World-class wacko gets Guinness award

Jack Knox, Times Colonist

Published: Sunday, January 20, 2008

I'm still not sure whether Eric Pittman is merely eccentric or was actually dropped on his head as a baby.

Ask him, he'll proudly proclaim himself wacko. World-class wacko -- and now he has the documentation from Guinness World Records to prove it.

eric the diver

Pittman is an affable, 48-year-old Victoria window salesman whom you might remember better as Jackson Snead. That's the name he used a couple of years ago when publishing Emails From a Nut, the collected off-the-wall exchanges between himself and a variety of corporations that acted as his unsuspecting straight men.

For example, there was his e-mail to Volkswagen in response to its Drivers Wanted ad campaign. He had seen the commercials and was eager to enlist, he wrote. What kind of car were they going to give him and where did they want him to drive? "Should I bring a tent and foamy or will you give me a hotel allowance?"

Then there was the time that, after reading a story about the $1,300-a-kilogram coffee made from partly digested beans pooped out by Indonesian civet cats (I'm not making this up), Snead offered Starbucks beans that had been passed through his own pets. Alas, Starbucks declined in no uncertain terms: "Do not send samples!"

And on it went: hitting up M&M Meats for 500 pounds of walrus loin, urging Visa to sponsor the Vancouver Island Separation Association, asking Greyhound if his pet beaver could ride on the bus. Hey, everybody needs a hobby. Some people collect stamps, others tie flies, Pittman (or is that Snead?) sends goofygrams to giant corporations. His e-mails are never mean or nasty, only loopy -- and, ideally, just plausible enough to elicit an answer. "My one rule," he says, "is not to make anyone feel like an idiot."

Anyway, to promote the 2006 publication of Emails From a Nut, Pittman held an underwater book launch in the Crystal Pool, taking the plunge in scuba gear (the fact that he didn't know how to dive didn't seem to faze him) and performing his one-man play Squid of La Mancha before an underwater audience. More than 60 people dived in to watch, allowing Pittman to tell Guinness that he had broken the record for the world's biggest underwater press conference, a mark previously set by a couple of Austrians who drew a crowd of 21.

A few days ago, Pittman got the good news: Guinness World Records has accepted his claim and is preparing to document his underwater achievement in its 2009 book.

It was, in fact, a very good week for Pittman. He is just back from Ottawa, where Lee Valley Tools's publishing arm has agreed to print his second volume of e-mails in time for next Christmas. It's a relationship that grew, appropriately enough, from one of his stunts: When Pittman wrote Lee Valley to ask about the proper way to restrain an elephant with duct tape ("Should the ears be taped back to prevent flopping?") it was company president Rob Lee himself who replied ("Freedom of ear movement is necessary for the animal to properly regulate body temperature.") Lee, it seems, is on the same wacko wavelength as Pittman.

Pittman delights in winning replies from kindred spirits, those who get the joke and play along. Such was the case in October when he wrote Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, claiming to represent a sasquatch seeking a retirement home: "He wants a private 'natural environment' enclosure surrounded by a moat stocked with lily-pads and koi fish. Additionally, a pet raccoon and a fishing rod, six meals per day with delivery from city restaurants, a case of beer every second day, tequila on holidays, a La-Z-Boy recliner, satellite dish, Sony 42-inch flat-screen TV and a DVD player with a surround-sound system." The zoo countered with an offer of five meals and a 36-inch television with no remote.

Now, some people may frown on all this frippery and mutter about too much time and too little medication. Pshaw, I say. These people should remember that life offers too many opportunities to be serious, and not enough to laugh. Pittman, who won the Governor General's Medal of Bravery for pulling a family from a burning truck on the Malahat in 2004, knows this. Anyone who can't see the value of a bit of eccentricity would have to be seriously nuts.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008