Otus the Head Cat

Walk, talk and chew a chal­lenge to many.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - Dis­claimer Fayet­teville-born Otus the Head Cat’s award-win­ning col­umn of hu­mor­ous fab­ri­ca­tion ap­pears ev­ery Satur­day. E-mail: mstorey@arkansason­line.com

Dear Otus,

I wit­nessed a stu­dent walk­ing across cam­pus last week chew­ing gum and tex­ting on his cell­phone. He smacked right into a light pole. It would have been funny ex­cept EMS had to be called to cart him off to the emer­gency room with non­lifethreat­en­ing in­juries.

This was never a prob­lem when I was a kid (I’m 57). Is there any­thing be­ing done about this grow­ing con­cern? — Wal­ter Diemer,


Dear Wal­ter,

It was wholly a plea­sure to hear from you and to join you in lament­ing this an­cil­lary bane of the dig­i­tal age that has been on the in­crease since base­ball card bub­ble gum faded from the na­tional scene as the com­pa­nies shifted to smart­phone apps and chil­dren lost the abil­ity to mas­ter the skill.

Re­cent stud­ies by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion in At­lanta on “dis­tracted walk­ing” in­di­cate an as­ton­ish­ing 12 per­cent to 15 per­cent of Amer­i­cans over the age of 15 are “in­utile dys­func­tional” when it comes to walk­ing, talk­ing (or tex­ting) and chew­ing gum at the same time.

Th­ese poor wretches, known in med­i­cal cir­cles as vic­tims of DAMS (dys­func­tional am­bu­la­tory mas­ti­ca­tion syn­drome), usu­ally suf­fer in si­lence (or walk into poles), shamed by an in­sen­si­tive pub­lic into hid­ing their con­di­tion.

June 24 was the third an­nual Walk for DAMS Pa­rade. Ini­tial in­di­ca­tions are that the turnout was poor. Or­ga­niz­ers were dis­ap­pointed, but not discouraged.

“It was an­other small step, a be­gin­ning,” said Arlo Rein­hardt of Eureka Springs, Ar­kan­sas chair­man of Adopt-ADAMS Day. “If we were able to save even one per­son from a life of shame and degra­da­tion, then we suc­ceeded.”

It’s the vic­tims’ em­bar­rass­ment and si­lence that serve to com­pound the mag­ni­tude of the sit­u­a­tion. The piti­ful sight of thou­sands of suf­fer­ers lurch­ing down our city streets and coun­try roads is enough to tug at the heart­strings of even the most cal­lous ob­server.

Some­times the ataxia is at­trib­uted to other causes. It of­ten goes un­di­ag­nosed or mis­di­ag­nosed by even the most well-mean­ing physi­cians, who look to some sort of vestibu­lar dis­ease as the cause that re­sults in dys­me­tria or hy­per­me­tria. Those who live their lives un­der the shadow of DAMS will never know the sim­ple plea­sures of walk­ing, talk­ing and chew­ing gum at the same time. They can — and do — walk quite well. Many spend hours each day in the pas­time.

And they can chat or text and chew gum while re­main­ing sta­tion­ary. How­ever, once they at­tempt all three while mo­bile, they stum­ble, crash into ob­jects, trip over their own feet and, yes, some have been known to ac­tu­ally fall down.

Hereto­fore, a so­lu­tion has eluded re­searchers. Mil­lions in fed­eral grants have been spent in a for­lorn hope to en­able the af­flicted to live nor­mal lives. Mil­lions more have been raised in the an­nual DAMS telethons hosted na­tion­ally by Marie Os­mond.

But now, through phys­i­cal ther­apy and hard work, DAMS vic­tims can shed their man­tle of shame and move into the light of a new day. It turns out the key is mas­ter­ing the bub­ble gum, which nor­mally taxes the cere­bel­lum por­tion of the brain, which con­trols balance, move­ment and co­or­di­na­tion.

Add a smart­phone and you can have a se­ri­ous case of cere­bel­lar hy­popla­sia. Walk­ing into light poles would be the least of your wor­ries.

For those who want to see the 12-step guide­lines for walk­ing and chew­ing at the same time and try the so­lu­tion in the pri­vacy of their own homes, go to the web­site at cdc.gov and click on the lit­tle smi­ley bub­ble gum emoji.

I would rec­om­mend that you start out with plain stick chew­ing gum. Spearmint would prob­a­bly be best. Do not at­tempt the more ad­vanced bub­ble gum un­til you have mas­tered stick gum.

Whether you suc­ceed or not, the most im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is that there should be no shame in your con­di­tion. This is Amer­ica. There is room for all types of peo­ple here. Amer­i­cans are noted for their tol­er­ance and un­der­stand­ing of any­one who is “dif­fer­ent.”

As for those who would be­lit­tle you, joke about your af­flic­tion, hold you up to pub­lic ridicule or park in your DAMS-af­flicted park­ing spa­ces, th­ese men­tal eu­nuchs are not worth the trou­ble to an­swer.

Un­til next time, when I’ll give a com­plete guide to telling as­sorted body parts from holes in the ground, Kalaka re­minds you to never text, chew and drive at the same time.

This poor man is so dis­tracted by walk­ing, talk­ing and chew­ing gum that he has not even no­ticed he didn’t com­pletely put on his jacket. There is help avail­able.

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