Once you get past the apparent silliness of it, there may be something very elemental about David Wimp's devotion to fundamental arithmetic.
Wimp rises each morning in Riverton, Wyo., and is at his desk in the living room of his mobile home by 7 a.m. In front of him is a calculator with a roll of paper in it. For the next hour or so, David Wimp counts, one number at a time.
He began counting in 1982 with the number 1. "Now I'm at 3,672,428," he says. His objective is to count, one number at a time, all the way to 1,000,000,000.
"I've probably used up about 12 calculators," he says. "I can get 5,000 numbers on a roll. I've got some shelves in my living room filled with used rolls, more than 200 rolls, I'd say."
To describe it again: Each morning Wimp sits at his desk and picks up where he left off the day before on the calculator--3,672,426, then 3,672,427, then 3,672,428 and on and on. "To me it's an interesting hobby," he says. "I've been at this million for 419 days. I'll probably reach 1,000,000,000 when I'm 62."
Why would anybody want to count up to 1,000,000,000?
"Well, it got started . . . in a high school math class about 30 years ago," says Wimp. "The math teacher asked us each to count to a million in nine weeks. I was the one that went the farthest, to 25,000 with a pencil."
Wimp discovered he liked to count.
"I even counted when I was in the Army," he says; he was a cook for 20 years in Vietnam and Germany. Now he works part time for a sanitation company and counts every day for a few hours and on the weekends.
"Yeah, there are probably other things I could do instead of counting," he says, "but it's an interesting hobby. I don't think I'll get tired of it."
Perhaps in an unstable world where governments collapse and reform almost weekly and where the social fabric of just about any human institution is frayed and flapping in the wind, Wimp has discovered a pure and precise mathematical joy: counting. Order, stability, precision.
It's what all of us did as kids. You could count to 10, but how often did you go beyond that into thousands? Wimp is taking counting to the far edge. To borrow a phrase from the scriptwriters at Sesame Street, all these wonderful numbers are being brought to you by David Wimp.
"My neighbors call me the Count of Riverton," Wimp says. "I've been written up in three newspapers, and I've been on . . . a show named 'The Best of the Worst.'
"They flew me out there and put me up in a motel. They gave me a calculator, but it had an ink ribbon on it and doesn't print dark enough for me. So I'll just stick it in the yard sale next spring and let somebody buy it."
Wimp has yet to inform the Guinness Book of World Records that he is counting to 1,000,000,000. "There ain't nobody else that I know of that's counting like I am," says Wimp. "I make my own paper rolls sometimes out of construction paper or bright neon paper."
Wimp says he can count the number of marriages he's had on one hand: three, so far. "No, it was other things, not counting, that ended the marriages," he says.
"Now I've got a new girlfriend, and she thinks it's pretty neat. She doesn't get involved in the counting. She just watches."
When summer comes to Riverton (pop. 9,500), Wimp runs a lawn-mowing service. "I mow about seven lawns," he says. A Wal-Mart store has opened just across the street from his mobile home. "Now I can just walk across the street and get paper rolls for the calculator," he says. "I'd say I've used about 20 miles of rolls, but I've lost count." It is uncharacteristic of him to lose count of anything.
Does he make mistakes when he counts?
"I correct 'em with a red-tip pen," he says, "but I don't make many mistakes." Sometimes he turns on the TV while he's counting, and that can be a distraction.
Wimp says he approached several calculator manufacturers to see if they would like him to be a spokesman for the company, for math in general or for the exact art of counting. "They weren't interested," he says.
Does he count sheep to go to sleep?
"Can't say that I do," he says.