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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Earl Scruggs (1924-2012). Requiescat in Pace.

Even though I grew up in Virginia, I didn't grow up with bluegrass music.  My mother favored contemporary Christian music and my father would usually tune to the "easy listening" music on WRVA.  My parents' record collection, which was rather small, consisted of a box of 45s with songs like Ricky Nelson's Stood Up, Broken Hearted Again, Gene Pitney's If I Didn't Have a Dime (To Play the Jukebox), and Percy Faith's Theme from A Summer Place.  The 33s featured artists like Don Ho, and Don MacLean   Inexplicably, there was a copy of 101 Strings Play the Beatles, even though the actual Beatles made no appearance in my parents' record collection.  The only banjos in the record cabinet were buried in 1960s folk scare groups like The Brothers Four and the Serendipity Singers. [REVISION 3/30/12:  My mother, who just read this posting wants me to point out that she and my father didn't actually buy most of their records, but that they were given to my father by a friend of his who worked at a radio station and would pass along things that weren't being played.  Perhaps this explains a lot... ]

On weekday afternoons, though, the sound of the banjo came blazing into the house, with the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies.  "That's Flatt and Scruggs," my father told me, but there was no further information forthcoming.

Later, I would fall in love with the iconic "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," not knowing that the man who played the banjo on the recording was the man who, along with his Foggy Mountain Boys, pretty much invented bluegrass music.  Only later would I learn that FMB had become the bane of banjo pickers everywhere, since it is the one tune, aside from Dueling Banjos, that absolutely everyone knows to ask for.  Still, I love it.

That happy, rollicking banjo that Earl played made me want to play banjo, too, though my taste in music led toward the mellower tone of open-back banjos and the old-time style of clawhammer, instead of the three-finger picking style that Earl Scruggs invented.  Even so, I've always loved to listen to Earl and to those who play "Scruggs style," and have dreamed of getting yet another banjo, a resonator banjo like Earl's, and learning how to play at least a bit of that three-fingered magic.

Last night, I was at the extremely cool Jalopy Bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn (NY Times article about the place here), playing banjo with friends.  This morning, I woke up to the news that Earl Scruggs had passed away and I've been thinking that last night's musical adventure was a fitting tribute to a man whose genius so completely transformed American music.

Farewell, Earl.  You will will be missed.

Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
Farewell Blues

Friday, March 2, 2012

In Which Our Hero Has His iPhone Stolen and Responds by Using Ingenuity and Space-Age Technology

Let me start by saying that it was all my own darn fault.  Really.  I'm a big boy and I can take responsibility for my own actions, at least mostly.  Like now.  Sort of.

You see, here's what happened.  I was at Norwalk Hospital on Monday morning, working my shift as a Chaplain Intern in the Clinical Pastoral Education program.  I set my iPhone down in the bathroom, rather than clipping it onto my belt. Dumb.  I know.  Then I walked away.  Double dumb.

I hadn't been gone for even a minute, though, when I realized that I had left my phone in the bathroom and I sprinted back down the hall from the chaplains' office (Yes, Grammar Nazis, I do, in fact, mean the office that belongs to multiple chaplains.), and up the stairs to the bathroom on the third floor just outside of the inpatient psychiatric unit where I'm working.  It is a small bathroom, a "one-holer," and is in a relatively quiet part of the building, so I was hopeful, but, alas, no phone.  Snarf!!!

Ever the optimist, I sprinted down to the security office to see if anybody had turned my phone in.  Nobody had. Snarflety poop! 

Next, I ran back to the chaplains' office to see if I could use the Find My iPhone app on the office computer.  Unfortunately, the computers at Norwalk Hospital are all running an old browser that isn't compatible with the Find My iPhone app.  Dangitty poople snarf!

I believe that I may have broken the overland speed record as I zipped up five flights of steps and raced down the hall to the IT department, hoping to find a computer that could work for me.  Oddly, none of the computers there could, either, but one of the IT gurus handed me his iPhone so I could use the app and locate my phone.  The only problem was that my phone, when it popped up on the map, was three blocks away, on West Avenue.  I remotely locked the phone so nobody could use it and used the app to make the screen display "STOLEN IPHONE!!  PLEASE CALL 203-505-XXXX."  (I entered my actual home phone number, but you, Gentle Reader, understand why I'd rather not post my home phone in this public document.)

A moment later, I refreshed the data and found that my phone had not moved, so I slowed down just enough to grab my jacket and hoofed it down to where the phone had been pinged on the GPS, hoping that the reason it was holding still was because it had been ditched after my locking it and identifying it as stolen.  When I got there, though, there was no sign of the phone.  Dadblame dangitty poopledy snarf!

Giving up on finding the phone using only my five senses, I employed Sense Number Six: Kimberly on the computer at home, who told me that the phone was now showing up at the Norwalk Community Health Center.  "Clearly, my iPhone thief likes healthcare," I thought.  "Maybe it is a doctor or a nurse who picked up my phone with the intention of returning it, but who was called away to a medical emergency."

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a positive thinker.

Kimberly raced over in the Subaru and drove us to the Community Health Center, where a Kind Administrative Sort (KAS) allowed me to borrow his iPhone to run the app to find my phone.  The satellite imagery showed that the phone was in the parking lot, so Kimberly and I walked through the parking lot, peering into each car, looking for my iPhone on seats, dashboards and floorboards, but to no avail.  

I thought I'd press my luck and ask KAS if he'd let me actually borrow his iPhone so I could take it into the parking lot and use it to make my iPhone beep loudly so I could find out which car had my iPhone in it.  I had a further plan of sitting on the car's hood until Kimberly could get one of the cops from the roadwork out front to come and have a chat with the car's owner when they came out of the building.  I must have looked very trustworthy in my clerical collar because KAS handed me his phone and wished me luck.  Luck, however, was not with me and, after several minutes of trying to find a car that emitted the telltale iPhone locator tone, the GPS showed that the phone was no longer at the health center, even though no vehicles had left the parking lot.

Using my powers of deduction, I concluded that there must be a lag between the phone moving and the app reporting the phone's new location.  Clearly, I wasn't going to get anywhere by chasing after the signal and hoping to borrow some random person's iPhone so I could locate my phone.  Instead, I was going to have to wait for night, when the phone would likely stop moving, and track it using an iPhone that I could borrow for the evening from someone who actually knew me.  Armed with this plan, I went back to the hospital to finish my shift.

When Kimberly picked me up at 5:00, she told me that she had checked the phone's location several times over the previous hours and that the phone hadn't moved.  Additionally, she had driven by the area to scope it out.  The phone was in some woods at the intersection West Avenue and Reed Street and, as it hadn't moved, I surmised that the perp had stashed it until the battery could run down, so that I wouldn't be able to track it to his house.  "Very clever," I thought, "but I've got you now!"  

Screenshot from Where's My iPhone, showing my phone in a
wooded area just north of Reed Street in Norwalk.
Kimberly drove us to the location and parked in the Walgreen's parking lot, then we crossed Reed Street into the parking lot behind Durango Insurance.  I looked up the hill (really more of a cliff when viewed from where we were standing) and decided that the best way to get started was simply to get started, so I charged ahead, expecting to reach the top and find a garbage bag or a duffle bag that would contain my phone.  I further imagined taking my phone from the bag and replacing it with a note that said something like, "Jesus forgives you for stealing my iPhone and so do I."  Ok, that's not actually what I imagined writing, but you get the idea.

Actual location of phone as shown above.
The Cliff.
There was no duffle bag, though.  Instead, a short way along the ridge, there was a clearing with a camouflage tent, surrounded by tarp-covered piles of God knows what.  Despite my leather-jacket-clad, testosterone-fueled desire to walk into a homeless person's camp and demand my phone back from the miscreant who had taken it, I decided to take a kinder and gentler approach, or at least one that was less likely to get me killed.  I slinked back down the hill and borrowed Kimberly's cell phone and called the police.

The sun was nearly setting when one of Norwalk's Finest arrived.  As the officer stepped from his police car, I knew that I was in good hands as, instead of a fifty-year veteran of the force who had spent the last thrity of them staking out Dunkin' Donuts, the dispatcher had sent a cop who was in good physical shape and looked ready for climbing a cliff, even if he did look like he was about sixteen years old.

Together, Officer Timmy and I climbed back up the cliff and he, shining his flashlight on the tent and using a rather impressive command voice, ordered the occupant to come out and to keep his hands in sight.  Then, in a tone that was almost gentle, he asked "Do you have an iPhone that doesn't belong to you?"  The man from the tent denied having it, but I had anticipated such a turn of events and took out Kimberly's cell phone and called my iPhone.  "Gotcha!" I thought as I pressed the send key.  But nothing happened.  Pooplety, dangitty, muppeling snarf!  

So that's where the story ends, really.  A homeless person's tent is as much his home as if it were a mansion with a security fence and, apparently, my use of technology to track the phone to a homeless guy's camp in the woods on a cliff where nobody else ever goes doesn't actually constitute probable cause for a search.  The officer couldn't go through the homeless guy's stuff and I had no other options left, so we climbed back down the cliff.

Now, I'm using a borrowed cell phone and waiting for April when AT&T gives me a contract renewal and I can get some credit toward my next iPhone.  In the meantime, I commend the following video to you:

I have the utmost respect for young Officer Timmy, whose real name I will not divulge.  He did his job very well and was only hamstrung in his efforts to recover my iPhone by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  I am still amused by his apparent youth, though I suspect that reflects more on my advancing years than on any other factor.