I’m not sure why the media considers people who set records to be so worthy of note, or why some record setters are considered more important than others.

   I set records almost every day, and I don’t make a big deal about it.

   Yesterday I set the Mid-Atlantic American record for “most Mallomars eaten in five minutes while hiding from your wife in the den.”

   The day before, my wife told me I must have set the world record for whining when I ran out of toothpaste and had to use hers, which is for sensitive teeth and tastes horrible.

   Two days before that, while my wife was at her book club, I washed my snack-after-dessert bowl all by myself, carefully scrubbing off every trace of hot fudge, caramel, and praline syrup, and I waited until my wife had been home for twenty minutes before informing her of my good deed, a time easily six minutes longer than the previous record.

   As impressive as all this may seem, I never mention these feats to anyone, let alone announce them publicly.

   The media people will tell you they’re just following popular interest when they report on new records, but these are the same acute assessors of popular culture who think a majority of Americans care more about Dancing With The Stars than whether or not they have jobs.

   There’s almost a fairytale status imposed on some records, and then when they’re broken, whoever breaks them is treated like a villain, or at some point the fairytale aura evaporates and nobody cares anymore, which is a big disappointment for the record setters and their altruistic sponsors, and either way, it shows how silly it is to make such a big deal about a record in the first place.

   Once upon a time, people were walking around saying “Babe Ruth holds the single season record for home runs.”

   Then things changed, and people were walking around saying “I wish I knew how to do the Twist.”

   Things changed again and people started saying “Roger Maris holds the single season record for home runs, but it took him more games to hit 60 home runs than it took Ruth so he hasn’t really broken Ruth’s record.”

   The uproar at the time would have made you think how and whether Ruth’s record was broken would change millions of lives. 

   Maris was receiving letters telling him to die, and one fan dressed up as The Babe threw a chair at Maris from an upper deck in Yankee stadium.

   And yet, whatever records Maris broke and/or set: Except for members of the Ruth or Maris families, it didn’t change anyone’s life.


   The guy who might have killed Maris with the chair was undoubtedly a moron before and after, and his life undoubtedly went on as usual, although his wife probably started insisting they all stand at meals.

   If you’re older than fifty or spend too much time looking in record books you probably know the name “Dr. Roger Bannister.”

   Bannister once held the record for running the fastest mile, but he went on to become a neurologist anyway. 

   He was also the first to break the four minute mark, in 1954, which was considered an enormous achievement, the premiere challenge in all of sport according to the popular media at the time, although Bannister later said the athletes themselves didn’t consider breaking four minutes to be such a big deal. 

   When he broke the four minute mile Bannister was named Sports Illustrated’s first “Man of The Year.”

   All of six weeks later, John Landy broke Bannister’s record.

   John who? 

   No one ever mentions Landy, yet his achievement and dedication were no less than Bannister’s, as I’m sure his family will tell you. 

   There was a head-to-head race between the two later on, which Bannister won by eight tenths of a second because Landy lost a step when he looked back to see if Bannister was gaining on him, which shows that Satchel Page knew what he was talking about even though everyone makes fun of his famous advice.

   But other than a bronze statue showing Landy looking over his shoulder at Bannister, which keeps getting moved around Canada, Landy may as well have been Page’s chiropractor for all the recognition he’s received.

   The current world record holder in the mile is a Moroccan named Hicham El Guerrouj, and he’s held it since 1999, which is a pretty amazing achievement.

   If you already knew that, you’re either on a track scholarship or a liar.

   Mr. Guerrouj gets awards from some sports association every other year or so in recognition of his record.

   But in general, nobody cares. 

   Guerrouj has as much chance of being named Sports Illustrated’s “Man of The Year” as George Bush has receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, although they’ve given it to Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat, so what do I know.

   Of course, it could be that no one else is really trying to break the record any more, and no one has noticed, which is a distinct possibility.

   The inescapable fact is that what was once the grand prize of sports achievement is now an also-ran.

   The Guinness book of records documents the unfortunate lengths to which thousands of also-ran human beings will go to become record holders.  The media makes a big deal about Guinness records when it involves lots of people or things that are big, like the largest hot fudge sundae.  But the book is full of other kinds of records, too.

   “Longest duration balancing on one foot.”  “Most books typed backwards.” “Heaviest weight dangled from a swallowed sword.”

   Yes.  They’re in the Guinness book.  Really.

   Imagine what would happen if all the people who work and toil to be the record holder in something that means nothing just so they can get into the Guinness book used the same time and effort and resources to achieve something that’s actually worthwhile.

   By now we would have cured disease, erased world hunger, reversed global warming, and solved the mystery of growing truffles, which has been the bane and quest of civilized man ever since they were discovered.

   Instead, we have a book full of information the sum total value of which is that every year the Guinness people make money publishing it.

   Some records do represent significant achievements in that they require real dedication and hard work by persons of skill, courage and determination. 

   In theory, those people and their achievements set good examples for the rest of us.

   In practice: nobody cares.

   People who are determined to accomplish genuine achievements don’t need record holders to inspire them and nothing changes in their lives because someone else set a record.

   My great Aunt Rachel overcame a life of money, ease and serial good health to make everyone around her miserable, and I never once heard her refer to any record set by anyone, although she herself probably held the mark for most cooks fired before the first meal had cooled.

   When people hear about records that reflect years of effort and dedication they say “that’s nice” and then go back to eating potato chips or misappropriating funds or standing in line at the two dollar betting window at OTB or doing all three at the same time.

   I can’t help wondering what makes a record holder’s accomplishment any more real or special than the efforts of thousands of people who work two jobs five or six or seven days a week so their children can go to college…or to just provide their families with decent food and clothing and shelter. 

   Maybe someone can explain to me why their dedication and accomplishment is any less worthy of note than a professional track star who makes a six figure living while engaging in workouts with a team of five to encourage him and pamper him at all times so he can break a record and make more money in one endorsement deal than the people working two jobs make in a lifetime.

   The really interesting records never get recorded, anyway.

   Who holds the record for stealing the most pieces of candy from a baby?

   How about the record for most times peeing in a swimming pool by the age of 12?

   My father once told me I held the world record for most complaints during a three hour car trip, but I don’t think he ever authenticated it, and the much more important accomplishment was that I wore him down to the point that we stopped twice for ice cream, which in and of itself isn’t a record, but when you’re eating hot fudge, caramel and praline syrup twice in three hours, who cares?

   If the editors and producers who make daily decisions about news coverage would follow my advice and start concentrating on important issues instead of ephemeral crowd pleasers like new world records and celebrity sambas, they’d all be fired in a minute and replaced by people who do what they’re told.

   Something tells me I failed to make my point here, but I’m not trying to set any records for serial prescience, so I think I’ll eat a Mallomar and take a nap.

   Unlike the media, I know how to set priorities.


Dear Major Ashpole,

   Setting priorities is a big problem for me.

   It seems the older I get, the harder it is to keep things in order and focus on one thing at a time.

   Since you seem to have your priorities straight, any advice you can pass along that help will me and others who are struggling with this problem?

Hope Shuffleburg

Lake Skitterwoods, New Jersey

Dear Hope,

   I offer a two step system which I highly advise for everyone over the age of 35:

   1. Always take your Ritalin on time.

   2. If you don’t have a Ritalin prescription, get one.

Dear Major Ashpole,

   Everyone should steal candy from babies, because babies shouldn’t have candy in the first place.  What are those parents thinking about?

   Also, I don’t think a baby could hold that many pieces of candy anyway, so the record would probably be something like three and that would be the end of it.

   I guess that’s why they don’t bother to track it.

Sarah Palin

Protecting America’s Future, One Chartered Jet At A Time

P.S. Have you noticed how much more reasoned and sober my letters are getting? 

        Gosh, gee, I’m just bustin’ about it!

Dear Major Ashpole,

   Instead of guiltily substituting Mallomars for lost affection, I suggest you speak with your wife about why you need to hide from her in the first place.

   You may feel some sense of power or achievement from fooling your wife in some way, but it can only lead to strained relationships and stains on the sofa that you’d rather not have to explain.

   I’m talking about Mallomar stains, not the other kind, which are icky.

Dr. Joyce Brothers

Psychologist and Pitchwoman

New York, NY

Dear Dr. Brothers,

   I’ve always admired your ability to sound sincere when you’re dispensing useless pabulum and have no idea what you’re talking about. 

   Others may decry it, but I think it’s a gift.

   Just for the record: I didn’t say I needed to hide from my wife. 

   I was doing it on general principle.

Mr. Major Ashpole

Five Lakes Heron

Dear Sir:

   Kraft Foods does not endorse the use of our Nabisco Mallomar product, nor any of our products, as an alternative to frank marital discussion.

   Not that we’re endorsing frank marital discussion either, as it might not be fit for family audiences, if you follow my thinking, or even if you don’t.

   Perhaps you would benefit from a visit to our consumer website dealing with this matter:’t_abuse_the_Mallomars.html

   In any case: don’t make me send you a genuinely threatening letter. 

   And I ain’t no box of Super Sugar Crisp.

   Yeah, I heard that story.

Cookie Alimento

Vice President, Consumer Redirection

Kraft Foods, Northfield, IL

Dear Cookie,

   Aren’t you the same Kraft Foods that owns Oscar Mayer, which claims it’s Wieners are 98% fat free, but which claim is based on weight, and whose nutrition label shows zero calories from fat even though the same label shows that a wiener has half a gram of fat, which means it has 4.5 calories of fat, which means 12% of the calories come from fat?  The genuinely true statement “88% fat free” doesn’t work for you guys?

   Go ahead.  Threaten me.

   There’s more where that came from. 

   Lots and lots more.

Dear Major Ashpole,

   I don’t understand why you used the age of 12 as the cut-off for the peeing in the swimming pool thing.

   I probably peed in the pool more often when I was in college than when I was a child, especially when I went to Julliard.

Robin Williams

Still Out of Rehab and Talking Faster Than Ever

Dear Major Ashpole,

   “Record holders”? 

   No one buys records anymore. 

   They buy CD’s or download from the Internet.

  You gotta contemporize, man!


Rudy Giulliani

Still Keeping New York Safe From Terrorism, If Only In My Dreams, One

Multi-million Dollar Consulting Deal At A Time


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