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December 17, 2014

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Saga of a lost ring, panic and a stroke of luck

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Sun Staff

John Katsilometes’ recovered heirloom ring.

Updated Sunday, May 25, 2014 | 10:36 a.m.

Click to enlarge photo

The ring, amid the trash in which it was recovered.

On Christmas Eve of 2005, I was seated next to my grandfather at dinner. Without a word, he nudged me with an elbow and placed a little gold object into my hand.

A ring. His ring, which he’d worn for as long as I could remember. Gold band, square-cut ruby in the middle. As the firstborn of his grandchildren, he wanted me to have that ring.

Last week, I found that ring in a dumpster.

I have some ground, and grounds, to cover here. The story of this ring is my father gave it to my grandfather for Christmas in 1970. Dad was a veterinarian practicing in Pocatello, Idaho, at the time, and had been given the ring by a client who brought in a pet for treatment. The client could not afford to pay the full total of the bill, so he gave Dad the ring and called it even.

My grandfather, my mother’s father on the Italian side of my family, showed a fascination with the little bauble, so my parents gave it to him for Christmas that year.

Grandpa wore the ring every day for 35 years up until that night in 2005, and I’ve worn it every day since. I was wearing it when I shook hands with Paul McCartney the night I met him eight years ago. I once took it off and handed it to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones when Jones allowed me to try on the first Super Bowl ring; when he handed it back, I said, “I’d rather have my ring than your ring.”

I was wearing it when I traveled to Paris and Vienna, Venice and Florence, Kenya and Macau and Guadalajara. This ring has seen the world. It toured the Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal and has celebrated nine New Year’s Eves in Las Vegas. Just this month, the ring visited Laughlin.

But a couple of weeks ago, I lost the ring. How this happened is remarkably simple — and the recovery process remarkably fortunate.

It was Monday night, and I’d been straightening up my new place at Newport Lofts, where I’ve recently moved. I call the place the Swinging Bachelor Pad (SBP), a title inspired by the swinging Czechoslovakian Festrunk Brothers as portrayed by Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd on “Saturday Night Live” in the mid-1970s. I had a tall kitchen garbage bag filled and also an oversized bag from T.J. Maxx ready to be dropped into the trash chute of our high-rise building. I was cleaning dishes, my hands soaked in suds, and wiping down the coffee maker. At some point, I slid the ring off so it would not be tarnished by coffee grounds or slip off in the sink.

That proved a regretful move. Later, after competing all my handiwork, I noticed my right hand felt sort of … naked. The ring was gone. This happens from time to time, when I leave it next to the sink or on top of a counter somewhere. When it does, everything comes to a halt. Nothing else matters but finding the ring. I’ve found it inside shoes and under the bed, once in my gym bag. But after tearing through the SBP for many minutes, including the freezer and inside my swinging zebra-striped pillow cases, I knew it was not anywhere in the condo.

Then I thought: Trash chute.

The trash receptacles in these high-rises lead down several floors to dumpsters in a room on the bottom floor. When you drop a bag, you can hear the long journey to the destination, ending with an audible “whoomp!” I took the elevator down to the building’s lobby and breathlessly explained to the gentleman at the desk that I needed to access the “garbage room” at once. I checked my watch and it was 2:20 a.m.

We entered that room. Whew. Remember the scene in the first “Star Wars” movie when the lead characters tumbled down a trash chute to a murky sea of spilth? This was sort of like that, except drier.

Three dumpsters filled the room, with one placed directly beneath the rectangular metal chute. Garbage bags were stacked up into that chute, and mine was certainly at the top of that pile. This was a job for more than the two of us, clearly, as the dumpster would need to be pushed out of the way and those bags allowed to fall free. It was a job for at least one maintenance professional.

I returned home and sent a note to the community manager explaining what had happened and that I needed to be in the room with anyone authorized to sift through garbage as soon as possible. That note was sent after 3 a.m. At 9 a.m., on the button, I received an email back urging me to return to the trash room to excavate a very high volume of garbage. It was Tuesday, which is trash pickup day, so we needed to move fast.

I arrived and two members of the building’s maintenance staff, Carmen and Jose, were already at work having pulled the dumpster from beneath the chute and hit the floor in search of the ring. Trash bags were opened and trash covered the area. I stopped and said, “I know the ring is in this room, and I won’t leave until I am wearing it. It is very important to me. My soul is in it.”

“You’d better put on some gloves then,” Carmen said.

We found the T.J. Maxx bag, the chief indicator of where we were to look, and it was blown apart from the hard, 10-story landing. But the bag underneath was still tied, and that was mine, too. I reached in and pulled that out, and Carmen and I opened that bag while Jose picked through the remnants from the T.J. Maxx collection. We spread out around the concrete floor and poked and rooted through the stuff I’d tossed down the chute 12 hours earlier.

We had been at work for maybe 30 minutes when, as I ran my fingers across a mound of coffee grounds, Carmen pointed and blurted, “It’s shining!”

Poking out was the ring’s gold band.

I was hunched down in a catcher’s position and nearly tumbled backward. “I want to hug you, but I am all dirty,” I said to Carmen, as Jose shouted, “We found it! We found it!” Our collective adrenaline pumping, we quickly scooped and swept up all the trash. I found my bearings enough to take a photo of the ring atop some of the trash. Then quickly headed back upstairs, cleaned the ring, and am wearing it again. Right now. All the time.

A couple days later, I ran into Carmen at the elevator and clenched my hand into a fist to show her the ring. She smiled and said, “You are so lucky!”

No doubt of that. I’m one lucky dude. I should be in Vegas. Me and my ring.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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