Read The Man Who Ate the 747 Online

Authors: Ben Sherwood

The Man Who Ate the 747

a
cognizant
v5 release august 25 2010

PRAISE FOR BEN SHERWOOD AND
THE MAN WHO ATE THE 747

“Delightful. Lovingly rendered. Beautifully handled and great fun. As in all fine fiction, love is triumphant. This one is a gem.”
—The Washington Post Book World

“A moving metaphorical love story with laughs. A genial fable that gracefully illuminates the extremes to which people will go in the name of passion.”
—US Weekly

“Delightful, warm, and quirky.”
—The Denver Post

“This unique tale will force you to ask yourself how far you’d go to win someone’s heart.”
—Cosmopolitan

“Delightful. If Frank Capra were living, he would make a movie of this book, for it has all the qualities of his films. The folksy tale will confirm all your best hopes for the human race.”
—San Antonio Express-News

“A laugh-out-loud funny romp and a tender love story all rolled into one.
The Man Who Ate the 747
is a rarity—a tale that tickles your funny bone and tugs at your heart.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Wonderful. Sherwood has an amazing gift for fiction.”
—Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Sherwood’s depth of insight into human character comes out loud and clear. It’s guaranteed that readers will want to go back for more of Sherwood’s brand of greatness.”
—The Sunday Patriot-News

“Sweet. Whimsical. Anyone feeling remotely cynical about romance ought to pick up
The Man Who Ate the 747.

—marie claire

“A romantic fable. Sweet, quirky.”
—USA Today

“Smart, funny, touching, and quirky—a wonderful love story.”—Tom Brokaw, author of
The Greatest Generation

“We can guarantee you will really love this book. If you read it, you’ll smile a lot all weekend. That’s the truth.”—Diane Sawyer,
Good Morning America

“Winsome, perceptive, and often hilarious. A heartwarming, gently humorous tale that could set records of its own.”
—Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“A wonderfully wacky, wise, charming, and romantic satire, filled with lovably eccentric characters who know the secret of true love.”
—Kirkus Reviews
(starred review)

“A masterful love story, liberally flecked with quirky but unselfconscious humor and gentle satire of big-city life, celebrity, and the media.”
—Booklist

“This novel confirms Sherwood’s ability to craft characters that live and breathe. Well-written, romantic, suspenseful, ridiculous, and, finally, satisfying. Recommended.”
—Library Journal

“A wonderfully inventive tale of love and airplane consumption.”
—Lincoln Journal Star

“The comic love story of the year. The last time I laughed this hard over a novel was with John Kennedy Toole’s
A Confederacy of Dunces.”
—The Tennessean

“Sexy, profound, truthful, and silly, fabulous reading for the soul and the mind.”
—The Superior Express

To Dorothy Sherwood
and
the memory of Richard Sherwood

The world records in these pages are real,
as are the places where the story unfolds.
The rest is make-believe.

That is happiness;
to be dissolved into something complete and great.
When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.


WILLA CATHER
,
My Ántonia

FOR THE RECORD…

T
his is the story of the greatest love, ever.

An outlandish claim, outrageous perhaps, but trust me. I know about these things. You see, I was Keeper of the Records for
The Book of Records.
I sifted through the extravagant claims of the tallest, the smallest, the fastest, the slowest, the oldest, the youngest, the heaviest, the lightest, and everyone in between.

I authenticated greatness.

In rain forests, deserts, mud huts, and mansions, I watched men and women bounce on pogo sticks, catch grapes in their mouths, flip tiddlywinks, toss cow chips, and balance milk bottles on their heads. They demanded recognition. They insisted
on a special place in history. It was my responsibility to identify the worthy.

In New York, I observed Kathy Wafler shaving the longest single unbroken apple peel in history, measuring 172 feet 4 inches. In Sri Lanka, I timed Arulanantham Suresh Joachim balancing on one foot for 76 hours 40 minutes. Our rules of verification are most stringent, and I made sure Mr. Joachim’s free foot never rested on his standing foot and that he never used any object for support or balance. In the former Soviet republic of Georgia, I certified that Dimitry Kinkladze lifted 105 pounds 13 ounces of weights strapped to his ears for ten minutes.
1
In New York, I calculated the longest flight of a champagne cork from an untreated and unheated bottle: 177 feet 9 inches.

I snapped the photo of Jon Minnoch, the heaviest person in medical history, 6 feet 1 inch, weighing more than 1,400 pounds.
2
I wrapped measuring tape around the 84-inch waists of Bill and Ben McRary of North Carolina, the world’s heaviest twins. I computed the length of Shridhar Chillal’s snarled fingernails, all 20 feet 2¼ inches. I recorded Donna Griffith’s 978-day sneezing fit and documented Charles Osborne’s hiccup attack that lasted 68 years. I spell-checked the longest word in the English
language:   pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.
3

My specialty: all things superlative. Yet I gladly admit I am a supremely average man. In size, shape, and origins, I am the statistical norm: 5 feet 9 inches, 169.6 pounds, born and raised in the Midwest. My given name, John, is unexceptional. My family name, Smith, is the closest I come to a world record. It is the most common surname in the English-speaking world: 2,382,500 people share its distinction in the United States. I go by the initials J.J., my mother’s way of setting me apart from my father, John Smith, his father, John Smith, his father’s father, and all the John Smiths in the world.

For all my ordinariness, I do make one claim to greatness, the kind with no official listing in The Book. Once upon a time, I witnessed the most incredible record attempt, ever. It showed me what I failed to grasp in all my years before as Keeper of the Records. I once believed the wonders of the world could be measured, calculated, and quantified. Not anymore.

In the pages that follow, I’ve reconstructed the remarkable proceedings, presenting the facts that I myself certified. At some point, you might wish to check on these events in The Book, but alas, you will not find any mention, not even a footnote or an asterisk. Indeed, no matter how hard you search the heartland with its corn palaces and giant balls of string, you
will never come upon any statue or sign marking this singular feat. There is no official monument to this achievement, no carved inscription to read, no museum or scenic detour with a souvenir stand to make you stop and wonder: Did it really happen?

To know the truth, you must go to a town in the middle of the country where folks care about crops, family, and faith. Stay awhile, listen closely, and you will hear what sounds like tall talk about a man who ate an airplane. Yes, an airplane. Sure, it sounds preposterous, and maybe not too tasty, but drive north of town, past the windmill, over two gentle hills, and you will come upon a sloping field with rows of corn. Look beyond the red farmhouse, near the barn, and you will see a great gash in the ground.

This indentation in the earth, measuring exactly 231 feet 10 inches, is the only vestige of the endeavor. It’s an unlikely spot, and an even unlikelier tale. Believe it just a little, though, and you may shed some of the armor of ambivalence that shields you from your feelings and leaves you sleepwalking through your days. You may discover greatness where you least expected. You may even decide, once and for all, to take a stand, to venture everything, like a farmer named Wally Chubb who loved a woman so much he set about eating a jumbo jet for her.

They may strain credulity, bend physics and biology, but let this place and these strange events into your life and you will know a simple truth: We chase wild dreams and long for all that eludes us, when the greatest joys are within our grasp, if we can only recognize them.

1
Please note that Mr. Kinkladze’s left ear (lifting 70 pounds 9 ounces) was considerably stronger than his right ear (35 pounds 4 ounces).

2
For the record, Mr. Minnoch should not be mistaken for Robert Earl Hughes, for decades the world’s heaviest man, who reached a top weight of 1,069 pounds and was buried in a coffin the size of a piano case.

3
According to the
Oxford English Dictionary:
“a factitious word alleged to mean ‘a lung disease caused by the inhalation of very fine silica dust,’ but occurring chiefly as an instance of a very long word.”

ONE

I
n the shadow of an ancient bridge, the young lovers leaned into each other with great resolve, lips clenched, arms interlocked. It was a determined kiss, neither soft nor sentimental. Stiff and clumsy, they could have been office colleagues stealing away for a moment on the easy banks of the Seine or students from a nearby
école
learning the steps of love.

Not far away, behind a red velvet rope, a noisy pack of photographers jockeyed with zoom lenses, capturing the embrace. Flashes strobed and video cameras rolled while the kissers clenched, unflinching. Behind them, on bleachers, several hundred observers shouted encouragement.

“Allez! Vive la France!”
one young man cried.

“Courage!”
a woman called.

From lampposts on the Ile Saint-Louis, bright banners dangled. Rémy Martin, Evian, Air France, Wrigley’s—all proud corporate sponsors of the passion play. Men in natty suits surveyed the scene, pleased with the excellent turnout.

In the middle of this bustle, J.J. Smith sat calmly at the judge’s table. He was 34 years old with wavy brown hair, a straight, well-proportioned nose, and an oval face, perhaps a bit soft at the edges. There was a certain authority about him. He wore a navy blazer with a gilded crest on the pocket, linen trousers, and sandy bucks. A closer inspection revealed a few frayed stitches on his shoulders, the hem of his jacket lining stuck together with Scotch tape, pants slightly rumpled, shoes a bit scuffed. He couldn’t be bothered with clothes, really. There were more important matters on his mind. A thick black notebook lay open on the desk in front of him. He inspected the kissers, then checked the pages. So far, not a single violation of the official rules.

“Can I get monsieur anything?” a young woman said, batting eyelashes. She wore a flimsy sundress, and official credentials hung on a chain around her long neck. They were all so solicitous, the French staff. “Perhaps a glass of wine?”

“Non, merci,”
he said. A glass of wine would finish him off. He was an easy drunk. “Thanks. I’ve got everything I need.”

“I’m here to help,” she said with a smile. He watched her walk away, slender in the sun.

I’m here to help.
Indeed. He mopped his forehead, sipped a bottle of cool spring water, and surveyed the Gallic crowd.

There was something about the kissing record that always turned out the hordes. Just one year earlier, in Tel Aviv, thousands watched Dror Orpaz and Karmit Tsubera shatter the record for continuous kissing. J.J. clocked every second of those 30 hours and 45 minutes in Rabin Square, then rushed by ambulance with the winners to Ichilov Hospital, where they were treated for exhaustion and dehydration. Now, on a spring day in Paris, another young couple was poised to break the record. They were the last two standing from the initial field of 600 entries.

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