Someone broke the windows in my old high school. Someone let the weeds grow high. Someone tore down the stores on Central Avenue and someone boarded up the A&P. Some one let my hometown die. I think I know who.
They are meeting now, in convention as they say, not too far from here. It would be nice if they could come out here. Maybe the people would still cheer them, Republicans being upheard of in this neighborhood anyway. Maybe, though, someone would ask them how this happened.
Very close in the Nassau County border. Still closer is the Atlantic Ocean. This was a resort town once, but it is and it remains New York City. It is Queens County, which anyone will tell you, is the real New York -- the home of Archie Bunker and the working class and the middle class. Here, Manhattan is called "the city" and when people go there, they say they are going to "New York."
This is the place where liberalism failed. This is the place where good intentions went astray. This is the place where all the programs were applied and the housing was built and everything was done according to the Book of Liberalism. It hasn't worked.
The first house my father ever owned is a slum. Old rusted cars -- one of them a peeling T-Bird -- lie abandoned in the weeds at the end of the block. The house where Harriet Schneider lived has broken windowns, some of them covered with tin. Old Man Galiano's place is a mess. wNo one plants tomatoes there anymore.
When hunks of New York are like this. The South Bronx has almost become an urban theme park. Politicans make their trek there and promises to rectify matters, but all they have been able to do in many years is tear down the old buildings. Now the South Bronx is an awful place. It's awful to look at, but it's even more awful to live there.
Whole hunks of Brooklyn are the same. In some neighborhoods, the arsonists have gone from building to building. You can walk in some of them and look up six, seven stories straight to the sky. Even the churches are barricaded. People who will burn down their own neighborhood, will burn down a church, too.
In my neighborhood, things are not quite so serve. On the main street, many of the stores are empty, some of them boarded up. The theaters are gone. One of them, the Columbia, is now just a pile of bricks. Once it was a true movie palace, with a proper stage in case vaudeville ever came back. I think I kissed my first girl there.
Somehow this happkened. Somehow, the whole thing went wrong. Here in New York the spiritual if not actual capital of Democratic liberalism, the message is clearly one of failure. It hasn't worked. It didn't work for the people who were forced to leave here and it hasn't worked for the ones who took their places. It should have. It looked right in the books, but it just has not worked out that way.
The country knows this, I think. There is a cynicism, a resignation about social welfare programs, that fuels the campaign of Ronald Reagan, that makes you want to turn off the speeches of Edward M. Kennedy and his call to a war that has already been fought -- and lost. What is really tragic here is not the failure of a program or even many programs, but the failure of the spirit to want to continue. We hae given up on people, on a belief that they could, with lots of money and all kinds of incentives, be brought smiling into the middle class.
The middle class is gone from my old neiborhood now. They started leaving some time ago. One day it seemed the schools were no good and one day it seemed crime got worse and one day it seemed it took another half hour by subway to get into the city. And one day my mother's purse got snatched.
The Democratic Party said this could never happen. Liberalism said this could not be the result. They built housing and monkeyed with the schools and provided oodles of money and still things got worse.
An hour or so by subway, the Democrats are meeting. They will talk the grand talk of programs and promises and what could be done if there was only more money. Once, there was not only money, but ideas. Now there is less money, but no ideas.
Paul's Cleaners is boarded up and my old elementary school is gone. The store where I worked has no front window and Doc's drugstore is an empty lot. The people who once lived here are gone and the people who have moved in are poor and no better off. Someone let my hometown die. I don't know why, but I think I know who.