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Part 8 Chapter 10

This life which, if I were still a man with pride, honor, ambition and so forth, would seem like the bottom rung of degradation, I welcome now, as an invalid welcomes death. It's a negative reality, just like death – a sort of heaven without the pain and terror of dying. In this chthonian world the only thing of importance is orthography and punctuation. It doesn't matter what the nature of the calamity is, only whether it is spelled right.

Everything is on one level, whether it be the latest fashion for evening gowns, a new battleship, a plague, a high explosive, an astronomic discovery, a bank run, a railroad wreck, a bull market, a hundred to one shot, an execution, a stick up, an assassination, or what. Nothing escapes the proofreader's eye, but nothing penetrates his bulletproof vest. To the Hindoo Agha Mir, Madam Scheer (formerly Miss Esteve) writes saying she is quite satisfied with his work.

"I was married June 6th and I thank you. We are very happy and I hope that thanks to your power it will be so forever. I am sending you by telegraph money order the sum of… to reward you…" The Hindoo Agha Mir foretells your future and reads all your thoughts in a precise and inexplicable way. He will advise you, will help you rid tourself of all your worries and troubles of all kinds, etc. Call or write 20 Avenue MacMahon, Paris.

He reads all your thoughts in a marvelous way! I take it that means without exception, from the most trivial thoughts to the most shameless. He must have a lot of time on his hands, this Agha Mir. Or does he only concentrate on the thoughts of those who send money by telegraph money order? In the same edition I notice a headline announcing that "the universe is expanding so fast it may burst" and underneath it is the photograph of a splitting headache. And then there is a spiel about the pearl, signed Tecla. The oyster produces both, he informs all and sundry. Both the "wild" or Oriental pearl, and the "cultured" pearl. On the same day, at the Cathedral of Trier, the Germans are exhibiting the Coat of Christ; it's the first time it's been taken out of the moth balls in forty two years. Nothing said about the pants and vest. In Salzburg, also the same day, two mice were born in a man's stomach, believe it or not. A famous movie actress is shown with her legs crossed: she is taking a rest in Hyde Park, and underneath a well-known painter remarks "I'll admit that Mrs. Coolidge has such charm and personality that she would have been one of the 12 famous Americans, even had her husband not been President." From an interview with Mr. Humhal, of Vienna, I glean the following… "Before I stop," said Mr. Humhal, "I'd like to say that faultless cut and fit does not suffice; the proof of good tailoring is seen in the wearing. A suit must bend to the body, yet keep its line when the wearer is walking or sitting." And whenever there is an explosion in a coal mine – a British coal mine – notice please that the King and Queen always send their condolences promptly, by telegraph. And they always attend the important races, though the other day, according to the copy, it was at the Derby, I believe, "heavy rains began to fall, much to the surprise of the King and Queen." More heart-rending, however, is an item like this: "It is claimed in Italy that the persecutions are not against the Church, but nevertheless they are conducted against the most exquisite parts of the Church. It is claimed that they are not against the Pope, but they are against the very heart and eyes of the Pope."

I had to travel precisely all around the world to find just such a comfortable, agreeable niche as this. It seems incredible almost. How could I have foreseen, in America, with all those firecrackers they put up your ass to give you pep and courage, that the ideal position for a man of my temperament was to look for orthographic mistakes? Over there you think of nothing but becoming President of the United States some day. Potentially every man is Presidential timber. Here it's different. Here every man is potentially a zero. If you become something or somebody it is an accident, a miracle. The chances are a thousand to one that you will never leave your native village. The chances are a thousand to one that you'll have your legs shot off or your eyes blown out. Unless the miracle happens and you find yourself a general or a rear admiral.

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