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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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Subway

By George A. Bernstein, '32

The Magpie, June 1932, v. 33, n. 2, p. 21.

Scene: Interior of a subway car, 2 A. M.
Characters
Joe Williamson, an accountant
Eddie Jonas, his friend
Drunkard
Newsboy

(Drunkard is seated in the corner of car at the end of his seat. He is bedraggled and unshaven . . . apparently asleep. His head is drooped onto his chest; his hands are between his legs.)

(The train stops and the doors open. Two men, Joe Williamson and Eddie Jonas, enter. The doors close and the train starts.)

Eddie Jonas—That was some party eh, Joe?

Joe Williamson—Yeh.

(they notice the sleeping form of the drunkard, make a slight detour, and seat themselves at the other end of the car.)

Eddie—Say, Joe, what did you think of that Eleanor . . . what's her name?

Joe—O'Shay . .

Eddie—Yeh, that's it, Eleanor O'Shay. Some gal, eh?

Joe—Yeh, she's all right, I guess . . .

Eddie—Not as good as Elizabeth Murphy, though. Now there's a girl for you.

Joe (matter of fact)—She's O. K....

Eddie—O. K.? I should hope to smile she's 0. K.... Say, what's the matter with you, anyway? You haven't been acting yourself all evening. You acted like a mummy at the party, and now you come around telling me that Elizabeth Murphy is 'O. K.'

Joe (looking at man at other end of train)—Guy must be drunk.

Eddie—Sure, dead drunk. Subway's a haven for dogs like him. They haven't got a cent . . . just beg a nickle or two, somewhere; buy rotten likker; and sleep it off in the subway. Plenty more like him, too.

Joe—It's cold, do you know it?

Eddie—Yeh, I know . . . but March is funny that way. Never know what it's going to do from day to day. You know Tom McManus, don't you?

Joe—Yeh, what about him?

Eddie—He's laid up with the flu.

Joe—Mac . . . laid up with the flu?

Eddie—Yeh, the doctor says he'll have to stay at home a couple of weeks, too.

Joe—Gee, that's tough . . .

Eddie—Yeh, and that's not going to do Tom no good, either. He's got a kid to support now. It's not just him and his wife any more, you know. And everyday counts . . . two weeks lay-off . . . gosh . . . and now, especially . . . it'll be pretty hard for him.

Joe (bitterly)—It's pretty hard for everybody . . . (looking at drunkard again) Hey, what's The matter with that guy, anyway? He hasn't moved an inch since we came on this train.

Eddie—He'll be all right . . . just as soon as he sleeps off that likker . . . By the way, talking about likker, that was some Bronx cocktail we had over at George's house, eh what?

Joe—Yeh . . .

Eddie—I wonder where he got the stuff.

Joe—He told me he knew some bird in the brewery business. Some bootlegger by the name of . . . Squirtalli, or something.

Eddie—Pretty good stuff he makes. I wonder if he smuggles it in from Canada . . . I don't think so, though . . . Some of these guys have regular stills . . . You'd be surprised. You wouldn't think for a minute that it was moonshine, if you never heard of Andy Volstead . . . (looking at Joe queerly). Say, Joe, is there anything wrong with you? You're acting awfully mopey.

Joe—I'm all right.

Eddie—Well, you're not acting right.

Joe (nervously)—What's the matter with that fellow over there, anyway? I never saw a person stay in the same position so long before in my life.

Eddie—The devil with him. He shouldn't have taken the stuff in the first place.

(Train stops at station. Newsboy enters.)

Newsboy—Morning paper . . . Morning American, News, Mirror . . . Morning paper . . .

(Doors close; train starts.)

Eddie—Hey, buddie, give me a Mirror.

Newsboy (does so)—Thanks.

(Eddie starts reading as newsboy exits into next car. His voice is heard fainter and fainter as he calls out: "Morning American, News, Mirror.")

Eddie—It says here where six people were killed . . . wonder if there was anyone we know . . .

Joe—(pulling up his collar)—Boy, I'm cold.

Eddie—Oh, oh. Hey, Joe, look at this picture. (Joe does so.) No wonder this rag has such a large circulation. I'll bet you never saw a picture like this in the Times or the Herald-Tribune . . . Look . . .

Joe (looking attentively)—There's a picture underneath it about the bread-line.

Eddie—The . . . what? Hey, look at this picture, up here, not down there.

Joe—What a mob! Gee, I wonder if there really are that many . . .

Eddie—What the devil are you talking about?

Joe (throwing down paper)—It's a rotten shame . . . that's what it is a rotten shame . . .

Eddie—Joe, you're the limit. Here's a perfectly good picture of a dame and you go battin' off your head about the bread line.

Joe—I know, Eddie, I can't help it.

Eddie—Maybe I shouldn't have bought this paper.

Joe—No, that's not it . . . It's simply the boss said he was going to lay off some men tomorrow, and I was worrying, I guess . . .

Eddie—He's going to do that? No kidding . . . but what do you care. You got nothing to worry about.

Joe—Gee, I don't know what I'd do if I was fired.

Eddie—Not a chance . . . not a chance . . . Why, what could the company do without you?

Joe—Yeh, I know, but I'm worried, Eddie, no kidding.

Eddie—Don't let it get under your skin.

(Train stops at station, and starts again.)

Eddie—Sixty-sixth Street only . . . Gee, we're going slow.

Joe—I wonder if those guys on the bread-line look like . . . him. (Points at the prostrate figure of the drunkard.)

Eddie—Huh?

Joe—Why the devil don't he wake up?

Eddie—Calm yourself . . . he'll be all right, just give him a chance to sleep off that likker. (Looking at paper, but half-eyeing his friend.) I wonder what Winchell has to say today . . . (turns pages) Oh, baby, listen to this . . . 'N. Y. U. has a larger amount of applications this year than any other year previous.'

Joe—N. Y. U.?

Eddie—Yeh, underneath he has a little note, though . . . er . . . a comment, like.

Joe—What kind of a note?

Eddie—Oh, nothing, I guess . . . just sort of . . . er . . .

Joe—Let's see it.

Eddie—Naw . . . it doesn't amount to anything.

Joe—I want to see it.

Eddie—No... (Joe grabs the paper and reads out loud.)

Joe—'N. Y. U. stands for New York Unemployed.' (Looks up.) Well, what do you know . . .

Eddie (nervously)—Yeh . . . heh . . .heh . . . he's clever, sort of . . .

Joe—YEH, WHAT THE DEVIL IS THIS COUNTRY COMING TO ANYWAY?

Eddie—Hey, keep it low, keep it low . . .

Joe—I DON'T CARE WHO HEARS ME . . . I WANT EVERYBODY TO HEAR ME . . . TOMORROW I'M GOING TO BE FIRED, SEE! . . AND I DON'T GIVE A DAMN WHO HEARS ME.

Eddie—Joe, for Pete's sake, what's eating you?

Joe—YOU HEARD ME . . . I'M GOING TO BE LAID-OFF! . . . FIRED! GET THAT? . . . AND I WON'T HAVE ANY JOB . . . SEE? . . . AND I'LL BE WALKING THE STREETS LOOKING FOR ONE . . . AND IF I DON'T LAND ONE, MY WIFE WILL BE THROWN OUT OF HER HOME . . . SHE'LL BE DISPOSSESSED! . . . DO YOU HEAR? . . . MY WIFE WILL BE DISPOSSESSED . . .

Eddie—Joe!

Joe—AND I'LL BE WALKING THE STREETS. I'LL BE LIKE THAT GUY OVER THERE . . . BEGGING FOR FIVE-CENT PIECES TO GET ME SOME OF THAT LOUSY LINKER . . . THAT YELLOW POISON . . . DO YOU UNDERSTAND . . . AND I'LL BE COMING INTO THE SUBWAY TO SLEEP OFF THE LIKKER . . .

Eddie (getting up)—Joe, for God's sake, stop it, will you?

Joe (hysterically)—AND I'LL BEGIN TO LOOK LIKE HIM . . . I'LL BE DRESSED LIKE HIM . . . I'LL SLEEP LIKE HIM . . . I'LL SMELL LIKE HIM . . . I'LL BE HIM . . .

Eddie—Good Lord . . .

Joe—HE WON'T WAKE UP, EH? I'LL WAKE HIM. (He rushes over to the drunkard and yells into his ear.) WHY THE HELL DON'T YOU WAKE UP?

(Eddie rushes over, but is too late to stop his friend. Joe shakes the drunkard furiously, then he lets go, and the drunkard topples over on the floor of the car. Both are silent for a few seconds.)

Joe (looking at the drunkard wildly)—MY GOD, HE'S DEAD!

(Eddie grabs him as

THE CURTAIN FALLS.)




The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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