All The Cheesecake in the World

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Content advisory 18+ There is a longstanding question which asks us if we -- given the opportunity -- would prefer to know when we will die or instead linger in the perpetual (until the chopping block moment) suspense of NOT knowing. I haven't taken a survey, but it seems that most people would choose not to know. Me? Well, I'm not sure.

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The pros and cons? Obviously, if we understood in advance (as terminally ill patients in the modern era usually do), we would have plenty of time to, as they say, put our house in order. This would have considerable practical value (arranging finances, making sure our last Will and Testament was rendered in the form we really wanted -- assuming we still had anything to give away) and also offer us a chance to do a bit of grandstanding: profuse apologies to those we had wronged, poetical toasts to old lovers while sipping the last of the summer wine, a final great holiday, etc. The problem would come when the witching hour approached. Some of our guests would stay to hold our hands; others would flee the sinking ship as fast as they could. From either side, no help at all, not really. That’s why they call it Death.

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My grandfather, by contrast, was not told that he was dying of cancer (1978). The consensus was that he couldn't handle the news. So they just started feeding him morphine as he got worse and worse. As his speech slurred and he gazed slantingly around the room, mumbling to himself and pointing an accusing finger at everyone, I tried to guess (as I sat there) what he was thinking: "Sonuvabitch, I feel like shit today. Wonder what it could be?" Something like that.
The alternative -- dying on the spot without warning -- would preclude all the belated celebrations mentioned above, but likewise spare us the mounting misery of shearing our scalps, putting on the winding sheet, removing our shoes, and opening our arms to accept the cold hug of the Reaper. You might, for example, be arguing with your wife. "Olga, If I have to tell you this one more time, goddammit..." -- and there it ends. Or you are watching the Cup Final, and just as your favorite player is set to make the winning kick....down you go. Kaput.

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As the old Beatle John Lennon said, prophetically, alas, "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."
I have some friends who like to wear special (smart) watches which monitor such things as how many steps they have taken that day and how well they slept the night before. Apparently (since I don't own one), these watches are kind of like digital medical babysitters. To quote from something I read this morning, smartwatches "have now gone past keeping track of time, to keeping track of our body vitalities and environmental conditions... atmospheric temperature and pressure...heart rate, calories, blood pressure, sleep tracking." Track, track, track.

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The author beamingly concludes that wearing one of these gadgets is like having a "doctor's kit with you as you walk along the street." The message seems to be that, if you know all these things (your pulse rate at any given moment, etc), you are much better off than if you don't.
I have another friend who, in his mid-forties, appears to be in excellent health. He rides his bicycle around his section of Moscow in the early morning, doesn't booze it up, and to all appearances has nothing to worry about. For some reason, however, he has decided that he needs to consult a professional dietician, and he will pay this guru whatever he asks in exchange for...what? A new menu? A list of vitamin supplements?

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Suggestions as to what organic food should henceforth be consumed?
Without trying to fuck my friend's brain, I kind of sweated him as to why he felt the need for this. I mean, he is an ultra-clever guy, he can look up stuff on the internet, and he could, if he wanted to, simply rely on common sense. At length Petr admitted that he just feels the need to have everything organized and put in neat little rows. To illustrate his point, he showed me (this was during our Skype English lesson) the rack where he keeps all his kitchen knives (not bread knives, I am speaking of the larger cutlery). Every knife, he explained carefully, goes in a certain place, and if the maid happens to arrange them in the wrong order, shock-waves spread throughout his system until he can restore sanity, govern the chaos, and put everything back as the Good Karma Fairy intended.

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Thus, the official diet. He will be provided with a strict to-do (or must-do) list which he will follow until...until he becomes bored with it and forgets about it in the midst of some other great new idea that comes surging through his immense mind. Meanwhile, his mentality seems thus: "Hey we have the INFORMATION. Why not use it?" In this regard, my friend's thinking is on the same page as the smartwatch wearers who seek digital confirmation constantly of whether they are living their lives properly or not.
Or not. Aye, there's the rub. And here, I am afraid, is where my slightly sarcastic (and old-fashioned) side slips in. Without question, most of the smartwatch crowd number themselves among the IT specialists, corporate so-and-so's, and generally sedentary types who spend most of their time in front of a computer. So if the smart-watch tells you the obvious-- that you haven't taken 'enough steps' today -- what do you do? Walk to the toilet and back 50 times just to log in an extra kilometer?

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I would go crazy if I obsessed about that kind of thing. I will give you an example. I am an old athlete and continue to work out like crazy.. Plus, I walk my dogs at least twice a day -- long treks up and down the hills and through the forest. I eat what I want, but lately (since I am no longer in Moscow and backpacking through the city 7 days a week with a rucksack full of English books), I found that my stomach was getting too big, so I have simply put a curfew on the food -- nothing substantial after 18.00. Well, sometimes I screw up, but what the hell? Alcohol? I used to be a proper piss-head; now it is twice a week on good Bulgarian beer -- and that's it. It just makes sense and, anyway, my wife Liuba is there to crack the whip if I start to go astray. In short, I am not trying for miracles, hence no "miracle diet" -- I merely do what works, and sometimes this is arrived at by trial-and-error. What I DO know is that miracles are for couch potatoes and that there is NO MAGIC PILL.

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I also suffer from a condition called bradycardia -- in other words, heart arrhythmia. I found out during a check up about 6 months ago when it turned out that my blood pressure was high. 159/109 that day. High. And my pulse was 42. VERY low. The doctor put me on some pills and within three days the problem was solved. The last time I took my blood pressure (about a month ago) it was fine. I haven't bothered with it ever since. Anyway, my father had the same thing and he lived to be 90.

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The question is: would I be better off -- I mean really, seriously better off -- if I went around checking this every ten minutes? Do you know what I think? I think I would go crazy. So I don't. Instead, I go out to my new Sports Palace which my wife and I and a local gypsy built to keep firewood in and for me to do my boxing workouts with the heavy bag. I do 10 three-minute rounds at top speed, and at this time of the year it gets plenty hot out there.
I think I am doing the right thing. I am doing what I have done to stay alive -- what has worked so far -- all my life. If I started getting dizzy or something, I would stop. Mere fatigue is bullshit -- it means nothing. 10 rounds.
In California, I am told that they are required by law to list on every food item how many calories it has. Wow. So imagine that it's your birthday and you go out with your friends. At the end of the meal you really, truly, desperately want a Big Piece of Cheesecake. BUT !!!!!!! -- your Big Data tells you that you have exceeded your daily allotment of calories. SORRY BUB, no cheesecake for YOU !

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My advice? Live well enough so that you don't have to say "I am sorry" too often, get all your celebrations in while you have time, eat the biggest piece of cheesecake you can handle, and then go out to your own Sports Palace and work it off. And, above all, if you need a smart-watch to show you the way, you are doing something wrong.

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Lose the watch. Change your life. And die when you're damned good and ready to, not a minute sooner.

===Eric Richard Leroy===

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