At this contemplative season of the year, when we add up our lives on our brand-new shoplifted Wolfram Mathematica 9 calculators, many of us heave sighs of resignation. We are not wealthy, we have not won Heisman Trophies or solved the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture; we have not immortalized our handprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater nor hacked Emma Watson’s cell phone photos; not only have we not run any four minute miles, the only perfect innings we’ve pitched is while scamming on drunk chicks who are (frankly) barely 5.5s, even at two AM in the Corktown Tavern.
That’s why we would all do our egos a solid by reminding ourselves that however wretched our existence may seem and even though we may wake up in cold sweat in the middle of the night remembering stupid things we’ve said, even decades ago, there are a handful of people darkening the paths of our shared humanity who carry within them shames of such magnitude that the Dipshit Richter Scale simply can’t keep up.
To name but a few:
If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Can Don Currey Hear You Laughing at Him?
Donald Rusk Currey loved his Planet Earth. Widely respected for his research into primordial Lake Bonneville, a large body of water that once covered most of what is now Utah, his colleagues referred to him as a paleolimnologist and a geoarchaeologist and a geochronoloist, rarely citing the degree which perhaps best sums up his most memorable moment: Epic dumbassologist.
In 1964, as a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, Currey was on a field trip to the White Mountains of California studying climate dynamics using an approach that involves boring out tree rings and counting them. On a wooded peak in the Snake Ridge he discovered a population of Bristlecone Pines that seemed to be much older than research indicated they should be. So, he began taking core samples to find out—a technique that does not in general prove fatal to trees. Currey focused his attention on one particularly old pine which he dubbed WPN-114, and it proved such a recalcitrant patient that he broke not one, but two very expensive carbide steel increment borers while trying to obtain overlapping cores.
So, like a good little conservationist, he simply cut the fucker down.
Back at the lab, counting the rings from the section he chainsawed off, he discovered to his horror that he had killed the oldest tree ever discovered on earth. Not only that, but shortly thereafter some braniac biologist informed him that WPN-114 was not only the oldest tree, it was also the oldest living organism ever discovered on earth.
Phhhht. All in a day’s work; huh, douchenozzle?
Although Currey went on to have a career in academia, he was never able to outshine that monumental doh! moment with all of his stuffy published tripe about geomorphology combined.
Somebody Forgot to Put on his Thinking Capa…
The best thing about cinema in 1944 was that when Cary Grant flubbed a line, you simply did another take. The best thing about war in 1944 was that when something went haywire during a photo shoot, you couldn’t.
Robert Capa was a war correspondent who embedded himself before embedding was in vogue. No, it was in Life. That’s who Capa worked for when he stormed ashore at Omaha Beach with the first wave of American troops, braving relentless fire from German troops inside the bunkers of the Atlantikwall. Attached to the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, Capa used two Contax II cameras to capture more than a hundred real-time images of the beach assault before returning to London with four rolls of film. There, a fifteen-year-old jagoff in Life Magazine’s photo lab promptly cranked the heater up past critical mass and fried nearly all of Capa’s pictures—only eleven remained even somewhat visible, and those were blurred and surreal. The kid’s name was Dennis Banks, and ironically, he is not this story’s biggest loser: That would be Larry Burrows.
See, Larry—another teenager who worked for the magazine—was initially, and for a long time afterwards, blamed for the utter FUBAR dickweed fail that melted Capa’s priceless images. Never fully vindicated, Burrows nonetheless went on to become a respected war correspondent, dying in the line of duty in Vietnam in 1971.
Dennis Banks, on the other hand, continued his losing streak by purchasing the top five hundred feet of Mount St. Helen’s in 1979.
The Planet’s Priciest Puddle
We all know that Thomas Jefferson, besides being a miscegenatist deeply committed to slavery, was the closest thing we’ve had to a wino president. Fewer folks know that some of the wine from his lauded cellar—which was probably paid for by taxpayers—is still around, and when they go up for auction, they command jawbreaking bids.
One such wine was the 1787 Château Margaux (inscribed with Jefferson’s John Hancock) that had been discovered in Paris in 1985—it was owned by a French firm and consigned to Manhattan wine merchant William Sokolin. Sokolin was attending a tony black-tie Bordeaux dinner at the Four Seasons when it occurred to him how much attention he could draw to himself if he rushed home to get the bottle, which he had carefully stowed away in a refrigerated safe. Sokolin had once (he claims) played in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system and apparently had a hard-on for Rusty Staub, who was also at the dinner. Hurrying back to show off the bottle, he accidentally smashed it against a table edge—likely, other adult beverages were also involved.
Thus, the loser in the story is the insurance company who then paid out a quarter million dollars for the world’s most expensive carpet stain—Scotch Guard not included.