One of my favorite TV shows as a kid was Lost in Space (LIS). LIS features the Robinsons, a family of colonists headed for Alpha Centauri whose spaceship goes terribly off course, setting them adrift in the universe. In episode one, the evil Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) programs a robot to damage the ship while the Robinsons are suspended in cryogenic chambers. Unfortunately for Smith, he gets stuck on the ship after liftoff, and while he’s trying to abort the sabotage and save his own skin, the ship goes off course. Harris (originally intended only for a short arc on the series) quickly moderated his Smith performance from straight villainy to comical pomposity and became the breakout star of the show. Lazy and conniving, the doctor could wriggle out of any chore by blaming his aching back. “Oh, the pain…the pain,” he would cry.
I’m having a Dr. Smith week. The last snowstorm had us all shoveling the driveway early in the morning so that Sonny could make it to Target on time. Dave worked the end of the drive, the heavy stuff the plows throw up, while I handled the middle. It was a dry, fairly fluffy snow, and I pushed it and tossed it for about a half an hour in time with the tune in my head.
That tune wasn’t the theme from Lost in Space. Neither LIS theme has the right energy or rhythm for snow shoveling, although both are appealing. The first two LIS seasons feature a twinkly, bouncing theme with lots of piccolo, while the final season’s, one of my all-time favorites, is soaring and energetic and filled with horns. Both were written by film composer John Williams, back when he was calling himself Johnny and writing mostly for television.
Sonny left for work; Dave and I went inside for coffee and CNN. I felt dandy until the next morning. The day shoveling, sometimes my biceps ache a little. Not this time; biceps were not the problem. Three minutes after I got up to write the dread morning pages, Bam! Every muscle in my left upper back spasmed into an agony-radiating knot right at that place I need a backscratcher to reach. Dave came in to share some weird news story and found me whimpering. A quick massage didn’t help, so we tried naproxen and a heating pad. That worked…after a couple of hours.
I went about my daily activities, just as the Robinsons did. Once they’d crashed onto the mystery planet, the parents quickly settled into a homey routine (despite the constant interruptions from aliens). Their three children, Judy, Penny, and Will, did various chores, just as the Swiss Family Robinsons had after being stranded on that Pacific island. I hadn’t realized that LIS was a bastard grandchild of Swiss Family Robinson, a novel which I’d read as a kid during a Treasure Island phase filled with tales about pirates, shipwrecks, and mysterious isles. The Swiss Robinsons had inspired a comic book series called Space Family Robinson, which led to Lost in Space.
Too bad the Swiss Robinsons lived before robots. The LIS robot was menacing at first, but after its reprogramming it became practically a member of the family and helped with the work of survival. The robot had its own catchphrases, like “Warning! Warning!” and “This does not compute.” Dr. Smith hurled alliterative abuse at it (“you bubble-headed booby”), but the robot didn’t mind. When my back spasmed again that evening, I wished for a robot to knead at the tight spot. I settled for the electric back massager stored in my closet. This is a heavy, padded life-vest shaped thing, with a heating element and nodes inside that pound at you, providing a kind of shiatsu experience. It’s similar, though vastly inferior, to the massagers in nail salons’ pedicure chairs. It makes a tremendous, rather satisfying noise that annoys Capone the Cat.
I figured my back would bother me for a day, but the universe had decided that the episode would turn into a series. The next morning I got up, felt okay, then Bam! And so it has continued for every day in the week. I rise, take a painkiller, put the heating pad on the knot, pull my knees near my chin to get the journal to an altitude that lets me write without bending forward, and do the dread morning pages. I spend at least a paragraph channeling Dr. Smith, insulting various muscle groups. Loosen up, you lolly-gagging levators! Stop sniveling, you rudely ruinous rhomboids! Tremble, you tiresome, traitorous teres!
Dr. Smith was my second-favorite character from the series. I wish I could channel my favorite, Penny. Played by Angela Cartwright, she was the middle of the three Robinson children. She didn’t get the most screen time or the best storylines, but she had a knack for figuring out the truth of a situation and taking action to make things better. And she had a pet, Debbie. Capone’s come for his morning greeting, and I stroke his orange fur, wondering if I could pick him up and walk around the place, call him Debbie. The muscles in my back twitch a warning. I leave him in peace. Please, in the second season, let me be pain free.