Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Alligators Always Dress for Dinner

Virgil and I, we really liftoff at Christmas. Holidays have a way of flexing your party muscles and keeping them in condition. It's the time of the year when you might just be inspired to adopt a baby, design a curriculum, or go sailing in some saltwater bay. But when the time comes to open presents, that's when when we both go a little feral, reverting to a wild state. This end-of-the-year holiday blog has been inspired by a Christmas present I got from my friend Jane.

It's a book with the title "Alligators Always Dress for Dinner: An Alphabet Book of Vintage Photographs" by Linda Donigan and Michael Horowitz, a couple who live with their dog, Benny, in the woods of southern Vermont. Combining the alphabet with an assortment of illustrative vintage photographs seems to open up unlimited, over-the-top possibilities for zaniness--none more so than the "A"-is-for-alligators" photo that appears on the cover.

Virgil immediately zeroes in on the two devilish alligators captured in this surreal diorama. While the alligators exchange knowing glances and play to the crowd, the gentleman in the business suit tries somewhat petulantly to get his bowler hat back from the snatcher. Where could this image possibly have come from?

Turns out, it's "From old friend Harvie and his pair of pet 'gators keeping warm during the winter of 1904--in Florida." The image has been cribbed from an old postcard! It seems that in the early 20th century, vacations became part of the lives of working people for the first time--and Florida was a popular destination. By now, Virgil is so excited, he is untying his moccasins and loosening the ribbons from his braids. "Relax," he tells me, "with maybe a little schnapps and a sandwich. Just stretch out while I tell you another surreal story about a man who can ride a unicycle backwards and slice apples in the air with a samurai sword."

Virgil is referring, I discover, to Ashrita Furman, a 67-year-old man and part-owner of a health-food store in Queens, who is the world's leading practitioner of something known as "Guinnessport"--undertaking challenges designed to get you into the Guinness Book of World Records. Amrita Furman, it seems, has set more world records (367) than anybody else. Unbeknownst to me, Virgil had snuck-read all about him in one of my recent New Yorker's.

So I checked out the profile by Alec Wilkenson for myself, and Virgil is absolutely right, of course--this man's exploits will certainly make you whistle over the creek and pound your bare feet on the cold terrazzo. They might even cause you to go bald overnight.

Last June, Furman climbed the mountain above Machu Picchu on peg stilts; in 2005, he covered a mile stretch of The Great Wall of China on a hop ball; and in 1993, he climbed to the snow line of Mt. Fuji on a pogo stick. Furman has also jumped underwater in the Amazon River on a pogo-stick for three hours and forty minutes--and in each case, he set the world record for fastest and longest. I didn't even know people did this kind of stuff!! Twenty-seven thousand jumping jacks done in six hours and forty-five minutes. Walking thirty-three feet in the world's heaviest shoes, which weighed three hundred and twenty-three pounds. Walking, once, in New York, nearly ninety miles with a milk bottle on his head.

But it was really one of Furman's rivals--a widely known French Guinnessport athlete, Michel Lotito--who got my attention, it being Christmas, and therefore the time for culturally ordained overeating. This man cut into pieces and then consumed eighteen bicycles, fifteen shopping carts, some televisons and chandeliers, two beds, a computer, and a single-engine Cessna. In his lifetime (he died a few years ago), he is thought to have eaten nine-hundred tons of metal. Not to be outdone, Furman once tried eating a tree in Queens, having heard that someone had eaten an eleven-foot birch. Can you top this?

Yes, according to the hosts of a new reality show in the Netherlands known as "Guinea Pigs," in which the two co-hosts agreed to indulge in a little cannibalism. They each had tiny pieces of their flesh surgically removed (one from the belly and one from the backside) and then it was sauteed and served up to be eaten. "It is weird," said one of the men, "to look into the eyes of a friend when you are chewing on his belly." You better believe it!

Maybe we all need to rethink our Christmas menus. I mean, Mama Standish's cranberry relish just doesn't play against a metal breakfast of champions, does it? Eating, it turns out, can be a really dangerous edge, if you happen to find yourself up for it. As for me, I'll stick with relish, but I won't speak for Virgil, who has been known to sometimes relish human flesh.

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