November 30, 2007
When I was a kid the Guinness Book of World Records was our ultimate reference book. Forget the Encyclopedia Americana, or the Encyclopaedia Britannica with its silly extra ‘a’, forget the Enciklopedia Magyar or even the dictionary. If we wanted to know what was the biggest, the longest, the most lethal, or the most idiotic thing we could possibly come up with to try on the playground, the Guinness Book of World Records was where we went. This was back in the day before kids doing incredibly stupid things was a television staple, and this was back when people thought of computers as tools that would allow them to fill out their tax forms more easily, rather than tools that would allow them to send videos of themselves setting leaves on fire and then accidentally burning their lawnmower all over the world. This was back when we-the kids-were confused about why it was called a book of "records" even though there wasn’t a single Juice Newton album listed anywhere in it that we could find.
But I digress. I’ve thought about trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, but I have no idea for what. There are records for the world’s fastest furniture, the longest hair extension, the most simultaneously spinning yo-yos, the fastest clapping, the longest time spent hopping on one leg, the fastest prune eating, and even, I’m pretty sure, the most world records held by a single person. When I was a kid I thought it would be really cool to have the world’s longest fingernails, although I never thought about the logistics of having twelve-foot long fingernails. At least I’d never have to bend over to scratch my feet. And there are so many other records that, no matter how cool they are, are just completely off-limits. No matter how hard I try or how much financing I get I’ll never be the world’s longest millipede (which is currently held by an African millipede that’s a measly fifteen inches, which I’m pretty sure I could beat) or achieve the highest jump by a pig (just twenty-seven and a half inches! I can jump higher than that!). The problem with records, though, is that sooner or later physics is going to set limits on them. Even though a guy in Australia can lift a hundred and thirty-six pounds with his ear, and even though sooner or later someone’s going to try for a hundred and thirty-seven, there is a limit to how much the ear of anyone, even Prince Charles, can lift. And no human being will ever run a mile in thirty seconds without some kind of artificial help, although a lot of college graduates will attempt it when they see a loan officer coming. Sooner or later there will be a limit on the tallest person, the biggest nose, the largest snail, the heaviest car someone balances on their head, or the most prunes consumed in three minutes. There are always firsts, but those are even harder than the other records. It’s really hard to say, for instance, who was the first human being to set foot on the North American Continent because, unfortunately, the Guinness judges were, at that time, occupied with measuring the tusks of a woolly mammoth in Siberia. We all know Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon, but at least twenty-seven different people claim to have come up with that "Good luck, Mr. Gorsky!" joke. I may be the first person to point out that sooner or later physics is going to put limits on most records, but since I’m at least six years behind on every trend I doubt it. There are limits to everything, which is part of the reason people come up with loony records involving twenty-pound chocolate chips and the world’s biggest chess game. As the French say, "Glisser doucement la soie ordinaire entre les dents et sous la ligne de gencives." Or something like that. I’m pretty sure there’s a "sacre bleu!", meaning literally, "holy blue!" in there.
But I digress. And let’s face it: there’s more to life than trying to get a little bit of fame by setting some completely idiotic record. I used to have a friend who I’m pretty sure was trying to get into the Guinness Book Of World Records by consuming more Guinness than anyone else. All he’d drink was Guinness. He drank Guinness constantly. No matter how much I tried I never could convince him that there’s a great big world out there with so much more to offer than just Guinness. For instance, there’s Bass Ale.