March 28th, 2013


Ring, ring!

On March 6, getting into my rental car in front of beamjockey 's house en route to a speaking gig, my phone buzzed to let me know it had gotten an email. I gave it a glance. "I have just purchased your MIT class ring on eBay. Did you mean to sell it?"

My first thought was that it was some sort of spam or fraud, but the return address was from the MIT alumni site. And I was indeed missing my ring. When I had first looked for it, three weeks earlier just before giving a talk in California (I generally only wear it while giving public talks), I had noticed it was missing from the shaving kit where I usually keep it. At that time I had just assumed that I must have left it in Rome. So it was possible this was the real thing. And, indeed, my name is engraved on the inside of the ring.

The guy writing me included a link to the eBay site, and the seller did mention a name inscribed inside the ring that could be "easily removed". And the seller was in Tucson. (And asking $800 for the ring.)

I left an email with the guy who wrote me, a phone message with the guy on eBay, and a phone message with members of my community back in Tucson. Many, many further messages ensued in all three directions over the next three weeks. Rather than detailing them, here's the summary:

They guy who bought my ring was indeed an MIT classmate (whom I did not know) who had always wanted a class ring but couldn't afford it back then. He now works in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. He contacted the eBay seller to inform him that the ring had been stolen and that he was sending back to him, requesting a refund.

The guy who sold the ring said that he had bought it "from an older Mexican woman at a swap meet in Tucson" which of course could describe nearly everyone selling things at a swap meet in Tucson. He insisted he had no idea it was stolen (presumably because there were so many Mexican women in the class of 1974 at MIT with the first name of "Guy," as inscribed in the ring). He agreed to refund the buyer and return the ring to me, eating the cost of whatever he had paid this woman for the ring.

I was already en route back to Rome when this occurred, so I gave him contact details for my rector, Fr. Paul, in Tucson. They agreed to get together to exchange the ring. Three times they set a date... without ever meeting.

Finally I wrote to the guy with the ring, noting my uncertainty about how to proceed since obviously I didn't want to involve the police or eBay, but that my rector was himself leaving for Rome the next day. He then did finally meet up with Fr. Paul, in a public place, and handed over the ring. His excuse for missing the other dates was that he had a very busy schedule involving "court dates."

Yesterday, Fr. Paul arrived in Rome and handed over my ring to me.

Among other things, I count my blessings for honest people like the fellow at Georgia Tech who took the initiative to ask about the ring. (There are a couple of astronomy books of mine in the mail to him, as a thank-you.)

And never again will I pack my ring in luggage screened by TSA.