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King of String

I broke the world record for endurance yo-yoing back in 1985. And no one will ever let me forget it.

"Mom, meet Bob Brown. He broke the Guinness world record for yo-yo endurance." Strange way to be introduced in any context, but this how-you-doin' happened mere feet from an open casket that held my friend's recently departed dad. And it came despite the fact that my 15 minutes of Guinness fame had occurred nearly two decades prior.

No matter. I stood there fidgeting in my suit and staring down at the deceased while his loved ones grilled me about how I ate and went to the bathroom during my five-day yo-yo stunt. Needless to say, I scrambled to change the subject.

Once a pseudo-celebrity, always one. I'm reminded of this as a special 50th-anniversary edition of the Guinness World Records book hits the market and Duncan Toys, one of the leading makers of yoyos, celebrates its 75th birthday this year.

I'm also reminded any time anyone I know goes just about anywhere. While others might get their ". . . and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" as a souvenir, my friends and relatives inevitably return with yo-yos. I have them from Mexico and Disneyland, among dozens of places, as well as from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. My collection is up to about 500, a rotating selection that I display at home in a rack designed for champagne bottles.

Then there are the assorted odd revelations and requests. My boss swears that he hired me because I listed the yo-yo record on my resume. Last year, I stumbled across an online fact-of-the-day calendar from Johns Hopkins University that cited my historic 121 hours and 10 minutes alongside achievements of Benjamin Franklin and Susan B. Anthony. One friend auctioned off my services at her company's 2002 holiday party as "yo-yo lessons from a former world record holder." High bid: $250.

I broke the record upon graduating from BU in 1985, partly for kicks, partly to dazzle a female classmate. Suffice it to say, I yo-yoed longer than I impressed her.

I became obsessed with the Guinness book as a youngster in Milford and even made a halfhearted attempt to assemble the world's largest paper chain while laid up with a broken leg in eighth grade. I later turned my attention to the yo-yo mark, not because I had any affinity for the toy, but because I figured I could will myself to stay up for five days. Really, how hard could it be to zip the disk up and down?

Guinness had a strict set of rules, such as having two witnesses at all times. Those vouching for me included waitresses at all-night coffee shops, fans in Fenway's bleachers, and BU employees.

I snoozed for a day straight after breaking the record and upon waking, I milked my celebrity status for what I figured would be a couple of months at best. A local morning TV show did a segment on me, and the local papers ate up my tale, dubbing me the King of String.

Discouragingly, three Canadian kids snapped my record just a few years later and the Guinness book editors have since eliminated any mention of yo-yoing endurance.

None of this, however, has done anything to dampen the enthusiasm with which friends introduce me as the yo-yo guy; others pepper me with questions about my record and beg for tricks (the "dog bite" is my specialty).

I can't help but think as I see throngs of reality-TV show participants introduced into American living rooms each week that there is a whole new generation of pseudo-celebrities in the making. They'll have their moment in the spotlight now but will be telling their stories for the rest of their lives regardless of what else they accomplish.

As for me, I figure that there is one way to get everyone to move on: I just have to come up with a second act. Then again, if I really wanted to bury my past, my wife and I shouldn't have named our youngest son Duncan.

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