The Guinness Book of World Records was first published in 1955 and holds its own world record, as the Best Selling Copyrighted Book of All Time. (Whichever of the disciples forgot to file a copyright for the Holy Bible is probably not going to be up for a promotion anytime soon.) The Record Book was originally conceived by a managing director of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin as a way to help settle bar bets in some way other than having a drunken wrestling bout in the muddy lot behind the pub.
Back when we were kids and first got hold of a copy of the book we were not only amazed to discover all the biggest, fastest, weirdest things ever done by people but also inspired to think up world records that weren’t in the book yet that we could set ourselves, and then appear on TV or have dinner with the World’s Most Tattooed Man, or whatever it was that happened when you got your name in the book. It became fairly obvious early on that I was never going to be the World’s Tallest Man or be able to beat Craig Breedlove’s Land Speed Record (set in a rocket car) on my one-speed bike, but there were plenty of things I was pretty good at and in the summer I had lots of time on my hands to try to work at breaking my own personal records.
For starters I had a source for pop bottle caps from a friend of my parents who owned a service station. He saved all the ones from his pop machine for me so that I had a collection that numbered in the thousands. After I’d grown tired of sorting out the Cokes from the 7Ups and root beers I began to build roads out of them that snaked all around the downstairs of my house. The goal was to build The Longest Bottle Cap Highway Known to Man. I was usually distracted from record setting by a friend with something better to do outside or by my mother forcing me to clean up my mess before dinner.
I also had an immense collection of cards of all kinds: baseball, football, Munsters, Batman, you name it. This was because my dad sold these cards wholesale and in addition to all the samples that he would get from the manufacturers he would also bring home the returns from customers because of damaged packages, or because the bubble gum had gone stale. I mostly used these valuable collectables to build giant card houses. I kept trying to get into the Guinness book with The Tallest Card House Ever Constructed in a Suburban Living Room but was usually defeated when my older brother’s friend Frankie (nicknamed Wolfman) came over to play and would immediately go into his Big Bad Wolf routine, and huff and puff and blow my record attempt down.
Then I had the idea of catching the Greatest Number of Fireflies That Fit Inside a Quart Jar. This soon became a neighborhood competition with all the kids on the block running around trying to snag every lightning bug they could spot. You couldn’t really begin the competition until dark, when the bugs began to do their magic mating ritual, so we only had an hour or two to set the record before bedtime. My older sister was the judge of who had the most bugs in their jar and then, animal lover that she was, the enforcer to make sure we released them all so that they would be available for the next night’s record breaking attempt.
Finally I had a flash of insight and came up with a record I was sure I could set: The Most Consecutive Times Playing a Beatles Single Before It Starts to Skip. I saved up money by collecting 2¢ deposit pop bottles from the neighbors and returning them to the corner store until I had the 99¢ I needed to purchase a copy of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” I snuck my oldest brother’s record player out of his room while he was at work and began my quest. I figured I would need a witness to verify the record so I got my friend, Bennett, who was very good at counting, to keep track of the plays.
We immediately ran into a problem the first time we played the song, because we started dancing and the record skipped. My goal was to see how many times we could play the record before it developed a permanent skip, so it became plain that we were going to have to be extremely careful if we wanted this disc to last very long. We were forced to sit still while the record was playing and then do all our dancing and jumping around between plays. After about three hours and 50 straight plays we started to get hungry. Bennett wanted to go eat something, but I was sure that that would ruin the attempt. “I’m sure the guy who set the record for Most Consecutive Push-ups didn’t take a break for lunch!” I said. We continued on for another five plays and then Bennett had had enough. He got up and started dancing again, and, sure enough, the disc skipped and our record had been set: 55 consecutive plays!
My Mom was so glad that we had finally stopped playing the song that she offered to take us out for a celebratory lunch to the local hot dog stand if we promised not to try to break our consecutive play record ever again. She even agreed to help us write a letter to the Guinness Record keepers, confirming our feat. A few weeks later we got back a letter on Guinness Record stationary thanking us for our contribution along with a coupon for 50¢ off the latest edition of the book and the assurance that if they ever created a category for The Most Consecutive Times Playing a Beatles Single Before It Starts to Skip we would be the first people listed.
“I Wanna Hold Your Hand” lasted for another eleven day before my brother (accidentally?) sat on it. And I’m still waiting for my Guinness Record citation.