I just bought a new pipe.
I can barely wait for it to arrive; I feel like I did when I was a kid and was waiting for something special to come in the mail. It's not a Christmas or birthday present feeling, because I know what it is -- and, in any case, I paid for it myself. Still, there's that excitement of anticipation.
|There is something disturbing about
a pipe rack with an empty space.
Recognizing that feeling made me wonder just exactly why a new pipe would engender such an emotion in me. I don't get particularly excited about a new shirt or even a set of new tools (whereas the guy who lives down the road gets really excited about car parts... strange). I'm not a collector, in the sense that I buy pipes just to have them. Any pipe that comes into my hands has to work for a living; I smoke pipes, their purpose is for me to smoke them. Not that there's anything wrong with collecting pipes: I certainly understand the collecting impulse, as my books on the history of printing will show. Well, and my collection of books on the Blackfeet Indians. And World War One. But aside from that, I'm not a collector.
Oh, sure, I have The List and I have The Fund. The List, of course, details the pipes I'd like to get, written on slips of paper tacked to my office bulletin board. It's constantly updated, depending upon what I've seen in catalogues or online lately, but it's not as if I'm obsessive. I mean, I haven't made a spreadsheet or anything. (I've tried, but I just can't seem to get the hang of the software...) And The Fund is just a little account that I set up at the credit union. Not that it ever gets the chance to grow very much.
Nor does the excitement just involve the newness of a new pipe. Like many pipe smokers, I have my favorites which, if truth be told, are probably over-smoked to the detriment of their proper cleaning. I also tend to fall into types of pipes: bent apples and Peterson full-bents seem to predominate, with dublins having some representation. On the other hand, I just can't seem to get the hang of billiards and I'm nervous around the Tyrolean style for some reason. This doesn't even get into the area of what I call "art" pipes -- some of which, frankly, look to me like the results of a lathe accident.
Oh, sure, I can hear the snorts of derision from here. Yes, I know that my taste in pipes is not exactly the same as anyone else's, but I don't expect anyone else's to be like mine. A good thing, too. If everyone wanted exactly the same type of pipe, we'd lose the variety we have to choose from. Not to mention the mad stampede that would occur every time a new shipment came into a pipe shop or a new listing online.
Perhaps that's somewhere near the center of what we do as pipe-smokers: That idiosyncratic part of us that can look at an entire wall filled with pipes on display, only to have one -- the one! -- leap out and speak to us. Form, size, materials, grain, details by the dozen all go into making up the uniqueness of each and every pipe. It's difficult to describe to anyone who doesn't have that odd bent of a pipe smoker. I mean, have you ever even tried to explain a P-lip to someone who doesn't smoke a pipe? Impossible.
The uniqueness of individual pipes comes, of course, from the fact that they're all hand made. Even the most mundane pipe requires someone to stand at a grinding and polishing machine, working to get the closest they can to the pattern. At their best, pipes show an astounding amount of imagination and style. Anyone who has spent any time at all around pipes will instantly recognize the personality of a pipe that marks its nationality, the school, even the individual that made it. As for the art pipes (look, I'm sorry about the "lathe accident" crack, okay?), they're at a level of sculpture.
Not to mention the exotic materials. Try to describe a calabash to someone, for example. "Well, you take a gourd... no a special species of gourd, it comes from Africa, originally... and you have to form it while it grows. Then, it gets dried, and then you make this cup out of a special type of rock that's only found in specific parts of Turkey and, oh, never mind."
After all that attempt at explanation, I still can't describe why I'm excited about the new pipe. Since the mailman has already come and gone this afternoon, I'll have to wait another day, at least. Which is okay. I still have my old Neerup close at hand, which I haven't smoked in, oh, at least two hours.
Bryan Johnson is a freelance writer who hopes to write, someday, the definitive paper on Blackfeet tobacco culture. The screensaver on his computer is a slideshow of pipe photographs, "captured" from online pipe catalogues. Sad, really.