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Jack Smith

When he's faced with a back attack, about all he can do is pack it in

October 23, 1986|JACK SMITH

My friend Jim Moore, former head of the English literature department at Mt. San Antonio College, is sojourning in England. He writes that he has found a columnist in the Guardian who reminds him of me. Both of us write about our bad backs.

Shakespeare said of jealousy that it was one touch of nature that made the whole world kin. He might just as well have said that about bad backs.

Of course there are some people who do not have bad backs. They are freaks of nature. My wife is among them. No matter how much lifting she does, and she does most of it around our house, her back never hurts.

The most recent demonstration of her phenomenal durability came as a result of an imprudent bid of mine at a charitable auction. It was what is called a "silent auction"--one in which an object is displayed on a table, along with a pad on which one is invited to write one's bid and one's name.

The object that attracted my eye was an enormous remote control television set. I thought I would bid for it and if I won, we could give it to our younger son and his wife. Having only a 17-inch screen in their living room, they are deprived of enjoying fully, it seems to me, our society's primary source of culture.

I was surprised to see that there was only one bid--for the minimum $75. I wrote down $100 and signed my name.

When the party was over I told my wife I wanted to go back to the TV set to see what bid had won it. Much to my surprise, I found that no one had topped my bid.

Only then did I discover that the remote control was marred by large tooth marks. Evidently it had been chewed either by a large dog or by some human viewer enraged by a situation comedy.

It was much too heavy for us to carry. We got two young men to carry it out to the car for us, which they did with obvious strain. It was too big for the trunk. It was too big to get into the back seat. We decided to leave it overnight and come back for it the next morning with our pickup truck.

The next morning my wife drove our truck back and got two men to put the TV into it for her. She drove it home. We thought of asking a couple of men down the street to carry it in for us, but I didn't want to impose.

We slid it over the bed of the truck and over the edge. Each of us got a grip on it. We eased it out of the truck and shuffled over the sidewalk and up the steps to the porch. I was in a simian crouch. I couldn't remember ever having lifted anything heavier.

"Are you all right?" my wife kept asking.

Actually, I was not all right. But I didn't hurt. I felt as if all my muscles and nerves had gone dead. My hands were bloodless and without feeling. My back was rigid.

We inched our way through the house to the front bedroom, where we set the TV down on a long sturdy table.

I released my grip. Feeling flooded back into my body. My arms ached. Pain stabbed my back. My lungs gasped for air. I perspired.

"Are you all right?" my wife asked.

I have quit complaining about my back. I used to be regarded as the family clown. Sometimes, when my back attacked, I would fall to the floor screaming. My family would grab their stomachs and go staggering about in circles, overcome with laughter.

The column Moore sent me was by Roy Hattersley, a man he described as a very literate politician in the Labor Party, who probably would, if the party came to power, be named chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Hattersley knows all about bad backs.

"Bad backs," he wrote, "are risible. As, last week, I walked into surgery speaking the immortal line, 'Doctor, I've got a bad back,' I felt that I had become a bit part player in a farce. . . . Bad backs appear in the table of silly diseases somewhere between hemorrhoids and tennis elbow.

"My bad back is, I am authoritatively assured, the product of wear and tear combined with a mistake made by Homo sapiens several thousand years ago. The decision to stand upright and walk on two feet instead of four carried with it unexpected penalties. . . ."

Hattersley points out that his bad back is never diagnosed simply as a bad back by the medical profession because they do not take it seriously. "They may really be suppressing the laughter which is the natural reaction to the opening line, 'Doctor, I've got a bad back.' "

The television set didn't work. All we got was snow. The next day I called a TV repair service and a man came out and fixed it. The bill was $65.

I phoned my son and told him about the set. He came by and picked it up when we weren't home. I don't know how he got it into his van.

It isn't going to work out. He says he would have to have a bigger house to accommodate it.

All I know is that I'm never going to move it again.

After all, if I'm disabled, I can't get an easy job like chancellor of the Exchequer.

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