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August, 2007

Can You Beat Houdini's Record?

by Larry

When in my early teens, I had heard that the famous magician, Harry Houdini (Ehrich Weiss) had trained himself to hold his breath for four minutes, giving him time to perform some of his astounding underwater escape feats.

I was then in a church choir and prided myself on what I considered an extraordinary lung capacity, being able to hold a note longer than anyone else in our group. I could also, of course, swim underwater from one end of the Oneida, NY, community pool to the other on a single breath.

For my birthday, I had gotten a nice pocket watch. It had a second hand and could also be used as a stop watch.

"Four minutes is not all that long!" I thought. "I'll just break Houdini's record!" But I was not yet so certain I could do it that I was ready to bet anyone or show off in public. The night I got the watch, I was in my robe and pajamas and finishing brushing my teeth upstairs in the bathroom before bed when I had the idea to break the record.

So, I took a few deep breaths, held one, and started the watch. Time began to slow. I could hear my heart pounding. The second hand steadily circled, once, twice... It seemed to take forever then to complete its third rotation. It passed the three-minute mark and kept going. "I'm about to do it!" I said to myself. Despite my initial confidence, I could hardly believe it. This was not really hard at all.

The next thing I recall, I was looking up from the bottom of the tub and hearing my mother, standing above me, asking what I was doing.

"Oh, I'm just beating Houdini's record," I said, but clearly I hadn't. Somewhere between 3 minutes, 5 seconds, and 4 minutes, even, I must have fainted. Happily, the watch I had dropped still worked fine. I never did break Houdini's record, and afterward I had more respect for his achievements.

How about you? Can you hold your breath longer than Houdini? A word of advice: practice on something soft. An old style iron bathtub leaves bruises when one hits it on the way down.

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