Sunday, 16 November 2014

Pipe Smoking...

This is actually a blog I wrote for the site of a friend of mine. Since I'm lazy I thought I'd post it here too. The usual punctuation and grammatical errors should be expected.

The most common question I get when people find out that I make pipes for a living is, “So, do you smoke them too?” to which I answer that, yes, yes I do. What I really want to say is, “What do you think, you dimwitted twit?” Mainly this is because I already know what the follow-up statement will be, and that is: “Smoking’s bad for you, you know.” It’s at this point where the internal censor needs to kick in for a second time, and instead of saying, “Holy crap! Really!? I had no clue!” I simply shrug and continue on.

Yes, news flash, smoking is bad for you. I have no doubt whatsoever that compounds found in burning tobacco are doing horrible, nasty, and possibly immoral things to me on a cellular level. Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report came out there has been a huge amount of scientific evidence to prove this to be true. Denying it only goes to place you in that special genre of misguided souls containing such people as the Flat Earthers, and the good folks at the Westboro Baptist Church.

Am I addicted and simply unable to control my impulses? Nope. When I’m busy, weeks can go past without having a pipe, not a big deal. Even when I do have the time, it's rare for me to have more than three or four pipes a week. So what gives? Why would I expose myself to this plague on society, this demon weed? The answer is simple. Because I want to. I understand the risks and I chose to participate, just like people who ride motorbikes, skydive, and eat deep dish pizza. That’s right folks, for the last half-century, your stereotypical tweed-wearing pipe smoker has actually been a bad-ass risk-taker on par with formula one driver.

What people seem to lose sight of, especially when the subject of tobacco comes up, is that too much of anything will kill you. This might sound a bit doomy, but in the end we’re all on a one-way trip. No matter how many veggies we eat, how long we spend at the gym, or how many vitamins we pop, we’re all going to shuffle off our mortal coils and go the way of the Norwegian Blue Parrot. Too much meat, too much sun, hell, too much Kale is bad for you! I think sometimes as a society, we've fooled ourselves into believing that if we just go on that one new diet, swallow that one special pill, we’ll somehow live forever. Sadly, I'm leaning toward the opinion that there’s more truth to that saying about, “death and taxes,” than there is, “better living through chemistry.”

This isn't to say that I’m going to smoke like a tire fire, and stuff my face with bacon-double cheeseburgers from now until they plant me in the ground. I've got a wife and daughter that I dearly love, and want to hang around with. I’m enjoying my ride on planet Earth, and think it would be just spiffy to see another forty or fifty trips around the sun. For me though, living well means that sometimes I indulge myself. Sometimes I eat that bacon-double cheeseburger, drink a few beers, and sometimes, by Jupiter’s frothy beard, I’ll smoke my pipe, and enjoy the hell out of it.

At this point, if the person I’m chatting with is genuinely interested, the next question will be, “But, why smoke a pipe? Pipes are what old men smoke!” Here I’ll admit, smoking a pipe has a certain image that accompanies it. We've touched on it already. Pipes are seen as something for the aficionados of tweed and Early Bird Specials at the local country restaurant. Seriously, Google it, I’ll wait. Type in: “Pipe smoking images,” and see what comes up… You guessed it, we have an excess of elderly white guys in button-up shirts and ties, looking contemplative while posing for black and white photographs. The Tolkiens and Einsteins of the world are heavily represented, along with a few sufficiently craggy sea dogs, and, for good or bad, a smattering of Hipsters. So, why?

I guess a part of it is that I've never been all that image conscious. I don’t particularly care if I wear the latest fashions or drive the sexiest car. I wear an oilskin duster when I walk my daughter to school in the rain, because it’s the only coat I've found that can keep my pants dry when the rain is really coming down. I wear Doc Martins because I know that I can go a couple years between purchases. I hate shopping for new boots. I drive a Honda Fit because it’s awesome on gas, feels like you’re driving a go-cart, and can fold down to fit an eight-foot book case and three people comfortably. I’m not terribly interested in fitting an image as much as I am having the things I own fit me.

Now we come back to the pipe. There are a lot of things that are attractive to me about smoking a pipe. First and foremost, I think it appeals to my obsessive geek personality. I don’t mean I like to smoke pipes because Bilbo did, and that, deep down, I really just want to be a Hobbit. I like pipes for the same reason I like to roast my own coffee, write novels, grow my own tobacco, run long distances, and play the mandolin. Pipe smoking is something I can get passionate about.

When I smoke my pipes I’m a participant, not a passive observer simply drawing smoke into my lungs for a nicotine fix. If I wanted that, I could slap a nicotine patch onto my forehead and call it a day. There is a process, a learning curve to smoking a pipe. A pipe requires you to learn how to pack, light, tamp and draw properly keep it lit. It makes you pay attention to it in a way that neither cigars, nor cigarettes do. When I smoke a pipe I’m on a quest. Why do some tobaccos smoke better in different pipes? Why does one pipe sing after a week to sit, while another is ready to go after only a day? When will I again smoke that perfect bowl of tobacco? The one where the stars align and a divine shaft of white light beams down and strikes upon me a la the Quantum Leap opening credits.

When I smoke my pipe there is a history between us. This was the pipe my wife bought for me. This is the pipe I bought from Jay, Trever, Neill, or Rad. This is the pipe I smoked around the campfire that summer. This is the pipe I smoked, looking out the window and watching the snow fall. This is the pipe I smoked holding the hand of my wife on that warm summer night, sitting out in the back yard and looking at the stars.

Pipes become your companions. You know their quirks, what they like and don’t like. Pipes aren't throw-away pieces of tech, they will not be obsolete once the new update comes out. You won't remember what smartphone you had during a memorable event years down the road, but you'll remember the pipe you smoked. You have a version 1.0 pipe and it’s going to stay that way forever. It is a piece of permanency in a throw-away society. A pipe has a soul, or maybe it just becomes a part of yours. Either way, that’s why I like pipes.

PS If you are really interested in seeing the kinds of pipes that I make you can visit my website.