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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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Union Square

By Howard Marks, '37

The Magpie, June 1937, v. 21, n. 2., p. 64.

A number of shabby, bearded men loll sleepily on park benches; some read newspapers, principally a sprinkling of Daily Workers and Newses, but most seem to be in a state of suspended animation. Groups of men stand about talking earnestly as if their opinions were of greatest import to the world at large.

One group centers about a large Negro, arguing heatedly with a small Italian, swathed in bandages. The course of the discussion reveals that the wounds of the latter were received in an attempt, for the honor of Il Duce to break up a meeting of the Communist International. The gentleman of colour is revealing his views as a proponent of the status quo; in his opinion, the great American system of relief. He explosively renounces Fascism, Communism, and any other solutions of The System offered by the crowd. A youthful bearded Communist buttonholes him and seeks to win him to his cause. The Italian glares at him but shuffles over to a bench to read a newspaper in his native tongue. The young advocate of the Marxian theory takes the offensive against the stubborn Nubian.

Another young rally has formed near the center of the square. By some strange twist, the conversation has turned to American history. Washington is being defended by a red-faced proponent of American ism against the charges of a college student that the great statesman was naught but a tool of capitalism. The battle consists of an exchange in quotations from the editorial pages of the New York American and the Daily Worker. This is old stuff; the crowd drifts slowly away.

On the other side of the drinking fountain can be seen an old, white haired, and bearded Knight of the Road haranguing an assemblage of decrepit citizens. Upon investigation it is discovered that this personage possesses the exalted title of King of Hobos, former candidate of the "Hobo Fellership" for the presidency. He is wearing a suit of brown corduroy from under which protrude sections of a very black suit of woolen underwear. The venerable ruler is relating his experiences in "flop houses" in several parts of the country, which he has visited on his journeys. It appears that "His Majesty" also possesses a philosophy of life, consisting mainly in the advantages of obtaining a livelihood with the expenditure of absolutely no physical or mental effort.

But the crowd soon grows tired of his anecdotes and drifts to where the pseudo Hindu fortune teller has set up his camp chair. For the small sum of ten cents, this mystic will mutter strange and seemingly Oriental imprecations over a long sealed glass tube. Upon his performing one of the Rites of the Opening of the Vial, a thoroughly distasteful smelling gas is released, from the depths of which the Great Yogi draws a piece of yellow paper. Lo and behold! Upon it appears in a brownish scrawl—your destiny.

Variations of this theme appear sporadically throughout the day until, at dusk, the great buildings discharge their weary host of shopgirls and, one by one, the shabby figures drift from the square on their dreary ways.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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