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  • Writer's pictureJerry Della Femina


I had a birthday the other day. Never mind which one.

I spent the night before my birthday in bed staring at the ceiling and thinking,

“What’s gone wrong? How did this wonderful country turn mean?”

Oh sure, it’s easy to blame Trump, but there was an ugly spirit in this country that enabled him to kick off his campaign by calling innocent Mexican people thieves and rapists and still get elected.

As I stared at the ceiling I started thinking about a documentary I saw a few nights ago on the Smithsonian Channel, which showed Lyndon Johnson, soon after Kennedy’s assassination, speaking to Congress and vowing to get Kennedy’s programs passed.

Then the entire Congress – Republicans, Democrats, Independents – stood up and cheered.

If Johnson made that speech today, Mitch McConnell and the Republican side would be sitting on their asses sneering.

If a Republican made a speech, Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi would be sitting on their asses and rolling their eyes.

Where did it go wrong? Our politicians are dumber than dirt and our people seem to be growing cynical and nasty.

I want my America back.

My America was not about building walls, it was about building lives. My mother, at age 4, came to America with her parents from Naples, Italy, in 1914. At age 14 she worked in a cigar shop, making cigars. At 15 she worked in sweatshop, a doll clothes factory, for 12 hours a day. My grandfather pulled a vegetable wagon through the streets on his back. They joined the Jewish and Irish and German immigrants who were all welcome in this country. There was no ICE to separate children from their parents. Immigrants worked and built this wonderful country. It’s sad that it’s now come to a “piss-ant” president closing the doors to this country to immigrants with some of his followers — also children of immigrants — cheering him on.

I want my America back.

When I was a kid — 6 or 7 years old — my dad took me to a pre-season exhibition game between the Yankees and the Dodgers at Ebbets Field on the Sunday before opening day. I was a Yankee fan. I loved Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto.

We sat in the bleachers. I think our seats cost 50 cents.

A young rookie, recently called up to the majors for his big chance, came to bat. He was the first black man to play in the majors. His name was Jackie Robinson.

He came up to bat and hit a single. Suddenly everyone in the park got up and gave him a standing ovation. My dad stood up applauding, and he told me to stand up, too. I guess it was the Brooklyn way of saying, “Welcome. You belong here.”

That was America in 1947.

I want my America back.

My America was Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Tip O’Neill – political rivals and good friends who often would close the day toasting each other with a nightcap. They never let politics get in the way of the country and of their friendship.

My America was jukeboxes that played “Earth Angel” and “Sincerely” and Johnnie Ray singing “Cry” and Doris Day singing “Secret Love” and the Beatles.

Today the jukeboxes are gone and the nasty rap music that blares into your ears is about “beating yo woman” and trying to see how many times they can get the “n-word” into one sentence.

My America was people paying attention to traffic as they crossed the street instead of walking like zombies hypnotized by their cell phones.

My America was people respecting the FBI and the local police. And, most of all, respecting each other.

My America was youths fighting each other with fists instead of guns.

My America was movies with real heroes like Humphrey Bogart as Rick in “Casablanca” and the sheriff played by Gary Cooper in “High Noon.”

My America was listening to the radio all night to a disc jockey named Jean Shepherd, who pushed away the fears of the night and taught a whole generation how to laugh and think. How simple, just a voice on the radio…

My America was about good people who were filled with love for each other and for this, the greatest county in the world.

As I drifted off to sleep I thought to myself, “This is all about your birthday. These are the ramblings of an old man who’s living in the past.”

But just before sleep took over I whispered, “I want my America back.”

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