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JZ Zearle
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Dragon and Face
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Sure, there was the paranoia, his prodigious appetite for amphetamines, his obsession with Linda Ronstadt and his fear that either the Black Panthers or FBI had raided his house – enough eccentricity for any lifetime, you might think. But that was all eclipsed by what happened on 20 February 1974, when a pink laser beam filled his mind with arcane and beneficial knowledge.
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Knowing where to find the most valuable pieces of detritus was vital, and most toshers worked in gangs of three or four, led by a veteran who was frequently somewhere between 60 and 80 years old. These men knew the secret locations of the cracks that lay submerged beneath the surface of the sewer-waters, and it was there that cash frequently lodged. “Sometimes,” Mayhew wrote, “they dive their arm down to the elbow in the mud and filth and bring up shillings, sixpences, half-crowns, and occasionally half-sovereigns and sovereigns. They always find these the coins standing edge uppermost between the bricks in the bottom, where the mortar has been worn away.”
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There is a Japanese term, mono no aware, that translates roughly as “the pathos of things”: it captures a kind of bittersweet melancholy at life’s impermanence – that additional beauty imparted to cherry blossoms, say, or human features, as a result of their inevitably fleeting time on Earth.
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