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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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Metamorphosis

By Alvin Schwartz, '34

The Magpie, June 1932, v. 33, n. 2, p. 43.

He was fifteen, but not the usual boy of his age. I never took the trouble to inquire deeply into the cause of his sensitiveness. It may have been due to heredity; it may have been the result of some occurrence that had overshadowed his very young and plastic soul; his earlier childish fancies may have been too often subject to heartless ridicule by some older and infinitely wiser person; but all this is mere speculation. The fact remains, however, as a result of this condition, that at fifteen his every speech and action were so governed as to attempt to place him favorably in the opinion of others. He was self centered to such a degree that he was constantly fearful of some little slip-up, some trivial blunder, a word in some casual conversation, as not being the right thins to do or say at the moment. His entire existence was tied up in a desire to seem well in the eyes of those with whom he came in contact. If he danced well, it was for the joy of being an object of admiration for others, not for the joy of dancing. If there had been some slight fault to his dancing, that someone may have noticed, he would feel disgusted with himself and ashamed of having committed what seemed to be such a glaring error. All such things took on mountainous proportions to him, provided they had not escaped notice. He had never been able to claim anyone as a friend. Casual acquaintances he had. They never became more than that. He couldn't mix.

Wherever he went, he felt isolated from youthful gatherings. He would sit idly on the sidelines, and watch them, those boys sand girls of his own age. Hungrily, he longed for the companionship of youth. He felt that they disregarded him.

He unburdened himself, one night, to a friend of the opposite sex, who, for the moment, happened to be in a serious frame of mind. She told him to forget himself. That was his trouble, he agreed, but how could he help himself for being what he was?

He betook himself to dreams, dreams in which others stood in awe of him, in which he appeared smiling and triumphant, proudly contemptuous of those who had hurt him by their disregard.

A strange trait of this boy was his sense of superiority. He felt that he was better than others; he firmly believed himself to be on a higher intellectual plane than the boys and girls he knew. He often recalled having heard a gentleman remark to his mother, when he had just passed his twelfth birthday, "why, that boy of yours has the mentality of an adult."

Perhaps his unshaken faith in his intelligence was merely a shield, something reverted to instinctively, as a protection against his own sensitiveness. Strangely enough his confirmation of this supposition had never been threatened by waves of doubt.

During those frequent intervals when time hung heavily on his hands, he would read. By reading, he could lose himself completely. Often, he would write. By writing, he could mold himself into whatever he wished; he could create his own worlds and be master of them; he could find an outlet for his pent up stream of emotion. As to the stuff he turned out, that depended largely upon the scope of his feelings. After completion, he would take the paper in hand and conscientiously rip it into small fragments as though to impress upon himself that these thoughts were nothing more than figments of the imagination, vain dreams that dispersed into thin air.

"There's going to be a bunch up at Sylvia's tonight. Coming?", someone asked him.

Carelessly: "Couldn't say for sure. I've something else on hand tonight."

He went. Perhaps tonight would be different. Something might occur to break the ice. After all, stranger things than that had happened.

Came that night. He was striding about the room, in a vain search for something that eluded him. No one seemed to pay more than passing attention to him. He spoke a few casual words to each person. He struggled unsuccessfully with every one to induce a personal element into the interchange of words. Miserably, he failed.

The mental agony made him feel cynical. He endeavored to make remarks that would attract attention to himself. He succeeded, momentarily. One of the girls called him a prig. He tried self-analysis. No help there, that had been attempted before. He regarded the group analytically. What had they that he lacked? On the divan were seated a boy and a girl. She was on the boy's lap. Two girls were attempting a tango. A group was playing cards. Another girl was trying to smoke a cigarette. Over it all hung an atmosphere of light talk and laughter.

He grasped at a possible solution as the proverbial drowning man clutches at a straw. Yes, that was it. They were a bunch of stupid kids without a particle of gray matter in their skulls. He was the only serious minded one among them. Naturally, he felt out of place here. They thought in terms of having a good time, that and sex. Suddenly he felt disdainful toward the entire group. This mood, however, did not overcome his feeling of hurt at being left out, and the word prig still rankled. Vaguely, he wondered if he were a prig.

His brain was a turmoil of conflicting emotions as he climbed into bed that night, but not to sleep. He was far too restless for that. He allowed the light to burn.

Dawn, and the torture of the evening still seared his uncomprehending mind. He was silent and morose throughout the remainder of the day. He wished nothing, other than to be left alone to brood sullenly and glorify himself in his imagination. He placed his thoughts upon paper and exulted in reading them aloud. He worked over them in an endeavor to convey realism and conviction in his hero. His story was completed at noon of the following day. Acting half on impulse, half in defiance, he mailed it to a magazine. Afterwards, he regretted his action.

A month later the mails brought him a check. His story appeared in a popular weekly publication.

Suddenly, the world changed. He, the prig, found himself the center of interest. For the first time in his life people flocked about him. Why, he was an author and only fifteen! He found himself an object of admiration in his own circle. Something had happened to him. What people thought of him now no longer seemed important. Quite unconsciously, he began to act with a total disregard for the opinion of others. His sensitiveness had disappeared.

* * * *

A number of months have sped by. The publication of his story has long since been forgotten by himself and others. He has quite unknowingly merged with his acquaintances as one of the group.

Incidentally, he hasn't written a story since.




The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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