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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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"I Gotta Win!"

By Paul Mendlowitz
Illustrated by Harold Altman

The Magpie, Spring 1940, v. 24, n. 2, p. 60.

THE excited babble that swirled about the arena was reduced to a hushed murmur through the walls of the dressing room. On a table near the back of the room, with his left hand extended, Center sat, impatiently watching his manager tape up his hand.

"You know, Bronson, this makes me kinda like a debutante, huh? You know—my coming out party, sorta?"

"Yeah." Bronson did not look up, but started taping the right hand.

"I should beat this guy easy tonight, huh Bronson?"


"Hurry up, will ya? I'm gettin' tired just sitting here an' doing nothing."

Bronson finished taping the hand, and straightened up. "O.K. Now look, Center, don't try to out-box him, or you'll trip all over yourself." Bronson took a glove from the table, and while he put it on Center's large hand, he continued with his instructions. "Starting with the first round, Center, you gotta get in and slug with him. Don't let him start any fancy footwork with you, and you're O.K. Remember that, and you'll win." Bronson gave a final glance at the laces on the gloves, and tightened one. He was interrupted by Center's second, who came into the dressing room.

"Are you ready? They're waiting for ya."

"All right. C'mon Center, let's go."

Center hopped off the table, and followed his manager out of the dressing room, and into the arena. As he entered the arena, he became suddenly aware of the noise, and he felt nervous. He followed Bronson down the aisle toward the ring, and was conscious of the fact that he was being stared at, and then his confidence in himself began to waver. Five minutes before, Center was sure that he would be on his way to the championship, but now he felt as if this crowd would expect too much from him. Everything was beginning to seem vague, and he felt dazed, as though he had received a knockout blow. Bronson prodded him out of his trance, telling him not to trip on the ropes. He entered the ring, his mouth feeling strangely dry. He sat down, and looked around the comparatively small arena.

"Hey, Center!"

"Watch your footwork, kid!"

"Hiya Center!"

Center saw his friends grouped around the ring. Suddenly he realized that they were cheering for him. He smiled, and waved his gloved hand at them. His confidence came back to him.

"I'll win for ya, boys," he muttered, half under his breath. Center looked around at the crowd, and also discovered that some people were booing him. This didn't bother him, however, for he was sure he'd win.

When Center's opponent entered the ring, the mob was again stirred into animation, and they cheered and booed him also. Center was quite sure that most of the boos came from his own crowd.

Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!

"Introducing a great young fighter—weighing one sixty-four and one-half—Rudy Clark!"

Clark got up, and introduced himself. Again the cheers and boos were heard.

"And in this corner—wearing purple trunks—and weighing one hundred and seventy-one pounds—Mel Center!"

Center hopped up and flexed his arms, making the muscles in his back and arms bob up and down, like a choppy lake on a windy day. Center took his share of cheers and boos by waving his right hand at the crowd. He sat down, and the mouthpiece was put into his mouth. He hunched forward expectantly, and tensely waited for the bell, biting his rather tasteless mouthpiece....


Center wasted no time, and dashed into his opponent.

"I gotta win! I gotta win!"

He lashed out his left with only that thought racing madly through his brain. He tried to feint Clark into position, and instead, he received a jolting left on his cheek. For a second, Center couldn't hear the yelling, but the uproar rushed back into his ears with a riotous burst of sound, when he shook his head to clear his brain of the fog that momentarily surrounded it. Remembering his manager's advice, Center waded into his opponent with all intent to beat him to a pulp. He ducked under a roundhouse swing, and sent two short left jabs to Clark's chest, then smashed home a right to Clark's ear.

The crowd loved that, and they screamed madly.

Clark danced away and forced Center on the ropes. Center shoved him away fiercely and shot a left into his stomach, a right to the chest, and a left to the nose.

Blood began trickling from Clark's nose, and the people let out a lusty roar.

Clark eyed Center cagily, and danced away. Clark jabbed Center three times on the forehead, and Center let the mouthpiece slip from between his lips.


A confused babel broke out and the crowd relaxed momentarily, to discuss the proceedings. Both seconds were working furiously on their men.

Center sat on his little stool a bit dazed, and too fatigued to listen to what Bronson was saying to him. Instead, he gazed around the ringside, and watched the press section clatter away at their typewriters, undoubtedly commenting on his fine performance tonight. Center thought to himself of how he would look in the news pictures, standing victorious over the fallen Clark. An idea of making an album of the comments and pictures of his fights till he became champ was forming in his mind. Center coughed, and stared up into the blue haze of smoke that hovered above the ring. He wished people wouldn't be allowed to smoke.


Center forced himself out of his pleasant reverie, and advanced toward the middle of the ring. Clark came out with his nose patched up, wiser as a result of his manager's advice. He flicked out his left and lightly touched Center on the cheek. Then he danced away, circled around Center, and jabbed lightly but effectively with his left. Center swung wildly at the bobbing figure in front of him but couldn't connect. He tried to follow Clark, but was bewildered when he was hit with light but annoying jabs on his face and body. Center shuffled after Clark, but the clever, fast boxer eluded him. Center ducked away from a right feint to his head, and was caught with a hard left in the stomach.

The spectators heard that blow, and groaned. Center groaned with them.

"I gotta win! I gotta w——hah!"

He spotted Clark's chin and swung a violent right. Clark leaned against the ropes, just for a second, then managed to keep far away from Center's jolting right hand. He danced to the left of Center, and hit him on the forehead with a cutting jab. Again and again with his flickering left he stung Center's forehead. He opened up a cut just above Center's right eye. Blood began to flow from the wound.

The crowd was on its feet at the sight of blood. Center was feeling very tired.

"I gotta watch my feet! Gotta win!... gotta jump on him... he's too damn fast!"

Again the flickering left jabbed him on the forehead. He couldn't get away from those fast blows. He lashed out with his hammer-like right in an attempt to hit his elusive opponent. Twice he tried to duck under that left of Clark's, and twice he was hit on that cut. The blood was running into his eyes—into his mouth—over his gloves. The people were yelling. Couldn't they understand that they should keep quiet because he was hurt?

Another left on his forehead. The cut stung him.


His manager and second rushed into the ring and led him over to his corner. They washed the cut—tried to stop the flow of blood. It was getting into his eyes—his mouth—and all over his chest. His head was pounding with each beat of his heart. He could feel the blood rushing in torrents, it seemed, from his wound.

The referee came over and looked at his forehead... what were those people yelling about?... he was hurt... he was bleeding...

Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!

Vaguely, he watched the referee go to Clark's corner... he saw the referee raise Clark's hand.

What's he doin'?... I wanna fight... I gotta win... I gotta win..

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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