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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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Strange Interview

By Murray Glanzer, '37
The Magpie, June 1939, v. 23, n. 2., p. 27.

MURRAY GLANZER allows his readers to eavesdrop on the conversation of two men who meet again after twenty years. Each has a standard of values which allows him nothing but contempt for his erstwhile friend.

George Laurence Grubley was a fairly successful business man; rather, he was a very successful business man. He had enough money to live with all the comforts he deemed necessary. His children would also have everything—even a college education although he knew that colleges were just wastes of time and money. Grubley had no fears for the future; in fact, he lived a very happy life. He enjoyed his well earned prosperity all the more as he had started with nothing but willing hands and mind (which, as he always said, the young people of today would be better off to possess). He was very tranquil, floating in the calm lake of his existence, but something had happened to him that had caused an itch within his mind.

It happened down on Sixth Avenue. Grubley strolled down those sordid streets to see how the wrecking crews were working. He drew enjoyment out of an expensive Havana cigar as he watched everything with great satisfaction and enjoyment. That was what he liked, industry. The only thing that made an eddy in the philosophic stream of his mind was the 'potbelly,' a tramp had muttered when he had refused the dirty hand a few coins. Of course his form was rather on the stoutish side but he'd rather be well rounded than empty. He repeated that vehemently to himself. That beggar would never have a full stomach because he was too lazy to work—the filthy fool! (It wasn't unemployment, as he'd always said; it was the laziness of those men that caused a depression.)

Then, suddenly, a hand collared him. He was rather scared for a moment. He was heeled around and that hand jerked his into a mighty grasp. In that handshake vibrations ran through his arm and shook his very insides. Grubley gazed in amazement at the grinning face above him.

It was a great broad head topped by unkempt, shaggy hair. The skin was taut and tan. The only thing that saved it from looking like a common laborer's face was the pair of leonine eyes. Grubley kept surveying him. The fellow had a lank form that was rather admirable. He was a bit round shouldered (but that means nothing as lots of business men Grubley knew were round shouldered). However, Grubley detected that he was not a success because of his clothes. You can always tell a man by his clothes. But why had the fool grabbed him? Could he know him?

The giant began to question Grubley very familiarly; he even knew his first name. How? Who was he? Grubley answered all his queries being very tactful to avoid showing that he didn't recognize him. He felt rather uncomfortable. Then the queer chap smiled quietly as he saw Grubley blunder. He laughed:

"I see you don't remember me. Ha, ha." That rolling laugh was very irritating. It irked Grubley.

"Well you see—I—can't place you—I—I—" Grubley thought he was acting like a fine fool.

"Ha, ha, Georgie, you don't know your old friends in the anesthesia of prosperity, eh?" The entire scene seemed ridiculous. He continued, "Don't you remember me? Vic, Victor Cabell, You know me. I went to elementary and high school with you." He grinned triumphantly and conclusively.

A lump of memories about him dropped into Grubley's mind. He stared at him again. The savage looking man seemed very little like the reckless kid he had known, but, yes, he was. There was that same bravado in his smile. Ah yes, Victor Cabell—he had been the leader and rebel of the school. Grubley had admired then the way he alone fought for his rights. Now, however, he saw that incorrigibility in a different light. Years had taught Grubley that it was all right to fight with those of your own level but with your betters—! But he had been brave to do that Grubley had to admit.

Cabell had gone to college; G. L. Grubley had entered the great world of business. As the latter looked at the careless mends in the former's clothes, he saw further proof that his way was better.

They discussed incidents of the old days together while they both laughed. Then, remembering himself, Grubley checked himself from that open display of silliness. But Cabell had plans for both of them so he grasped Grubley's elbow and piloted him down the street.

Grubley complained of his undignified behavior and his shoving, but he just propelled him on. They stopped in front of one of those clubs that spot the district around Forty-second Street. Cabell pushed him through the swinging door into the fog of smoke of the interior. The 'club' was just a sort of foyer with a bar on one side and little round tables on the other. They sidled down the narrow aisle to a table. Although the sun shone drily on the pavement outside, it was dank and dim in there. Smoke whorled languidly in milky pools up to the low ceiling. Grubley winked to focus his eyes in the dark' ness. Cabell plumped him into a hard wooden chair, helloed everyone familiarly, and had two glasses of whiskey brought to the sticky table. A tiny lamp hung out of the wall above them with its shade drunkenly askew. Cabell gulped his and ordered another; Grubley sipped his acrid liquor cautiously. Then they continued talking of themselves.

Grubley said, "So you're a—uh Bohemian now Victor?" If he had spoken frankly, he would have used the word "tramp." But Grubley didn't want to hurt his companion's feelings. He seemed rather bad off; Grubley just kept hoping that he wouldn't try to borrow money from him. Cabell didn't answer. He could hardly see Cabell's features in the thickened air. Suddenly his voice became more serious and Grubley listened more attentively. He said:

"Remember when we were kids? You were a good fighter against other kids, but somehow you had a pious fear of superiors. I wonder why? Well, remember the marble incident? I do, as clearly as if it had happened to me. You had a large number of marbles, the most on the block. You treasured those little glass balls be cause they were rare and other kids wanted them also. Thus, because our infantile brains thought those worthless bits of glass rare, we traded anything for them. So, one day, after you had won what one child bigger than you thought too much, he waylaid you and tried to force them from you. My, but you put up a fight! You were battered up when we came to your aid, but you still had those precious marbles. Yes, you were tenacious no end."

Grubley unwillingly felt a bit flattered.

Cabell paused to gurgle down another glass and then went on:

"Ah, yes, childhood. To be nearly killed for something that had only childish value. To a child's mind anything that he can't get enough of is very valuable although it has no intrinsic worth. But, as we grow into manhood, our viewpoint becomes elevated. We grow older and wiser. Look at you; today you wouldn't dream of hurting yourself for a piece of glass."

Grubley watched the patch on Cabell's shoulder heave as he spoke. He sighed, "Yes."

After a short silence, Cabell leaped in to another topic that seemed to Grubley to be entirely unrelated to his former one. He began:

"Say, Georgie, I read about you in the newspaper; about six months ago, I recollect. It was something about an attempted robbery in your home. I think it stated that the burglar hit you over the head with a lead pipe, but you gave him such a fight that he could neither get your gold nor his escape. My, but you're tenacious."

Grubley was glad that he had mentioned that incident. As Cabell elaborated on the bare facts giving him all the exciting details of the struggle, Grubley had to admit that he was rather heroic when the occasion demanded it and when there was something at stake. Another man might have lost the $2,000 to the criminal. He related each moment of the terrible fight.

Cabell interrupted, "My, but you put up a fight! You were battered up when they came to your aid but you still had that precious gold. Yes, you were tenacious, no end."

Grubley continued telling the flaming story. Then he noticed that Cabell was rumbling with a laughter that mounted every minute. It grew so loud that he stopped his narration in amazement. Could it be that he was laughing at him, G. L. Grubley? But he must be. Grubley shouted at him. He laughed only louder. He laughed as if he'd explode.

Then he heaved and spluttered between his roars of crazed mirth about 'still fighting,' 'marbles,' 'gold,' and 'analogy.' He turned away and staggered to the door. Grubley heard his thundering laughter disappear down the street. He was a fanatic, surely. No doubt. The benapkined waiters clustered in dim corners and giggled. Everyone stared at him. Grubley was embarrassed, insulted, puzzled. Yea, Cabell was a dangerous maniac as all those Bohemians were. Hah!

As George Laurence Grubley sat wondering whether his visitor realty had meant something, it occurred to him that Cabell had deserted him so that he had to pay for all those drinks. Grubley leaped at that explanation of his queer conduct. Yes, he was just a swindler.

So G. L. Grubley returned to his golden tranquility, and soon made three hundred dollars by a smart investment in the market and forgot about Victor Cabell.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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