has changed in appearance, even some function, and so very many of the old storefronts, and, more important, their business people, their customers, are gone, the fresh snow that morning was like the white scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” A blanket of white is in metaphor the handmade down comforter on a four-poster bed. It simply evokes the warmth of childhood.
     And that’s what I felt, what I saw in my mind’s eye as I drove into the community of my father, my grandfather, my friends, my teachers and some special people. Times, places change, and you may no longer have the keys, but memories can unlock what was yours. Fresh white levels the field, literally, since the color of snow is the universal hue. A snowman, no matter who builds it in whatever age — in front of your house or what was your home — is yours.
     It was with a bit of whistle, or the sounds that pass for that from a man without rhythm, that I drove through Spring Valley’s snow, headed to the regular Tuesday gig as a non-profit cook who tries not to poison anyone. 
    While any Tuesday morning at the United Church is routine — knocking large pots about, getting 15 pounds of pancake batter ready, muscling the ancient oven for baking, opening eight no. 5 cans of soup and bringing flavor to that, plus the myriad tasks that are done so that later Phyllis, Carol, Moucille, Mary Anne, Denise, Elnora, Christine, Olive and sometimes others can add their magic — the snow, still falling and glistening in the streetlights, made the effort festive.
     The fact that at this time of year, the homeless in Rockland can participate in the Safe Haven overnight shelter program and not see the snow as an enemy removed any guilt in enjoying the white stuff.
     The Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program, begun in 1985 by a group of clergy of various faiths in Rockland County, has had many volunteers for Monday-Friday  breakfasts in its long, continuous run. There have been numerous snowy days, and not all were as easy to drive in as last Tuesday’s, though the volunteers are tough, and there have been rare times when staff was low. 
     Whatever motives push a volunteer to his/her task generally stay in the mind, the heart, and, of course, the soul. Volunteers figure they are lucky to do what they can and want no recognition, God forbid. That would redirect the spotlight from the good being done. Yet the rewards are many, and sometimes the gods give a fellow a bonus, as it were, like the Currier & Ives scene of my old hometown on a snowy, early morning. I saw so many on the deserted streets that day, and I had not seen them in decades.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com All essays can be reproduced.