The Brass Rat
By: Gary B. Speck
"Hello. You don't know me, but my name is Gary Speck, and..." Have you ever had to make a "cold call" to a stranger?
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology - "The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century."
That mission statement is shared for the world to see on the school's website. MIT, the ultimate University of Nerdism, coughing out engineers by the kilo and Nobel Prize winners by the dozens- 73, in fact: 14 in chemistry, 18 in economics, 10 in medicine, 28 in physics, and three Peace Prize winners. Wow! This is the home of pocket protectors, thick glasses, slide rules (remember them?), and a beaver mascot... a mascot emblazoned on the class rings of the university.
MIT overlooks the Charles River on the south side of Cambridge, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. It has been in the education business since 1865, and is the college of choice for 10,000 students a year (4,000 undergrads and 6,000 graduates pursuing higher degrees).
Some 2,609 miles west of Cambridge, Massachusetts is Hermosa Beach, California. Hermosa Beach is a sleepy little town of 19,000 people basking in the warm sunshine and reveling in the cool sea breeze along the west side of the Los Angeles Basin, 20-some miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles. This beach city is home to great surf, international beach volleyball tournaments, and some of the widest, flattest beaches in southern California.
On good days in the summer it is almost impossible to walk from The Strand to the water because of the sheer numbers of humans making their dermatologists very unhappy. The Strand is Hermosa Beach's version of a Boardwalk, a narrow concrete sidewalk separating houses from sand and surf.. The beach is rated one of the best in the country and draws people by the tens of thousands- especially families, teens, and college students- because it's free!
Freshly graduated from college, Peter Dinnerstein and a group of friends hit the beach for a little swimming and enjoyment of the beach's scenery. After splashing around in the cool water, he and his friends dried off and departed toward their homes after dark.
On a nice, warm weekday evening, a fiftyish gentleman was swinging his metal detector along the quiet sands at 18th Street, doing what detectorists love most, pocketing coins and jewelry, the old White's Coinmaster beeped, and the homemade scoop plunged into the sand. Another treasure found!
Father's Day weekend, 2009. That now "slightly older" detectorist and I had lunch at his favorite restaurant here in southern California. While my wife and stepmom were talking family, my dad reached into his pocket and pulled out a heavy gold ring. Dropping it into my outstretched hand, he asked, "Why don't you see if you can find the owner of this ring and return it?"
I turned it over and noticed that the owner's name was inscribed inside the band. I looked at my dad and told him I'd do my best. I'd never tried doing this before, so I thought about all the tips I'd read in W&ET about this very thing.
When we got home my curiosity was piqued, and I fired up the computer. I searched the Internet for MIT Alumni, quickly finding the Alumni Association website. I clicked on the Alumni Directory, and the screen and its "login" box popped up. Uh-oh! I was not an authorized user with a password.
Time for another tack. I typed "MIT Alumni 1981" into Google. Bingo!
The Class of 1981 webpage appeared- no login required.. Yeah!
On the side of the page was a link to "Pictures from 1981." I clicked on that, and there was the student yearbook. Clicking on that photo took me to a more detailed list with the first two letters of the last names in alphabetic clusters. I clicked on the appropriate cluster and found the photo that matched the name inside the ring.
OK, that was easy. I now know what he looks like, but where is he now? Thankfully, his name isn't John Smith! I went back to Google, typed in the name, and got a couple hits, but nothing I could use. So, I went to the Whitepages.com website, where typing in his name gave me only one result, here in southern California.
From firing up the computer to writing down a phone number took less than 15 minutes!
On Monday evening after coming home from work, I called. Voice mail!
Oh, well, I'll leave a message anyway. Beep.
"Hello. You don't know me, but my name is Gary Speck, and I have something you might have lost a few years ago at the beach..."
Suddenly the phone was live!
"You found my Brass Rat!?"
Nicknamed the Brass Rat, the MIT class ring is redesigned each year, so each class's rings are unique. It is said that the Brass Rat is one of the most recognizable rings in the country, ranking just behind those of West Point and the Superbowl. The beaver on top of the gold ring is the MIT mascot, so chosen because it is considered to be the engineer of the animal world.
So, on Saturday, June 27, 2009, a specific 1981 Brass Rat went to lunch at a local restaurant. Over pizza, a sandwich, and a cold beverage, the "rat" was removed from my pocket and placed on the table in front of an ecstatic Pete.
At last, 27 years after being lost, the Brass Rat was back home where it belonged.