On Being Neurotic (Part 2) (I Had Enough After All) (Although I May Have Made Some of It Up)

Posted on June 4, 2012

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For the past three days, I’ve had the old Goobers & Raisinets jingle playing continually in my head. The idea that my mind has been taken over by a television commercial from four decades ago is unsettling enough. But my real fear is that any day now I’ll go up into the attic, put on my old World War I uniform, and stop people on the street to tell them of my heroics in East Prussia. This is especially worrisome, because I don’t even have an attic.

* * * * *

I hate billionaires. I don’t know why, but I don’t think I need a reason. If someone has that much money, a little animosity from me isn’t going to affect them in the slightest, and it makes me feel better. I used to hate millionaires, but there are too many of them now, so I’ve had to become more discriminating. Recently, I learned that Bill Gates and I share a birthday — same day, same year. I find this fascinating, because it means that when we were born he and I had the same horoscope, an identical and equally promising astrological chart. At some point, though, our paths began to diverge. By the time he was in the eighth grade, young Gates was programming computers. That same year, I was having a good day if I managed to remember my gym shorts. In 1995, he was named the world’s richest man, and currently has a net worth of sixty billion dollars. Two weeks ago, I had thirty-seven cents in my checking account.

* * * * *

A large chunk of my youth was spent mining for prizes in boxes of breakfast cereal, or mailing the tops from those boxes to Battle Creek, Michigan, in order to get high-tech spy gadgets or other toys that looked impressively realistic in the ad — but turned out to be made of flimsy plastic — and then processing the inevitable disappointment that followed. The greatest letdown came with the ball-in-the-hole game. There were many variations, but all of them featured a clear handheld dome covering some sort of picture, and about a half-dozen tiny metal balls that moved freely on the inside. The picture had shallow indentations at various places. The goal was to tip the game back and forth until all of the balls were seated in the holes. But the holes weren’t deep enough, and maneuvering those last couple of balls never failed to jostle one of the others loose. No matter how hard I tried, something was always rolling around. For the true neurotic, that game is the perfect symbol of life itself.

* * * * *

Sometimes I’ll drop something onto the floor, like a paper clip or a screw or  a piece of lettuce. This shouldn’t be a problem, really, because the object fell just a foot or so, and it doesn’t have much ability to roll. I know exactly where it landed and it has to be within a radius of maybe twenty-four inches. But it isn’t. I get down on my hands and knees and with my face a centimeter from the floor I scour the area like one of those helicopters looking for airplane debris. Only I find nothing. Even after widening the search zone to include the hallway and nearby bedrooms, the missing item remains unfound. When I wore contact lenses, I’d sometimes lose one while hovering over the bathroom sink. I’d immediately freeze, and with my right index finger, draw an imaginary line straight down from my eye. A soft contact lens is like wet cellophane, and has no capacity to bounce. It should have been waiting there in the very spot where it came to rest. But it wasn’t. It had fallen through a rip in the fabric of spacetime and entered another dimension, a place rapidly filling with push pins, favorite shirts, ballpoint pen caps, DVD cases, the lids of food storage containers, and all of those emails I sent but that my so-called friends claimed they never got.

* * * * *

Humans like to collect things. Little figurines, shot glasses, snow globes. I have a bunch of locks. All of the locks are closed, and I’ve either misplaced the key or forgotten the combination. I’ve had most of them for years, and I add to the collection on a regular basis. Once in a while, I hear a voice telling me that normal people would throw away the locks. But I won’t get rid of them, because locks are expensive, and there’s always the possibility that while I’m under the desk hunting for the bent staple I dropped, I’ll find one of the keys or a scrap of paper with a short series of numbers written on it. Meanwhile, I try to reassure myself that normal people also hear voices.

* * * * *

Physical ailments are a common symptom of neurosis. I have no desire to be common, so I rarely express these complaints, but the truth is, I’m a hypochondriac. I’ll notice a dark spot on my arm that I’m sure wasn’t there last week, and must be skin cancer. And that’s when I’ll see the rash: a swath of  red bumps that are barely perceptible, but once acknowledged are impossible to ignore; it’s probably an early sign of smallpox. Every abdominal pain is an infected appendix, about to explode. Every dizzy spell is carbon monoxide poisoning. Every mosquito bite is the one I’ll remember in my brief moments of clarity, as malaria drags me through delirium, convulsions, and finally a welcome death. Even when my foot falls asleep, I attribute its cause not to the fact that I’ve been kneeling on a concrete floor for the past forty-five minutes, but rather to the initial stages of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I may appear to be the picture of health, but I know a disabling back injury lurks behind every dresser I move, and every toothbrush I lift.

* * * * *

Vacuum cleaners bother me. It’s the sound, I guess, and that long hose. I use the vacuum cleaner all the time, so it isn’t a phobia, exactly, but more of a discomfort. It reminds me of a snake, only with a lot more noise. And it lives in the closet. Plus, it has attachments which, of course, are nowhere to be found.

* * * * *

I used to buy rubber bands, and now I can’t remember what I needed them for. If I was out of rubber bands, I’d actually get in the car and go purchase a big bag of them. Hundreds of rubber bands in different colors and thicknesses. I don’t think I’ve used one this century, but still, every Thursday when the bundle of store flyers is delivered to the front door, I make sure to save the rubber band. Someday my children will inherit them, and later, their children. I will also leave them the entire balance in my checking account, to be divided fairly among them. And maybe my collection of locks. They’ll hate me, I’m sure, but I’ll be dead, and a little animosity from them isn’t going to affect me in the slightest. Anyway, it’ll serve them right. I bet none of them will want to hear my World War I stories.

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