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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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Collector's Job

By Henry J. Antupitsky

The Magpie June 1932, v. 33, n. 2, p. 5.

The brown door opened up its gaping jaws and yawned at him. He rang the bell and took out his slips.

"Collector, madam."

Thick lips and small eyes leered at him.

"No money. My husband is out of work for months."

" We..."

He interrupted her wearily.

" But we cannot support your child, madam. Our economical situation demands that you pay or that your child leaves school."

She was going to cry. He saw the tears welling in her eyes. He hated people who wept. He himself had wept too much in the last few weeks before he got his job.

"You will get a call from the central office madam. Good day."

He walked down the three flights of stairs. In the street, the hush of the night was disturbed rhythmically at even intervals by passing trains. The trolley cars and autos as they passed repeated in a weird metre:

" Out of a job. My husband is not working. I can't pay."

The big blotch of filthy water he passed seemed to be the woman's tears throwing themselves into his face. He closed his eyes trying to shut all it out of his mind. He looked at the slip in his hand. The next one was ten blocks up ... that would take about fifteen minutes to walk. He was working only two hours . . . that meant eighty cents. How would he exist? He was making only a dollar a day... about five dollars a week. He shook his head in despair and tramped wearily up the reeking street. He stopped at a dance hall advertising a marathon dance wondering how they could do it: do all that dancing for days and days. He passed it still wondering.

* * * *

He braced himself and rang the bell.

"Collector, madam."

And again there followed the usual procedure of talk ...again that ill luck.

"My husband is out of work. We can't pay."

Again he told them of the school's sorely tried finances. He left the words still ringing in his cars.

"Can't pay. Husband out of work."

Wearily, he walked on.

* * * *

He searched the letterbox for the name. It was so dark; why couldn't they have a light there? There was a growing pain in his legs and a whirling sound in his head and he saw white, gleaming stripes taking amoeba shapes in front of his eyes. He peered intently into the dark, rang the first bell within his reach, and entered the hall.

"Could you tell me where Fisher lives?"

"Who? Fisher? No! Ain't no such person in the house."

He rang another bell.

"Fisher? O yes ... Apartment 4B."

As he climbed the four stories, he held on to the railing. The appetizing odor of fried fish met his hungry nostrils and he began to be aware of a gnawing emptiness in his stomach. He had not eaten since ten that morning. He rang the bell.

"Collector, madam."

A small, eager face met is eyes.

"Come right in, please."

She led him into a dungeon reeking with poverty and need.

"Sit down, please."

He declined, afraid that if he sat down, he would never be able to get up.

"Have you change?"'

He shook his head ruefully as she went out and he gazed longingly at the chair and the set table. He wanted to reach out for a small piece of bread, even a crumb, but he managed to control himself. On her return, he gave her a receipt and left. Again he was ringing the bell. And again the black obscurity of the door opened up to him.

"Collector, madam."

"I can't pay. My husband is out of work for six months already.

He wanted to answer, but he found himself unable to speak, for his feet were caving in under him and he leaned on the wall for support.

"We'll pay sometime next week."

He nodded his head and went out.

The next number was in the same house . . . two flights up. He climbed the stairs wearily and rang the bell.

"Collector, madam."'

A pair of beady black eyes met his tired ones angrily.

"So ... what do they want money for? The bills they send me. You tell them at the office that ...

Her voice became dull and monotonous to him ... became mixed and jumbled. Her face and lips were whirling around him in crazy circles. He closed his eyes for a moment. Sleep seemed so sweet. Rest was so desirable. He sighed, and sank to the ground gratefully.

* * * *

Dr. Cohen was speaking to his assistant, an interne interested in, psychology.

"Exhaustion, hunger, and the continuous repetition of a certain phrase which kept hammering itself in on his brain cells. He needs rest and quiet."

The interne, puffed up with his knowledge of psychology, turned to Dr. Cohen.

"That has a technical term. It is called. . ."

Dr. Cohen motioned him to be quiet as the phone rang. It was wife. There was a collector there.

"Strange," said he, "we have one here, too."

"But he wants money."

"Money? Tell him we can't pay. I am out of work," and with this he hung up.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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