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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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By Saul Alovis, '36

The Magpie, January 1936, v. 37, n. 1, p. 19.

To some people, action is the crack of a bat against horsehide; to others it is great waves of action, motion, and noise of crowds everywhere—in stadia or on streets. But to me, action is best expressed by Clinton in the subway.

I can fully understand the remark of a subway guard, who, when asked how he kept so fit, said, "It's simply survival of the fittest. You have to be in good shape to handle these . . . ," well, we needn't go into that. But every guard takes a few extra swings on the dumbbells just about 2:30, spits on his hands, nails down his hat, and gets "set" for the next half hour, the most trying in the entire day. Indeed, were it not for the fact that I would be accused of exaggeration, I would add that some guards prefer the Times Square station during the rush hour, to that dread half hour at Mosholu Parkway.

The half hour begins quietly enough—the calm before the storm. At 2:35 there is an ominous quiet, broken suddenly by a single bell, just loud enough to reach the quivering ears of the guards. For two and a half seconds there is still peace, and then, like walls falling before a bursting dam, the doors in the beautiful building two hundred and fifty yards away from the station, are kicked open, and a sea of humanity pours forth, completely blowing from sight the verdant surroundings. This flow now breaks into two branches, one of which heads for the north end of the station, while the other attacks the south. Speed records are broken in that mad dash across the distance from the school to the station, and backs are strained by the grunting plunge upstairs. Scenes of indescribable horror are enacted; boys are thrust up the stairs without once touching the ground with their feet; others are separated forcibly from their books, hats, coats, and other garments. Guards are thrust up against the walls, remaining pinned for the rest of the half hour by the steady flow of young males.

Nor does it end on the station. As the ten cars wheeze into the station, whizzing along as though they would rather not stop, boys are firmly pushed from behind, so that by the time the train has panted to a stop, those in the front row have their noses flattened against the doors. The doors slide open, and the observers are treated to the curious sight of boys, eight abreast, attempting to squeeze into a doorway that at the most was meant to admit four thin grownups. (Curiously enough, one Clintonite equals three thin grownups.) After the train has been stuffed so full of boys that a mouse couldn't make its way from one end of the car to the other, the guards, who up to now have been cowering in out of the way corners of the station, spring forward, place their feet against the backs of the crowd, and squeeze a few more in. All who are not squeezed in by the guard are "out of bounds", and are kicked out of the way until the next train arrives. The guard then slams the door, pushing inside the car eight elbows, nine hands, and three feet, belonging to miscellaneous denizens of the interior of the car. This is repeated for the next twenty minutes as each train comes in, till a noticeable slack causes the guards to breathe a sigh of relief. In another fifteen minutes the station is its normal, sleepy self again.

Not so are the trains. Imagine yourself aboard one of them as it leaves the station, although that requires that you tolerate a few elbows in your ribs, a few feet on your own, a couple of heads under your arms, and a hand across your face, shutting off what little view is left. Groans and yells of pain, terror, agony, and reproach are arising on all sides.

The train rounds a curve, and all exclamations are stifled, as the boys sway to one side. The conversation, if it can be called such, continues with talk of a football team in Pennsylvania that makes its line practice by pushing a truckload of coal. Suggestions as to the subway for three days, as a stamping ground for Clinton's steam roller, follow.

But the train now pulls into Kingsbridge Road, and the platform is seen to be lined with Walton girls. Groans arise form all parts of the car. The doors burst open, and the Amazons crowd on board. Clintonites who travel on the subway have long since lost any illusions as to how weak the 'weaker' sex is. In confidential talks on the subject, they'll confess that they would rather get a Clinton junior's kick in the face (and how they can kick), than a Walton sophomore's elbow in the ribs. Having shoved the 'strong' males out of the way, they stand over the seats, glaring meaningly at such boys as have been lucky enough to grab them. If a boy weakens under this dictatorial gaze, and becomes a 'Clinton gentleman,' surrendering what he has not the strength to hold, his seat, his more firm classmates give him a well-deserved reproach, the sound of which cannot he reproduced on paper.

The train groans into the Burnside Avenue station, and here the burden is lightened somewhat, as some inmates have to change for the "L." They charge across the narrow platform and scorning such common means as doors for entering the train, dive headfirst through the windows. This lightens the amount of punishment present on the Lexington Avenue line. After ten minutes more of travel, the tortured vehicle reaches 149th Street. Here begins the great Exodus to the 7th Avenue line (Hint to changees—The last half of the seventh car stops just at the stairway, and, if you are sufficiently fleet of foot and strong of wind, you can escape the rush from behind, and descend to the other level in one piece.) Here another great charge and massing around the stairs takes place, and one can be carried down both flights of stairs in mid air, if one cares for that sort of thrill.

But now the great fight is over for the day, and Clintonites carefully examine each other for bruises and wounds, and thank the stars they have been spared for another day of school, even though a few parts may be missing here and there. Yes sir, Clinton is the most wide-awake school in New York and something happens every minute in and out of it.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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