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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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Eighth Avenue Express

By Bob Levin

The Magpie, January 1938, v. 22, n. 1., p. 14.

This story ought to bear a dedication line—"To you who have traveled on the Eighth Avenue Subway and been persecuted by 'artists' like Mel and Berny." These two tender, kind-hearted Clintonites, armed with scrap paper and some soft lead pencils, habitually indulge in sketching people whose only mistake has been to drop nickels in subway turnstiles. Berny is a caricaturist of the first water, while Mel is practicing to enter the cartooning field. Up to now, however, Mel has been satisfied with merely sketching his subject, attempting to put a likeness down in black and white. But Berny is in his glory when he can caricature his victims, by exaggerating their physical shortcomings to a hilarious degree.

Both Clintonites were engaged in practicing this pastime, one day, exulting in their moral license to persecute other human beings who were unfortunate enough to have boarded the car with the two conscienceless artists. They were sitting back to back, to avoid sketching the same people, when suddenly Berny noticed a peculiar, eerie looking man sitting opposite him. With heavy ridded eyes, swarthy complexion, mouth turned down at the corners and set in a grim line, deep bags under his eyes, this individual was a perfect target for Berny's artistic satire. And with fiendish glee, Berny started to work. Mel, sensing the ugly nature of the man, and noting his hand buried in a pocket, "worriedly" nudged Berny in a warning manner. But the latter merely raised his heavy eyebrows as if to say, "Boy, what I won't do to this guy!"

Sketching swiftly, he soon had an exaggerated mouth and nose on his paper; then he started to work on the nose in earnest. The soft lead marked the paper in light, preliminary lines, and then darkened as Berny completed the nose. By this time, the grim looking individual was squirming about, flashing ugly looks at Berny's bowed head. Mel was looking around with a worried expression, and his eye caught the caricature just as the heavy bags under the eyes were completed. That was too much. Unable to contain himself, Mel glanced at the model and burst into laughter, startling Berny, and at the same time, seeming to arouse the suspicions of the victim to such a degree that he started to get up from his seat.

The smile was immediately wiped off Mel's face as his eyes opened in fear. Berny seemed to realize the gravity of the situation, although it appeared to be too late. In an attempt to dispose of the caricature, before the irate victim could reach him, Berny fumbled around and succeeded only in further complicating matters.

"Mel," Berny groaned, above the roar of the train as it pulled out from the 42nd Street station, "what am I going to do? Here, take it," he begged and thrust the damning piece of paper behind him.

"Oh, no, you don't," Mel answered and stayed away from the caricature in comic alarm.

Berny was frantic by now, and the man was but a few steps away. At the last minute, Mel grabbed the caricature unobserved by the approaching individual. There was nothing left for Berny to do now, but to sit there and take it. With quivering nerves, he prepared to have his throat cut. The fellow was definitely capable of wielding a razor thin stiletto with deadly dextrity; and Berny had never been lacking in imagination.

The thing that puzzled Mel was why no one had attempted to stop this cold-blooded murder. Of course, there were only a few people in the car, but that was no excuse. He covered his eyes since he had always hated the sight of blood.

"Hey, you!" Two threatening eyes glared at Berny who was just about ready to collapse. The stranger started to remove his hand from his pocket.

"Hey, you!" he repeated. "How many more stations to Canal Street?"

Berny collapsed. Mel went into mild hysterics. And the stranger thought they were both crazy.

Quickly pulling himself together, Berny walked over to the nearest wall map and, with trembling fingers, he counted out four spaces.

"F-four more space—I mean, four more—stations, sir," he replied, falling into his seat; his legs had buckled under him.

"T'anks," was the laconic reply, as the man walked back to his seat, wondering whether the young fellow was ill, mentally or physically.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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