No matter the number of injurious bumps in the road most guys endure as they age, the one common to most could be described by one of those diction choices that tether us to the past — for me, the same way I call a sofa a davenport, a fridge an ice box and a foot stool an ottoman.
The word to which I’m referring is lumbago, once upon a time the catch-all term for lower-back pain.
For many of us, it comes and goes. For me, it comes every single morning when it serves as my own personal alarm clock, no matter how soft or firm the mattress is in the 70 or so hotel beds I use annually or when I’m in my own crib.
And, of all the changes that members of my tribe can make to lessen the chances somewhat that the old back will start barking, one is paradoxically the easiest yet most difficult one to make, and it has to do with what most guys see as an indispensable item, the wallet.
As a devotee of a TV series I simply find comically captivating, I can’t help but recall the “Seinfeld” episode of George Costanza’s monstrously overstuffed wallet and the ensuing back pain that results for George when he carries it in the traditional place for wallets, the back pocket.
When Jerry grabs the wallet at Monk’s (the diner for so many scenes for you non-Seinfeldians) and questions the outrageous size of it, George contests that he needs everything found within. As Jerry looks at some of the wallet’s contents, he asks incredulously, “Irish money?” and then pulls out a coupon for a free save-the-tiger poster from a Florida Exxon station.
The truth is that, over time, we dudes have allowed our wallets to grow fatter and fatter, unlike men in another time, men who wore tights such as those seen in Robin Hood movies and those swashbucklers in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Not once did I ever see Errol Flynn’s Robin or Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow reach for a wallet.
Certainly, in my own case, as I get further and further down the road, it seems the fatter my wallet gets, not with more money mind you, but with more cards — Medicare and supplemental Medicare cards, AAA and AARP cards, Knights of Columbus and other membership cards, credit cards and on it goes ad-plastic-nauseam.
Of course, whenever I see one of those “but-wait-there’s-more” infomercials (a hybrid word that’s as new as the word lumbago is old) trying to get me to buy a new-and-improved wallet, I’m a sucker for it.
Recently, I fell for another, one advertised to carry just as many cards but, magically, to be flatter. When I received it, thanks to my pal Bobby Riepenhoff, who ordered mine and one for himself using Amazon Prime, I discovered that the reason it’s flatter is because it’s bigger, a whole lot bigger, so much so that it’s a chore fitting it in my back pocket and getting the button fastened.
Much has been written connecting the link between balky backs and bulky wallets. According to an article on the website CBSMoneywatch, “Back Pain: Cure It by Cleaning Out Your Wallet,” by author Joe Kita, a thick wallet “not only twists the spine while sitting but also compresses the large nerve that extends through each buttock and down each leg.”
Kate Simmons, who carries a title that seems pretty serious to me, a myofascial pain specialist, cited research that proves that carrying a wallet in a back pocket indeed can create an imbalance structurally in the lower back’s musculature. The most affected muscle is one I’ll bet you didn’t know you even had, the quadratus lumborum.
In a couple of my jaunts recently where Southwest Airlines provided transportation, I do what I always do when I fly, which is to streamline my personal belongings as a means both to appease TSA and to make airline seats that, after deregulation in the 1970s, are an inch and a half narrower, more comfortable.
So, I just take what’s essential: driver’s license, car insurance card, one credit card, health insurance cards and a few dead presidents on green paper. When I slide it in my front pocket to foil potential pickpockets that I may encounter on my travels, I barely notice it’s there and, magically, my back feels better!
However, once returning to my labors, for reasons that have more to do with stupidity than necessity, I return to my old wallet ways.
And, despite the fact that, deep down, I know I don’t need that bank debit card I almost never use or that Kohl’s card I only use if sent a 30 percent off coupon or that Speedway dollar-off coupon for a latte, that big old nerve-compressing and quadratus lumborum-affecting wallet somehow finds its way back in my own back-pocket version of “Hoarders.”
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.