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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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On Coughs and Sneezes

By Matthew Marmor, '31

The Magpie, December 1930, v. 32, n. 1, p. 27.

Coughs and sneezes have their good and bad sides. Everybody knows about them. We have all experienced these unpleasant sensations. But there are many people who do not understand this great topic thoroughly. Let me draw back the dark curtains and reveal to you, "coughs and sneezes," as they are known to those who have made an exhaustive study of them.

First of all, let us consider the professional cough. Many people whose names are in the Social Register have often heard them, but they have never been able to classify them. For example, you will find that it is absolutely essential for a butler to be able to cough melodiously and at will if he would secure a good position. If he wishes to announce a visitor and his master is seated with his back towards him, how else could he attract his attention? At the right distance, he coughs on the right note, and as his employer turns, he announces the visitor. This is what is known as a professional cough.

Then of course, there are unfortunate coughs and sneezes. The little girl from the traditional home town leaves for Hollywood to make a name for herself. She gets a job as an extra, and becomes one of the mob in a mob scene. Then one day after some director has noticed her and she is raised to the part of waitress in a third rate comedy, she is standing around at some large studio watching the filming of a love scene in a talking picture. Just as John Filbert is about to plant long, burning kisses on Greta Grabo's unresisting lips, she (the extra) either coughs or sneezes. Well, talking pictures cost money, and now she takes care of her father's grocery store back in the old home town.

Among other coughs, there are the coughs to cover embarrassment or to hide fear. Men who have faced danger know the cough to clear the throat before speaking. Then again there's the cough to cover up a mistake. Here's one about Amos 'n' Andy, that dusky pair, dear to the hearts of radio fans. Amos entered the office of the Fresh-Air Taxi Company, Incorpulated, and Amos said, "Hello, Amos." As soon as the words left his mouth, he realized his mistake and coughed to cover it up. But the words were already over a thousand miles away and his cough came just too late.

But I have only scratched the surface of so great a subject. Let me quote a passage from P. C. Wren's "Beau Geste," which may help to enlighten you. Our hero had entered a recruiting office to enlist in the French Legion. The officer at the desk didn't look up at his entry.

"He ignored me and all other insects.

"How to attract his attention?

"I coughed gently and apologetically. I coughed appealingly. I coughed upbraidingly, sorrowfully, suggestively, authoritatively, meekly, imperiously, agreeably, hopefully, hopelessly, despairingly, and quite vainly. Evidently I should not cough my way to glory."

So you see, there are many kinds of coughs that are quite unknown to the public. The only cough that is commonly thought of is that harsh, raucous cough so often heard in theatres and movie-houses.

We always associate Old Golds with harsh, raucous coughs. Old Golds, as everyone knows, are those mild cigarettes that "soothe the throat and make the voice rich and mellow." It is Old Gold that has glorified the cough and lifted it above lesser "evils," for which many remedies have been advertised.

Finally, it is impossible to speak of coughs and sneezes without mentioning the Hay Fever sneeze and the Hay-Feverites. And if we speak of Hay-Feverites, we must include Bethlehem, N. H., the home of HayFeverites and the Sneeze. Whenever a wind blows down the street in that little mountain town, carrying the irritative pollen dust, the natives feel a slight trembling underfoot. Looking up, they see people sneezing all about them. It is a touching and pathetic scene for those concerned, but the onlookers seem to get much enjoyment out of these frequent scenes.

It is in Bethlehem, N. H., where frequently a sneeze breaks up a romance. The fair maiden meets the handsome hero, who, unknown to her, suffers from Hay Fever. As they sit on the veranda of the hotel, hidden by the rapidly falling shades of night, she leans toward him, and he slips his arm around her shoulders. She sighs in rapture, awaiting some sentimental speech. Just then a breeze blows, and his arm stiffens about her. Wondering at his silence, she looks up at him and then recoils horror-stricken. His face is writhed in a horrible grimace, and his mouth is wide open. Then a loud sneeze breaks the silence of the night, and romance has fled.

So you see, "coughs and sneezes" can either make you or break you, depending on the circumstances. Some people make an art of it, and some make a nuisance of it. It is a complex subject that requires delicate handling, and I hope that my explanation has shed some light upon it.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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