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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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By Solomon Stein
Illustrated by Bernard Bier

The Magpie, January 1941, v. 25, n. 1, p. 29.

The bare door, the curtainless window, the torn and dirty wallpaper, and the little old man whittling a piece of white, soft wood.... The cobwebs, the broken bed, the dusty calendar hanging on the wall, the whole dreary, poverty-stricken atmosphere . . . and the stoop-shouldered old man sitting on a three-legged stool by the window, whittling wood....

Little purple lines curved under his quiet blue eyes. Bright eyes that had seen many winters come and go. Bright eyes that had witnessed the turn of the century. Sharp ears that had listened to the ever-quickening pace of progress.

He rose slowly and walked over to the broken mirror on the wall. He brushed a thin hand through his bushy grey-blue hair. Straightening his shoulders, he attempted a smile. Tears came instead.

There was a knock on the door. Dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief, he opened it. A short, stout woman was standing there, nervously twisting her apron with small, pudgy fingers.

"It's three weeks now, could you....?"

His cheeks flushed; he stuttered an answer.

"I'm sorry." He paused. "Perhaps tomorrow....

"It's all right. Good day and good luck to you.

She turned to walk off

"Good day and God bless you," he said. "You're a noble woman.

She turned her head, smiled, and walked away.

He closed the door and sat down again by the window. Outside, he noticed it was beginning to snow. Tiny flakes were whirling downward and forming a soft, white cushion on the pavement.

The words the landlady had spoken drifted back to him. "Good luck," she had said. She had wished him good luck. A tingle ran down the old man's spine. With a start, he stood up, took his battered hat, and left the house.

A strong north wind was blowing. It was cold. Pulling his jacket tighter around himself, he began to walk through the dense curtain of snowflakes. The light turned red. Brakes screeched. He crossed the narrow street and headed towards Sixth Avenue. Wet snow chilled his foot where the leather of his shoe had worn out a week ago. Stooping, he fixed the shoe with a piece of cardboard torn from a movie advertisement. He moved on.

A group of people were huddled together. They were standing beneath a small billboard that had cardboard tags tacked on it. The old man joined them. He glanced over the tags.

"Only young fellows wanted nowadays," he thought.

Suddenly a vision of the short, stout landlady leaped before his eyes and made him feel warm within himself despite the falling snow. His heart thumped faster. He watched his frozen breath mingle with the cold, damp air and grinned. Looking at the faces of the people about him, he noticed their expressions—grim, weary, yet determined) A long sigh escaped between his lips.

A man came out of the door adjoining the billboard and put some new tags on. The old man read the first one. It was hastily scrawled with black crayon. He had difficulty in reading the last few words. It said


There was a sudden surge and movement behind him. Others had seen the notice too. He was swept into the doorway. This tide of young men and he rushed tumbling up steep stairs. Then it happened. It was a sudden weight, heavy, a smarting, raw pain in his ankle, a quick apology, and then despair. He grabbed for a bannister; there was none. A heavy foot seemed to tear through his side. "Sorry, Pop!" And that was all. They had dashed up, expectant, hopeful. The old man picked up the discolored, shabby hat and limped out the door.

The wind was still blowing, the snow still falling, as he fumed towards the board. The tags stared at his face, mocking him. Turning to go, he heard the door creak and a hushed whisper from the anxious crowd. The agency man was putting up a new tag. He joined them.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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