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Beltway blues

Take a walk, already.

I had some crummy news recently: My left ear failed. The hearing on that side went overnight from clear as a bell to alluvial mulch. My right ear also lost acuity, but not as much. Now I am annoying everyone by asking them to repeat things, and to look at me when they speak.

I know what you’re saying: I never listened anyway, so what’s the loss. And I deserve that for writing in a free-circulation publication.

But my malady turns out to be computer-related. Sort of. You see, something shut off the blood supply to my auditory nerve, and it withered. That something appears to be Type 2 diabetes, which I did not have at my last checkup six months ago, but which was caused, I am told, by being overweight. And not getting enough exercise.

Actually, the word isn’t overweight; it’s obese, which I resist. When I look at myself in the mirror, and suck myself up to my full patriarchal form, I don’t see obese. I see a fantastic guy who’s had a lifelong love affair with Wheat Thins. And if they can be called Wheat Thins after what they did to me, I should be able to sidestep obese.

How did it come to pass that my tummy should shut down my hearing? Was anyone aware of this connection?

Until the early ’70s I was the proverbial rail. I ran, I frolicked, I burned calories instead of storing them as fat cells in case of future famine.

What happened? I got my first PC, that’s what.

Oh, there were other things, like having two children and being married to an impossibly beautiful woman and buying a house and having the weight of its mortgage descend on my surprisingly unpadded shoulders. But this is about technology.

I wasn’t one of those guys who eat while computing, although the Pepsi Syndrome did claim a couple of keyboards early on. (“The Diet Pepsi Syndrome,” he added defensively.)

No, it was just so fascinating having this machine that could do whatever I told it to. I loved writing on it, and tracking submissions, and managing a business. It was my friend even when it was feeble. Then when it bulked up, and the Web and e-mail arrived, I was a goner.

One day-Nov. 12, 1994-I stopped jogging every day. I blamed it on the cold, and an arthritic knee. But the doughnut trucks kept rolling. And how I loved those chili cheese burritos at Taco Bell. So comforting, and so oozy.

It was not an overnight deal. I was not a professional pie-eating contest entrant. It was that extra drumstick here, a quaff of delicious grain beverage there. All I gained was a pound a year. But as Mercutio says of his wound when Tybalt stabs him in “Romeo and Juliet,” “‘Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve.”

Well, something’s as wide as a church door. But it ain’t the wound.

I know not all computer users are flabolas. But a lot are. And I don’t mean techies, who, let’s be honest, are all flabolas.

(I remember a “What’s My Line” segment when I was a kid, where a not-thin gentleman signed in, and panelist Bennett Cerf-whose son would invent the Internet-guessed right away that he was with Univac. Even then the writing was on the wall.)

No, it’s everyone who comes home after work, scarfs down a quick meal, and retires to the serenity and intrigue of the online world. It’s a virtual, twinkling, incorporeal realm. And it is groovy. But the reality is that we continue to occupy non-virtual bodies, and they, like the dog that brings you the leash in his teeth, need to move periodically.

How do you know you might have a problem? My doctor put it this way: If you’re sitting down, and look down, and you can’t see your belt without punching your stomach down like a batch of bread dough, by George you’ve got it.

So I have to lose 30 pounds. They tell me if I do that, the diabetes will go away, and high blood sugar will no longer destroy blood vessels which feed vital nerves–like to my feet, eyes, heart, and brain. The ear is shot irretrievably, but I can still save all that other neat stuff.

So here I am, your worst nightmare: someone with good advice and a true scary story, learning American Sign Language online and warning you to stop and think about how you’re living.

I’m telling you to turn off the box, rise up from your swivel, turn around, and go for a walk outside. “That’s right,” he said cruelly, “a brisk one.” And that sandwich protruding from your pocket? It’s time to set it free. I know it’s hard. But fly away, little bird, fly away.

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