JOURNAL ENTRY: August 25, 2017

                                                            FITBIT: THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILSThe timer clangs to my distant mind with a sound a battered boxer hears, signaling his ensuing slaughter. I shoot out of my chair like an automaton, and begin striding my four laps around the perimeter of the three rooms that form the front of my house. I used to close the drapes, but now I don’t bother. At first, Sirius, my Shih Tzu, had nipped at my heels as I strode through the living room, past my TV, where I made a 45 degree turn down the hallway, and he yipped as I marched through the kitchen and turned again to pass my work table—home-base—and begin my second lap. That was then. Now the savvy pooch stretches out on the couch, only his eyes following me, lazily, as I circuit past him. 
             There have been times, I’ll admit, that I didn’t hear my 15-minute ding—whether I read or typed right past it, or forget to reset the timer for the next 15 minutes once I slipped, panting, back into my chair. But it wasn’t often, for it meant 8 laps at the next ding.

             Sirius thinks I’m daffy, I know. But how else can I assure myself of 250 steps per hour? And I know from painful experience, the little pink simulacrum of the author on my computer screen, standing oddly on one leg, arms outspread under the arched rainbow of pink hour-balls, will show no mercy if my steps at hour’s end are 249. No gray ball will magically turn to pink for that hour. And If I go the rest of the day, until 10 PM, stringing together pink ball after pink ball … there will always remain that one skuzzy, gray ball, the color of dirty fog and mediocrity.

             My lovely daughter, Amanda, was the first in my immediate family to own a Fitbit. I noticed it at a family member’s birthday party. My wife, all my kids and grands were there. The tiny obsidian black screen teased me from Amanda’s wrist. She checked it occasionally. It lit up when she gave her wrist a flick.

             “What’s that?” I asked her.

             “This?” She whipped out her smart phone and began her informal tutorial. “Everything is converted from my Fitbit to here on my phone. This shows how many steps I’ve taken so far today, and this shows the last week of stepping, and here is my average.” I think it was 20,000, with her top being about 22K. “It also measures my heartbeat as I exercise and my resting heartbeat when I’m at my most relaxed. And this is my community.”

             I lifted my brow, a signal she waited for.

             “My friends—who also have Fitbits. We push each other. Once, [and she threw out a name I’ve since forgotten] came to our table at a restaurant and chatted a while before she looked at her Fitbit and announced, ‘Well, gotta go! I have 10 minutes to finish up my 15,000.’”

             “That’s stupid!” I said. (Okay, if I didn’t say it, I at least thought it!) To allow some arbitrary goal to stand in the way of one’s otherwise satisfying social life, just seemed—well, arbitrary … and stupid.

             “And this,” she went on, “measures my sleep activity. See? These bars show how many times I woke up, with each bar giving the time it occurred, and the duration.” She emphasized its accuracy by pointing to one bar representing the exact time she got up to use the rest room. “And here is my light sleep, here my deep sleep, and here is my REM sleep, whatever that is.”

             “When you’re dreaming,” I volunteered.

             “You need to get one, Daddy.”

             “Ah, but it wouldn’t work with my flip-phone.” I smiled. This was a sore spot with the kids, who felt my wife, Roseana, and I were unenlightened, just a step away from communicating via smoke signals. I knew by their shared glances, they were all biting back flurries of barbed humor.

             “True … but the Fitbit will sync to your computer. And …” throwing me a polished smile, “and since you’re always at your computer anyway, you’d have all the stats right there.”

             Whose birthday party was that, anyway? I pondered this as I made a sharp military left turn in front of the fridge, and marched through the kitchen, focused on home-base—two laps to go. I hate the question-marks that stick to a memory lapse like summer burs to Sirius’ ears.

             Roseana had been following our conversation that night, though. Two or three weeks later, as the same group gathered at the local ice-creamery to celebrate Father’s Day, I opened Roseana’s card which contained a crisp $100 bill along with a note that read, “For your Fitbit.”

             Kimberly! Hers was the birthday we celebrated that night. Enlightenment came toward the end of the third circuit and the bur was successfully removed.

             I apologize for the interruption. So … armed with a hundred bucks and a 20-percent-off coupon for Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I purchased my little foretaste of Satan.

             That first day, with Fitbit snugged onto my wrist, I watched my steps and miles click off while I exercised on my Gazelle (a machine that mimics the movements of cross country skiing). I had logged in more than 8,000 steps by noon, though not all were on the Gazelle. By 5 PM, I had reached the magic 10,000, the minimum for which the AMA suggests people should strive. Too easy, much too easy! I would shoot for 14,000—and I did. I succeeded before 8 PM!

             At 2:37 the next morning, the fiery claws of Satan, himself, had clasped each of my calves, and squeeeeeezed. I knew what the old goat was after, and part of me was even disappointed that he found me unworthy of more sophisticated barter. No, it was simply, “Your soul and I let go.” I deserved better than that.

             With a sudden lurch and a spin-move of which I didn’t know I was capable, I launched myself from bed, dragging the claws, still clamped to my calves, and stood facing the dresser, my fingers digging into either side. My eyes squeezed to slits as my lips moved in an anguished mantra of, “Relax … relax … relax!” Whether the Prance of Darkness mistook it for a prayer is irrelevant. His grip released, and as he slunk off, I could swear I heard his grated whisper, “Tomorrow, then?”

             He returned the next night and the one following, but I’m proud to say he skulked away after each nocturnal session, soulless. And then he was gone for good.

             Oh, I still have calf and thigh cramps, and they are painful. They are excruciating. But they are markers nonetheless, signposts, warnings: You need to pull back, to rein that same stallion that formerly carried the young Jay toward his ideals.

             Why don’t we envision our stallions as aging along with us? Why don’t we accept that we are grasping for the same lofty ideals while astraddle a swayback nag? And don’t we look silly clinging to its mane, like our entire existence depends on not falling off?

             While I’m in the mood for righting things, it was in the interest of vaulted exaggeration back there that I personified my leg cramps as originating in Satan. With pain that intense, one’s mind does scrabble through its contents looking for an apt comparison. Satan seemed to fit.

             But really, as I think about my overall experience with the Fitbit, a Bible quote seems handy: “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall.” How it relates to me seems fairly obvious. (To illustrate it further, I enjoy having the reader think that quote simply popped up from my memory; and trailing along without pause, “Proverbs 16:18.”)

             And now, won’t you excuse me please? I’m shutting off the timer one minute before its ding is due, though the sound is still there in my conscience. I won’t be long—four circuits—but it’s something I must do. Like Robert Frost, “I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”



My Twitter account identifies me as “a writer, a salesman, an optimist, a dreamer,” and adds: “may the four always cohabit and produce wondrous progeny.” Each of the first two identifies a blood-and-bone human being, living in the real world who works very hard at being honest and caring—but, who is still evolving in these areas. The last two (“optimist” and “dreamer”) are foundational qualities in my life. They keep a fire crackling under me that hopefully fuels the writer … and also the salesman, whose hat each of us is hard-wired to wear. Sandwiched somewhere between writing and selling, I attended college and even tried my hand at selling high school kids on why they should love learning and reading and writing. That was a brief stint. Whether teaching failed me or I it, I don’t know. You’d have to ask the kids—though many might be doddering by now, and some dead. Still, experientially, it is a part of me. I am married, living with my dog, Sirius, in Bakersfield, California, and separately from my wife.

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