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Dwellers In Neurotica

Creator: Eleanor Rowland Wembridge (author)
Date: 1927
Publication: The American Mercury
Source: Available at selected libraries

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IT OFTEN happens that the citizens of adjacent countries, despite their constant association with each other, preserve national characteristics which are entirely distinct. Witness the Turk and the Armenian; the French and the German on either side the Rhine. So with the dwellers in Moronia and Neurotica. These countries adjoin each other to the extent that their citizens must constantly meet in court, the workhouse and the jail. But they understand each other as little as either of them are understood by the inhabitants of Normalcy, which their own lands touch and across whose border the slow migrations move.


The origin of the Morons is hidden in obscurity. No one knows exactly where they come from, nor why they exist at all. But recent researches among the Neurotics would indicate with some certainty that their ethnic origins are among the Normals, and if trained among them from early youth they prefer that land to Neurotica. Not so the Morons. They are a contented people. They love Moronia. Being born there, they refuse to live elsewhere. In contrast to them, the Neurotics are a restless tribe, continually on the move. Sometimes they spend months in Normalcy, only in later life to penetrate so deep into the jungles of Neurotica that they cannot find their way back. But wherever they are, they are distressed. To be as contented as a Moron might be a proverb; to be as discontented as a Neurotic is equally so.


Another difference: When the Neurotic nomad travels for one reason or another outside the confines of his own country, he is usually recognized by the Normals, whereas the easy-going Moron has a protective coloring which makes it possible for him to masquerade as almost anything but what he is. It is strange that the clever Neurotic has so little skill at disguising himself and the slow-witted Moron so much. But if the Neurotic so much as enters a business office, a school, or a hotel, the chances are that even the boots and the chambermaid, if they have a chance to observe him, will soon be whispering behind his back: "That fellow is nuts. He's dippy. There's something bughouse about him." All of which are synonyms in the vernacular for the Neurotic. The Moron may drive them all to frenzy by his behavior, but it will be blamed to everything but the one fact -- that he is a Moron.


Perhaps one reason for this odd circumstance is that the Neurotic, unless too far from Normalcy, generally knows his citizenship. He admits, under pressure, that he is "nervous." But the Moron is as ignorant of his race as are his accusers, and so he cannot help them out when they ask him where he came from. With no effort, he deceives them all (if he is good-looking) and himself as well. As a final difference, I might add that as a race the Morons are a more likeable people. They tend to be kindly, affectionate, and easily led. But the Neurotics, while some are extraordinarily lovable, can be crafty and morose, resentful of kindness, ungrateful for favors, and persistent in blocking any efforts to help them out. Two characteristics they share: an imperative need for patient friends, and another for a good bank account.


These being our neighbors across the border, listen to a story of Neurotics whose affairs were brought to a climax by Mattie the Moron. Helva, the display girl for kitchen-ranges, was the first one who brought Mattie to our attention. "I just don't see how I can feed anyone else, now my health is so poor," she explained. "It seems I've got to fainting. And a demonstrator just can't fall on a stove, in a window and all, and keep her job," she went on with a curious passivity.


"Faint! Why do you faint?" was the natural question.


"I don't know. The doctors say there's nothing the matter with me. But a girl don't faint for fun." "But you are married. What's the matter with your husband?" was the next natural inquiry, to which she returned the unexpected answer: "Chaliapin says he can't practice his art until he has four more years training. But now that Mattie sits in the house all day, I have to feed them both, and I can't afford it. They have to have the best."


An investigation of Mattie suggested that she was a dubious daily companion for an idle artist in the absence of his wife. And since Mattie was only a neighbor, it was hard to see why the fainting Helva was responsible for feeding her with high-priced dainties. Rex, the husband, demanded them as a matter of course, but why should Mattie? So we sent for Rex, and somewhat to our surprise he came with apparent eagerness. Furthermore, he dazzled us completely, as he had evidently dazzled Helva when she married him. He was a handsome, courtly young man, with a slight accent, and the manners of a tolerant and kindly genius thrust suddenly among the Philistines.


"An artist can express himself only through his art," he explained gently. "I have no commercial ambitions. My art is my all. But four more years is necessary to complete my training, as M. Chaliapin wrote when he heard me," and he placed before us the letter in which that great artist stated suavely that with at least four years' practice, his visitor's voice would doubtless show some improvement. As Rex pointed out, this was equivalent to the statement that all was over (so to speak) except the shouting! Nothing further was required but the mere trifle of Helva's paying the household bills until he, in his stellar roles, should repay her sacrifice a thousandfold. As for Mattie -- a wave of the hand. "The artist's heart is always touched by the unfortunate," he explained with a smile.

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