I Wuz Robbed

January 17th, 2006

Well, it's been an interesting evening: When I returned to my dressing room tonight in Philadelphia, after performing my Franklin monologue and then staying onstage to lead the audience in singing "Happy Birthday" to Ben Franklin -- who was just turning 300 -- I discovered that my wallet, my Treo phone (which also had my PalmPilot info in it), and (I just realized this after getting back to my hotel room) my iPod had been stolen. It's weird that anyone was able to get to my stuff, as there were two members of the theater staff in front of the dressing-room doorway during the entire show. Kind of a surreal scene as well, as I had intended to join the large contingent from the audience who had repaired to an upstairs room in the theater to continue toasting Ben's 300th.

The theater people called the police, who took a couple of hours to respond, since it wasn't a robbery in progress or anything. Eventually a blonde policewoman, looking like a cast member from a TV show in which we are meant to accept that 18-year-old actresses are actually cops, showed up. I took her downstairs to the labyrinthine bowels of the theater, where the dressing rooms are. She asked a few questions. It was not at all like Columbo, but that may have been because I wasn't the guest star who had committed the nearly perfect crime except for the one thing I'd overlooked. ... Rather, I was the visiting monologuist -- a very un-Hollywoodish theater performer who would, if anything, be cast as the wacky bald sidekick to the teenaged blonde policewoman. No, not the sidekick -- I'd probably be her dad. I believe the actual policewoman's last name was "File." So let's say the show would be called The File Files -- and I'd be her gruff but loving bald dad, Phil File. I left the force years ago because I wanted to get into the theater; now, years later, I'm realizing that theater's a dying art -- the people want glitz and jump-cutting, don't you know. So what do I do? I sit at home and drink unhealthy amounts of Peet's coffee, alternately doting on and worrying about my devil-may-care cop daughter, Phyllis. ... Then one night she comes back from work: turns out a monologuist has been robbed, right out of his dressing room at the theater. The case is at a standstill -- but maybe, just maybe, with my theatrical experience I can help her hunt down the perpetrators. ...

Okay, I'm babbling. ... But let me just mention (if I haven't already) that the real-life Philadelphia policewoman said she suspected this was an inside job.

Two other things, and then I'll stop writing about this. One, I called my bank to cancel my two credit cards and they told me that both cards had already been used -- at a gas station! Two, I don't drive! ... So is that fair? They steal from a non-driver and then try to use my credit cards for gas? There should be a law. ...

Okay, just one more thing about this: I had this idea that maybe, since the perpetrator(s) used my credit cards at a gas station, they got caught on a security camera. Hesitantly, I mentioned this to Policewoman File, thinking she would just nod gruffly and keep walking (perhaps muttering something about people who watch too much TV and think they know how to solve crimes). Instead she said something like, "You know, that's possible." She told me that some detectives would be in touch -- though since I no longer have my cellphone, I'm not totally sure how they'll reach me. ...

So anyhow: Happy 300th Birthday, Ben Franklin!

As far as I know Franklin didn't set up America's first police force -- but he did organize our first volunteer fire department. Also (and this is just off the top of my head, at 1:15 a.m. after a long day of performing and being robbed) he set up our first successful insurance company (irony noted), along with the first public school, lending library, and public hospital. He invented bifocals (which I recently found out I need -- though in my case, they are sexily referred to as "progressive lenses"), along with the grabber (you know, that device you can use to pull down a cereal box from the top shelf at the grocery store), the first smokeless coal-burning stove (the "Franklin stove"), the glass armonica (an ethereal instrument that Mozart, among others, ended up composing for), an elegant typeface that still bears his name, and -- oh yes, right -- the lightning rod. He was the only person to sign all four of the fundamental founding documents of our country: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, and the peace treaty with the British. He co-founded the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society. On the boat ride back from France -- in his 70s, suffering from gout and other ailments, and having just saved the American Revolution with his brilliant diplomacy -- he occupied his time by charting the Gulf Stream. Also (and I learned this yesterday, during my dinner with a bunch of Franklin scholars) while on that boat ride, he redesigned the sailors' soup bowls and the chickens' feed bowls so that neither would slosh as much. He refused to take out patents on any of his inventions, believing that everyone should have access to them. ...

And did I mention that at the time the peasants of Europe had a superstitious fear of potatoes, thinking them poisonous? And that while in Europe Franklin, knowing that the potato could provide sustenance for many of these peasants, arranged for a sumptuous feast to be prepared in which everything -- bread, whiskey, soup, etc. -- was made from potatoes? And that he made sure the success of this meal was widely publicized? And that his plan worked, and peasants started eating pototoes like there was no tomorrow? ... Well, all that stuff really happened. ...

And you already know about Poor Richard's Almanack, and his best-selling Autobiography. ...

And I promise I won't go on much further about Ben, but my father-in-law, who is himself a great scientist, loves to talk about two of Franklin's lesser-known scientific experiments. In the first, he wanted to find out whether different colors absorb different amounts of heat -- so he placed several strips of paper, of different colors, in the snow on a sunny winter's day. Sure enough, the differently colored paper strips absorbed different amounts of heat from the sun: the proof was that the ones that had absorbed more heat had melted further down into the snow. ... In the other experiment, Franklin wanted to determine the exact width of a molecule. So he poured a bit of oil in a French pond and waited for it to completely spread out on top of the water, figuring that its ultimate thickness would be that of one molecule. (Okay, I admit I'm kind of lost here myself -- but the guy sitting next to me at dinner last night confirmed that Franklin's measurement was incredibly close to being accurate.) ...

He was vegetarian for a while, but then he gave it up. There was a Scottish folksong that made him cry. He lost a beloved son, at four, to smallpox -- and then, when the false rumor spread that his son had died from being inoculated, Franklin, in his grief, wrote a pamphlet explaining that his son had not been inoculated and that everyone should be inoculated. He spent over 10 years in England trying to get the British to treat the colonists fairly; not only did he fail, but he was also falsely accused at home of secretly being a British agent. In France, in his 70s, he proposed marriage to an elderly widow of enormous wit and intellect; she turned him down, gracefully.

He had two years of formal education: second and third grade. After that, his father pulled him out of school, reasoning that there wasn't enough money for him to go to college anyway. He was apprenticed to his older brother James, who -- possibly jealous of his younger brother's obvious genius -- beat him. He ran away, and was caught and brought back. He ran away again, and made it to Philadelphia. ...

Okay, it's 1:58 a.m. and I have two shows to do tomorrow. Franklin is now officially 300 years and one day old. I have less stuff than I had this morning, but I have enough. Officer File will report to the detectives. And to you, who possibly even read all the way to here -- or, more sensibly, skipped down to see how all the blathering would end -- I wish a peaceful good night.

Entry Filed under: citizenship,let's digress


  • 1. Julie Bernstein  |  January 18th, 2006 at 8:51 am

    Oh Josh, that’s awful!! Did you have insurance on the Treo? I’ll chip in to get you a new video iPod…

  • 2. Sue T.  |  January 18th, 2006 at 11:16 am

    That is SUCH a bummer! I can’t believe your stuff got stolen backstage, while you were performing. That’s just terrible. I’d be happy to chip into the Get Josh A New iPod Fund.

    Speaking of iPods, I enjoyed listening to your interview on WHYY — thanks for posting a link to the podcast.

  • 3. Josh Kornbluth  |  January 18th, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Julie & Sue, you are just too sweet! You both have done more than enough by following my little blog and posting your kind comments. I’ll figure out a way to pay for the replacement gadgets myself — perhaps I’ll join the circus? — but thanks for your offers! … So long as the American people continue to refuse to allow certain politicians to steal public broadcasting away from us, I’ll be just fine.

  • 4. Tom  |  January 18th, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    I haven’t checked in for quite a while, for which I apologize.

    What an illustrative description of an unfortunate event. Beautifully written, but what a pain.

    I beg you, Josh…please come to the Twin Cities. People would love you here.

  • 5. Cid Young  |  January 19th, 2006 at 12:54 am

    I’d like it iif you would consider interviewing Nell Newman (of Santa Cruz, CA ….And -Newman’s Own Brand- 1nd Generation Foods). I’ve been using sustainable gardening in my Moss Beach garden and think she’d have interesting things to share with Bay Area audiences. Here are some links ,,, decide for yourself.
    -Cid Young
    Moss Beach, CA





  • 6. Josh Kornbluth  |  January 20th, 2006 at 8:16 pm

    Nell Newman is a great guest idea, Cid — we’re looking into it. Thanks!! (You know, I hear her parents have done some interesting stuff, too. …)

    And Tom: I’d love to perform in the Twin Cities! Do you know any cool theater producers there? …

  • 7. Brian Rostron  |  January 25th, 2006 at 9:17 pm

    We can’t forget Parmentier for his potato work, too. Of course, the whole thing reminds me of an old Emo Philips joke where he dreams that he has died and is awaiting judgment along with many others. God asks if anyone has done a truly selfless deed, and Albert Schweitzer responds that he spent much of his life curing desperately ill people in Africa with no thought of his own welfare or recompence. God responds, “Good job, Albert, and in doing so you subjected countless people to lives of utter poverty and abject misery. Way to go, smart guy!”

    Emo, of course, was the only person to have performed a truly selfless deed because he once returned a rental car with premium gas. And there was a loud hosanna!

    By the way, Josh, I saw you eating dinner tonight at a restaurant on University Avenue. You were seated next a midget, or perhaps a small child.

    Rock on with your bad self.

  • 8. Josh Kornbluth  |  January 30th, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    Hey, Brian: You get extra props for making a reference to Emo Philips! Thanks for writing in. …

Watch Mondays at 7:30pm
Comcast On Demand & KQED 191
email reminder Sign-up for email reminders


January 2006
« Dec   Feb »

Most Recent Posts

The opinions expressed on
The Josh Kornbluth Show blog
are those of the author and not necessarily those of KQED.