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Jack Knox: Rocked by Longevity John's softball-sized bladder stone

The bladder stone was the size of a turnip. Or maybe a softball. It was a bit hard to see inside the not-quite-clear Tupperware container in which he held it aloft.

Longevity John’s bladder stone was the size of a turnip.

Or maybe a softball. It was a bit hard to see inside the not-quite-clear Tupperware container in which he held it aloft. Also, I was kind of trying not to look.

“The world record is 17 centimetres,” declared Longevity John. “Mine is 14. It’s going to put Duncan on the map!”

As you might imagine, this caught the attention of the room, though Longevity John Falkner often does that even when not brandishing a giant bladder stone (really, at 1.532 pounds, it should have its own table at the Cowichan Exhibition).

Tall and craggy as Mount Everest, lean as the Great Depression, long grey hair hanging past his 72-year-old shoulders, Falkner could be Abraham Lincoln’s hippie brother. He cuts an imposing figure — albeit not as imposing as in the years when he went clean-shaven on one side of his face but had a ZZ Top beard on the other.

On this night, he had checked himself out of Cowichan District Hospital a day after having the stone surgically removed, a speedy exit that had to be a testament to either A) modern medicine, B) his recuperative powers, or C) his desire to attend the book-signing I was doing in the Duncan Showroom.

I’d like to think it was the latter, though even then there was a pretty good chance Longevity John, who owns the place, was just making sure I didn’t pilfer his old Led Zeppelin poster, his mechanical ­egg-flipper, or any of the other weirdities that add to the comfortable clutter of what is advertised as one of the finest intimate showcase venues in the Canadian arts scene.

How does a man grow a near-record-size bladder stone? By ignoring it for four years until the pain gets too great. In the end, the attacks were coming every couple of hours. “It felt like I was giving birth for two or three minutes,” Longevity John says. (We can assume he’s speaking theoretically here.) “When I wasn’t in pain, I was waiting for it to come along again.”

So here’s his message to guys: Stop behaving like men. Stop ignoring your symptoms. Go to a doctor (if you can find one).

OK, but what I’m dying to know is what he’s going to do with his trophy, the one that burst from his innards like the monster in the Cowichan Little Theatre’s production of Alien (staged at the Duncan Showroom, no doubt).

Well, he says, a sculptor friend has offered to cast a mold so that Longevity John can make replicas as doorstops or paperweights. A near-record-size bladder stone is too good an opportunity to squander.

Except near-record doesn’t really have the same cachet, does it? Guinness never published a Book of Near-Records.

Note the cautionary tale of another man who, like Longevity John, came to the Cowichan Valley in 1988: Todd McFarlane, who went from illustrating Amazing Spider-Man comics in his Maple Bay home to heading a massive entertainment empire in the U.S., spent $3 million US on Mark McGwire’s 70th home run baseball in 1999, only to wind up holding a handful of horsehide when the record was broken two years later.

That’s the way society is now. Number one or nothing. “Second place is just the first place loser,” the bumper stickers read. Remember the Swedish player who threw his silver medal into the stands at the world junior hockey tournament?

Pfft. That’s a recipe for misery. How about just trying for a better version of you?

Longevity John, having long ago beaten a battle with the bottle, went on to win the City of Duncan Arts Award for his decades of devotion to music, musicians and all things cultural.

His efforts have made him a local legend in the valley, his unusual name so well-known that news stories don’t bother to explain its genesis. It’s just accepted without question, like Bono or Hawkeye or Pele.

For the record, the moniker goes back to his Ontario school days when all children, even the girls, were named John and nicknames were needed to tell them apart.

Being tall, he was known as Long John until 30 years ago, when his pal Pat Temple (Falkner taps his own temple every time he says the name) stretched that to Longevity John. “You can call him Long for short but you can’t call him short for long,” Temple said.

As for the bladder stone, maybe McFarlane could find a use for another near-record object. He never regretted buying his baseball, which he used to lever money for charity.

Or maybe Longevity John, having done so much to enrich his community, will just preserve the stone for himself, a reminder that what the world takes out of you isn’t as important as what you add to the world.

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