Even with the good advice I have received -- buy a new pillow, do neck exercises, schedule a massage, try chiropractic and work on your attitude -- my stiff neck persists.

I have tried to remain cheerful, sensing that most people have troubles of their own; however, even if you play hurt, which most people do after about 30, a cure still seems attractive.

If nothing else, there is a public safety issue induced by a stiff neck. It is challenging to move my neck to the right and, more importantly, look over my right shoulder when I want to change lanes.

It's not as if there are not rear-view and side mirrors that can be employed, but there is nothing like the comfort of "I-saw-that-empty-lane-with-my-own two-eyes" confirmation.

I'd prefer not to cut somebody off and trigger a dustup. I'm looking to stay respectfully uninvolved in the lives of my fellow motorists.

"I can see if insurance will pay for neck traction," Dr. Dave said.

I asked him how much he thought it might cost if insurance did not pay for it.

"It's one of those things where they probably have three dollars worth of materials and they'll charge you 200 bucks for it."

Traction brings colorful scenes to mind. I can imagine myself in an insane asylum. I am not being cooperative and an attendant says, "Put him in traction." Then he goes to lunch and never returns.

Traction makes me think of movies with Groucho Marx and a scene that may never have taken place. Groucho is in traction with a beautiful nurse dressed in white, bending over to tighten his straps because he is being overly flirtatious.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from Dr. Dave's office stating that insurance had OK'd the neck traction unit and that I was to contact Bakersfield Prosthetics in order to pick it up.

I called. The woman found my name and said, "Yes, they had my item in." She used the word "item" as if a "neck traction unit" was almost an unspeakable horror.

A few days later, I drove to the office, taking care when I changed lanes. I signed in and admired the marble floors and inlaid wood trim. I was relieved there was no trophy case filled with prosthetics. I asked the woman at the counter what the most popular prosthetic was. She made a chopping motion below her right knee. Diabetes, she said.

She took me back to a room where I met Michael, the orthotic fitting specialist. His job was to assemble the unit and show me how to use it. Who listens to directions? I wanted to, but I couldn't. I hoped enough of what he was telling me would drift in osmotically or, if not, that the "item" would spring together in the box on my way home.

Given that being seen in traction is a divorceable offense, once one commits to a traction unit it's important to find a room, in this case a door, where one's spouse or children will not have an opportunity to do a walk-by.

The traction unit consists of an overhead kit, a traction hanger, head halter, vinyl weight bag, a 123/4-inch spreader bar, rope and an S hook. I used the door into Thomas' room, assembled the "item," more or less, filled the bag with six pounds of water, sat in a chair and waited for the magic to happen.

Six pounds didn't feel like enough so I took the bag off and filled it with 16 pounds of water. I wanted to see if this thing could stretch my neck longer than a tent pole.

I sat for 30 minutes and listened to music. I don't know if I'm improving. I'll send you a post card from the funny farm if the attendant ever returns from lunch.

These are the opinions of Herb Benham and not necessarily The Californian's.

Email: hbenham@bakersfield.com