Tobacco without guilt

Am I supposed to feel guilt-driven anxiety? Am I programmed to throw up now? With tobacco, I only came close to doing that years ago when I tried to smoke straight Latakia all day like it was a bag of Amphora or Sail.

I went back to pipe-smoke about six months ago after almost five years away from the habit. Right, it’s a habit. It’s smelly–no, odiforous–it can cost money unless you’re a first class thief, and it’s one of the nicest ways I know to while away time while you’re working on something else.

I write, therefore I smoke.

I’m old enough (66) to have seen the wheel turn. Once upon a time, just about everyone smoked. I began to inhale on cigarettes in 1960, when I was 16. Some of us down the road apiece even added marijuana, which doesn’t count because it was never legal to begin with–though there’s a rumor that the late Oliver Reed as Proximo in Gladiator is sitting in a tea-room smoking weed because even then there was no tobacco in 180 AD. As far as anyone can tell, there was cannibis, and if you had to live in a shithole like Zucchabar in North Africa, all that was available was mint tea and dope. In Girl With A Pearl Earring, Vermeer’s imperious mother-in-law (Judy Parfitt) derived great pleasure from her clay pipe. Probably she didn’t smoke weed, though life with her daughter and at least that red-haired bitchy granddaughter would have made anyone want to get loaded now and then.

Somewhere in the Seventies, the mood began to turn nasty. The Surgeon General said tobacco is Bad For You so tobacco shops began to vanish. Taxes began to go up. Once, you could not walk into a suburban mall without finding a branch of Tinder Box, a pretty nice chain of shops; then people got all kinds of censorious and puritanical. It was like owning that you liked to collect guns (I don’t) or torture household pets (ditto). The American character–the worst parts of it–found its proper level at last.

I went back when I found out that my favorite shop in New York, Connoisseur Pipes ( closed down a year ago last winter. Ed Burak designed some of the finest pipes in creation: they were works of art with prices to match (“Pipe Descending a Staircase”). Ed was a bit of a know-it-all but he knew damn well enough to indulge his penchant for education as well as selling pipes and tobacco. News of the shutdown torqued me enough so I went out and bought a corncob and a couple of ounces of mild tobacco from a shop in Princeton, where smoking is still regarded as somewhat civilized.

I discovered “basket pipes” (cheap and often quite okay) and some of the best crafted designs around: Elliott Nachwalter (save your pennies and/or look for “used” (i.e., estate) pipes [I did], Andrew Marks, Tim West, and Ed Burak himself. I’ve never owned or smoked a Marks pipe–I’d like to. And there are the Peterson, Radice, and Butz-Choquin systems…and on it goes.

And how to choose a tobacco. Forget the Prince Albert in the can jokes (do you know how much Prince Albert really sucks???)…tobacco blending is a fine art and smokers get passionate about their blends even if they’re willing to vary from time to time. My favorite blender is Carole Burns up in Vermont, who refines even her custom blends to fit her customers.

You don’t inhale. Not deliberately. You puff and pull and meditate. You pack and repack. And you listen to the Surgeon General’s bullshit and growing crap from the Obamaistas about how we’re all going to get healthy even if it kills us. You get healthy, Barack. You take your Dumbo ears, fly to the rafters, and listen to the contented pipesmokers.

I don’t smoke in someone else’s space unless I’m invited. I don’t break personal rules of conduct. To me, No Smoking means it. I’ve even been in a tobacconist’s in Jersey where the owner doesn’t allow smoking because of his heart condition!

But I gave up enough to conform to everyone else’s rules to make one for myself. It’s called Social Defiance. It’s necessary to remind us we’re still human and not subject to everyone else’s rules for how we ought to live.

It’s a pleasure.


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