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  • Writer's pictureJerry Della Femina


When you become older than dirt like I am now, you’re going to find that 99% of your past slowly goes off to live in a thick, dark, impregnable cloud, but then when you least expect it, a memory bright and clear pops up out of the cloud and all of a sudden you’re back in time and enjoying a scene from your life like it took place yesterday.

That’s how it was when I was watching the Democratic debate the other night and I watched Michael Bloomberg turn into Buster Pepe, a boxer I last saw on one hot summer night in 1953.

I went to see Buster fight with a group of my friends who hung around Hy and Ann’s candy store on McDonald Avenue and Avenue U.

We were all around 16 years old and we owned the world.

Eight of us piled into an old Chevy driven by our friend Georgie Malore and we were off to the Eastern Parkway Arena to see Buster Pepe, our friend’s Phil Pepe’s cousin, fighting in his first professional fight.

It was a preliminary fight, four rounds, and how in heaven’s name do I remember his opponent’s name was Walter Kaper, when today I fumble around and take seconds before I can retrieve the name of one of my wonderful grandkids.

We were sure Buster Pepe was going to win. Why? Because he was Italian and Italians were great fighters – like Rocky Graziano, and Jake LaMotta and Willie Pep – and we were sure we came from the toughest, wildest section of Brooklyn: Avenue U. There was no way Buster Pepe could lose.

Then the opening bell rang, Buster Pepe went into a crouch and Walter Kaper proceeded to slam him 3…4…5… times with right-hand punches to his exposed right side, smashing him in the ribs.

Pepe’s right side started to change color, first pink then an ugly red.

Pepe wasn’t punching back and his tall, gangly opponent was pushing him all around the ring.

We were screaming, “Hit him back, Buster! Hit him! Hit him!” But Buster Pepe just went into a clinch and took a beating.

Now I was back at home watching the debate and Elizabeth Warren, a person who makes my skin crawl, took the first swing at Bloomberg.

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” Warren said.

“Fight back, Bloomberg! Fight back!” I thought. “Here’s what you should say:

‘I thought we were here to talk about how we plan to beat Trump. If all you want to talk about is the past, why don’t you, Elizabeth Warren, apologize to the panel and to the people watching this debate for telling lies about your ‘Cherokee’ heritage.

‘Explain why you repeatedly used the title to get ahead and about the document where you listed yourself as ‘American Indian’ on a Texas bar registration card in 1986. And how in 1997, you were named Harvard’s first woman of color by the Fordham Law Review.’”

But Bloomberg didn’t say a word. He looked like Buster Pepe and let Warren punch him all around the ring.

Next came Bernie Sanders talking about “Stop and Frisk” and calling Bloomberg a racist for his role in initiating Stop and Frisk.

“Fight back, Bloomberg,” I thought. “Don’t let them get away with this Here’s what you say:

‘I apologized for how Stop and Frisk turned out, but I will never apologize for starting it. The idea was to save African-American children who were being accidentally shot and killed when gangs in the high-crime areas were armed and shooting at each other.

‘As a result of Stop and Frisk a lot of guns were confiscated and a number of young African-American children’s lives were saved.

‘Is there anyone on the panel who would like to state that they would not try to save the lives of innocent African-American children? This is the time to tell us why you believe political correctness is more important than taking the guns out of the hands of killers and saving lives.’”

But Michael Bloomberg never said a word. He let them push him around.

Throughout the debate Bloomberg had the look on his face of a man who just ate a bad clam but was afraid to swallow or to spit it out in front of the a national audience.

My mind went back that night in 1953. The fight was over, the referee raised Walter Kaper’s arm as the winner.

My group left the fight club and rode back in silence. We never again mentioned Buster Pepe. He was our guy and he lost the fight.

At home the debate was over and I had the same feeling I felt all those years ago.

I went to bed – my guy had lost the fight.

But just before I fell asleep I thought:

“There will be other debates and Michael Bloomberg will learn how to fight back.

“And if he doesn’t fight back he won’t be president and our country will be in a horrible mess.”

As I drifted off to sleep my last thought was:

“There’s always tomorrow.”

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09 mar 2020

Jerry, I worked for you in the late 80’s and early ‘90’s. I love your column. Smart, witty and a man who just “gets it”. Keep it up. Hope all is well with you and your family. -Steve Goldberg

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