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UNCLE JACK'S WEBLOG
Friday, May 29, 2009
Tempus fugit, Friday May 29, 2009
       Time flies when you're having fun. Uncle Jack can hardly believe that nearly a week has passed since he last blogged. Between manifold daytime activities ranging from opening a stopped drain to attending an international seminar on health care costs at JHU, his blogging time has been severely reduced. Needless to say his every evening has been consumed by an irresistible compulsion to watch every minute of every NBA playoff game. The Gods have sent LeBron and Kobe to entertain us in this time of great troubles and far be it from Uncle Jack to ignore these priceless gifts.

       He wishes he had time to expatiate upon the             
dreadful things he learned at the Johns Hopkins conference (e.g., that up to 70% of some popular prescription drugs consumed by Americans at great cost to themselves, their insurance companies and to Medicare and Medicaid, do them no good whatsoever.) The result of this and numerous other follies is the ever-increasing cost of medical care which, unless it can be contained, will eventually bankrupt the country---unless some other insoluble problem does it first.
       He would prefer to wax eloquent about a new restaurant he and Mrs. U.J. discovered in Fell's Point on Memorial Day or about the fascinating book he bought at the Goodwill this week but alas, time will not permit. He must now prepare for tomorrow's adventure which will take them first to the home of friends near D.C. who have acquired seats for a performance of "The Pirates of Penzance" at Wolftrap Saturday night, and then to Nags Head for a week of "fun in the sun" as they say over at the Tourist Bureau.
       Uncle Jack's cup runneth over, for sure, and it's dripping on his blog.

posted by Uncle Jack at 5:08 PM

Comments [7]



Monday, May 25, 2009
Happy Memorial Day? Monday May 25, 2009
       Come to think of it Memorial Day is supposed to be a day of solemn remembrance so maybe "Happy Memorial Day" is not really an appropriate greeting. Uncle Jack will have to find out how the Hallmark Card company handles Memorial Day so he will know what to say next year.
       He can remember a time when Memorial Day weekend was one of the happiest times of the year for him and that was in the old days when the summer season on the Outer Banks began at Memorial Day and ended at Labor Day. He would have to blow the dust off his cash register and try to remember what he was supposed to say to customers when they came through the door of his humble gallery and framing shop. Some years he even forgot how to make change which is a serious problem when you are in retail.
       It's all different now that he is retired and living in Bawlmer and the four-day weekends like Memorial Day don't have the same pecuniary significance they once had. Instead of sitting in a shop hoping that customers will come in he can be a customer himself and make somebody else happy.
       He and Mrs. Uncle Jack did exactly that this morning when they walked over to the brand new Ace Hardware store that just opened in their neighborhood where they spent $2.97 on a package of picture hangers. That was not a lot of money but the owner seemed abjectly grateful and Uncle Jack knows from experience exactly how he felt.
       Anyway it is wonderful to have a good hardware store within walking distance and Uncle Jack is sure that they will continue to patronize it frequently right up until the day it goes out of business which is what happened to every one of the half-dozen hardware stores that once served the neighborhood. He sincerely hopes he is being unduly pessimistic.
       For all those readers who have to go back to work tomorrow---isn't it great to have a job!!


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Uncle Jack promised more pics from the Druid Hill Conservatory. Here's one of them, a most peculiar flower.

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This, he believes, is an orchid because it was in the orchid room.

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Not sure about this one.

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Or this one either for that matter.

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This one is called the "shoestring tree" for reasons that are not difficult to discern.

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The leaves on this one are almost as colorful as the blossom.

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A serious fern.

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They say this is a cactus.

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This is a cactus, too. Uncle Jack just had a great idea for a Viagra commercial.

posted by Uncle Jack at 5:44 PM

Comments [3]



Thursday, May 21, 2009
Druid Hill Park-Part 1, Thursday May 21, 2009
       Uncle Jack had heard of Druid Hill Park long before he moved to Baltimore so this being a spectacularly beautiful day he and Mrs. U.J. decided to make it the locus of their daily walk. It's a little too far to walk to from their condo so they drove over in the Mini and parked near the walking path that completely surrounds the man-made lake that is the centerpiece of this magnificent 750 acre amenity. He took a ton of pictures, some of which appear below and the rest to come in his next blog. This will not be their last visit to Druid Hill Park, that's for sure.
             


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Druid Hill lake is one of the largest earth-dam lakes in the U.S. It is one source of Baltimore's water supply.

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View of downtown from the walking-biking path that surrounds the lake. The path is about 1.5 miles long and is a favorite haunt of exercise mavens like Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J.

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This peculiar structure was once part of a narrow-gauge railroad that ran through the park in the old days.

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Christopher Columbus occupies a place of honor in the park along with a raft of other distinguished folks. They don't call Baltimore "Monument City" for nothing.

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The Conservatory (1881) along with the Zoo, the huge swimming pool, the tennis and basketball courts, picnic pavilions, etc. give Baltimoreans lots of reasons to visit the park.

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The Rose Garden, one of many surrounding the Conservatory.

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"A rose is a rose is a rose," said Gertrude Stein who lived for a while in Baltimore and may have gotten her inspiration here.

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The Conservatory has a room devoted to desert plants like this agave cactus.

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And this one called the candelabra tree.

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Colorful desert rocks are scattered through the room. More Conservatory pictures next time.

posted by Uncle Jack at 5:34 PM

Comments [7]



Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Bolton Hill, Tuesday May 19, 2009
       Uncle Jack has returned from his nostalgia trip to his old hometown, Ashland, Wisconsin, and has resumed exploration of his new hometown, Baltimore, Maryland. He and Mrs. U.J. took their daily walk yesterday through a fascinating neighborhood just north of downtown called Bolton Hill. From its beginnings back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries Bolton Hill has been an upscale enclave for the monied class who could afford to build large, expensive townhouses designed by the leading architects of the time. While many of them have been converted into small apartment houses the neighborhood retains its old charm and elegance. A lot of wealthy people still live in Bolton Hill but the population now includes students from nearby universities and professional people of all kinds who enjoy a very short commute to downtown.
       Bolton Hill is almost completely residential with only one restaurant and one sedate bar within its bounds. Lots of churches, though, some of which are architecturally stunning. Lots of small parks, too, which make walking in the neighborhood a delightful pastime.
       One of Uncle Jack's lovely granddaughters alerted him to the fact that 2009 is the 50th anniversary of the Mini car. To see how some Mini enthusiasts in England celebrated this banner year click on the link below the pictures. Enjoy.


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An atypical house in Bolton Hill because it has a yard. It was one of the earliest houses built in the neighborhood more than 200 years ago.

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Most of the houses are elegant rowhouses like these---bigger and fancier than the ones in Charles Village.

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This one, built in 1754, still has its original bootscraper at the front steps.

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If you like tall, skinny houses this one is for you.

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The Masonic Temple looks a bit sturdier.

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A few townhouses are set back from the street, leaving room for front yard gardens of great beauty.

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The parsonage of the Methodist Church. Uncle Jack wonders what the architect might have been smoking when he came up with this.

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Part of the Francis Scott Key memorial.

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Remember Garry Moore? He lived in Bolton Hill along with Woodrow Wilson (when he was a grad student at JHU), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and many other luminaries who are plaqued.

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(Not in Bolton Hill) Jesus must be doing well in the bail bond business---the car is a late model Mercedes convertible.

link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/motoring/article-1183674/A-big-Mini-day--thousands-road-Minis-50th-anniversary.html

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:55 AM

Comments [7]



Saturday, May 16, 2009
Nostalgia time, Saturday May 16, 2009
       Uncle Jack belatedly discovered "Google Images" yesterday and spent the next several hours on an exciting (for him, anyway) trip down memory lane. He typed "Ashland, Wisconsin" into the search bar which turned up over fifty pages of photographs, old and new, of his old hometown. The pictures below may not be of any interest to anyone other than members of his family---and maybe not even to them---but what the heck. It's his blog.
       The penultimate picture---the blast furnace---is particularly poignant because it is the only image Uncle Jack has ever seen of the place where his paternal grandfather worked and died. The blast furnace rendered iron ore from the Gogebic Range in nearby Michigan into pig iron for shipment to the steel mills in Chicago, Cleveland and other Great Lakes port cities. Logs from the forests surrounding Ashland were converted into charcoal to fuel the furnaces until there was not a tree standing within 50 miles at which point it became expedient to ship the ore itself down the lakes, hence the oredocks and boats in the other pictures.
       Uncle Jack's grandfather, who had emigrated from Sweden late in the 19th century, worked on a gang whose job it was to unload the towering piles of logs from the wagons on which they were hauled to the furnace. He was accidentally killed when a log or logs fell on him, leaving two small boys (Uncle Jack's dad and his older brother, Charlie) fatherless. His widow, the redoubtable Grandma Elin, took in boarders to survive, one of whom she married. His surname was Sundberg which is why his aunt Esther (of Swedish rye bread fame) was named Sundberg instead of Sandberg. It took him a long time to figure this out but he had plenty of time because Aunt Esther lived to be almost 100, her life spanning the entire twentieth century.
       There is much more to be said about these pictures but he will mercifully save it for another time.
      


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Beaser Elementary School, to which Uncle Jack trudged for eight years, 1935 to 1943. The building still stands but hasn't been used as a school for many years.

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Ashland High School, whence Uncle Jack marched proudly forth with his diploma in 1948. It was torn down many years ago and replaced by a nondescript building in another part of town. Sic transit gloria mundi.

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Bay Theater, where Uncle Jack watched countless horse operas as a child. He will never forget Gone With the Wind because it was so long it had to have an intermission. The Bay is still going strong.

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Wooden ore dock. There were three of these and one made of concrete and steel which still stands. It's not easy to recycle a concrete ore dock.

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Ore boat loading iron ore. When the ore was dumped from railroad cars into the empty hold at night, Uncle Jack could hear the noise from his bedroom miles away.

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After the ball was over. The ore eventually ran out and the docks were no longer needed. To this day the high school teams are known as the Oredockers.

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Lighthouse on the breakwater which protected Ashland harbor from the wrath of Lake Superior.

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Sandbar beach, where Uncle Jack swam in the frigid water every summer until it became too polluted. Ashland had no sewage treatment plant in those days. Everything went into the bay. Everything.

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Blast furnace. The brick building and chimney still stand a century later. The latter is home to zillions of swallows which emerge at nightfall to feed on flying insects. An amazing sight.

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Prentice Park, a city amenity which was the scene of many a high school beer party. The icy artesian spring water cooled a can of Leinenkugels in seconds.

posted by Uncle Jack at 6:17 AM

Comments [7]



Thursday, May 14, 2009
Ich bin ein Marylander, Wednesday May 13, 2009
       It's official. Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. are now genuine Marylanders having performed the rites of passage yesterday morning at the Division of Motor Vehicles office in northwest Bawlmer. Maryland thus becomes the fifth state (after Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina) in which he has been eligible to engage in the dubious enterprises of voting and paying taxes. He hopes it will be the last because he doesn't think he could survive a go-round with yet another DMV.
       Uncle Jack seems to be constitutionally incapable of following instructions, especially the arcane minutiae found in the typical handbooks compiled by DMV bureaucrats. He recalls being reduced literally to tears by the formidable woman (witch?) who ran the tag and title office in Manteo back in the early 80's when he moved to the Outer Banks from Pittsburgh. On that occasion he had to make at least three trips back to his house in Nags Head before he had assembled the precise set of documents that proved (a) that he was who he said he was (2) that he lived where he said he lived (3) that he actually owned the car that he said he owned (4) that he wasn't fibbing when he said that his pre-rusted Plymouth Voyager was properly insured.
       He did a little better this time, needing only one trip back to his condo to fetch his passport. How could he have known that he would need his passport to get into Maryland? Baltimore is a bit like a foreign country in some ways but really.
       He has to admit that the errors were of his own doing and the DMV functionaries actually did their jobs very efficiently and even pleasantly. Once he got all the necessary documents together he was in and out in less than a half-hour and that included registering to vote. Both he and Mrs. U.J. experienced moments of terror when they were told to "read the letters on line 4" which appeared as a blur to both of them but with some inspired guessing and a little help from their inquisitors they succeeded and were issued the little plastic cards that will enable them to go forth and grope their way legally through the still unfamiliar streets of Baltimore and environs. Street signs are as hard to read as "line four" but they are somehow managing to get to where they want to go.
       A moment of sadness came when he had to remove the "MINI" license plate from the rear of the Mini and the "Nags Head" plate from the front. Both have been replaced by Maryland tags of such banality that he fears he will never be able to love---or even remember---them.
       In any case the die is cast and they are now Marylanders in word and deed. Will they learn to love the Orioles and the Ravens more than they love their own children? Stay tuned.
      
             

posted by Uncle Jack at 7:49 AM

Comments [5]



Monday, May 11, 2009
Sunday in Fell's Point, May 11, 2009
       The old waterfront Fell's Point neighborhood is becoming Uncle Jack's favorite "go-to" section in Baltimore for good food and inexpensive entertainment. The weather on Mother's Day was flawless so he and Mrs. U.J. zipped down St. Paul street around noon and fetched up in a parking place that miraculously opened in front of them on Market Square in the heart of Fell's Point. They gave thanks to the Parking Deity before stepping out of the Mini and right into the middle of the monthly fleamarket which brings hundreds of dealers and thousands of shoppers to the ancient (c. 1850) market during the clement months. They picked up a clutch of excellent books at ridiculous prices which alone would have made the trip worthwhile.
       But there was more. What they really came for was the annual open house tour of historic Fell's Point homes which the local preservation society has been running as a fund raiser for the past 38 years. Among others, they visited a couple of elegant condos carved out of an old warehouse building which offered a glimpse of the kind of lifestyle available to those for whom a recession is a mere speed bump on the golden highway of life. They kept telling themselves that they would still rather live in Charles Village with a view of the Johns Hopkins library than in a plush apartment overlooking the harbor but.....
       They returned to "Bertha's", one of Charm City's most popular purveyors of mussels, for lunch. Plump Prince Edward Island mussels cooked in garlic sauce and washed down with a pint of Guinness makes an admirable mid-day meal, especially when followed almost immediately by a nap, which on this occasion it was.
       Urban living at its finest.


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The Fell's Point fleamarket in full panoply under sunny skies.

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A Canadian warship was visiting the harbor for some reason. Fortunately the Canadians are still friendly.

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This faux pirate ship competes for the tourist dollar with a host of other watery amusements.

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The view from one of the waterfront condos. Shades of Camden, ME.

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This marker shows the location of the original Fell family graveyard. Four Fell brothers came from England around 1600 and were among the first developers of Baltimore.

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Pier No. 1. The ornate building now houses a police station which in crime-plagued Baltimore constitutes inspired recycling.

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These gorgeous North Carolina strawberries were all over the farmers market on Saturday.

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This unusual house is on St. Paul street a couple of blocks from Uncle Jack's condo.

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Much of the spring shrubbery is still in riotous bloom.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:36 AM

Comments [5]



Friday, May 8, 2009
Rainy day fun, Friday May 8, 2009
       Four rainy days in a row finally brought on a severe case of cabin fever which Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. treated with a trip to the Baltimore Museum of Art yesterday. The BMA is one of Charm City's major cultural attractions {along with the Orioles and the Ravens) and it's just a ten minute walk across the Johns Hopkins campus from their apartment. Admission is free and the place is huge so it will provide many days of escape from rain, snow, sleet, destitution or whatever other calamities might arise in future years.
       They explored only one part of one floor yesterday and spent most of their time examining the incredible mosaics from the ancient Syrian city of Antioch, brought to the BMA by a member of a wealthy Baltimore family who dabbled in archaeology. They date back to a time (the 20's and 30's)when westerners could still plunder the treasures of the Middle East with impunity. Experts deem the BMA's collection to be the finest in the U.S.and having seen them Uncle Jack can understand why.
       Unlike most art museums the BMA also boasts one of the finest and most popular restaurants in the Baltimore area. While there is nothing fancy about "Gertrude's" the food and service are outstanding and the prices reasonable. Uncle Jack ordered the "Maryland barbecue" plate to see if it could possibly be as good as North Carolina barbecue sometimes is and it was. When the weather warms up many guests will be able to dine outdoors on a patio overlooking the sculpture garden where numerous examples of modern art are displayed to bewilder unenlightened patrons (poltroons?) like Uncle Jack.
       They hope the newly arrived fine weather holds up until Sunday when they will indulge in a tour of historic homes in the Fells Point section followed by a stop at Bertha's to see if her mussels are as good as they were a couple of months ago. Stay tuned.
      


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The west wing of the BMA which opened in 1928, making it two years older than Uncle Jack.

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This mosaic panel is about 8' x 10' and contains thousands of small pieces of variously colored marble embedded in concrete.

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This piece is about 30' feet long in its entirety. How they managed to dig it up and transport it to Baltimore in one piece is a story in itself.

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The mosaic pavements date from the 2nd to the 6th century A.D. when Antioch was a thriving city.

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Earthquakes destroyed the city in the 6th century A.D. and it never recovered. The same fate possibly awaits Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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Among the BMA's oddities is this chair made of 50 dozen #2 pencils.

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A copy of Rodin's "Thinker". He has a lot to ponder these days.

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This is a particularly lovely room. Click on the link below to learn more about Medora", the subject of the reclining statue--one of the most beautiful Uncle Jack has ever seen.

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The recycled gatehouse for the Homewood estate which is now the JHU main campus.

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Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire receives a standing ovation after performing Beethoven's 4th piano concerto at last Sunday's BSO concert.

link: http://siris-artinventories.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?uri=full=3100001~!30137!0

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:18 AM

Comments [1]



Monday, May 4, 2009
Chutzpah lives, Monday May 4, 2009
Uncle Jack does a lot of reading now that he is too old and decrepit to do much of anything else. He reads magazines and newspapers and books and cereal boxes and pretty much anything he can get his hands on that has words printed on it. Being able to read is a great comfort to him in his old age because he can keep himself informed and amused without ever having to turn on the TV for anything except Jeopardy and basketball.
       Most of what he reads he tends to forget pretty quickly because he is losing his memory along with his hair and his energy but every once in a while he runs across something in print that is so extraordinary that it sticks with him for a while. It might be an extremely funny joke, or something ridiculous a politician has said, or even an advertisement---like the one he encountered yesterday as he was reading the May issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine.
       Uncle Jack has the greatest respect for the Atlantic Monthly as a source of excellent writing on a great variety of topics so the double-page ad for "organic cigarettes" really caught him off guard. At first he thought it was a clever spoof of some kind but he was wrong. Somebody is actually marketing an "organic" cigarette called "Natural American Spirit" and they are appealing to the well-educated readers of one of America's finest periodicals to smoke them. Such a magnificent example of chutzpah Uncle Jack has not encountered since he read about the defendant in a murder trial who had killed his parents and then pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.
       Anyway it brought to mind a piece he wrote a long time ago about smoking which he has retrieved from the archives and presents here for the umpteenth time inasmuch as nothing exciting happened in Baltimore (except for a small riot and a couple of stabbings) over the weekend. Needless to say it's optional reading.
                    

                                                                                                                                                                 Proud to be a Quitter

       Uncle Jack read in the paper where Americans are smoking fewer cigarettes than ever before which makes him very happy but he finds it hard to believe when he sees all the cigarette butts in his parking lot every day. It seems like most of the people who are still smoking still think the world is their ashtray just like Uncle Jack did when he was a smoker.
       The paper said that even though the cigarette companies spend over a billion dollars a year on advertising they have only managed to hook about one out of every three grown-ups on cigarettes. That is pretty amazing when you consider how many of those dollars are aimed at trying to convince children that they are never going to amount to much if they do not have at least one cigarette going at all times.
       Most of the people who don't smoke must have a hard time understanding why smokers smoke when even the dumb smokers who never finished high school must have heard by now that smoking is bad for their health.
       Some of the non-smokers probably tried to learn how to smoke when they were young but it made them sick right off the bat instead of having to wait thirty years to get lung cancer. They were lucky.
       Uncle Jack does not smoke but it isn't hard for him to understand why people do smoke even though they know it makes them cough and it stinks up their clothes and it is costing them a fortune.Uncle Jack knows why they smoke because a long time ago he used to smoke, too, and he can still remember what it was like. For ten years he started every day with a cigarette and ended every day with a cigarette and in between he smoked at least twenty more, two or three of which he really enjoyed.
       This is not something Uncle Jack is proud of. It is not easy to admit that he was a slave but for ten years Uncle Jack belonged to the Marlboro Man. He crawled along in the dust behind the Marlboro Man all those years and the Marlboro Man would never even let him ride his horse, much less introduce him to any pretty girls.
       One day Uncle Jack really got fed up with the Marlboro Man and he decided he would never smoke a cigarette again. He knows exactly when this was because it was on the very day his only begotten son was born. (Uncle Jack has always had a flair for the dramatic).
       Actually Uncle Jack had tried to quit smoking many times before but the Marlboro Man wouldn't let him. This time, though, Uncle Jack had help from Bob Newhart.
       Back in the old days before he got rich and famous doing TV sitcoms Bob Newhart was a stand-up comedian who did funny skits where he would pretend he was talking on the phone to somebody. In one of those skits he pretended to be a high pressure salesman in England who was talking to Sir Walter Raleigh.
       Raleigh has just discovered tobacco in America and he is trying to convince this salesman that there is big money to be made in something called "cigarettes". He tries to describe over the phone what tobacco is and how you make cigarettes and what you are supposed to do with them and it goes something like this:
       "So you take this weed and you let it dry out and then you crumble it up and wrap it in a little paper tube," the salesman says. "O.K. Walt, baby, I follow you so far but then what?"
       "You put the little tube of tobacco in your mouth and set fire to it?" he says, beginning to laugh uncontrollably. After he recovers he says, "And then what do you do, Walt?"
       "You ...you...breathe the smoke into your lungs?!! Walt, baby, you've got to be kidding!!"
       Anyway Uncle Jack has not smoked a cigarette since November 2, l96l and he cannot even begin to figure out how much money he has not spent on cigarettes in that time but it must have
been enough to pay for all the bourbon he has consumed in the same period. We are talking real money here.
       He would like to conclude by saying that he would be happy to serve as an inspiration to anybody who would would like to quit smoking but doesn't think he can. If somebody as inherently spineless as Uncle Jack can quit, he is sure that anybody can.
       And if all else fails he will let you borrow his Bob Newhart record.


                     

posted by Uncle Jack at 5:53 PM

Comments [1]



Saturday, May 2, 2009
Home again, Saturday May 2, 2009
       It still seems a little strange for Uncle Jack to be calling Baltimore "home" after almost 40 years of living on the Outer Banks but he's getting used to it. Not surprisingly he felt very much at home while he was in Nags Head this week, too. He seems to be in the very enviable position of having two home towns, both of which have a lot going for them. The fact that they are only five hours apart by speedy Mini makes them both fairly readily accessible at any time which
is good. He can enjoy the best of both worlds at the cost of a tank-and-a-half of gas which, even if it goes back up to $4 gallon again, which it surely will, is manageable.
       So when he feels an irresistible urge to stroll among the tattered sandbags of South Nags Head he can do that, and when he craves the sound of an excellent symphony orchestra he can indulge that fancy, too. He is one lucky Dude.
       He hopes this will help to explain his actions to those readers who cannot understand why anyone in his right mind could choose to live in Baltimore when he could be living on the Outer Banks. Uncle Jack is, as he has often mentioned, a bona fide high school graduate and as such he needs the intellectual and esthetic stimulation that can only be found in a city. This is why he and Mrs. U.J. (another high school graduate) have so often traveled during the off-season to cultural havens like London and Rome and Florence and New Orleans. As he has grown older and traveling has become more arduous (and his bank account has shriveled)he has found that Bawlmer, in spite of all its problems, is the answer to an aging high school graduate's prayers.
       Stay tuned.
      
             
      
      


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What a difference a couple of months can make. This was the view from the deck on March 4.

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This morning.

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Johns Hopkins campus on March 4.

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Same view this morning.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:21 AM

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Except for short hiatus in Baltimore Uncle Jack has lived in Nags Head for over 45 years. He was a columnist for the Outer Banks Current and its successor, the Outer Banks Sentinel, for 20 years. A collection of his columns is available from Amazon Kindle under the title Uncle Jack's Outer Banks. He and Mrs. Uncle Jack, aka Sue, live in South Nags Head whence he observes and sometimes comments on the passing parade.
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