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Marc Dion
Marc Dion
8 Feb 2016
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For Bill Unger and the Hobby Boys


Even as I write (in the quaint old phrase), some fellow in, say, Oklahoma is planning or perhaps hosting the meeting of his hometown camera club. Some woman, equally sincere, is going over the books of her bowling team, making sure they're on financial track to purchase trophies for the annual banquet. As a guy in his 60s organizes a barroom darts league and a younger fellow hovers over a computer, making sure all is well with a fantasy football league.

Church choir. Bunco. Pigeon racing. Model railroading. Stock cars. A rod and gun club.

Newsletters. Membership cards. Dues.

It's a sweet world that runs beside our bitter world, a world of games and hobbies and small-scale associations of men and women who "collect" everything from old farm equipment to fishing flies or who engage in some kind of small-scale competition suited to beer and bragging and laughter at inside jokes.

For me, it's pipes. Not plumbing pipes or marijuana pipes, but tobacco pipes. I smoke a pipe, and I've got 103 of them, crouching in wooden racks all over my dusty little office.

It's a good collection, and even though it couldn't be sold for much money, I play with it often, polishing the pipes, looking at the pipes, moving them around in their racks, cleaning them and, of course, smoking.

No hobby is any good if you cannot talk about it with other like-minded loons, and so I belong to Internet "pipe discussion groups," and I've attended a pipe show in Las Vegas, where collectors show off their treasures, buying, selling and swapping.

And, because I write, I write about pipes.

I'll tell you that I'm a professional writer, by which I mean I get paid or I don't write.

But, for a number of years, I've written for an honest, homely little publication called "The Pipe Collector," a newsletter for the 1,000 or so members of the North American Society of Pipe Collectors. For free.

And in doing so I met Bill Unger, the grave, humorous man who edited the publication and who died on Jan.

1, 2013, of leukemia.

We were hobbyists together; two men who, although we never met in person, shared a passion for a tiny little hobby practiced by a thin skein of men tied together by an interest outside their work.

And you should have an interest outside your work. If you do not, you are just a machine used to make money for someone else. A man who gets off work and goes home to tie his own flies is very much healthier than a man who gets off work and goes home to think about his job.

"Pipe world," as I call it when I'm talking to my wife, is a fanatical place full of men (mostly) who can discourse learnedly about the shapes of pipes, the makers of pipes, the history of the makers of pipes, about pipe cleaning, cleaning techniques, different blends of tobacco and other silly, hopeful things.

And Bill Unger? Well, Bill was in the middle of it, a man whose name was known in the far corners of the world to which the newsletter penetrated. He was a personage in Pipe World, a presence, comrade to men he'd never seen.

He and I did a book together. It's called "Mill River Smoke" and is a collection of mystery stories about pipe-smoking newspaper reporter Jack Dupont, who, like me, is a fedora-wearing throwback who toils in a small New England city of abandoned factories and heroin.

And Bill and I, with no written contract, split up the profits from that book honestly, to the last inconsequential cent. Money doesn't always create character, but it always reveals character. Bill was steel true and blade straight.

A little hobby. Just a little hobby. Just a small collection. Just a few smiling, quiet hours with some unimportant objects you treasure.

It's not much, that little, happy space between the demands of the boss and the baying of the mortgage, that place where you play with the toys you've chosen as an adult.

But you can go there when you have a little time. You can organize your collection of perfume bottles or Depression glass; you can play with your model trains.

I used to go there with Bill Unger, and I will miss him in those quiet moments of play.

To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit



4 Comments | Post Comment
Great Read Mark...Bill was indeed a fine man, husband, and friend to the entire pipe community worldwide. Meeting Bill in 1987 at a pipe show was a wonderful opportunity and our conversation throughout the years was most meaningful. While many will miss Bill...the pipe smoking community will always revere his legacy.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Peter A. Dall, sr.
Fri Jan 4, 2013 1:04 PM
Sir;.. One day you will look at your pipes as the implement of your destruction, and you will throw them into the trash, and spend the last of your moments counting your breaths...
Every form of relationship gives those within recognition and realization...My sister in law collects hair collectors... These little jars are a little creepy to me...They are a reminder of the ageless vanity of humanity, for women seeing their hair grow thin with age would save it for a weaving of a wig in later days... Now they are gone with their dreams and all that remains of them are the remnants of their vanity, and the loss of their vitality... I have many interests, and a practial junkyard to prove it... My greatest treasure is my books for they are my education, even to show I know what comprises a good education reveals the education I have... But motors, transmissions, carburtors; all the devils of former days that once stumped me, defeated me, and made me feel so much less the man that I mastered out of shame and necessity... Iron, mild steel, all manor of shapes, angles, I beams, plates, and the wearwithal to weld them, cut them or bend them are mine, another monster in my life mastered, and made my slave...As I write, rust is eating me out of my treasures... I can care not...
Life is so much of loss until sans everything...It is always a mistake to try to love any thing, money included, that cannot love you back...Love is a form of relationship, and you cannot have a relationship with inanamate objects...I can relate to my dogs, because they trouble to relate to their person...When it is all said and done, what was life but time, but meaning, and an excess of vanity??? Trash it all... Let it go... Know the meaning of a spiritual existence before becoming immaterial... Just as all my junk is the measure of my madness, the letting go of it is the measure of my health... I am not what I have... I am not what I do... Who I am is how I feel, and I feel better...
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Jan 5, 2013 7:38 AM
I had the pleasure of meeting Bill at pipe shows for about 10 years. Sure, "the pipe" was a common bond, but that smoky focal point created a camaraderie that enriched my life. Pipes may be "things", but they have introduced me to some of the best people I have ever known; friends who enrich my life. I've read Marc's stories ever since they appeared in Pipes & Tobacco magazine, and now in the NASPC Collector. His stories have made me think and they've made me smile. All 'cos of a thing called pipes.
Comment: #3
Posted by: RonniB
Mon Jan 7, 2013 8:18 AM
Re: James A, Sweeney
Mr. Sweeney, you may have never had a relationship with an inanimate object, which indicates to me you never smoked a pipe. A pipe is an object that will return your care and affection. It will help you through good times and bad. It will bring you pleasure and relaxation and make a good book even better, and it has brought me some very good, life long friends, including Bill Unger.
Thank you, Marc for a great tribute to the man and the hobby.
Mick Ratliff
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mick Ratliff
Tue Jan 8, 2013 8:42 AM
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