Saturday, January 23, 2010

Smoking a Pipe (privately)




Years ago, I was friends with a fellow named Chase. He was a soft-spoken sort, who drove a vintage taxi and enjoyed firearms. When we were in our early twenties, his particular passion was tobacco. He gradually became something of an expert, and between the smooth taste of Camel cigarettes, he often enjoyed a pipe.

Now, I realize that a man under the age of fifty (give or take) puffing on a pipe comes across as a ridiculous affectation. Just the other day, I saw a lad in front of the Battery Park Borders, firing up a bent stem bulldog bowl with a disposable Bic. Bad form. Not only was he ruining his pipe with that itty bitty butane powered bastard, but he also had a stringy ponytail. He looked like a Renn Faire jackoff of the highest order.

Chase, on the other hand, pulled off pipe smoking with aplomb. He only partook in his home, or while driving, or while alone with a hobby. His friends were aware, but he wasn't standing on the sidewalk in Manhattan, proudly looking like an idiot. He had awareness.

Being a generous chap, Chase gave me a well-loved briar pipe. He showed me the intricacies of packing, lighting, cleaning, maintaning, and puffing. I was introduced to the different varieties of tobacco, the various tools and polishes, and the ettiquette of pipe smoking. It was a whole world to learn about, and I was a fascinated pupil. Chase went on to work in a fancy tobacconist shop (shoppe?), and wrote several articles published somewhere in the tall grasses of that particular subculture.

Ten years later, I have unearthed a box of pipes that Chase gave me lo those many years ago. With one cheap packet of Captain Black, a flood of memories swamped the Mississipi delta of my mind. Stomping through the woods of Boxwell Reservation, Shooting fireworks off the back of moving vehicles, talking about Shai Hulud while swinging golf clubs in a back pasture; the sticky summer heat of Tennessee was almost palpable, despite the freezing cold of a Brooklyn winter lurking outside.

Smoking a pipe has a soothing, calming effect. It's not so much the tobacco itself, but the ritual of properly packing the bowl, striking a wooden match, scraping out ash with a pipe tool. Like a Japanese tea ceremony, the process is the thing that matters. The journey settles your nerves more than the destination.

And so it is that I have recently remembered the awesomeness of enjoying a pipe. Unlike cigarettes, the smell that fills the room is charming, and robust. The smoke itself is thick, and white, and curls up in front of you like a gentle phantasmogoria. It soothes, after a day of sensory overload. It's gentle on the eyes and nose.

As long as it is enjoyed privately, away from the judgements of one's peers, a pipe is one of the finer things in life. Aside from being closer to death's black oblivion, I can't wait for my elder years, when I can enjoy a pipe in public view.

Pipes are awesome.