Thursday, October 10, 2019

The End of the "Lost Stuff in a Taxi" Saga

This is Shaikh, the driver mentioned in this story, in fron of his cab, with my stuff. Read on to find out what happened...

When last we left our hero, he was agonizing over the inventory of what had been lost. The laptop computer and external hard drive held many gigabytes worth of video, pictures, and writings (some of it had been saved onto a new computer, but there was a lot that had not, including the latest video edits).

There was also the relatively new pair of glasses, the date book, the Metrocard, and a bunch of just-purchased food.

The appropriate calls had been made to 311 (lost property reports had been filed with the Taxi and Limousine Commission) and I had been informed that calling the Manhattan police precinct to which lost property is to be delivered could be made over the next couple of days.
One of the most useful suggestions had been to ask if local businesses had security video of the street. Certainly they would have caught the taxi, and maybe from that I could find the medallion number. With that, my TLC report would be complete and perhaps the driver himself could be contacted.

Armed with this concept, I called out for my day job with the intention of "putting my life back together." This would begin with checking out my other laptops from past years, other external hard drives, and seeing which files I currently need or hold in high value I had o n them, and which I had, potentially, now lost forever. But there are also a few other things going on right now that will require some phone calls,m maybe a visit to a bank, and some cleaning of my apartment, throwing things out, fixing things, and taking stuff to my strage space, and this would be as good a day as any to get that done.

But first I decided to go back to the site of the incident and investigate security camera options. Here was the rundown:

The deli on the corner, from which all this action began, does not have cameras pointing in the right direction.
Dunkin Donuts does not have security cameras pointed in the right direction.
The bakery-deli a few doors down from the deli doesn't have cameras pointed in the right direction, but they say the real estate office next door does.
The real estate office next door opens at 10 AM, in abut two hours.
The brand new bakery-deli that jiust opened up two days ago and is looking forward to the reopening of the Astoria Blvd station on the N line because it will bring a lot of business in (scheduled for December 18) does not have a camera pointed in the right direction
The convenience store further down the block says their boss-man will be back around 1 PM.
The gas station across the street may8 have cameras, but the boss-man will be arriving at 6 PM.
The traffic cop in the Dunkin Donuts does not know where there may be any traffic cams or how to get in touch with someone who does, just to go to the local precinct, but this is not his usual spot.
The construction supervisor (or whatever) working on the Astoria Boulevard N train station does not know anything about the security cameras they might have, or who to talk to about it.
All the other little businesses on that little strip are closed at that hour.

Armed with this knowledge,. I decided to patronize the new bakery-deli and bought an apple turnover/triangle for breakfast. I also decided to head back to my GF's house just a few blocks away, where my evening had started, and take a nap until 10 AM, when I would go that real estate office.
So I slept on the couch with the dog for a couple of hours, woke up, decided on a breakfast of healthy cereal (I would save the apple triangle for later) and put a note pad and pen in a bag, and went out to talk to the real estate folks.

When I got there, the fellow in the office was helpful as he could be, but the guy who could access the security camera footage was out of town and not getting back to the office until Thursday (it was now Tuesday morning). They did have a remarkably massive hardcover book about World War II under the coffee table, but I decided not to stop and look at...more than a couple of pages... before walking outside and seeing...

...a yellow Toyota Sienna taxi cab, just like the one that took my stuff, parked right at the curb in front of me.

I looked through the passenger window and saw the seats looking like the same pattern I remembered from last night (a double-seat-wide bench, and a single seat, presumably for asymmetrical fold-downs) but there was no baggage there. There was none in the luggage area, either, and then I heard a heavily foreign-accented voice to my right.

"[Hey buddy, are you the guy who left his stuff in my cab]?" (I actually couldn't understand the actual words he said, but I am pretty sure that's what he meant.)

Awkwardly, we were able to figure out that he was the cab driver who had driven off with my stuff, and that he had come back and dropped it off at the deli on the corner where this whole adventure began!

I asked him to come with me to the deli, and when we walked in, the female Korean shop owner I had seen earlier that morning reacted with joy and surprise, seeing that I had come back for my stuff.
I was still a little suspicious. Up until this point I had visions of the taxi driver believing that I had abandoned the ride and dumping the stuff on the street. I imagined that the taxi dispatcher, rather than going to Manhattan to drop the stuff off at a precinct, would have said "get rid of it. If they track it to this location, they could accuse us of theft!" and it getting dumped in some out-of-the-way abandoned lot, like a stolen car whose mag-wheels had been removed and replaced with ordinary wheels (as happened to a former GF of mine).

I did not see the bags at first, but the lady pulled out the Stew Leonard's shopping bag with its smiling boy on the stooll milking a smiling cow. "Well, that's one," I thought, "I wonder if the laptop is there."

Then she pulled out the laptop computer bag.

My cynicism and doubt of a man who drove off with my stuff after I had said "wait here" still had not completely vanished. I had fallen prey to scams before. I had once literally fallen for the "envelope in the pants" trick on the very night that "The Sting" had been shown on TV, so in cases like this my tendency is to verify, then trust.

I looked in the bag.

The laptop was there.

Then the lady pulled out the small black grocery bag that contained the last of last nights purchase at that very same deli and I knew that, for that moment at least, all was right with the world.

I thought about giving him money right there,but I only had a dollar in my pocket. I also must admit that a prt of my is ws a little miffed that he drove off with my stuff in the first place.

AS we walked back to his cab, he told me that he did not know that I had left stuff in the cab until the next fare came along and told him. He said that he had even gone to Roosevelt Island (I had told him that was my destination when I had initially gotten in and tried to find me, even asking a cop there for assistance.

He had left his name and phone number on a piece of paper that had been taped to one of the bags, and he said words that I think meant to call him any time I needed a ride somewhere.

I arranged the bags on the sidewalk in front of the car for a picture and he volunteered to get in the picture. That is the picture that accompanied the Facebook post of mine that I posted immediately.
I shook his hand, thanked him warmly and with appropriately accentuating adjectives, and he went on his way. I felt a great feeling fo relief. and then faced the question: What do I do now?

When I had called into work to tell them that I was taking the day off to deal with this, they had informed me that one of my co-workers was out sick for the day, as he had been yesterday. All the other various things I had intended to do that da that did not involve this bag were still on the table, though, and I as not sure when I would get another chance to do them. In the end, I decided to go to work. The staff of which I am a part is small as it is, the busy season has just hit, and there are people who need my help there. I also am trying to save up for the life change I am making in just under four months.

I have been astounded by the outpourigs of sympathy and advice over this story. Hundtrds of "Likes" and "Hearts" and "sads." I had shared this on some other groups in the hoe that by spreading the word the stuff might be found and returned. Likewise ther, from strasngers, the first day was full of sympathy, advise and support.

Then, after I posted the happy ending to the story, some negativity came out. "Delete this." "#fakenews." Accusations that I had made it up to call for attention or that I must have been stoned out of my gourd.

Well, fuck 'em. Haters gonna hate. If we can;t ask for help when we need it, how are we ever going to get the help we need? And if we can't have sympathy for one another, then someday (may that day never come) when we find ourselves in need of sympathy, we may to get it. And that is when humans, as a species, are doomed. If we cannot have mutual respect for each other, if we cannot sympathize with a person's feelings, if we cannot give a person a little respect and consideration, then we are just a pack of angry dogs or robots, hermits who will starve and die if we make that one mistake from which we cannot recover.

"You should have doe this; I always do that; I would never make such a mistake; people in that situation don't deserve help; they should pay the price for their mistake; bad choices lead to bad consequences, and it's not my responsibility; I'm not paying for that!" These are the words of those with small minds and small hearts.Maybe they can successfully screw over anyone who has something that they need. Maybe they have a small, select circle of folks for whom they do care but outside that circle is irrelevant to them. Maybe they seem like great, friendly people when you first meet them. But when the chips are down and a choice has to be made, will they step up? Will they make the sacrifice play? Heck with the sacrifice play, will they have the decency to be considerate?If you have two and I have none and each of us only needs one, what will it take to get you to give your extra one?

Thieves and scammers exist, yes. There are folks who do very well for themselves by playing on your sympathy. It is important to learn how to identify these folks, because they leach resources away from the truly needy. But that does to mean rejection of all charity for fear of some abuse. It only takes a little effort to help someone, a little time to be considerate. In the end, the more of us who can be willing to help, the more of us can be worthy of help, and then the greater the odds of survival of our species.

The suggestion has been made that I contact the driver's boss and report on how honest and hard-working he was to return my stuff. I will do that, somehow.

So, a question for you all (and also a test of who actually has read this far), how much should I tip the driver?

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Stuff I lost in a taxi tonight

Short Version: Lost in a taxi (Toyota Sienna, probably yellow) between 11:00 and 11:05 PM on Monday, October 8, 2019, at the corner of Astoria Boulevard and 31st Street. Taxi presumably continued up 31st Street under the N train in the Manhattan direction:
My laptop computer (HP), in a grey computer bag (both the long shoulder strap and backpack shoulder straps were attached), along with an external hard drive (Silicon Power Armor A80) with a steampunk sticker on it, date book, Metrocard, pens, flash drive, my aviator-style, Transitions-lensed glasses. phone charging cable, and a few papers and envelopes.
The laptop has come loose at one hinge and the screen is cracked, but it still works.
Also two bags of groceries, including some beverages, yogurt, candy bars, a roast beef hero sandwich, and a slice of double-meat pizza (that was to be my dinner).
One of those bags was a Supermarket (possibly Stew Leonard's) shopping/tote bag that also had a hardcover, signed, personalized copy of "Action Presidents: Abraham Lincoln" by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey that I had just picked up at NY Comic Con.
If anyone has any information abut these items, particularly the laptop and external hard drive, please contact me at 917-474-8724,, or through Facebook Messenger. Financial compensation is available.

Lost important stuff in cab

(Short version posted minutes after this. Here are all the ugly details)
Well it seems that every few years a complete catastrophe happens to me. Here is the latest...
But before I begin, it could have been worse. It's still pretty bad, but it could have been worse. I just have to check a few things to make sure.
I have a part-time (sometimes full-time) night job that requires me to wear a tie and bring my lunch. And breakfast. And sometimes dinner. Most often I catch a few hours of sleep at my GF, Maria Dedvukaj's house. I then shower, but on my suit, stop at the local deli to get food, then catch a cab to head off to the work location. Tonight that pattern was maintained, with the added detail that I would be on Roosevelt Island.
Another added detail was that I had overslept and was running late, so I was a little rushed. I had not tied my tie, but had it draped around my neck when I collected my food from the deli and spotted a yellow taxi, aerodynamic SUV style, conveniently waiting at a red light across the street. I rushed to the cab, manipulated the door handle according to the instructions "PULL AND SLIDE TO OPEN," threw my bags inside, and jumped in. I told him we were going to Roosevelt Island, and then realizes my tie had fallen off.
This tie was actually a rather special tie for me. Maria had gotten it for me for Christmas a couple of years ago. It is a tasteful dark blue with a pattern of tiny little white Star Wars rebel logos.
I asked him to pull over immediately (we had not actually gotten anywhere yet). We turned right off Astoria Boulevard to o onto 31st st, and I asked him to pull over right at the corner, under the subway tracks. In a bit of a hurry, I asked him to wait there because I had dropped something. He seemed to understand.
I ran out of the cab,back across the street to the deli, in less than a minute failed to find the tie, I left the deli, and saw my tie lying in the street. Relieved, I picked it up, looked up, and... taxi. The spot at which I had gotten out was empty. The cab was gone.
There was another yellow taxi at that corner, still on the Astoria Boulevard side, sitting at the curb. I thought it might me my cab, but it was a boxy SUV style, the door handles were wrong, there were no instructions on the door, and my bags were not inside. There was another cab there too, a sedan. But it was also not my taxi.
Now, you might think,"so he just lost some groceries and will be a little later for work. At least he found his beloved tie." Well, here's what that tie cost me:
My computer bag with my laptop computer and external hard drive in it.
There were other odds and ends in those bags (date book, unused 30-day Metrocard, flash drive, a personalized, signed graphic novel about the life of Abraham Lincoln, my aviator-shape glasses with transitions lenses, etc), but they were all replaceable or forgettable, to one degree or another.
Not the computer. Not the external hard drive.
I had been in hurryhurryhurrydontpanic mode before. Now I was approaching panic mode. I looked up the street and saw what I though was the signal light on top of a n empty taxi and started running. By the time I got to where that possible taxi might have been, it was no where in sight. I ran back to the intersection and saw that the cabs that had been there were gone now. I wandered through the temporarily vacant part of the intersection, turning in all directions, hoping beyond hope that some answer to my dilemma would appear. I repeated "Oh my god!" in a half-shout, half-wail, half-moan that reeked of desperation, terror, and uncertainty. I started inventorying what I had just lost. Mostly it was the videos had been editing. I had recently moved a lot of files onto my external hard drive so I could move them onto a new computer, but that selfsame external hard drive was in that selfsame bag. And now I had no food or drink for the rest of the night
I thought about how I could have jumped into one of those two cabs that had been parked at the corner and tried to chase down the taxi that left me. Now both they and the original cab were long gone.
At least I still had my wallet and my phone. I used my phone to ask Google for the Taxi and Limousine commission (did you know they have a one-star rating on Google?). I dialed that number and got an automated-response system with no options for "lost property." I tried to remember any details about the taxi, but I did not remember any words or numbers on it aside form those instructions by the door handle. I did not actually make a trip or pay a fare.
My panic mode wound down to a combination of desperation, depression, and practicality. I still had a job, and I still needed to get to work. (I left out the part abut how my phone and while I was initially looking for the car and it was the fellow at work whose shift I was suppose to relieve. I had rapidly and emotionally tried to explain that I had lost my stuff in a cab and would call back. Lets just pretend I had included it in a literately functional manner). The emotional upheaval I had gone through had superseded the hunger I had been feeling, and I decided not to take the time to get more food.
Eventually another taxi came by and I hailed it. As we drove I spotted a taxi a lot like the one with my bags filling up at a gas station. I asked the driver to stop there and made sure he kept the meter running and understood that I was going to check out that cab,
It turned out to not be the same cab, but I asked the driver what the make and model was, and he said it was a Toyota Sienna There was a taxi dispatch across the street, and though I did see another Toyota Sienna there, it looked like it had been parked there for a while. When we turned a corner and passed a grocery store, stopping at a red light, we were next to yet another Toyota Sienna. There was no one in it, and though the back seat looked the same, there were no bags in it, or in the back luggage compartment. I briefly toyed with the idea that the driver might be inside the store, but what would he have done with my stuff?
The driver gave me the number for Curb and I tried calling it, but did not understand how that would help. He said all taxi drivers are on it.
I had called my GF to let her know hat had happened, and she gave me what comfort and practical advice she could. I got to work and found my co-worker and another person awaiting m e, saying that they were concerned that I had been fighting for my life or something. I was no doubt a sweaty mess, but at least I had my beloved Star Wars tie.
I explained what had happened, particularly about how I had not identifying info abut the car. Vinnie (my co-worker who had called me earlier),expressed sympathy. He thinks that there may be a way that it the stuff may get back to me.
I called the Curb phone number and talked to a fellow, explaining the story, and he transferred me to the credit card processing company. Since there was no transaction, there was no record of my trip. I wondered if it was possible that they could track down the next fare that was picked up, just a few minutes past 11 PM on 31st Street in Queens by a yellow taxi Toyota Sienna. Apparently they can't track things with that particular collection of information. I tried calling Curb again, explaining how there was no transaction, so connecting me with the credit card processing company won;t help, but he did so anyway,although he prefaced it by saying "they deal with the divers" and not mentioning that they were the credit card processing company.
Somewhere in there someone mentioned calling 311, so I did that. Without any identifying numbers on the taxi cab there was nothing more that she could do but take a report of lost property. I described the property in as much detail as possible, and even asked her to copy the report and change the cab to green, just in case I misremembered the taxi's color.
She very courteously and thoroughly took down all the information gave her and gave me a cpuple of file numbers and phone numbers. Apparently taxi drivers are supposed to turn lost property into a precinct in Manhattan.
So now I am, with a more calm head, continuing to inventory my losses here. Of course there ar ea lot of "wy didn't you's" and "What made you think's" at play here. I my defence, I can submit this:
Ever since my local cab company got bought out and went to heck (they used to come in three minutes; last I checked it took ten minutes to get them on the phone) and I figured out how to use Uber, I have been using it extensively. Uber drivers have been understanding when I make one last dash up the stairs to bring down something I forgot. I even mentally checked in that I had stuff in the cab so the driver would now that I would be coming back to the cab, so the thought that he might drive away was a very low-percentile risk to me. And I did take a little time as I thought possible to look for that tie.
And it turns out that "follow that car" is a much faster reflex in movies than in real life.
Now, this is not the end of the world. It may set back certain projects by months. It may mean the irretrievable loss of certain computer files (pictures, video, writings) but...
I did not lose...
my wallet,
my phone,
my tie,
my prized "SHAZAM!" hat that I was wearing.
I have a new laptop that I have been slowly moving some files to in preparation for eventual transition.
A lot of the files on this computer and ext HD were on previous computers and ext HDs.
My suitcase,with all the clothes that I had worn over the weekend, including my Utilikilt and Captain Marvel doublet, I had decided to leave behind.
Everything else that I had gotten at NY Comic Con was in my home or my GF's home.
...And I still have my health. And both of my jobs.
There are much more important issues in the world than this personal catastrophe, but it still sucks.
But I am still going to take the day off of my day job to fully inventory my losses and try to rebuild, clearing up some things that have been hanging over my head for months as so many of my days and nights have been filled with double commitments.
I have already determined and filed the appropriate papers to leave my current day job indefinitely to focus on those projects that have been hanging over my head for years, and this in no way will affect that. I have been doing quite will for myself recently in many categories that I historically have not, and that proves that I actually can do anything if I decide that is what I am going to do.
And Vinnie gave me a chicken hero sandwich tonight, proving that a hero can be more than just a sandwich.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Lightbulb's Behaviorism and Cognitivism

My mos spent many years in college and graduate school studying developmental psychology. She graduated college Phi Beta Kappa and went as far as to have completed "all but dissertation" in grad school.

Now my mom is in that age where she is not quite as sharp as she used to be and the days in front of her are fewer than those behind, so I try to engage her in conversation regarding things she should know or remember.

A few weeks ago I related that I look forward to the Christmas [pop-up village in Union Square every s=year so I can go to the booth run by the Unemployed Philosopher's Guild and ask them if they8 have, among their coffee mugs and finger puppets and refrigerator magnets dedicated to great scientists, and statesmen and writers, anything about Piaget. For those who don't know, Jean Piaget (no relation to the watch company) is to developmental psychology what Sigmund Freud was to psychoanalysis. He was the Elvis of the discipline, defining it gor the successive generations to study and either adopt his viewpoints or take on a different one.

Every year the response woudl be "Sorry, we don't have anything for Piaget," with a difference level of familiarity with the name for each person. My replay would be "I suppose it is still in development," a joke that only those who have that familiarity would get.

My mom did not quite get what I was trying to do there, so I explained that, first off, I was kind of hoping that I could find a gift for her that would relate to her particular field of study, and that I also thought that Piaget would be the ideal person in that field to be immortalized on a coffe mug.

After a bit of reflection, she agreed that it was fair to say that he was a person of such stature in that field, but that there were others also notable who held a different point of view on human development. One such person was B.F. Skinner.

To put labels on them, Skinner was a behaviorist, while Piaget was a cognitivist.

Yesterday I was having dinner with my mom and told her about the struggles I had trying to get an Uber driver to pick me up on Roosevelt Island. Where I was on the island was so close to the Queensboro Bridge, that I kept o n getting connected to drivers that were already on that bridge's on-ramp in Queens. This would have meant that they would have had to go into Manhattan, turn around, come back to Queens, go to the Roosevelt Island Bridge, thendrive down to where I was to pick me up. This woudl have take 20 minuts, so I kept on texting the drivers asking them to cancel the ride. I felt like one of thos echaracters on "Cheers"who kept on puching the electrick shock button thnking they would get the nut, proving themselves less smart that the lab animals who would push the other buton and get the nut.

My mom dwas unfamiliar with the comedy, but said that the test was pu9re behavioralism, straight from Skinner.

So I got to t hinking about how that would explain me continually trying to get a different result from the same action, like a gambler at the s;lot machines. I figured that I must have been hanging on to the year or two of success I have had using Uber to get me a car to go where I wanted to go. I wondered what Piaget woudl say about this.

My mom compare the two p[rinciplas thusly: Behaviorism is abot ustimulus-response. Cognitivism critiques behavioris by saying you might not be identifying the correct stuimulus, and yo are ignoring the ptential of the mind to think.

This gave me a brilliant idea on how to encapsulate the two theories: Lightbulb jokes.

You know those jokes where someione asks "How many [whatever] does it take to change a light bulb? Well the answer for Psychiatrists is "Only one, but the light bulb really has to want to change." So I aksed my mom what the lightbulb joke would be for these two scientific principlaes.

It took a while for her to get where I was coming from. I had to explain the point of a lightbulb joke (so stereotype a group of people) and the play on the word "change" in the psychiatrist version. what it came down to was that the point of formulating a scientific theory of human development and developmental psychology is to be able to predict behavior and affect it to a predictable and desirable result. To help my mom understand how this applied to the lighbulb jokes I said," Just think of the lightbulb as a baby."

"But a light bulb is not a baby." she replied."

"That's what makes it funny." I said. I think she finally understood what I was getting at, or at least was willing to make the journey, even if she didn't understand the desire to reach its intended destination.

So here's what we came up with:

How many behaviorists does it take to change a light bulb?
Just the one who can provide the stimulus.

How many cognitivists does it take to change a light bulb?
We'll never be able to figure all the factors involved.

So, did I get it right? Do I totally not undestand what I am talking about? Can you scome up with something better?

Please leave your responses in the comments section, and for more Zorikhism, please "Follow" this blog. Thanks!

Monday, September 9, 2019

The SCA tournament I ran last weekend...

Last Saturday I ran a tournament at an SCA event. But this wasn't any old rock-'em, sock-'em tourney, this had an extra element to it.

At the annual "Feast of John Barleycorn" event held by the Canton of Northpass in the Crown Province of Ostgardr, His Etceteracy Viscount...(etc, etc, etc)...Sir Edward Zifran of Gendy would run his "unbelt challenge." This was a tournament in which in addition to the fighting, there would be a written exam in the knowledge needed by any unbelted fighter if they should ever wish to become a knight. This included knowledge of such things as heraldry, forms of address, chess, medieval song and poetry, dance, and history. Comportment, courtesy, chivalry, and honor were also traits expressly to be displayed at this tournament.

Sir Edward was not available to run the tourney this year, so I stepped up and took it over. Though my daily work life prevented me from printing out the usual exams, I was determined to make this tourney still serve the purpose of enabling the fighters in attendance to display their knightly traits.

Though the event was more lightly attended than it had been in previous years. There were four fighters, Lord Ronan, Shandor, Decklin (sp?), and Gavin, a new fighter who had just authorized that day.

Before the tourney began I recruited the highest-ranking nobility present, Countess Brekke Franksdottir, and the King and Queen of Acre (a separate group from the SCA, but which is treated as a kingdom in the SCA as a courtesy), to sit as judges and watch the tournament, along with whoever was attending the event who was not otherwise engaged in an activity (as there were several concurrent activities that day).

First I had each fighter present themselves to the nobility, that their graces and excellency would know whom they were watching. Then I hit them with the first part of the competitions: the exam.

I asked them questions bout the heraldic tinctures. I pointed at various articles of my clothing and asked what the heraldic name for the color was. One challenging moment came when one fighter said my hat was azure and another that it was purpure. I had to pull out another had that I had that was more clearly a blue color and had light blue trim to get agreement on that. It also illustrated that azure was azure was azure, no mater the brightness, shade, or tint.

I closed that round of questioning by pointing at my brown pants. This was a trick question as there is no heraldic for "brown," but it is a default color for certain items of nature, like bears and tree trunks, when blazoned as "proper."

I then informed the fighters that it was time to don their helmets and prepare to fight, At this time, however, I got a phone call. A friend of mine, who was to meet me at the event, was calling to inform me that he had arrived. I told him to ask his way to the troll, and that I would keep an eye open, and join him when he got there (I could see the "troll table" from the tourney field).

That taken care of (so I thought), I returned to the list field, where two fighters were ready to fight. I had them go at it. Then the other two fighters fought, then I had them switch partners and fight again. After that I gave them a rest and lined them up before their graces and excellency for more questions.

This time I asked the forms of address. I made sure to ask four questions, so that each could have a chance to offer an answer. When two of them raised their hand at the same time for an answer, I picked the one who had not answered yet. There was some clarification needed on the last question, the form of address of a prince or princess of a principality. I thought there might be some sort of modifier before the term "highness," but the authorities present assured me that there was not.

So we fought the next round. There were still two matchups of fighters that had not yet been made, so I let those pairs fight each other. In between rounds, I was glancing over to the troll table, and did not see my friend yet present. His text messages were talking about things that made me wonder if he was actually at the correct location.

The next round of questions I made about chess. I asked how a knight moved, what "castling" was, and finally pulled out the trick question for the round: when does a pawn become a king? One fighter said it was when they made it to the other side of the board. Another fighter (Gavin) corrected him, saying that the pawn would be made a queen, not a king. The Authorities clarified that the pawn could be made anything but a king when they reached the other side of the board.

In the course of this round, of fighting, Gavin's leg armor strap had broken, so he needed time to get it repaired. By this time also I really thought that my friend would have made it to the troll table, but I did not see him there, so I needed some way to stall, but also needed to keep the fighter and attendees "in the game," as it were. So I asked their graces and excellency if they would like to engage in casual conversation so as to better get to know the fighters. They agreed, and so I invited the fighters to attend and engage the nobles in conversation.

I ran to the troll table to ask if my friend had arrived, and they confirmed that he had not. A trot up the road did not bring him into sight. Then a text came through stating that he saw some mutual friends that I would not have expected to be at this event.

You see, part of the point of him driving to this event was that the following day we would go to a renaissance festival in Sparta, NJ to help the NYC Armored combat team in their exhibition of full contact medieval armored combat with steel weapons. It turns out that he got the directions mixed up and had gone to Sparta, thinking that that was where this SCA event was happening. Once I realized that, I excused myself from the conversation with him, because what I was to do now regarding getting to that event would require more time than I had at the moment to figure out, as I was still running this tournament!

At that moment, a fellow who knew me was at my side, and I asked him to run to the tourney field like the messenger at Marathon and inform the folks there that the fighting part of this round would begin soon. When he collapsed after his run and delivery of the message, he was reminded that he was supposed to die right there if he wanted to truly reenact that famous dash.

Before the break, one of the fighters had started to suggest that we do a melee. I had cut him off because not only did I need the time to take care of the messages coming from my friend, but I wanted to announce the beginning of melees in dramatic fashion. So when I returned, and asked the fighter (Lord Ronan) to repeat his request. So he requested that, since one of the fighters had just authorized that day, and he had not yet tasted the sensation of melee, that we engage in such combat now. So I turned to the audience and, in my best Michael Buffer/Dwayne Johnson-inspired delivery, hollered "Are you ready for a meLEEEEEEEEEEEELALALALAAAAAAAAA! The audience replied in the affirmative.

So the fighters divided themselves up into teams of two, fought two rounds, then mixed up the teams, fought two more rounds, then mixed the teams a third time to finish off. I identified the teams as "This" and "That" in the first set, "Tastes Great" and "Less Filling" for the second, and, because in the third set they deliberately put both of the polearmers on one team and both of the shieldmen on the other, "Long" and "Short."

When all this was done, I had the fighters thank their Graces and Excellency one by one, and then held a brief discussion with the Authorities to determine the winners.

We decided that Ronan had shown the most prowess in the fighting, and that Gavin had performed the best in answering the questions. In addition, Decklin had proven to be best prepared, with extra weapons and assistance for fighters with broken equipment and other needs, and Shandor was judged to be the most skilled in his use of polearm.

So I had about an hour and a half before court was to begin to find some sort of prizes for the winners (all of them). I found a small goblet, a charming little medallion, a nifty lion-headed cloak clasp, and a small ceramic vial from the event's merchants and craftspeople. I did not want to impose a value judgment or particular appropriateness to any of the prizes, so when court came I allowed the winners to select those which they wanted. I first called forth the winners of the fighting and the questions, and Ronan jumped at the cup, while Gavin selected the medallion. Thus I declared Ronan the winner of the "cup of combat" (upon reflection, I should have said the "Goblet of Glory") and Gavin the winner of the "Medallion of Knowledge." Decklin selected the cloak clasp for his achievement, and to Shandor, who missed court, I presented the ceramic vial later, and he seemed quite pleased with it.

Between selecting the prizes and awarding them in court, I got in touch with my friend, and he said he would come from Sparta back to the event, and he wound up arriving just in time for the feast.

After such a full and long day, I enjoyed some socializing and song-singing around the fire after the feast, then went to bed and slept for nine well-needed hours. The next day my friend and I went to that Renaissance Festival in Sparta, N.J and helped out the NYC Armored Combat team in their exhibition. I will be going back there this Sunday.

I came away from the day with a few things learned or reinforced:

When running an activity, find a way to have moments of action and moments of stillness to minimize the effects of exhaustion.

If you don't know the answer, finding it in a public forum can benefit more people than just you.

When giving directions for two events in two days, be multiply redundant about which event is on which day.

People at a place for the first time don't know what's going on as well as you do, if you have been going to the same event for nearly 30 years.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Return to SCA Combat...With One Hand!

While I cannot say I have truly "returned" to SCA combat because, as the armored combat marshal of the Crown Province of Ostgardr (Greater NYC area), I run a fighter practice and oversee most local tournaments and demo fighting. But I did put on my armor and fight in one battle at Pennsic, and I did spar at the Brooklyn fighter practice last week.

First,  just a little background: About two years ago I hurt my arm throwing a football. The pain went away soon, and I didn't think much of it. I did not fight much after that because there were not many opportunities to fight (the fighter practice, having no indoor site that year, was closed for the winter). Even in the spring, with fighter practice and an event or two, I must not have gotten enough hard fighting in to notice the true nature of my arm, injury.

Then I went to the East Kingdom 50-year anniversary event.

I got as much fighting in as I could. I had not been working out much, so I was in pretty poor physical shape compared to some recent years, but I fought my heart out anyway. At the end of each day, though. I simply could not raise my right arm (my sword arm). I had to literally pick it up with my left arm to enable it to do anything (have you ever tried brushing your teeth with two hands?).

I had started training for the TV show "Knight Fight," to which I had been invited to participate, and wanted to push myself. My body, and my arm, paid the price. When I went to the doctor after getting back to the city, it was determined that I had a torn rotator cuff.

I didn't let this stop me from training. After a few days my arm would recover, and I would be swinging a sword again. I even went to Sword Class NYC where the Armored Combat League's NY Sentinels trained and got in some of the full-contact action that I expected in Knight Fight. I can't say that this did my arm any favors. I got a couple of cortisone shots, and that helped me move my arm without pain, but several people have told me that cortisone is actually bad for you. Unfortunately, the producers had a change of heard at the last minute and cut me from the show before I got to fight. But the damage to my arm remained.

Then I went to the Pennsic War.

I figured I would stay out of most of the battles and only get into the bridge battle, where I could stand at the edge of the bridge with my 7-foot polearm and spear people as they came,a and take a knee if it looked like I would hurt my arm any more. That plan lasted wright up until the first time the enemy hit our line. you can see in videos of that battle me rushing to the front line to stop every charge against us, and join every charge by us.

Even so, I only felt the pain in my arm twice, when I moved  m my arm in exactly the way my torn rotator cuff wouldn't let me.

The worst pain at Pennsic actually came on two occasions:
1. I slipped in the mud
2. I slipped on some water at the pool in the hotel in which we stayed on the way back.
In both instances my body made a quick jerk in one direction while my arm kept going in another. This must have aggravated the tear in my rotator cuff, because it hurt o bad I could not sleep unless I put my arm over my head.

So I went back to the doctor and started some physical therapy. While it helped restore a lot of function, there were still things I just could not do, like swing a sword properly. So I decided to get the surgery to repair it. the trouble was, my insurance wouldn't cover it from the particular doctor I was seeing.

Fortunately, my lady works at a very highly regarded surgical hospital in NYC, and knows the best doctor for this kind of surgery. He agreed to see me, they took my insurance, and I look forward to having a surgery date set up soon.

In the meantime, however, I had been running the SCA fighter practice in Brooklyn. I have also been doing Insanity workouts 2-4 times a week (see my fitness blog for how that's going). I have included some conditioning training in the program at fighter practice, and have taken to wearing my armor, though I was not actually fighting in it (I needed to re-do the helmet padding, anyway). I was using my left arm to demonstrate the sword techniques. I was watching the mostly-brand-new fighters grown and improve every week. I was thrilled by their progress. One of them eve got authorized in July!

I decided to go back to the Armored Combat League practice at SCNYC. I got through the fitness and technique drills without any problems. Then came the time for free sparing with padded weapons and gear.

Now, it had been years since I fought in one-on-one matches in this sport. Not since my knee injury, back when most of the fighters in the game were mid-life crisis SCA duke-knights, had I truly banged it out by these rules. Now the NYC team was almost entirely younger, never-SCA types whose primary fight training was at SCNYC. I honestly wanted to test my mettle against them

I fought four one-minute rounds, each against a different person. I struck each of them with my sword in my left hand at least twice as often as they struck me, beating all of them on points except the last guy, who only beat me by hitting me on the head so hard I decided to stop before the round was over (no need to risk concussion or spine injury in a practice). And I did all this with my right arm holding a shield close to my chest and not moving it to defend myself.

Then came this year's Pennsic.

Again, I said I would only fight in the bridge battle. Unlike last year however, the bridge battle was not a 90-minuter resurrection battle where you could go back in after ever "death," it was just four rounds of battle with one death each. I managed to make each death count, and even killed a few in the process. No pain or discomfort in the arm at all.I never had to use it in a manner in which I was not able.

So when I got back home, I figured, "why don't I put my sword in my left hand, hold a shield against my body like I did at SCNYC, and see how I do?

So at the next fighter practice I did just that, fighting against all three of the fighters who showed up in succession.

And I kicked a little ass.

This is not to say that these fighters did poorly. I was actually quite proud of how they were able to stay out of my range and defend against a lot of my shots. They scored a good number of good blows on my head and body. But I was able to strike and make blows count. I was able to control my attack and maintain my own pace. There was a blow or two that a couple of them had been not executing to their greatest benefit, and I was able to use that blow against them by doing it as I meant it to be done.

One interesting thing I discovered was that it was not difficult at all to learn good technique with my left arm. I had been teaching folks how to strike with an SCA sword for some time now, so I knew  the mechanics, and it all just transferred quite easily. Thus, when it came time to fight, all the technique in the arm was already there.

This is probably why I did so well against the ACL folks. The rules of the duels only scored points for weapon strikes, takedowns, and disarms, and I stayed away from hand-to-hand clinching as much as possible. Like MMA fighters, ACL fighters must learn punching, kicking, and grappling as well as weapon technique for the melees, so they can't focus as much time on the weapons as SCA fighters do. Meanwhile, folks in the SCA have spent the past 50  + years figuring out how to hit people in the head with a stick, so we literally have it down to a science.

This is sort of why MMA fighters and boxers tend to not do so well in each others' sport. The main reason I was doing so well was the particular ruleset for the sparring rewarded what I had just spent months training for (with my left arm). I am sure that, just as the extremely hard blow to the head put me out, I would not have done so well had the fight come to wrestling or more punching and kicking.

So I will continue to train this way until my surgery, take the necessary time off, then get back in the game with a vengeance!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Civil War Songs: The Confederacy

Continuing from our previous post, here are some songs from the Confederacy that you may hear in the upcoming play "Honorable Distinction," produced by and performed at the Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, May 30, 31, and June 1, 2019.

The play is about the experience, struggles, and victories of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and other famous and should-be-famous black heroes of the Civil War period, including Frederick DouglasHarriet TubmanRobert Smalls, and Martin Delaney. It is being done in salute to our veterans the weekend after Memorial Day. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.

This is the second time I am a part of this production, having played General William Tecumseh Sherman last year. This time I am playing President Abraham Lincoln, the second time I am playing that character for Mt. Pisgah, though the previous time was in a different play, "Emancipated Glory."

I am playing with the band in this show, and advising them on the period music that is selected for various parts of the show. In the previous post I linked to YouTube videos of various union songs. Here are links to some Confederate songs, and some that may have been sung by both sides.

The Bonnie Blue Flag
Almost an anthem of the South, this ode to the first, unofficial flag of the Confederacy, adapted from an Irish tune subsequently re-used for Unions versions of the song and other songs, outlines the formation of the rebel union:
Note that in this version, form the movie "Gods and Generals, The singer recites in the first verse "...We're fighting for our liberty / With famine , war, and toil," though the subtitles read the better-known lyric"..."With treasure, blood, and toil." In fact, historians believe the original version was "...Fighting for our property / We gained through honest toil."

This campfire version has all the lyrics:

The unofficial anthem of the South, this song was quite popular nationwide. Even Abraham Lincoln liked it. All the ironies in the world come home when you discover it was originally written for a blackface minstrel show.

Goober Peas:
Both armies had food shortages during the war. The Rebels even made up a song about what they had to eat: peanuts.

This song is perhaps the saddest song to have been sung during the Civil War. It was immensely popular but made the men so homesick that some officers banned it because of the desertions it caused. This particular version was a hit  in the 20th century:

Here is another version with different instrumentation and harmonic vocals. The song was popular on both  the Union and Confederate sides:

I hope you have enjoyed these Civil War Songs. Please come and enjoy Emancipated Glory at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church running from Thursday through Saturday, May 30, 31, and June 1, 2019

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Civil War Songs: The Union

As some of you may know, I am playing President Abraham Lincoln in "Honorable Distinction," a play produced by and performed at the Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

The play is about the experience, struggles, and victories of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and other famous and should-be-famous black heroes of the Civil War period, including Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Robert Smalls, and Martin Delaney. It is being done in salute to our veterans the weekend after Memorial Day. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.

This is my second year doing this show, and the second time playing Lincoln (though not in the same show). I played General William Tecumseh Sherman the last time I was in this play), and again, in addition to playing a major role, I am also supplying a number of costumes and playing in the band. As part of the band-playing, I have am advising the band and the production on certain songs that may fit into the show.

Here are YouTube videos of several Civil War songs that you may hear during the show, in one manner or another. This list is of Union songs only. Confederate songs are in the following post.

You can hear most of these songs performed in bombastic style by US military orchestras (you may search if you like), but I have tried to find versions that sound more like they are being sung by real people. One amazing thing about these songs is how adaptable they are to different arrangements, accents, instruments, and rhythms!

A second post will follow of Confederate songs

The Battle Cry of Freedom (Rally 'Round the Flag):
Perhaps the best-known song from the Union side after "Battle Hymn of the Republic." It was a big deal because it both glorified the Union and stated the cause of ending slavery.

This "parlor version" gives a sense of how it might have been sung by a gathering of family and friends around the piano in a well-to-do family's home (Not a dynamic you find often in modern recordings of Civil War songs):

The Battle Hymn of the Republic (John Brown's Body; Glory, Glory Hallelujah):
Like many folk songs, the lyrics have been changed and misinterpreted and adapted for different causes. Here are three different arrangements, each with a different mood:

(Mid 20th century Mich Miller version)



Tramp Tramp, Tramp the Boys Go Marching:
This was about men in prisoner of war camps looking forward to rescue by their comrades. The melody is used for the Christian song, "Jesus Loves the Little Children," and apparently other songs all over  the world.

This version is probably sounds more like it might have been heard back in the day and has some great civil war pics in the video:

This version is played on a music box from 1904!

When Johnny Comes Marching Home:
Adapted from an old Irish tune, you might know this as "The Ants Go Marching One by One..."
Note the strength of the "Hurrah!" each time it comes around. This was a thing back in the day.

This song probably has the most fascinatingly adaptable melody of all Civil War songs.

As an example, this instrumental version is a fascinating progression from modest marching tune to the very definition of bombastic orchestral excess, and then ends in a haunting melody on a single fife.

It was not until I did the research for this show that I actually heard this whole song and learned that it is actually an anti-slavery song. Of it, Frederick Douglas himself wrote that the song "awakens sympathies for the slave, in which antislavery principles take root, grow, and flourish": 

And here is a contemporary acapella vocal group doing their version, proving what Dave Alvin says, "It's all folk music."

The lyrics you hear at the Kentucky  Dereby are not the original ones, which is why the abolitionist heritage of this song my be surprising. But I found (thanks to the internet) those lyrick. Modern eyes and ears my find them quite stunning:

Original Lyrics (composed by Stephen Foster in 1853):
Verse 1:
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
‘Tis summer, the darkies are gay;
The corn-top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom,
While the birds make music all the day.
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy and bright;
By ‘n’ by Hard Times comes a-knocking at the door,
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight.
Weep no more my lady
Oh! weep no more today!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home,
For the Old Kentucky Home far away.
Verse 2:
They hunt no more for the possum and the coon,
On meadow, the hill and the shore,
They sing no more by the glimmer of the moon,
On the bench by the old cabin door.
The day goes by like a shadow o’er the heart,
With sorrow, where all was delight,
The time has come when the darkies have to part,
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight.
Verse 3:
The head must bow and the back will have to bend,
Wherever the darky may go;
A few more days, and the trouble all will end,
In the field where the sugar-canes grow;
A few more days for to tote the weary load,
No matter, ’twill never be light;
A few more days till we totter on the road,
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight.

So some see the show, hear the music, learn the history, and enjoy the acting, singing., an dancing talents at Mt Pisgah Baptist Church this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, May 30, 31, and June 1.



Marching Through Georgia:
We are not actually doing this song anywhere in the play, but it is too important to leave out of a collection of Civil War songs.

This is the version of which I am most familiar. I love the spirit of the vocalists in this band! It does use a word or two that are no longer in common parlance among polite company, and some may consider it insensitive towards the sufferings of the South. But the event it describes did shorten the war. Not to get too political, I wonder how many such people complain about the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan? Would they object to a song called "Flying over Hiroshima?"

Tennessee Ernie Ford was part of the mid 20th-Century movement that sanitized and glorified the Civil War and its participants, particularly the Confederates. This version carefully omits any part of the song that might be politically sensitive or relates the suffering of the victims and the aggressive nature of the event.

Being as I sing this song as part of my "Time Travelling Bard" act, I was tickled to be able to actually play General Sherman in last year's version of this play!

P.S. There is a reenactment regiment of the 54th Mass in Washington D.C.!

The Burning of Notre Dame de Paris

The United States of America is less than 250 years old. We simply do not have anything to compare with Notre Dame de Paris that combines historical, cultural, and architectural significance and aesthetic beauty. We had 9/11 and the burning of the White House in the War of 1812, but without reducing their impact and meaning one iota, the significance of the destruction of those buildings was different, and we will not understand what it means to the French to see that 900+ year-old building so damaged by fire.

I hear that many relics had been removed as the building was being restored and many more were removed before the fire got to them, most of the stone structure, including the two famous towers, still stand, and that only one person, a firefighter, was seriously injured. I am certain that the French have documented and measured every inch of that structure and computer-analysed the colors and constructional materials of everything in it, but rebuilding a perfect copy is not the same as actually having the original wooden beams in the roof, for which an entire forest is said to have been cut down, or those original stained glass windows from the 1200's.

A few years ago I was in Paris and shot extensive photos and videos of the building, inside and out. But I failed to save the digital files in my camera from that day. More recently, I returned to that city, but did not take the time to re-shoot it. Now much of what I saw will only remain in my memory and other people's pictures.

This building, and France, have survived longer than many nations, and they both have seen greater share of victories and losses, damage and recovery, revolution and evolution, than an American who does not trace their roots beyond this nation's history can conceive. As a person of mostly-French descent and a student of history, my heart goes out to France, my French relatives and friends, and the French people for whom this building means so much, and grieve for the loss, but look forward to the French spirit that will rebuild it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Burning of Notre Dame de Paris.

The United States of America is less than 250 years old. We simply do not have anything to compare with Notre Dame de Paris that combines historical, cultural, and architectural significance and aesthetic beauty. We had 9/11 and the burning of the White House in the War of 1812, but without reducing their impact and meaning one iota, the significance of the destruction of those buildings was different, and we will not understand what it means to the French to see that 900+ year-old building so damaged by fire.

I hear that many relics had been removed as the building was being restored and many more were removed before the fire got to them, most of the stone structure, including the two famous towers, still stand, and that only one person, a firefighter, was seriously injured. I am certain that the French have documented and measured every inch of that structure and computer-analysed the colors and constructional materials of everything in it, but rebuilding a perfect copy is not the same as actually having the original wooden beams in the roof, for which an entire forest is said to have been cut down, or those original stained glass windows from the 1200's.

A few years ago I was in Paris and shot extensive photos and videos of the building, inside and out. But I failed to save the digital files in my camera from that day. More recently, I returned to that city, but did not take the time to re-shoot it. Now much of what I saw will only remain in my memory and other people's pictures.

This building, and France, have survived longer than many nations, and they both have seen greater share of victories and losses, damage and recovery, revolution and evolution, than an American who does not trace their roots beyond this nation's history can conceive. As a person of mostly-French descent and a student of history, my heart goes out to France, my French relatives and friends, and the French people for whom this building means so much, and grieve for the loss, but look forward to the French spirit that will rebuild it.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Thoguhts for our National Holiday Today (Super Bowl)

Taking just a few moments here to share a little of the joy and meaning of our National Holiday today:

This remarkably erudite, fast-talking, fast-paced review of how the collapse of everybody else led to the Patriots and Rams meeting in the Super Bowl again truly encapsulates the hyperbolic, overblown nature of the sport, its outsized impact on our culture, economy, and daily life (please note the serial comma and use it), its potential for distraction from Real Issues, and ultimate irrelevance to anything important, except as a distraction from the boring mundanities of economic imbalance, ecological disaster, and social injustice.

Yes, I said social injustice. Hate me.

Except for one thing: This game, and this sport, can be used as an inspiration. When watching it today, think to yourself: If these guys are willing to work so hard and risk so much for something whose recorded, objective outcome is so meaningless, how hard con you work to achieve something that is truly important and meaningful to you?