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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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Case History

By Gordon Saver, '40

The Magpie, January 1940, v. 24, n. 1, p. 22.

HE needed a job... he had needed a job for quite a while, sitting there on that park bench. Without the courage and the heart to pick up a newspaper, read the want ads, and try to beat some other guy to a job, he was sitting there on that park bench. No past, no future—he was just one more hobo... until that day on the way back to the Mission House soup line, he saw the sign. It wasn't much to look at, just a few lines saying, "MEN WANTED—ELCO CONSTRUCTION CO." He entered the little building, and spoke to the clerk in the front office. He was told to report the next morning. As soon as he heard those words, he was able to go on living. He had a job, and a chance to win back his self-respect that had been lost in those long months on the park bench.

He really hadn't ever known fear as he did the next few weeks. The construction company had undertaken the job of building an automobile highway through a range of mountains. He had been hired with a crew of twenty men. They were to be swung across the side of a mountain, each man equipped with an electric drill. The construction gang was to drill through a wall of rock, virtually carving the highway out of the mountain. He had had no experience before in such an endeavor. In fact, the job hadn't been so hard to get either. Not many men like to work with 3,500 feet of nothingness below them. Most of the men hired, like him, had never worked with an electric drill before. After a short demonstration, however, they were ready to go. The men were slung over the face of the cliff in leather harnesses, bracing their feet against the sides of the mountain, digging in for a foothold; Up there on the massive rock, he was like a small fly, trying to stick to the wall with his feet constantly going out from under him. His life hung on a thread... that little, weak looking guy rope attached to his harness. Dangerous, heaving, pulsing fear raced through his body... mad and crazy fright at every minute so high and insecurely held above the ground, vibrated in every bone and muscle. How could one man endure such torture daily and go on living?

He was sitting on a park bench again. He picked up a newspaper and scanned it hastily, yet anxiously. Then he saw it; an ad asking for men to work in a paper factory. He got to the factory at 4:30 in the morning to be one of the first applicants for the job. There were twenty-three men ahead of him even at that early hour. Desperation was the keynote of each man's appearance. They all needed the job, and needed it badly. The personnel manager took the first twenty-five men, and he was lucky enough to be among the fortunate group. He worked at the factory for two days before they moved him to the Machine. It cut fresh wood and chemical scented paper rolls into strips three feet long. It was composed of a long, sharp knife that sliced the paper into sheets, and another jigger that rolled the bulk paper toward the dexterous, ever-waiting, ever-bright and sharp knife. It was his job to take each sheet from the platform after it had been cut from the roll The man that had worked here before him had had two of his fingers bitten off by the Machine. The ugly prospect held no vivid interest for him. He worked with, or rather for, the Machine for a week, two weeks, and finally a month. That glittering instrument of destruction instilled in him a mortal fear of the Machine. Why a man's arm or even head might be chopped off just as easily as a snap of the fingers! The Machine took on human qualities for him. To him it appeared a vicious, suave, and evil character. Every time he approached it a cold sweat broke out on him. It was agony for him to work continually in the Machine's presence. He was a slave to it... who did its bidding... paying for any indiscretion or fault on his part by being subjected to the dangerous and evil blade. One slip would mean untold agony for him. The Machine was a demon in metallic form... the knife its silent executor... He was afraid... blood pounded in his temples... the Machine grimaced at him in a victorious sneer... he was getting closer to it... he felt himself falling... falling... falling to boundless, terrifying depths.

He didn't sit upon that park bench again... With the dusk and the falling of the dreary night upon the great city. his tired mind and body shuffled its endless way. He wasn't tired of living, but weary and afraid... Oh so very afraid.... He had walked, quite preoccupied, upon the bridge spanning the River that had made the Great City... he was so afraid... but so much more tired...

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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