Thank God I have never been neurotic but many of my friends are so I have been dipping into "The Neurotic's Handbook," by Charles A. Monagan which is one of those things in soft cover that you're supposed to buy and give to somebody in the hospital.
I find many of the alleged examples of neurotic anxiety ill-chosen. There is nothing neurotic at all, or in the least bit crazy, about many of the acts cited. Thus when Beethoven flew into rages (it says) and demanded to see the restaurant check even before the food was served, I see nothing neurotic about that. Merely prudent.
How often I have ordered a hamburger, no catsup, and heavy on the onions, only to be given (and charged for) a cheeseburger, stingy with onions. If only I had demanded the lunch check first, I could have caught that. I am too timid to call attention to the error, and too gallant to call attention to the cheeseburger.
The difference between Beethoven and me is that he was not too timid. He was braver, not more neurotic.
The things one worries about vaguely are so nearly universal that I cannot believe they indicate a neurotic mind. What qualifications, if any, do the fellows have who check out roller coaster safety? Well, I have often wondered.
I also often wonder how long it is going to take before the masonry of old skyscrapers starts falling off. This is a sensible worry, not a neurotic preoccupation, however. My old friend Parson Teague knew a fellow who was walking under a viaduct when a chunk fell down and killed him dead, right out of the blue. Also, more recently, some of the marble of the Memphis City Hall fell off. People said that was because it was Italian marble instead of good honest Tennessee marble. And just think of the Cabin John Bridge, and mark my words we shall not get to Christmas before something falls off and kills somebody right here in Washington.
I never enter the Library of Congress, a favorite structure of mine and everybody else's, without choosing my path carefully, computing the likely downward parabola of various sculptures when they fall off.
But this sort of thing is common-sense prudence. Why walk beneath the Muse of History or Theodore Roosevelt's great aunt or whatever the thing may be, when you can just as easily skirt it by taking a slightly longer route? My wife, on the other hand, worries only about the Baltimore Tunnel.
Schiller (the book goes on) could not work without the scent of rotting apples. Kept one in his desk. Well, "rotting" simply means an unimpeded and continuing maturation. A year-old apple, especially if it's stuck with cloves, is a very good thing to smell. Nothing neurotic about that. Nor, I might add, is any fragrance comparable to that of the horse and the hound on a sunny November afternoon after a romp.
What is neurotic is the current notion that things smell awful except armpit sprays (which do indeed smell awful, though we are all too frightened to dispense with them).
Proust, an eminently sane man and the chief novelist of our century, is cited as neurotic for having three bedside tables. I myself have none, and find it inconvenient to stumble over the books when getting out of bed. If I were of Proustian quality, I would have three bedside tables too.
The duke of Wellington, listed among the neurotic notables, had so great a fear of being late for appointments that he wore six watches. What's neurotic about that? He probably got a lot of watches given to him and didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. Also, so often my own watches do not agree on the time that it is well to have a sort of Supreme Court of watches, letting the majority decide.
The next thing you know somebody will say it is neurotic to demand that every page of a book be numbered. Words cannot say the agony I have gone through for decades at unnumbered pages. You are on page 34. Page 35 is not numbered, because it is a chapter-title page, or has an illustration on it. Yet whenever you open the book, it is to page 35 or some other page that has no number. You have to turn the page, or two pages, to find one with a number.
Magazines are even worse than books at having unnumbered pages. I know these magazines now. I refuse to pick one up. I only read the ones that number every page.
There is nothing neurotic about that. Life has enough hard hassles that it is silly to add to the burden by reading magazines that do not number each page.
It is somewhat like my situation with the comics. I used to read them till they dropped Moon Mullins. I was very fond of Moon Mullins. Well, the hell with them, so I stopped reading any comics except Blondie and Bloom County which adjoin the bridge column. It is not neurotic to give up Doonesbury and the others. Without Moon Mullins, what reason is there to turn to that page? It was always doubtful whether comics improved the mind, but as long as we had Moon, I generously made allowances. Without him, why bother?
Thus we see that "neurotic" reasons are often either sensible, or else are accounted for by one straw too many on the camel's back (such as dropping Moon Mullins) or else are the result of calm careful analysis, forced upon one by getting one too many undesired cheeseburgers, etc. The die is cast. The decision is made. What one had formerly gone along with in a spirit of jollity and being one of the gang, one suddenly balks at.
Finally, the great Dr. Samuel Johnson himself is cited among neurotics. Never before has a man of such estimable good plain sense as Dr. Johnson ever graced this poor earth. He used to strike each fence post with his cane as he walked along.
As who does not?