Sherlock Holmes And The Ring Drop

There was some excitement on my flight to Houston last night, but it all ended well — thanks to Sherlock Holmes.

I was seated in the aisle seat in row 21.  Next to me was a friendly young woman who was traveling through Houston to catch a flight to Orange County.  As I did some work on the flight I heard a metallic clink, and then the young woman suddenly became frantic.  It turns out that she had been fiddling with a ring on her finger, and the ring dropped off and fell into the area between the seat and the window and plane’s fuselage.

sherlockholmesThat area of the plane promptly went into full search mode.  Led by the young woman and using our cellphone flashlights, we scoured the plane’s floor all the way back to the rear restrooms, looked under the seat cushions, and checked that the ring hadn’t gotten snagged on someone’s carry-on luggage.  Everyone in that section of the plane was cooperative and helpful during the search — which tells you that there are still a lot of nice people out there.  But after 15 minutes of fruitless searching, the ring was nowhere to be found.  The flight attendant said they would do a search after the plane landed and everyone had cleared out, and the young woman could fill out a form so that she would get the ring if it was found.

That was small consolation for the distraught and tearful young woman, however.  She explained that the ring that dropped was her sister’s wedding ring, and the young woman had been tasked with delivering the ring from a Columbus jeweler to her sister.  She was supposed to be the trusted messenger, and she was dreading the prospect of confessing to her sister that the ring was lost.

I wasn’t ready to give up, however.  “I don’t know if you’ve read any Sherlock Holmes,” I told her, “but in one of the original stories he explained that when you’re trying to solve a problem and you eliminate all of the possible outcomes, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the answer.  Since the ring isn’t on the floor of the plane or in the other places we’ve looked, I think it’s got to be somewhere in the slot between your armrest and the outer wall of the plane, — probably near a piece of metal since we heard a metallic sound when the ring dropped.  Let’s try again, just in that area.”

She looked dubious, but the logic of the suggestion seemed to persuade her.  She used her hand to grope around carefully in the nook, and sure enough the ring was there in the depths, next to an orphaned Lego piece.  She was overjoyed, and I was happy that I had helped her find her ring and avoid an unwelcome conversation with her sister.

“You know, you really should read the Sherlock Holmes stories,” I said.  “I will,” she promised.

The Lego piece can be retrieved through an inquiry to United Air Lines.

The Curious Case Of The Deer On The Bridge

When Kish and I walked to Franklinton on Sunday, we crossed the Scioto River on the Town Street bridge. Just after the midpoint of the bridge we found this life-sized metal sculpture of a fully antlered buck standing upright at the railing of the bridge, facing north.

It’s a fine rendition of a deer. But the sculpture raises so many questions that it’s almost a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Why is there a sculpture of a deer standing on its hind legs on a downtown bridge in Columbus, Ohio?

Is the deer just enjoying a nice view of the Columbus skyline and the Scioto River in its new channel? Or is the trophy buck using the vantage point of the bridge to scan for hunters or predators? On the darker side, could the deer be depressed and preparing to jump? Is there some deep significance to the fact that the deer is facing north, or that it is a stag rather than a doe? For that matter, why a deer at all? I can’t think of any special connection between Ohio’s capital city and deer. If a wolverine were preparing to hurl itself into oblivion at the sight of Columbus, in contrast, it would be understandable.

Experts will tell you that a good test of public art is whether it provokes thought and discussion. By that standard, the curious case of the deer on the bridge is a great success. And for that same reason, I’m not going to even try to scan the internet for an explanation. I’m just going to leave it a mystery.

Friday Night Hangover

 

When Betty and I took our morning lap around Schiller Park yesterday morning, circling the park, clockwise, on the perimeter sidewalk, we encountered the following, in order: (1) a disgusting pool of vomit that all joggers and walkers were steering clear of but that was of intense interest to Betty and other dogs; (2) an area of a flowerbed where the plants were crushed and uprooted; and (3) a car, which had lost part of a bumper and a hubcap, had white paint scrapes on the left front side, and was parked over the curb with a flat right front tire.

You didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that some irresponsible person got drunk Friday night, drove when they shouldn’t have, ran into something, “parked” their car at Schiller, toppled into the flowerbed, and then expelled the stomach poisons. I’m just surprised Betty and I didn’t see and smell a reeking figure passed out on the playground or under a tree.

What’s interesting is that, as of this morning when the photo above was taken, the car is still there. Perhaps the offender had a blackout and can’t remember where he/she left the car.  Or, perhaps the car was stolen by the offender, and the true owner doesn’t know where the car is.

So, I’m offering this post as a public service. If this is your car, it’s on the north side of Schiller Park. And if this post helps you retrieve it, how about making a decent contribution to the German Village Garten Club to compensate for the pretty flowerbed that got ruined as part of the entire escapade?

Enduring Characters

I’ve always enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, but you can only reread the original tales penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle so many times until you thirst for something new.  So lately, I’ve been dipping my toe into the broader Holmes universe, in which other authors have written tales of the great consulting detective of Baker Street and his solid, ever-dependable ally and biographer, Dr. Watson.

I recently finished a terrific set of short stories by Lyndsay Faye called The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, in which I thought the author totally captured the voice of Dr. Watson and shed interesting new light on the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  And get this:  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a devoted Sherlockian and is writing novels that focus on Holmes’ curious and brilliant older brother, Mycroft Holmes.  That’s right — one of the greatest players in basketball history is said to be helping to reinvent the story of Sherlock Holmes.  I’ve got one of Abdul-Jabbar’s novels, Mycroft and Sherlock, which he co-wrote with Anna Waterhouse, next up on my reading list.

It’s fascinating that fictional characters like Holmes and Watson have had such profound staying power, to the point that multiple authors are writing about them more than 100 years after they were first created and became popular.  In fact, those two residents of Baker Street may well be the most enduring characters in the history of literature.  What other fictional creations have been written about for so long by such a diverse group of writers?  I can’t think of any — can you?

You can argue about the greatest writers in literature, and few people would probably put the florid prose of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle up there with Shakespeare.  But you’ve got to give Sir Arthur his due:  when it comes to creating memorable characters, he’s arguably the greatest of all time.

 

Beach Reads

When you’re on a beach vacation, having a good book to read — or maybe, say, five of them — is essential.  On this trip I’ve enjoyed Bill Bryson’s wonderful, funny, and fascinating book about the summer of 1927 and the latest Harry Bosch book by Michael Connelly, and I’ve got two books of short stories inspired by Sherlock Holmes and a non-fiction book about Wall Street greed in queue.

I love books with continuing characters and their adventures, so when a new Connelly Bosch book appears I snap it up.  There’s only one problem:  I can’t put them down.  I zip through them, relish every word and Boschian revelation, and immediately am hungry for more.  I hope Connelly, and Bosch, live until they’re 120.

Sherlock

I’ve loved the Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories ever since I first read them.  I loved the old London settings, Holmes’ brilliant deductions from observable phenomena, and the relationship of Holmes and the ever-loyal Dr. Watson.  The movie adaptations, however, have been a bit uneven — and I’ve particularly detested the kind of superhero Holmes depicted in the Robert Downey, Jr. movies.

So it was with some trepidation that Kish and I began binge-watching the BBC TV series Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the iconic consulting detective and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson, set in modern day London.  I’m relieved to report that the show not only is faithful to the characters and concept of the original Holmes tales, it also very cleverly updates the stories and adds in little references that only true Sherlockians would get.  So rather than serializing Holmes’ exploits for The Strand magazine, Watson writes a blog about their adventures.  Watson’s new journalistic efforts frequently are variations of the titles of the old stories, such as A Study in Pink rather than A Study in Scarlet and The Speckled Blonde rather than The Speckled Band.  And Holmes now craves cigarettes rather than the strongest shag for his pipe, but when he needs that tobacco fix he still looks in the persian slipper by the mantelpiece.  And now Holmes uses some of that uncanny deductive ability to figure out passwords to computers and smart phones.

mast-sherlock-benedict-martin-cove-hiresCumberbatch and Freeman have wonderful chemistry, and the cast of regular supporting characters is great, with Una Stubbs as the plucky Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ landlady at 221B Baker Street, Rupert Graves as the dogged Detective Inspector Lestrade, and Mark Gatiss as the umbrella-toting, British-to-the-core Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s equally brilliant older brother who is a kind of one-man British government.  But one of the greatest updates is Andrew Scott as Holmes’ arch-nemesis “Jim” Moriarty, a “consulting criminal” who is every bit Holmes’ match in the intellect department but gleefully, psychotically twisted as well.  (I’m not quite as keen about Irene Adler as a dominatrix, but we’ll let that pass.)

We’re in the midst of season two, with the episode entitled “The Reichenbach Fall” dead ahead.  It’s another great allusion to the old stories, because one of the most famous of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s efforts, The Final Problem, had the great detective falling to his death in a final struggle with Professor James Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.  Doyle wanted to kill off Sherlock Holmes, because he had tired of writing the mysteries and wanted to try something else, but the character was so immensely popular that Doyle ultimately relented to popular demand and brought him back to life.

Holmes fans the world over were glad he did — and I’m glad I’ve found this latest version of the great detective to enjoy as well.  New episodes of Sherlock are currently being filmed and are supposed to be released around Christmas.

A New Sherlock Story

Imagine uncovering a previously unknown play by Shakespeare, or finding the sheet music to a long lost composition by Mozart.  That might give you an idea of the reaction of ardent Sherlock Holmes fans, like me, to the discovery of a forgotten story about the great consulting detective of Baker Street by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes is one of the greatest and most enduring literary characters ever created — the fact that he continues to be featured in films, television shows, and books written by authors who find him irresistible tells you all you need to know — and the novels and short stories penned by Doyle are a magical read.  The depiction of foggy, class-conscious Victorian England, the warm, humorous friendship between the stiff-necked but loyal Dr. Watson and the brilliant Holmes, and the insights into the art of deduction make the stories a delight, worth reading again and again.  If you haven’t read them you really should.

The new piece, which can be read in its entirety through the link above, was written by Doyle in 1904 as part of an effort to fund a bridge in a Scottish town.  It’s something of a lampoon of the Holmes stories, with references to tantalizing unknown adventures and Holmes’ explanation of his absurd deductions about Watson’s trip to Scotland.

Doyle’s relationship with his most famous creation was complicated.  He felt the insistent demand for more Holmes stories was interfering with his other writings, and he notoriously killed off the detective in a story published in 1893.  The demand for more stories never ended, however, and Doyle resurrected the character in 1903 — shortly before the new piece was written.  He went on to write many more Holmes stories.

By 1904, Doyle was reconciled to the fact that he would always be known primarily as the man who created Sherlock Holmes, and I think his recognition of that reality comes through in the introduction and humor of the newly found tale.  There are worse things, he realized, than inventing an immortal detective and his equally immortal sidekick.

Sherlock Holmes And The Bag Of Dog Poop

Recently, when we’ve taken our morning walks around the Yantis Loop, Penny, Kasey, and I have often found unwelcome surprises at various places along the fence line.  They are bags of dog poop, carefully tied off yet left on the top of the fence posts.  I pick them up, carry them to the next disposal container, and toss them in.  And I always wonder:  who in the heck would do such a thing?

In The Sign of the Four, Sherlock Holmes explained, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”  What can we deduce from the poop bags?  First, we know the culprit has a dog and is sufficiently mobile to make it to various places along the Yantis Loop track; cat lovers, the physically infirm, and agoraphobes therefore need not apply.  Second, we know that the perpetrator has to be tall enough to reach the top of the three-foot-high fence posts and have the eye-hand coordination to tie off a bag of poop, which eliminates infants, toddlers, and the pooping dogs themselves.  Third, the miscreant can’t be a total jerk; if they were a complete reprobate they wouldn’t bag the poop in the first place.  Ergo, they must have some sense of social obligation.  Finally, the poop bags are small, suggesting that the dog is a tiny, yapper dog, the kind that most men despise.

From these clues, I deduce that the wrongdoer is a repressed husband who walks his wife’s appalling pocketbook pooch at her request, bags the poop while growing increasingly annoyed at the shrill barks, and then leaves the bagged poop on the fence as a last rebellious gesture before heading home to endure the tattered remains of his miserable, pathetic life.  It’s either that, or a wealthy but absent-minded New Albany philanthropist who leaves the bags to identify citizens who care enough about their community to dispose of bags of a strange dog’s poop, but then forgets to reward those decent, responsible, civic-minded folks.

What say you, Watson?

The Case Of The Dog That Couldn’t Bark

In Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes famously deduced the identity of a wrongdoer by focusing on a dog that didn’t bark. What would Holmes deduce, I wonder, about dog owners who have their pooches undergo vocal cord surgery — sometimes on multiple occasions — to keep the dogs from barking?

The surgical procedure involves cutting the dog’s vocal cords.  The dog tries to bark, but little sound is produced.  Because the vocal cords can reconnect as scar tissue forms, allowing the dog to again produce sound, some owners have their dogs undergo multiple surgeries.

In the story linked above, a dog owner said her dog barked constantly.  The surgery was a last resort, undertaken only after other debarking methods didn’t work, and was the only option that would allow her to keep her dog and avoid complaints from neighbors and citations for violation of city noise ordinances.  I’m sympathetic to her plight, I suppose, but I’m more sympathetic to the dog.

It’s bad enough that humans have taken animals descended from wolves and, through selective breeding, have produced fou-fou dogs that live in purses or are groomed to look like topiary, but cutting a dog’s vocal cords crosses a line.  Some dogs are barkers, others aren’t.  Those who bark are trying to communicate something — Kasey, who barks constantly while I am getting her morning food, obviously is saying “Hey buddy, speed it up!” — and it just seems cruel to deprive them of that part of their personality.  What would a self-respecting dog feel if her expected bark came out as only an embarrassing squeak?  Any surgery, too, involves risk for the dog. It’s one thing for a dog to undergo surgery to deal with a health issue, but quite another for a dog to undergo surgery solely to avoid annoying an owner or a neighbor.  What’s next, canine cosmetic surgery?

Neighbors shouldn’t have to suffer through constant dog barking, but any owner with a barking dog who can’t deal with the problem through non-surgical means has two options:  move to a place where the dog can bark freely, or find the dog a home in the country, where neighbors aren’t going to complain.

Working Man’s Boat

During our visit to Stonington, Maine, I ran across this boat tied to a dock.  I didn’t see the owner, but Sherlock Holmes clearly could have drawn some significant inferences from the state of his vessel.

The owner clearly wouldn’t be pretentious, given the appearance of his humble, battered craft.  He didn’t load the boat with creature comforts or fancy gadgetry, and indeed did not even treat himself to a seat cushion to make the ride a bit more bearable, so he obviously wasn’t a slave to luxury.  And given the simple contents of the boat — a buoy, some oars, a life jacket, a beaten tool box — the owner clearly was focused on function, nor form.

I imagined a working man who had a vessel he had used for years and trusted completely, and who saw no need to mess around with something that was working just fine, even if it was somewhat the worse for wear.