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  • Writer's pictureJerry Della Femina

SKIP THIS IF YOU’RE UNDER 60 (It Will Make No Sense To You)

Maybe it was my birthday that did it.

Maybe it’s because I’m now officially old and decrepit, but lately I’m spending a lot of time thinking of the past and how much I would like to enjoy some of those sweet moments of my youth just one more time.

I want to go back to the time when men and women had beautiful unmarked skin on their necks, arms, chests, backs and ankles, and the only people who had tattoos were sailors and ex-convicts.

I want to go back to the time when one could taste food without thinking of fats, carbs, gluten and peanut allergies. A time when vegetarians were thought to be mentally ill and vegans did not exist.

I want to go back to a time when people would sit around the table after dinner and talk. They talked because they genuinely liked each other. There was no television, no computers, no cell phones. Families only had each other and that was enough.

I want to go back to the time when the music of my life was “Earth Angel” by the Penguins, “Sincerely” by the Moonglows and the haunting voice of Johnny Ace singing “Pledging My Love.”

Johnny Ace was a great singer but he was also an idiot who accidentally blew his brains out playing Russian roulette with a gun he was sure was unloaded. As it turns out he only missed the count by one bullet.

Our music was called rhythm and blues. This was “make-out” music that we all listened to, played on the radio by Alan “Moondog” Freed and Murray the K.

We listened in steamy cars on a lover’s lane called “Plum Beach” just off Brooklyn’s Belt Parkway. In the still of the night you would hear Jonny Ace singing “Pledging My Love.” For horny teenagers – both boys and girls – this music was like catnip:

“Forever my darling our love will be true

Always and forever I’ll love only you

Just promise me darling your love in return

May this fire in my soul dear forever burn

My heart’s at your command dear

To keep love and to hold

Making you happy is my desire dear

Keeping you is my goal

I’ll forever love you

For the rest of my days

I’ll never part from you

Or your loving ways

Just promise me darling your love in return

May this fire in my soul dear forever burn.”

If you listened closely you would hear the sounds of bra snaps being unfastened by clumsy teenage hands.

I want to go back to the time when I could enjoy a thick creamy malted, and a chocolate egg cream, from Barney’s Candy Store on West 7th Street.

I want to taste a Mello-Roll, a chocolate sundae and a banana split from Hy’s Candy Store on Avenue U, and a lemon ice from the Spumoni Garden, which I would squeeze out of a tiny white paper cup. And yes, I also want to feel that dreaded pain behind my right eye again because I ingested too much frozen delicious lemon ice, too fast.

I want a delicious midnight hamburger at Bernie’s Diner on Avenue U and Coney Island Avenue.

I want to go back to the time when I would fall asleep to the sounds of the Sea Beach train pulling in and out of 86th Street, the last stop before Coney Island.

The Sea Beach was behind my house and in the summer, when the express train roared its way to Coney Island, my entire house shook like it was going to fall apart.

I want to go back to the time when I would watch Joe DiMaggio drift back with the athleticism and grace of Nureyev and then reach up and pluck a fly ball out of the air as though it was the easiest thing in the world.

I want to go back to the time when sports filled every day of our lives. When Friday night was Fight Night from the old Madison Square Garden. And boxers with real boxer names like “Rocky” Graziano, “Two-Ton Tony” Galento, “Irish” Bob Murphy and “Tough Tony” Pellone were slugging it out.

New York was a boxing town, a horse-racing town, a baseball town. It was a time when all we had was sports. Who was the best center fielder in New York? Mays? Mantle? Snider? It was a time when everyone loved Jackie Robinson in my old neighborhood – even the bigots called him “a credit to his race.” It was a time of Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra. It was a time when, if you had a broomstick and a “spaldeen” you had a game.

I want to go back to the time when, as a 12-year-old, the world was safe enough so that on a Saturday afternoon my friends and I could go to a neighborhood movie theater like The Colony on 18th Avenue for a double feature with the Bowery Boys or Charlie Chan or Abbott and Costello, along with a Gene Autry or a Roy Rogers western, and a serial that ran every Saturday, and five – count them, five – cartoons, all for 25 cents.

A few years later, older, but not much wiser, I would go to the Walker, the Kingsway or the Avalon and see great movies featuring actors and actresses who could really act: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Spencer Tracy. As someone once said, “They had faces then.”

I want to be 16 again.

I want it all to start over.

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