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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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Cafeteria

By Richard Ullman

The Magpie, Spring 1940, v. 24, n. 2, p. 56.

SURE meet all kinds working in a cafeteria. Gotta be there by six—leave at two. Don't mind getting up early. Kinda strange riding in the subway at five in the morning. Only one or two people on the train. Maybe a drunk sprawled across a seat, or a night watchman resuming from work. Gives yuh an empty, lonely feeling sitting there, like walking in the rain. I like to look at the houses with the shades pulled down and the windows dark and know everyone's sleeping. Let 'em sleep; there's all day to rush around in. There's a light in one of the windows; some kid's sick, or maybe some guy getting up for work.

Silver Cafeteria—Bar and Restaurant. A few customers are seated at the tables scattered about the place like sand dunes in the desert. There's an odor of hot coffee and steam heat. Nothing like the smell of good coffee. The window washer is working over in the corner near the cash register, his arm slowly rising and falling, as he wipes off the streams of dirty, soapy water from the plate glass front. God, it's funny how Joe can look so alive and clean in that starched apron this early, when I'm dead on my feet. "Yes, SIR! what's yours? Two coffees, comin' right up." Ouch, that coffee urn's hot: almost burned my hand off. The rattle of cups sounds hollow in the nearly empty restaurant.

That guy's always in here around this time. Sorta seedy looking. Maybe he's an artist; he's sloppy enough. Looks like he slept in that grey tweed jacket and plaid pants. Needs a haircut and he looks like he hasn't shaved in a week. His high cheek bones stand out in his thin face and his delicate long fingers are like a doctor's. Maybe he's a concert pianist... or a violinist.

"Hi Mike! How's the wife feeling?" Mike ain't been looking so good since his wife got another one of those coughing spells. He's been workin' his head off to try and keep her in the country a while, but he told me yesterday that he didn't think he could do it. Poor guy—it's a bum job driving a hack all night.

Mike's sitting with Bill over on the side. Bill's kinda smart. Interested in radio. He's always reading some catalogue or manual while he eats his eggs. Wants to be a technician. He works in the grocery store on the corner and he's crazy about Marie; she cleans up the tables here. Swell couple, but he won't get married till he's got a better job with a little money salted away.

6:45. Gas bag blows in now. That over-ripe tomato looks at the girls like an ex-ray machine. Does that guy eat! Orange juice, ham and eggs, French fried, muffins and coffee. Looks like a bookie the way he sits there surrounded with racing charts. He's flirting again with Daisy.

"Sorry bit shot; gotta date tonight. I don't like prize-fights."

She ain't got no date tonight. but sitting at home is better than going out with that guy.

Mr. Schwartz is late today. Musta overslept. He's a nice old gentleman. Kind of forgetful though, always leaves his hat or school papers on the table, and I have to run after him and give them to him. Teaches physics in one of the high schools, I think.

"A cup of coffee, Miss Daisy, 2/3 milk and l/3 coffee. Doctor says I shouldn't drink too much of the stuff." He'll be here in another half hour thumbing through the Times and slowly sipping his coffee.

Better get my breakfast now before the rush starts. Yup! You sure meet 'em all workin' in this place.




The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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