A Washington, D.C., free transit newspaper called the Express specializes in short, breezy lifestyle items. Its readers turn to Page 2, in particular, where the Express prints goofy little stories and photographs each day. Burglars getting stuck in chimneys – that sort of thing.
The other day, three of the items on Page 2 had to do with attempts to break world records. Not arduous sports achievements, but oddball activities recorded by Britain's Guinness Book – and more recently, Web site – of World Records.
In one of the record-setting events mentioned in the Express, some folks in East Providence, Rhode Island, got together and created the world's longest string of beads – red and white ones in a 411-meter long strand. Readers also saw some happy chefs in Lebanon. They had just broken the record for the largest dish of tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad. But the topper was Sean Murphy's achievement. This Lansing, Michigan, pet-store owner succeeded in stuffing 16 live Madagascar hissing cockroaches into his mouth, shattering the old record of 11, set by someone, somewhere, who no doubt is still getting over the experience.
Then the next day, continuing its apparent Guinness World Record binge, the Express showed a photo of thousands of people shimmying and shaking outside an arena in Los Angeles. They were taking part in a mass, worldwide re-enactment of the late singer Michael Jackson's video Thriller, for which the world record for the number of dancers stood at 13,597.
These stories leave one wondering whether all these people have real lives. But the bigger question is: Why do they do such things? Is a moment of weird fame enough to make one put 16 large vermin in his mouth? Sean Murphy said he wanted to do something cool for a YouTube video. Sort of a 21st-century version of George Mallory's famous reply when a reporter asked him, in 1924, why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, the world's highest peak. Said Mallory, who would die in the effort: Because it's there.