Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Most Hectares, Tonnes, and Foot-Pounds

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for December is called, "Call Guinness." It turns out, Guinness World Records has an online application, not a phone number.

Some years ago, Lauren and I spent an afternoon with friends making a short, mostly improvised movie called "Record Breaker." It was about a young man training to set the Guinness record for breaking the most LPs over his own head in one minute. The driving force behind this storyline was that I owned some old Supertramp albums that I was never going to listen to, and it seemed like a funny idea to smash them on camera.

We had nearly completed filming, when Lauren, in the role of a sports announcer, said, "And will he do it? Will he break the record for... breaking records?"

It was not until that very moment that we realized our entire plot line was based on a Dad joke. I promise you that we did not set out to create a story revolving around a pun, but we managed to do so anyway, and only by complete happenstance. I haven't figured out a way to to describe that moment to people in a way that expresses the gravity of that coincidence. Such improbable flukes should not exist, and when they do, they should be put into the record books.

One of my daughter's favorite books is a kid-friendly version of the Guinness Book of World Records. We were reading through it together, and I realized that it was basically like reading a book of MadLibs that someone had already filled out. Every page just said:

(Adjective ending in -est)
(Units of measurement)."

The largest diamond is 3100 carats. The heaviest rutabaga is 85 pounds. The longest year is 1 leap year.

And we love it. Our brains are capable of being astounded by these strings of seemingly random words. Perhaps, using this format, we could write a best-seller that was nothing but randomly generated numbers, nouns, and adjectives.  Of course, the units and the noun would have to make sense with each other. You can't just write, "the sturdiest stepfather is 20 degrees Fahrenheit," or, "the damnedest diaphragm is 16 nautical miles." That book would set the record for fewest sales.

In the medical field, we are capable of being amazed, even in the absence of units. Try this. Walk up to a doctor or nurse and take take a close-up video of his or her face. Then say, "I saw a patient with a (laboratory study) of (number)."

I saw a patient with a creatinine of 14. I saw a patient with a haptoglobin of 0. I saw a patient with a sedimentation rate of 1000.

And you don't have to bother using units, because none of us know them, anyway.

Now play back the video in slo-mo. You will see the eyes bulging, the brows lifting, the lips parting slightly. The head will tilt backwards, and the medical professional will let out an astonished and satisfied gasp. This will sound like a sexy demon in slo-mo. Analysis of these facial expressions will reveal that the subject is deeply impressed by you and wants to be closer to you, no matter what it takes.

Okay, but what if you don't know any doctors, and you don't have a slo-mo video app on your phone? It's still possible to impress someone with a MadLib made from randomly generated numbers, but that someone has to be a 1st grader. Just crouch down next to that 6-year-old and say, "(number) (animals) in a row."Because the only thing that fascinates little kids more than animals is well-organized animals.

With warmest* regards,

* And I do mean the WARMEST. I will be submitting an application to Guinness online.