There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
“I’ve got a call in to Guinness now,” says Steve Latour, alias the Lei Man, who runs a lei-making and -delivery service from his Mount Pleasant home. “I wanna find out if they keep records on the world’s longest lei. If they do, I figure I’ll set it. That’s not a bad idea, huh?”
Compared to other self-promotional schemes hatched by the one-time Hawaiian slacker, the Guinness angle appears downright classy. By Latour’s own admission, he’ll do nearly anything for publicity. When pressed for a provocative photo to accompany this article, he even abandoned his longtime motto: “No shame, no dignity, but no frontal nudity.”
As that motto implies, only rarely does Latour yield to good taste. Late last year, he began offering a special funeral lei. His first taker was a New Englander whose Hawaii-loving pal would soon be pushing up daisies. “I was just about to ask the customer if she’d take a photo of the guy wearing a lei in his coffin,” he says. “But I decided at the last minute that that might be too much. I settled for just getting a new slogan out of the experience: “Lei’d to rest!’ ”
Such shenanigans make terrific newspaper copy, and Latour knows it. He gleefully rattles off publications that have fallen prey to his charms or aggression. He’s appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post, along with a host of obscurities; something called the Washington Beverage Journal is responsible for the freshest clip in his flowering scrapbook.
(Full disclosure: Washington City Paper has been more than an enabler to Latour’s narcissistic addiction. Latour traces his PR jones back to 1993, when a 300-word blurb detailed the launch of his business [“City Desk,” 9/29/93].)
“City Paper was the first, and that got me started,” Latour says. “I’ve lost almost all of my friends since then. They couldn’t stand hearing me talk about what I do. They say that’s all I do. Which, come to think of it, is all I do, really.”
Not quite. Latour has been known to leave leis in the dressing room at Blues Alley, one of a host of local watering holes where he fills in behind the bar, in hopes that the visiting artist will hit the stage wearing his wares. So far, only Sally Kellerman, who did a weekend stint at the club last month, has taken the bait.
Latour’s latest bid for the media spotlight involves the District’s cable-access station. District Cablevision prohibits overt advertising of products or services, but Latour has stretched that policy to its outer limit. So far, he’s taped two episodes of Lei Man’s World. For 30 minutes, he and a guest or guests sit in a local restaurant, ostensibly reviewing meals and movies while attired in Hawaiian garb (leis required). At the end of each episode, viewers are asked to phone in their own movie reviews. The number shown will in fact connect callers to Latour’s floral service, the name of which also adorns the MC’s hat. Alas, District Cablevision has yet to schedule an air date for the show.
As for the world’s longest lei, Latour eventually ascertains that Guinness does, in fact, register such a record: 200 feet. Characteristically, the big number doesn’t dismay him.
“I’m told that was a paper lei,” he says. “So I’m still going to try to get the record for a real floral lei. I could go at least 60 feet without any problem. I’ve just gotta get a sponsor.”