Monthly Archives: May 2016

Excerpt from “A Soldier of the Great War” by Mark Helprin ~~Accounting~~

picture-SoldieroftheGreatWar-Helprin“I cannot be a successful accountant for a number of reasons. First, I am absolutely honest. I take great pleasure in sacrificing my own interests so as to be entirely honourable. Isn’t that terrible?”
“Yes,” said Alessandro, Attilia, and Raffaello, quietly and simultaneously.
“And then,” Arturo continued, his words coming pacifically from the turtle-like jaw under his centurion’s face and sparkling black eyes, “most accountants like games, and to them their work is a game. I have always detested games. I never saw them as anything but a waste of time. For me, accountancy is a chore. I suffer when I work, which allows me beautiful visions.”
“What kind of visions?” Alessandro asked.
“Religious and poetic.”
“You mean, when you add your columns, you have ecstasies?”
Arturo bent his head. “I cannot abide numbers. They drive me insane in the same way that forced labour made mystics of galley slaves.”
“It did?”
“Haven’t you read Digenis Akritas Calypsis?”
“Do you mean Digenis Akritas, the first Byzantine novel?”
“No, Digenis Akritas Calypsis,” Arturo said. “The first Byzantine novel was Melissa, wasn’t it?”
“I should have known,” Alessandro told him.
“Digenis Akritas followed soon after. Or perhaps I’ve reversed the order.”
“No matter.”
“The other reason I’m unsuccessful as an accountant is that I love rounded, even numbers. I do my accounting as a matter of aesthetics.”
“For example, were you my client and you had, let’s say, seventy-three thousand four hundred lire in war bonds, sixty-nine thousand two hundred and thirty-two lire in a savings account, and you collected rents of ten thousand three hundred and fifty lire each month, I would juggle things around so that you might have a hundred-thousand in war bonds, fifty thousand in your savings account, ten thousand in your checking account, and you collected ten thousand a month in rent, but your tenant paid for the gas.
“I’d arrange for your interest to be transferred into a separate collection account, and in the event of an odd balance I’d cash it out and buy you something perfectly symmetrical – like a glass ball.”
“I present my clients with the records of their finances in beautiful leather notebooks, in groups of balanced sets, with figures and typefaces in a maximally congruent grid. The client’s financial system comprises vessels of constant volume that, when they overflow, overflow into other vessels of constant volume. Uneven excesses go immediately into everyday expenses. I even arrange for crisp new banknotes to be delivered to my clients in beautifully proportioned maroon-and-gold envelopes, in amounts of a thousand, two thousand, four, five, and ten thousand lire.
“I negotiate contracts, sales prices, and fees to be payable in large, round, whole numbers. That’s because ragged trails of non-zeros remind me of an infestation of insects, or not having taken a bath for a long time,” Arturo said, his eyes gleaming with the azure of the sky, his fists clenched as he held forth. “I arrange for the services to be billed in even increments, and if I make a mistake, even at the bottom of a page of calculations, I don’t cross it out, I don’t erase it, I throw the page away and start over. To me, a poorly formed letter or number is a mistake.”


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