BRIGHTON, MI—Whether exchanging nuptials with his first wife Susan on the roof of the hardware store where he works or patiently teaching his bulldog Louie how to use a Boogie board, it's easy to see why Brighton resident Tom Carling, 42, has been the inspiration for more than a dozen offbeat human interest stories over the course of his life.
"I never really understood what all the fuss was about," says the humble Carling as he casually feeds a live rabbit to one of his nine albino Burmese pythons that somehow got loose earlier this year and turned up in a local elementary school. "I never set out to get this kind of attention. This is just how I live my life."
Talking to him on the street, one would never suspect that this is the same man who once walked backwards across the entire state of Michigan. Carling's humility and easygoing manner can also make it easy to forget that he is the proud owner of one of the largest collections of Japanese bubble-gum wrappers in the Midwest.
"I'm really no different than anyone else," says Carling of the notoriety he has garnered over the years. "How many people have had their shirt ripped from their body by rhesus monkeys because they got too close while trying to feed them peanut butter at the zoo? Hundreds, I bet. Maybe thousands."
Adds Carling: "The only difference is that someone had a camera rolling when it happened to me. If that makes me newsworthy, so be it."
Carling is often remembered as one of the "Carling Septuplets," born at exactly midnight on February 29, 1964. Others may recall Carling as the man who tirelessly solicited signatures for a petition to install a water slide in the Capitol Building in Lansing.
"I don't believe it's destiny or anything like that," says Carling as he lovingly trims and waters the lush, green blanket of grass he's grown on the hood of his 1982 Cadillac El Dorado. "When the inspiration strikes to tie 50 green helium-filled weather balloons to a lawn chair and float over the St. Patrick's Day parade, most people don't act on it. I guess it's just a question of motivation."
Though he admits he has had his share of good fortune, Carling, who once won $50,000 after making a full-court shot during a promotion at a Detroit Pistons game, is quick to point out that not all of the offbeat stories he has inspired have been lighthearted.
"A few people probably still remember that I was the only victim in that Albanian pyramid scheme," Carling said. "I never let that kind of thing get me down, but I was definitely in a real rough patch. I lost a little over $50,000."
Despite his many escapades, people can't help but wonder what's next for Carling. After all, how much can one man possibly achieve in a single lifetime?
Not to worry, Carling says. He has no plans to change.
"I'm not going to start doing anything differently just because I've been featured so many times," he says. "I'll just follow my instincts like I always have. And nothing's going to stop me until my final wish of having my cryogenically frozen body launched into outer space comes true."