David Frankenbery sits in the dawn's gray glow and wonders why this duty has been foisted upon him. Yesterday Frankenbery, a park ranger at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, was issued orders most abstruse: "Be at the parking lot at 5:30 a.m.," his boss said, "to monitor a guy in a potato sack for 10,000 meters."
So here is Frankenbery, stopwatch in hand. Laid out before him is a ribbon of sod 100 meters long. Next to him stands a man in a potato sack. For the record—and this definitely is—it is a peanut sack. The stranger's face betrays as little emotion as those of the four granite U.S. presidents in the background. He is meditating. At last he opens his eyes. He inhales deeply. "All right," he says. "I'm ready to go."
He's at it again. Ashrita Furman is rewriting the record book. Since 1979, when he first etched his name into The Guinness Book of World Records for doing 27,000 jumping jacks, Furman, 44, has practically transformed "the chronicle of human achievement" into his own curriculum vitae. Furman, who is disarmingly normal in appearance (5'10", 165 pounds) and manner, has set a world-record 58 Guinness world records. No one has pogo-sticked farther. No one has juggled longer. Certainly no one has juggled as long while pogo-sticking. In 1987 Guinness dubbed him Mr. Versatility.
"Pogo-stick juggling sounds silly," says former Guinness editor Gene Jones, who approved many of Furman's record ideas. "OX, go do it. It's not as easy as you think."
Some records, such as milk-bottle balancing and long-distance somersaulting, Furman has shattered and reshattered. Others, such as yodeling (27 hours) and backward unicycling (53.2 miles), the latter which Furman did to celebrate his 40th birthday, have been onetime efforts. "Yodeling!" he exclaims. "Tough. The hardest part? Getting people to listen."
He set the yodeling record in San Francisco in 1989. He rounded up a few folks to act as witnesses and began yodeling at Fisherman's Wharf. But after a few hours, the monotony, to say nothing of the yodeling, began to unnerve all. So Furman and his witnesses piled into a car and cruised the streets of San Francisco, Furman yodeling all the while out the windows. "I was literally driving them crazy," says Furman.
He knows what you are thinking. "I really don't care if people think I'm nuts," says Furman, the manager of a health-food store in Queens, N.Y., who is celibate and also abstains from eating animal flesh.
For the record, Ashrita (n� Keith) Furman was born on Sept. 16, 1954, in Brooklyn and later moved to Queens. The person who would one day construct the world's largest pencil (20'6" and 560 pounds) says that as a youth he was a pencil-necked geek. He was the valedictorian of his junior high. On his first day at Jamaica High, he was beaten up. He regularly skipped gym class, and he lasted only one day on the track team.
He went on to Columbia, but in 1974 his formal education ended abruptly on the first day of his junior year. By then he'd become a devout follower of Sri Chinmoy, the Indian-born spiritual philosopher who founded a meditation center in Queens in 1968. Prolific in thought and deed, Sri Chinmoy has composed more than 67,000 poems, and his marathon team sponsors an annual 3,100-mile footrace that is an exercise in (depending upon your outlook) enlightenment or ennui.
"I had a Jewish upbringing, and my dad was a lawyer," says Furman. "I was looking at a similar future. I felt empty inside. My life changed when I met my teacher." (He never refers to Sri Chinmoy by name.) So on that first day of classes in 1974, when Furman's theology professor criticized Sri Chinmoy, Furman stood up and walked out. Four years later Ashrita (he adopted the name, which means "protected by God" in Sanskrit) was introduced to the outer limits of stamina when he and a number of Sri Chinmoy's followers entered a 24-hour bike-a-thon in Manhattan's Central Park. "Ashrita, how many miles will you do?" Sri Chinmoy asked. Then the teacher answered, "Four hundred."