Now, that is a whole lot of meat

At first, I thought it was merely an aroma-induced mirage. There I was, sweating and cursing to myself as I was slogging through some yard work on Sunday, when the sweet odor overwhelmed my senses. My original thought was that I was having some kind of imaginary sensation coursing through my veins because my body wasn’t used to the physical toll I was putting on it.

Darin J. McCannDarin J. McCann

But the smell kept getting stronger.

I finally placed the scent as coming from a barbecue, but a glance around me revealed that none of my neighbors were cooking anything. It must be a hallucination, I mumbled to myself. Many men enjoy thoughts of scantily-clad women or winning touchdowns in the Super Bowl when they lose their minds — me, I’m saddled with my dream smell being that of a carcass basting over a fire.

I tried to shake the thoughts of all things barbecue out of my head, but the smell kept getting stronger. After a quick look around revealed to me that I was still alone, I did that very man-like thing of catching a whiff of my underarm — thinking that the tonnage of beef I had consumed over the course of my lifetime was perhaps seeping through my pores as I continued to sweat over my yard work.

Nope. That odor was unfortunately all Darin.

Like a cartoon character following the trail of cooking food, I began to wander around the yard, focusing on the southwest corner as the source of the scent. A quick glance up the road told me that there was indeed no meat being touched by the sweet seductress of fire and charcoal. I chalked it up to a delicious hallucination.

It was only later in the week when I was able to put an identity on the smell — apparently some enthusiastic barbecuers in Uruguay grilled about 26,400 pounds of beef that day to set a new Guinness world record for the largest barbecue in history. According to a Reuters story, “Army personnel set up a grill nearly 1 mile long and firefighters lit six tonnes of charcoal to kick off the gargantuan cookout.”

Fine, maybe I didn’t exactly catch the odor of the barbecue on Sunday, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.

That’s about 105,000 quarter-pounders we’re talking about here. Or 20,000 good-sized steaks. Or four meals for Ryan Saxton and Shaun Lambert. In other words, that’s a lot of food.

Not only were the fine people of Uruguay (now one of my favorite nations) trying to best a world record, they were also attempting to draw some attention to their nation and their booming beef industry — and it’s hard to argue that it didn’t work. Would I, or Reuters for that matter, be writing about Uruguay if they didn’t break this record? Probably not.

But the story stirs something else inside me. I remember the Guinness Book of World Records as being a pretty big deal when I was a kid. Maybe it was just big in the world of kids, and perhaps children today still tear through the pages to see the Indian guy with the world’s longest fingernails or the obese brothers who had to be buried in piano cases, but it seems to me that the record book has kind of drifted off into anonymity.

I recall sitting on top of a swingset with my best friend as kids, trying to best the Guinness record for sitting on a pole. We got up early, grabbed some food and comic books, and made our way up the swingset — determined to not return to the safety of earth until we sat alone at the top of the record book.

I think we lasted about 20 minutes before we got bored and started throwing around a baseball.

But the allure of the Guinness book still captivated us. We’d often call each other at night when one of us stumbled across another item we thought we could best, and we’d often sit down to map out a plan to attack the mark. Alas, we never got as close to trying another one as we did on our forgettable pole-sitting quest, but the romanticism behind the notion of holding a world record continued to grip both of us.

And it wasn’t only us. I distinctly remember many sitcoms in that era with characters trying to get themselves into the record book. Heck, our idea for the pole-sitting record came after an episode of “MASH” when the Klinger character attempted to break the very same mark.

But the record book doesn’t seem to get the same kind of mainstream notoriety anymore. Has it gone the way of the pet rock, mood rings and non-fat-free food? Have we gotten to the point where we actually have more important things to worry about than how many nickles a guy in Singapore can stick in his nostril at once while humming the words to “Disco Inferno”? Are we at the age when a 4,200-pound wart on an 87-pound woman no longer makes us wish that we, too, could grow something ...

But I digress.

Actually, that kind of makes me sad. There was a kind of curious innocence that followed the Guinness Book of World Records a few decades ago, and it seems that we’ve lost that spirit to place ourselves in the annals for the world to enjoy.

Yes, it’s always been kind of silly. But it’s hard to not support something that inspired an entire nation to barbecue.