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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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Gate To The Sea

By Sam Schulman

The Magpie, January 1941, v. 25, n. 1, p. 48.

Bound on three sides by water, and on the fourth by a neighboring community, lies Gate To The Sea, the summer paradise of the well-to-do city merchant. From West Thirty-Fifth Street to the tip of the peninsula, Sea Gate is situated, a small residential section adjoining Coney Island.

The same winds that sweep over Coney Island sweep also over Gate To The Sea. The same sand that sifts along Coney's Atlantic shore is the same sand that sifts along Gate To The Sea's Atlantic shore. And it's the same ocean, Mother Atlantic, who knows no bounds, who dances and plays along whatsoever land she pleases. The same sand; same winds; same ocean; same land. But Coney and Gate To The Sea are not the same. A barrier stands between the two. A wall in some places, a fence in others, trimmed all along with barbed wire. Barbed wire tears and stings. It cuts the flesh and makes it bleed. Though Coney and Gate To The Sea are made of the same stuff, a wall of blood separates them.

The barbed wire has rusted in places, has been broken and torn in others. The fence has sagged. The walls have crumbled. Yet the barrier is there. Human beings know it is there, feel that it is there.

With the proper joke, the proper smile, the proper hand-clasp, the proper guile, one very easily passes the fat Irish guard at the gate. He is the last Irishman one will see in Gate To The Sea, for the residents of this community are Italians and Jews. The Jews far outnumber the Italians.

Little skinny money men walk with big fat financiers. Little skinny financiers joke with big fat money men. They all bounce along the red-brick streets, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm.

One muses at the girls and women in Gate To The Sea. Most of them are good looking and generously formed. They seem to blend with the generously constructed dwellings. No matter how many faults one finds with Gate To The Sea, he must affirm that no more beautiful residential section can be found in all the city of New York.

High gabled roofs, low gabled roofs, Greek columns, Roman arches, Colonial doors, French windows, white marble, red bricks in varied designs, all combine to make this beautiful district. One house, low and large, with an immense sun porch, looks more like a manor than a summer home, but a summer home it is, built specifically for this purpose, at the cost of only sixteen thousands of dollars. One compares the beauty of Gate To The Sea with Upper New Rochelle, Belle Harbor, and the beautiful New Jersey coast.

Gate To The Sea is private, controlled by the land owners in the community called the Gate To The Sea Association. They own the land, officiate over its affairs, and have little or nothing to do with the city of New York.

The sand at Gate To The Sea is white, most of the people of this community bathe every day, thus they keep the sand white. The women wear white bathing suits with brassiere sewed in, white bathing suits made of silk, in two parts, bought at a sale at Macy's for twelve-thirty, plus the sales tax. The men wear shorts they have bought at a close-out in a little place by City Hall Park. The young men and women are bronzed to the right shade because they use the right sun-tan oils.

The people of Gate To The Sea take great pride in their homes and their position. Most of the residents are in the upper income group, but aren't so very high up. They are little business men who must depend upon J. P. or Du Pont in the long run. They are Democrats and Republicans, New Dealers and Iron Guards, but not a hint of pink amongst them. If there is, it is blended with the white of the beach and the bathing suits, and is not seen. They aren't bad people; they're good people who have worked hard to get where they are today. They puff out their tobacco-rotten chests and proudly proclaim that they have made their piles.

They are little men, who, when puffing out their chests and lifting their swelled heads, think they are big.

Down Puerta del Mar Avenue, one looks out over the pier. The pier was built by the Sea Gate Association to make the broken jutting land near the mouth of the Back Bay look less ragged. It serves very little purpose. From the end of the pier, one can view Lower New York Bay, The Back Bay, The Atlantic, Brooklyn, and the Jersey Coast. Wander out to the pier some day; it commands a beautiful view. Coming back over the long pier, you'll notice some women on the beach. . .

There are two women on the beach, walking about fifty feet apart each with a short flat stick in one hand and a pail in the other. Every few feet they stop, dig up something with the flat stick, test it, then place it into the pail. Get nearer. See how they do it. There, she's digging again. That black thing she's dug up is a big clam. She's testing it. Get nearer. Get nearer. Curiosity draws you nearer. My Lord! Do you see that object? It's big and black. Not a clam; it's a piece of coal.

Go to the pier some day. See the haggard women dig for coal near the Back Bay at Gate To The Sea—partially burnt coal dumped on the beach by people who have rotten furnaces. Maybe some coal has fallen from a barge in the Back Bay and has been washed up on the beach. Watch the women dig for coal. See their haggard features. See their unshod feet. Watch them dig. It isn't clams: it's coal.

You'll turn and run, run from Gate To The Sea, where skinny money men and fat merchants puff out their chests, and haggard women of the waterfront dig for coal.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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