NEW PORT RICHEY — For the past 30 days, Otok Ben-Hvar has endured strange spider bites, relied on strangers for meals and logged his bathroom breaks in a computer diary.
He spent almost all of April in a 1940s-era phone booth, even tilting the box on its side at night so he could sleep in it — all in the quest for his third Guinness World Record.
On Thursday, it was over. At 1:05 p.m., he emerged from the box.
Wearing a blue polo shirt, khaki shorts and black open-toe sandals, Ben-Hvar grabbed the hands of his friends and dramatically fell onto the black tarp on the patio at the Market on Main, where he'd parked the phone booth for most of the month.
"I'm a little weak," he said, smiling. "Now, I'm going to be on my w-a-y."
Ben-Hvar, who turned 72 on Wednesday, is now looking forward to a few creature comforts: Some episodes of Forensic Files on TV, a beer from the fridge of his New Port Richey condo and a good night's sleep in a real bed.
Aside from attempting to set a third world record — he garnered two others for longest lawn mower drive and most unusual nuptials after getting married in an ambulance — Ben-Hvar had another goal with this stunt.
He wanted to draw attention to his efforts to have America's First National Tree — a silver maple rooted in soil from all 50 states and the U.S. territories — planted on the lawn at the White House.
And Ben-Hvar has had plenty of experience over the years at drawing a crowd.
There was the time he crashed his plane during the Great Atlantic Air Race. The time he played Santa Claus in Moscow. Oh, and a stint at Juilliard.
His stories and upbeat personality drew followers to the booth over the past month. Most were fellow students at Pasco-Hernando Community College, where Ben-Hvar took classes in the citizens scholar program. Some stopped by to chat or bring him food. Others cared for him after his handful of trips to the emergency room for spider bites.
"I've been here every single night," said Jessica Peck, 19, a PHCC student. "I don't know what to do with myself now that it's all over."
Ben-Hvar plans to send documentation of his phone booth journey to the folks at Guinness in hopes of securing another record. If that doesn't pan out, he'll include this adventure in the book he's writing about his life.
But first, Ben-Hvar has more pressing matters to attend to. There's lunch — leftover spaghetti from his birthday party, which also included cupcakes and peach-flavored Belgian beer — a much-needed haircut and a nap.
And what will become of the booth?
It'll stay put behind the produce market, where the newly-formed Phone Booth Gang of Ben-Hvar's pals will gather to make firecracker art — you know, firecrackers dipped in paint and exploded onto art paper — and plan the next adventure.
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (813) 909-4609 or email@example.com.