The Man Who Ate The 747
In 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 ecole 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 lamp posts on the Ile Saint-Louis, bright banners dangled. Remy 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.
Kissing was an artless record, really. There was no skill involved. Success was more a function of endurance than romance, more stamina than passion. The basic rules were straightforward: lips locked at all times, contestants required to stand up, no rest or toilet breaks. A few additional regulations kept the competition stiff. Rule #4 was his favorite: "The couple must be awake at all times." Rule #7, though difficult to enforce, was tough on the weak-willed and small-bladdered: "Incontinence pads or adult diapers are not allowed."
But these logistical challenges were easily overcome. While the novices quit from hunger or thirst after the first eight or ten hours, savvy record seekers solved the nutritional problems with a straw, protein shakes, and Gatorade. Chafed lips, occasionally an issue, were soothed speedily with Chapstick.
The only truly vexing problem was wanting to kiss someone, anyone, for days, to be completely entwined, utterly entangled. He once knew a woman he loved that much and would have kissed that long. Emily was a travel agent he met at the sandwich shop near work. She was a few years older, sparkly and slim. Her mind vaulted from one random thought to another, impossible to follow, then arrived someplace original and logical after all. He liked the way she kissed, gently, exploring, taking every part of him into account.
Excerpted from The Man Who Ate the 747 by Ben Sherwood Copyright© 2000 by Ben Sherwood. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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