Because it’s hard for me to summon any more “critical distance” towards The Guinness Book of World Records, now celebrating its fifty-third anniversary, than I can toward the beard of bees I wish were stinging my angular face or the smell of my skin burning that I missed out on because I was too chicken to enter a tattoo parlor so that I might rival the world’s most tattooed man, Lucky Diamond Rich, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to read the book for the first time as a desperate, alert grown-up who now understands that he will never be as tall as Robert Wadlow and who understands, after holing up with many reference books over the years, that this is the only one that matters. I suppose there’s still some hope, should I live long and should some kind Chippendale’s owner employ me in my autumn years, to beat out 66-year-old Bernie Barker as the world’s oldest male stripper.
What I’m saying, I guess, is that I’ll never be as corpulent as those twin motorcyclists. All I can do is describe how Guinness affects me neurologically, intellectually, spiritually, sexually, violently, adverbially — every year a new edition comes out. By this, I don’t mean each time I reread it, for there are often new records to study and new humilities to endure. As I’ve said, I’ll never make Guinness. I know my limitations. The Guinness people are ambitious enough to make me feel far from special. Remember the time I told you about my efforts to stuff my mouth with more kazoos than anybody else? I sent in my dutiful application, but Guinness sent me a rejection letter that I now have framed on my wall. They said, “Kazoos are out. They aren’t that special. Physical dismemberment is in.” Long have I stared at the three-paragraph letter behind the glass. Long have I cried. Long have I laughed. Long have I talked about this letter with my therapist.
Where others can content themselves with having the most powerful lungs or the most fingers and toes out of all living people, I, Walter Kirn, have no physical embodiments or talents that will cut the Guinness mustard. All I can do is drink Guinness. And even then, there’s simply no connection between Guinness the records organization and Guinness the stout maker.
First, I mourn.
I mourn for the whole doomed enterprise and for the ideas, which never seem to date and always seem to sell. I’m convinced Guinness will carry on with its world records volumes through the end of my physical life, and I will mourn again, and I will try to convince someone to inscribe WALTER KIRN: MOST KAZOOS IN MOUTH on my tombstone. Perhaps I can sidestep the Guinness denial by filming myself with kazoos and uploading it to YouTube. That’s the way to make it these days, isn’t it?
I mourn the idea that there isn’t even a United States-only version of Guinness where I might be able to squeeze myself in. Where the Guinness people won’t send me a letter and they will realize that there is some merits in kazoo mouth-stuffing.
I mourn that this matters to me more than Kerouac.
Forgive me, Meghan. It’s been a difficult year and a long time since I put a kazoo in my mouth.
Maybe we might be able to get a Slate Book Club email volley out of this. Some extra cash for me to buy more kazoos. What do you think?