March 26, 2008

Do You Want to Fall Off a Cliff?

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I enjoy a good walk. Some people prefer to take the bus to their daily classes, or even to drive, but I like to walk. I don’t get a whole lot of exercise, and I think this little bit of walking is the most effective thing I have going to keep my leg muscles from total atrophy. The buses require me to adhere to the sort of strict schedule that I would never be capable of maintaining, and driving a car just leads to getting stuck in traffic. But if I give myself enough time, I can walk at my own pace, enjoying the outdoors and the good feeling that comes from feeling my legs carry me along, prevented once again from shriveling into limp, noodley oblivion.
I’ve noticed in my daily travels that many folks like to distract themselves as they walk about from place to place. There are cellphones and headphones — phones of all kinds. I once saw a man carrying one of those old rotary telephones, the kind that requires dexterous, little fingers to properly spin its mysterious number-wheel. Its spiral cord was frayed at the end and I suspected that he’d just yanked it right out of the wall and gone marching out the door. It seemed to still work, though, as he was carrying on an animated conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line.
I like to distract myself like this as well. Sometimes I like to listen to some music as I walk. I’ll pop on those headphones and be on my merry way. It can make the time go faster, I think, drifting along in my own little world. You have to be careful, though, especially if you’re the sort of person who gets all worked up by music. You’ll find yourself singing aloud as you walk down the street, oblivious to those you are near and the lyrics you are voicing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been slapped for getting carelessly close to my fellow pedestrians, accidentally serenading them with absent-minded love songs.
I sometimes wonder if this isn’t the inevitable result of trying to distract myself while I walk. If I’m looking down, mashing buttons on my phone, it’s my own fault when I go sliding down a ravine and have to grab desperately at the nearest tree, holding on for dear life until the fire department comes to the rescue, hauling me in with one of their collapsible ladders, like they would an over-zealous suburban kitty. Using a cellphone is a dangerous proposition in a town with steep cliffs.
I think perhaps it would be better if I sucked it up, if I left those headphones and cellphone in my pocket and just focused on the walking. I wouldn’t fall to my death, and I’d be able to concentrate on bending low to the ground with each step, giving those quads a good workout, exhaling in satisfying, rhythmic grunts.
It’s strange to see how unwilling we are to give up these distractions as we wander about. We walk around, listening to our music, mashing our cellphone buttons as we attempt in vain to talk with whomever we’re walking with. Perhaps in the future, language will devolve into a strange mixture of this stuff: conversational English, lyrics and lolspeak. It will be a mysterious, frustrating world. Because of their headphones, everyone will have to speak extra loud, I guess. And because of their phones, no will be able to keep a good eye on where they’re going. We will walk around in circles, bumping mindlessly into one another, shouting gibberish at the top of our lungs. Occasionally, some poor sucker will fall off a cliff. Fortunately, because he or she will already have his or her phone out, quickly dialing 9-1-1 will be no problem.
This future world sounds interesting. I will definitely build up some impressive calf muscles what with all that pointless walking around in circles. But I don’t want to be the one that goes tumbling off that cliff. And as much as I enjoy a good shout, I like to talk with people in non-gibberish, most of the time. So I think I will leave my music at home and my phone in my pocket. I will listen to what’s going on around me, eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, breathing that good outdoor air and letting out an impressive grunt with each deep, muscle-building step I take.