Real hard, keeping up with


IT IS astonishing how much there is to keep up with, and how little time there is to do it. A few people -- President Clinton comes to mind -- seem able to keep up with everything, but everybody else has to say, "Sorry, dear Loni, but life is too short."

I pick Loni at random as a human metaphor for all those things I am unable to keep up with because of the time shortage. I might just as well have picked Michael Jackson or the Uruguay round of GATT negotiations.

I have been not keeping up with GATT, always pronounced "Gat," since 1972. That year when somebody told me I "ought to get a good grip on Gat," I laughed. It was hard to believe that anything called Gat could last long enough to justify the exertions needed to get a grip on it.

Well, here it is 1993, and Gat is still with us, or at least with the Uruguayans, poor devils. Do I feel like a bad sport for refusing to honor Gat now by promising to keep up with it from now on?

Not at all. If I had spent those years keeping up with Gat I probably wouldn't have had time to keep up with Burt, which brings us back to Loni. For months Loni's name has filled the celebrity journals, always in tandem with Burt's.

Thanks to my refusal to keep up with Gat, I know that Burt is the movie actor Burt Reynolds, who once seemed likely to be the new Clark Gable but had to settle for TV sitcom stardom after Hollywood failed to turn up a new Spencer Tracy.

Of what use was a new Clark Gable without a new Spencer Tracy to keep teaching the new Clark Gable humility in picture after picture?

Of course, after Burt Reynolds failed to become the new Clark Gable, keeping up with him turned out to be as big a mistake as not keeping up with Gat had been, but at least you didn't have to stand around at parties saying "Gat" out loud.

On the other hand, having wasted time keeping up with Burt, I have no trouble saying, "Sorry, Loni, but I'm storing you back in the empty part of the skull with Gat."

There are some things I'd really like to keep up with but cannot because of a personal defect. This is the same defect that made it so hard to keep up with college chemistry that I had to drop the course after two weeks.

Michael Jackson, for instance, is as tough for me as college chemistry. Lately, with so much news about his mysterious global journeying, I feel obliged at least to fake a show of interest in this monumentally vital story, but it simply doesn't work. I don't have the right stuff.

While trying to keep up with Michael, I did manage to learn that he was either sexually abused in childhood or has been accused of sexually abusing children. This may have been why I seem completely powerless to keep up with him.

Unfortunately, present-day literature, social workers and the media have persuaded me that child abuse is practically universal these days. Michael Jackson's case would probably be more engaging if he were to be exposed as one of those rare Americans who are neither abusers nor abused.

This brings us to the "information superhighway," an odious term if there ever was one. All it means is that unless you want to feel as antique as spats you will soon have to re-mortgage the house to buy more electronic gadgets that do things you don't need done but which you can't resist doing anyhow because everybody else will be doing them.

To prepare for this beeping, complicated, time-consuming, digital nightmare I must quit keeping up with something equally complex and time-consuming.

Not only must RAM and ROM now be mastered, then kept up with, but also CD-ROM, the send/receive fax modem, the non-interlaced color monitor, the built-in voice messaging center . . .

This sounds almost as incomprehensible as professional football, with which I have been keeping up for years, which suggests a way to make room in life for the information superhighway.

Hasn't professional football become duller than RAM and ROM since it quit being about the Giants, Packers and the Baltimore Colts and expanded to 850 teams? So long, pulled hamstrings; hello, digital nightmare!

Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times.

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