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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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Stanley Gottheimer, '37

The Magpie, June 1936, v. 20, n. 2., p. 37.

Izz sat perched on a huge rock on the beach over looking the Hudson. His hands gripped the stone behind him firmly; his nostrils were quivering, he breathed heavily; his posture forced his chest out; his deep breathing swelled it, and his long, lanky legs, enclosed in dirty blue dungarees, swung over the side of the boulder. All in all, Izz looked proud—yes proud, though it was ironical for anyone in his position on the social ladder to be so! And yet, now—here, Izz had every reason to be proud. For he had left his "slave quarters," the tenements, on the other side of the river, and now that he was not among them, he was free! And among the things he owned! And how infinitely greater were these things than the artificiality across the Hudson!

*   *   *

The sun beat down upon the river, the beach, the rock, and Izz. It was a friendly sun, and it warmed; it thrilled; it gave and renewed life. Izz felt the power it gave surge up within him; he breathed more deeply, and his chest swelled. The sun never shone like that in his slums! The closely packed tenements blocked it out; perverted its vigorous warmth and light into humid, microbe-fouled gloom, and crowded this into such small and narrow spaces that the humidity mounted and mounted, until sweat shop workers poured perspiration, choked, thirsted, and dropped. But here there was plenty of room for the sun to pour down all the life. supporting rays it was capable of giving. Here was beauty, nature, the sun's rays to bask in—the open to Izz!

What mattered it that the broad waters of the Hudson, stretching before him, were a filthy greyish brown, polluted with the wastes of several million people, and slimy from the oil and grease of the huge traffic of vessels that sailed upon them? What mattered it that on the other side of the river, looking from here, hidden by the spires of New York's skyline, were the foul, crowded slums in which he had been born? Did not his mighty Palisades, towering now beside him, make those man-made "cliffs" of Manhattan look puny in comparison?

*   *   *

Completely carried away by now with it all, Izz turned his gaze up the river—to look down it was to look homeward, and home was not inviting! And he admired the Palisades, green and red and prey and brown with their rocks and vegetation. And up above the sky, blue azure, in which a gull, wheeling and diving high over the earth, looked like a foreign speck in all its cloudless vastness. Clear air—sky—birds—the broad, stretching waters of the Hudson—warm, friendly sunlight—the mighty, ruddy and verdant Palisades the open to Izz! A poem composed itself in his head; it would sound silly, be incomprehensible, he knew, to others his friends would never forgive him, or regard him on the same basis with them if they heard about it, but it was the only form in which his almost intangible emotions, the complicated, passionate emotions of a Semitic soul, could be brought together.

The sun went down, and twilight and then darkness came on, the progress of time unnoticed by Izz. The New York lights gleamed across the river, and the illumination of the great bridge seemed like a symmetrical rod of giant fire-flies, spanning the banks of the Hudson. But against the lights of space and infinity, myriads of stars, whose intensity filled Izz with mingled fright and awe, the lights of man lost their prestige, and seemed gaudy and unimportant! Endless stars and endless apace—the open yawned into infinity! Izz, outlined only faintly on his rock in spite of all the lights, stirred, now grown restless his breath came in deep gasps. He felt his soul swelling within him, yearning to be free in the vastness and the freedom of the universe he almost feared lest it should burst free from the chains of his body!

*   *   *

Suddenly he was brought back from his celestial journeying by a voice in which there was the harsh reality of the city. It came from behind him.

"Here he is!" were its words.

It was Turk and Mikey, sent out to look for him by the rest of the gang on the hike, who were preparing to go home.

For a moment he felt separate, alien to them, as he dropped to his feet from his perch on the rock and faced them.

"Whatcha been doin'," quizzed Turk, "admiring nature?"

Izz knew the feeling of his tenement dwellers about nature, and those who lived in its last frontiers, and those who loved it. Deprived of it all their lives, their souls hungered and cried out for it, and to justify their tough and calloused exteriors, for which they pretended "pride," they mocked it and pretended to despise as a sissy anyone weak enough to show his inner feelings.

So Izz replied—"What d'ya think I am? I musta fell asleep on this rock here—sure, that's it; I'm snoozin' and you guys come along an' wake me up!"

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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