Jack was “born and raised in the mountains of Western North Carolina.” For college, he stayed within the state, attending Duke University and studying chemistry. He later pursued a doctoral degree in biochemistry at the University of Florida and then worked in labs in Philadelphia in the 1970s. Later on, he transitioned to more interdisciplinary work at Penn’s Wharton School, where he taught statistics, computing, and math there for the remainder of his professional career.
Despite the fact that Jack retired several years ago, Penn continues to be an important element of his daily routine. Each morning, Jack spends half hour to forty-five minutes sitting on a comfortable bench on the Penn campus, peoplewatching. After leaving his post on the bench, Jack traverses toward one of the nearby libraries, where he spends time reading and enjoying the open stacks. He says his morning routine “keeps me grounded.”
He maintains a list of the people he says “howdy” to during his morning rounds. Nearly all of the people on Jack’s “howdy” list go back five or more years, several of them being former colleagues, grounds keepers, and other morning people. As a result, his morning route has not yet challenged his memory, likely because he acknowledges that, after over 45 years of affiliation with Penn, some “things [in his memory] are probably really stuck there.” For Jack, afternoons are more malleable. Once he arrives home, Jack usually lounges or runs errands with his wife.
He explains that his afternoons have not yet challenged his memory, since the tasks he completes are usually delegated by his wife. Jack has, however, had a few moments in which he nearly forgot a “morning howdy” partner’s name. These moments of forgetfulness are unsettling to him because “you don’t like to think that your brain’s getting soft, and besides which, it’s embarrassing if you forget things.” In pondering the future of the morning routine that has become so integral to Jack’s typical day, he thought aloud, “I don’t want to be sitting on my bench one of these days and not remember how to get home.”
Taking proactive measures to preserve the routine that grounds him, Jack uses his cell phone and a notepad to keep important information saved in several places. He acknowledges that, in the same way he is prevented from sitting on his favorite bench in winter due to the cold weather, he may have to modify his morning routine to accommodate the shifts that can result from MCI.