Woody Allen

Getting Even

The Metterling Lists

Venal amp; Sons has at last published the long-awaited first volume of Metterling’s laundry lists (The Collected Laundry Lists of Hans Metterling, Vol. I, 437 pp., plus XXXII-page introduction; indexed; $18.75), with an erudite commentary by the noted Metterling scholar Gunther Eisenbud. The decision to publish this work separately, before the completion of the immense four-volume aeuvre, is both welcome and intelligent, for this obdurate and sparkling book will instantly lay to rest the unpleasant rumors that Venal amp; Sons, having reaped rich rewards from the Metterling novels, play, and notebooks, diaries, and letters, was merely in search of continued profits from the same lode. How wrong the whisperers have been! Indeed, the very first Metterling laundry list

List No. 1

6 prs. shorts

4 undershirts

6 prs. blue socks

4 blue shirts

2 white shirts

6 handkerchiefs

No Starch

serves as a perfect, near-total introduction to this troubled genius, known to his contemporaries as the “Prague Weirdo.” The list was dashed off while Metterling was writing Confessions of a Monstrous Cheese, that work of stunning philosophical import in which he proved not only that Kant was wrong about the universe but that he never picked up a check. Metterling’s dislike of starch is typical of the period, and when this particular bundle came back too stiff Metterling became moody and depressed. His landlady, Frau Weiser, reported to friends that “Herr Metterling keeps to his room for days, weeping over the fact that they have starched his shorts.” Of course, Breuer has already pointed out the relation between stiff underwear and Metterling’s constant feeling that he was being whispered about by men with jowls (Metterling: Paranoid-Depressive Psychosis and the Early Lists, Zeiss Press). This theme of a failure to follow instructions appears in Metterling’s only play, Asthma, when Needleman brings the cursed tennis ball to Valhalla by mistake.

The obvious enigma of the second list

List No. 2

7 prs. shorts

5 undershirts

7 prs. black socks

6 blue shirts

6 handkerchiefs

No Starch

is the seven pairs of black socks, since it has been long known that Metterling was deeply fond of blue. Indeed, for years the mention of any other color would send him into a rage, and he once pushed Rilke down into some honey because the poet said he preferred brown-eyed women. According to Anna Freud (“Metterling’s Socks as an Expression of the Phallic Mother,” Journal of Psychoanalysis, Nov., 1935), his sudden shift to the more sombre legwear is related to his unhappiness over the “Bayreuth Incident.” It was there, during the first act of Tristan, that he sneezed, blowing the toupee off one of the opera’s wealthiest patrons. The audience became convulsed, but Wagner defended him with his now classic remark “Everybody sneezes.” At this, Cosima Wagner burst into tears and accused Metterling of sabotaging her husband’s work.

That Metterling had designs on Cosima Wagner is undoubtedly true, and we know he took her hand once in Leipzig and again, four years later, in the Ruhr Valley. In Danzig, he referred to her tibia obliquely during a rainstorm, and she thought it best not to see him again. Returning to his home in a state of exhaustion, Metterling wrote Thoughts of a Chicken, and dedicated the original manuscript to the Wagners. When they used it to prop up the short leg of a kitchen table, Metterling became sullen and switched to dark socks. His housekeeper pleaded with him to retain his beloved blue or at least to try brown, but Metterling cursed her, saying, “Slut! And why not Argyles, eh?”

In the third list

List No. 3

6 handkerchiefs

5 undershirts

8 prs. socks

3 bedsheets

2 pillowcases

linens are mentioned for the first time: Metterling had a great fondness for linens, particularly pillowcases, which he and his sister, as children, used to put over their heads while playing ghosts, until one day he fell into a rock quarry. Metterling liked to sleep on fresh linen, and so do his fictional creations. Horst Wasserman, the impotent locksmith in Filet of Herring, kills for a change of sheets, and Jenny, in The Shepherd’s Finger, is willing to go to bed with Klineman (whom she hates for rubbing butter on her mother) “if it means lying between soft sheets.” It is a tragedy that the laundry never did the linens to Metterling’s satisfaction, but to contend, as Pfaltz has done, that his consternation over it prevented him from finishing Whither Thou Goest, Cretin is absurd. Metterling enjoyed the luxury of sending his sheets out, but he was not dependent on it.

What prevented Metterling from finishing his long-planned book of poetry was an abortive romance, which figures in the “Famous Fourth” list:

List No. 4

7 prs. shorts

6 handkerchiefs

6 undershirts

7 prs. black socks

No Starch

Special One-Day Service

In 1884, Metterling met Lou Andreas-Salome, and suddenly, we learn, he required that his laundry be done fresh daily. Actually, the two were introduced by Nietzsche, who told Lou that Metterling was either a genius or an idiot and to see if she could guess which. At that time, the special one-day service was becoming quite popular on the Continent, particularly with intellectuals, and the innovation was welcomed by Metterling. For one thing, it was prompt, and Metterling loved promptness. He was always showing up for

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