First of all, in my defense, I have to say that I firmly believe that anyone who has ever been a pipe smoker for any length of time has wanted to try their hand at carving a pipe themselves. Surely, I can't be the only one. It seems to be a reasonable impulse, much like, when I was a kid and heard stories about what would happen if you put a really powerful firecracker under a tin can, I just had to try it out for myself. Which, come to think about it, is a pretty good analogy.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Personally, I blame the South African. I won't give out his name, because he doesn't know what havoc he caused. Still, I blame him, anyway. If I hadn't read his blog about pipemaking and seen photographs of his little workshop, then I wouldn't have ordered one of his pipes. Then, when I got it and turned it over and over in my hands and saw just how fantastic it was, I just naturally thought, "Well, I wonder if..." (Yes, yes, I know, I know. Now.)
Plus, there are so many places where you can buy blocks of briar. It's not as if they're marked, "For The Use Of Professionals Only" or anything. There are even instructions you can buy. Call it implicit encouragement.
Not having a drill press (and being a coward, besides), I decided to get one of those pre-drilled blocks to start with. A trip to the hardware store for a couple of fine files and a bunch of sandpaper and I was set. Sort of. First, I had to decide what kind of pipe I wanted. I'm partial to the bent apple style, and the block looked like the right sort of shape, so I sketched the outline in pencil on the side of the block and got down to business.
Of course, the pencil marks were the first thing to disappear once I got to filing. So, I had to go by guess and by-golly for the remainder of the project. Then, there was the matter of the filings. I live at latitude 47 degrees north, which is very far north, so the snow was already building up -- this was definitely not going to be a project for outside. (Nobody told me pipemaking was seasonal, for pity's sake.) As things progressed and the filing turned to coarse sanding (not to mention coarse language, I'm sorry to say), the filings turned to sawdust. Since I was doing all of this in my office, my computer began to make strange grinding noises. I decided to retreat into the garage for the balance of the work. The unheated garage.
Every evening, after some quality pipemaking time, I'd down tools, satisfied that I'd made progress. The next morning, I'd pick up the poor, abused block of briar and wonder why I'd ever thought I was even close to finishing. This went on far too long, until I decided that I'd done as much damage as I could. That, plus my fingers were getting raw from rubbing extra-extra-fine sandpaper.
I suppose you've heard of some pipes being called "seconds"? Add a few digits. What the bowl lacked in balance of form, it made up for in unevenness in the width of the rim. And the shank doesn't quite meet the base of the stem. Not quite at all, in fact. Plus there is that pit. I could have sworn that the surface had been sanded and hand-buffed as smooth as a baby's butt. When I applied the stain, however, there was this place on the left side of the bowl that made it look like a teenager's face just before an important date. Dang. Oh, and let's not forget the stain. I thought the package said "walnut", not "mud". A few more fingertips were sacrificed in the re-sanding and re-staining before it began to look half-way -- okay, tenth-way -- decent.
Oddly enough, I'm glad that I took on this project. No, not that the result was anything to write home about (although that's exactly what I do for a living). I'm glad because I learned a lot about pipes in the process. What I learned was just how talented, patient, clever and darned good those pipemakers really are. Their rims are precisely, absolutely even in thickness. How do they do that? The bowls are completely symmetrical and shanks meet the stems perfectly, too. Since I didn't even try drilling the chamber and shank hole, I can't even begin to imagine the art involved in that aspect. Yes, I know that they have years of experience and specialized tools, but I'm just as sure that they heat their garages with their mistakes. But they also have the "eye" -- the ability to see the pipe within that block of briar.
Well, I got a pipe out of it, anyway. Yes, I do smoke it. I figure that, somewhere, there is a briar bush that gave up part of its burl for me and I'd be ungrateful if I didn't honor that poor plant by at least taking responsibility for my part.
I'll tell you one thing, though: Tomorrow, I'm sending that build-it-yourself rifle kit back.
Bryan Johnson is a freelance writer who lives in the snowy North Woods. He is probably the only person to have been barred for life from a craft store.
Even though Halloween is still weeks away, retailers already have Christmas trees, wreaths and other festive decorations on full display hoping to get us all thinking about the Holiday Season early. Really early. Being a woman, this is an easy task for their marketing masterminds. The mere mention of shopping, a large sign that screams "SALE" or perhaps a 10% off flyer in the mailbox gets me drooling like Pavlov's dogs. And even though I resent the fact that retailers are pushing Christmas before I can get the pumpkins and mums on the porch, I wave my white flag in defeat.
Of course, the first person on my list is my husband. He can be difficult to buy for, so I often try to find something unique or unusual and more often than not, it has something to do with pipe smoking. So in my search for the perfect holiday gift I've found this...
The PureFlame Stainless Steel Pipe Mobile Fire Piece! Stunning, isn't it? For a mere $233.33 (including free shipping!) I can mark the first and most difficult holiday gift off my list. But, like any good wife I'm going to check in with a few of his friends and colleagues before I take the plunge.
Adam: "We're not going to sell these, are we?" Ted: "It's pretty but who needs an open flame running in the living room, like, ever?" Eric: "You do know that a lot of Pavlov's dogs died just in preparing them for his experiments, right?" Alyson: "I do know that, Eric. What I don't know is how that has anything to do with the gift I am asking you to comment on." Eric: "Who am I to stop anyone from being lured by low, low prices and putting a stainless steel container of flaming grain alcohol in the middle of their living room?" Alyson: "Urgh."
When you work in the pipe business and you spend as much time on the internet as we do here, you come across some interesting pipe and cigar things on the web while doing “work related” research. While we have found that pipes and cigars make everyone we come in contact with happy, we do worry about those non-smokers in your life. Why should they be deprived of such joy?
Well, we have gathered up a few of these “goodies” in our accessories section under Fun Gifts. How about a nice licorice pipe for your sweetie? A cat-nip pipe or cigar for your furry feline? Or a squeeky "Ruffio Y Julieta" plush cigar for your canine pal? Spread the joy!
I was walking around our shipping and receiving area recently and found it impossible to reach Bobby's office, farther back in the building. There were boxes of McClelland tobacco all over the place. Ted looked up at me with desperation in his eyes, waiting on my reply to his question of "Adam, do you have a lot of stuff on your plate today?". Feeling suddenly like a moonshiner unexpectedly confronted by a man with a badge and a large hat, I quickly came up with a reply which I felt best matched my assessment of the situation.
"Um...Yep. I really have a lot of stuff do, including history and material paragraphs for a peppering of pipe brands". Ted, of course, understanding that this was a project I began a few months ago and needed to update. Would anyone blame me? Ted, Susan, and Pam were all moving boxes full of tinned tobacco and five-pound bags of bulk like sandbags around a fort. Naturally, I had taken his question to be a fingers-crossed-behind-his-back inquiry to see if I would like to help them. As it turns out, we just needed someone to write a blog for today. I carefully navigated my way back to Bobby's office to see what he was working on, which turned out to be a lot. It is a Thursday (update day) after all. Talking with him for a few minutes over the prospect that he take a photograph of something for me to write about, he giggled at my first idea, which was something about Ted looking like a Civil War soldier with his beard and pipe. We figured that taking a candid photo of the three of them working frantically to unpack tobaccos yet seemingly building an impromptu fortress in the receiving area would be perfect.
Fort McClelland. It has a nice ring to it, and was an accurate description to what they were building, albeit more the sort that boys might build to keep girls out, or use as a redoubt during a snowball fight, than to protect against cannon and rifle fire. Though I was only there for a few minutes, I would estimate that the number of tins was in the hundreds, and the boxes alone seemed to be counted in the dozens. As I sit here at my computer typing without the fear of mortars-shells of tobacco going off or an invasion of the shipping crew to pirate away tins as "forage", I wonder how they are getting along. Is that Sid giving a rebel yell from the back ground? Ted seems to be raising a knife, as if to fend off from invaders... Okay, so maybe he's just opening another box - but I still like to think of them building a fort.
This awe-inspiring and truly magical work of art comes to us from some long forgotten box of oddities likely stashed away for decades in a hateful basement filled with dead dreams. Verily, it is a shame that this pipe, something so beautiful and magnificent, should come to us void of context and without any hint of its heritage. What nameless, faceless innocent belongs to this tiny foot? Why did the master choose to model a pipe after this particular anatomical feature instead of another? Is not a hand as noble as a foot? Have we not all marveled, at one time or another, at the proud profile of some particularly notable proboscis? So many questions come screaming from the night and like terrible cretins we are left to only empty, trivial conjecture. Every mundane conception, every time-honored conviction, every ill-fated attempt at interpretation is kicked away like wood dust by the foot of time. Breathtaking.
Condition: 4.25/5 Rim darkening, toe jam, and a strange odor. There are a few small scratches on the heel (literally). Note that this pipe does not come with a sock.
A few days ago our friend Craig Colbine of the Chicago Pipe Club came to visit. Craig is in charge of putting on next year's Chicago Pipe Show, his first year, having taken over the task from Frank Burla. It was great to see him, his wife and, yes, their dog Yum-Yum. What we absolutely had to share with you, though, was the accoutrements sported by Yum-Yum...click the thumbnails below...
Excellent photos by Bobby Altman. You probably guessed that I didn't take these ones!
Having the office in Little River, South Carolina makes the trip to the Richmond Pipe Show easy. Normally, we have to pack all necessities and ship them days in advance. Then we hop on a plane and head to the show.
Richmond, on the other hand, is close enough that we can drive. Since I own the largest land assault vehicle in the company, I have had the pleasure of gathering part of the entourage and driving to Virginia for the last two years. The drive up has been the same. Everyone excited about the show, the people we will see and the work we have to do. The drive home however was a little different this year.
I started the drive home with Brian Levine as my co-pilot. (Despite what you may think, he did do a great job.) Adam Davidson, Ted Swearingen and Jeff Gracik filled up the second row. Supplies for the show occupied the space behind them. We met up with Sykes and his passengers in Rocky Mount, North Carolina for a nice dinner before finishing the trip home. This is when the ride deviated from last year.
After being on the road for a while, statements like “Use the shovel on him” and “Pick up the axe” along with beeps and bleeps started coming from the back seat. The “boys” were playing adventure games on someone’s smart phone. For a second I thought my seven and nine year olds where in the truck. Miles upon miles passed before the back seat became utterly quiet. Brian turned around to see what happened. The picture says it all…
At times, Adam demonstrates a brilliance that far surpasses my wildest expectations. Recently, he's been making homemade (or, I guess, office made) donuts in our office kitchen. Who, my dear reader, other than Adam, would think that a) bringing a massive cast iron wok to work, and b) frying donuts in it, would be a normal thing to do at ones job. Granted, this is not a work environment devoid of eccentricities, not least of which are my own, but Adam is the current champion of office eccentricity. It's a good eccentricity, however.
Today, I happened to be in the kitchen when he was frying up another batch. Somehow we got talking about making pipe-shaped donuts. I took first crack at this and my pipe-shaped donut looked like, er, not a pipe. Let's just say that it has been safely eaten and will not be photographed. Let's also suggest that, were it presented on broadcast television, the FCC would likely fine me. Adam's, as one might expect from a pipe maker of his caliber, was rather impressive. It even had a chamber, though no draft hole. One of the most talked about aspects of sandblasting among pipe makers is the trade off of shape integrity and sandblast depth. Well, those pipe makers should try shaping in dough and deep frying; that'll seriously screw up your shape's lines...
Having crafted this magnificent shape, Brian walked in and immediately recognized the pipe-donut for what it was: an interpretation of Alex Florov's Callalily. Now, while it is generally common for pipe makers to borrow ideas from each other, it is less common to render each others work in deep-fried biscuit dough.
Of course, this also gives a whole new meaning to "Fresh pipes served daily". Suffice it to say that, our tagline notwithstanding, there will not be a baked (er, fried) goods section on the website, pipe shaped or otherwise...
As you know, IPCPR was held in New Orleans earlier this month. We really enjoyed scouting out new products that ranged from pipe tobacco to accessories to cigars. I headed to Mexico City, Mexico four days after we returned home thinking that shipments would start arriving when I got back to work. Boy, was I wrong! I honestly believe the UPS driver was hiding around the corner waiting for me to leave. I did a little work via internet while I was away and got a sneak-peek as to what was coming in. This prompted me to get back to work a day early to start corralling all the new items.
If tobacco and accessories could be compared to animals, then someone opened all the cages in the zoo. There are new breeds of cigars blocking the walkway in the humidor. Tobacco species of all kinds are taking over the receiving area and classes of bulk and accessory varieties are in total control of my desk! It is now my job to classify and divide these untamed specimens into updates so you, our faithful follower, can enjoy the new additions without getting lost in the wild!
So get the safari hats and binoculars out and get ready for the future updates. We will be unveiling new creatures each week like the annual seasonal blend from a well-known tobacconist that will be in today's update.
Most of you have probably never heard of Boyd Rice, yet if you've listened to just about any form of electronic or avant-garde music made within the past few decades, you've likely heard his influence (and if you're the summer intern, you have, during brazen displays of nonchalant contrarianism, been forced to listen to his "non-music" - a coincidentally appropriate epithet given his usual nom-de-plume, "NON"). But I haven't come here to wax poetic about such classic obscurities as Cleanliness and Order, or Disneyland Can Wait, nor even the time he was detained for attempting to present a lamb's head to former First Lady Betty Ford. No. I'm here to discuss how he created, and, with the aid of the Denver Gentlemen's Pipe Smoking League, ultimately destroyed the only Tiki bar in the city of Denver, Colorado.
The Ramada Inn of Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood had long been home to an ill-conceived and conspicuously unsuccessful drinking hole, one whose management had inexplicably attempted to achieve financial solvency through the delicate blending of bland sports-bar and vaguely Southwestern themes with a highly incongruous and rather forgettable name: The East Coast Bar. However, once Denver Gentlemen's Pipe Smoker League member Lorin Partridge began tending bar there, things were destined to change; for with him came a gaggle of regular customers (the bar's only regular customers, at that time) - an assorted mix of other DGPSL members, as well as several staff writers from Modern Drunkard Magazine. Not the least of the latter was Boyd Rice, a man notorious for his disregard for the mundane, and, just as crucially, a man who loved Tiki. (Boyd Rice had not only written the introduction for Martin McIntosh's Taboo: The Art of Tiki, but had also acted as a consultant for the BBC's Tiki-culture documentary, Air-Conditioned Eden.)
When The East Coast Bar's desperate straights met Boyd Rice's burning desire to create his own Tiki bar (and, ultimately, mischief), a Faustian pact of urban-legend proportions was all but inevitable. And so it was that, in exchange for an open bar tab, Boyd Rice completely remade the blase East Coast Bar, working tirelessly to transform it into a lavish, life-sized diorama of colored lighting, wooden masks, hanging lanterns, and bamboo-covered... everything, all perpetually soaking in the tunes of Martin Denny, Authur Lyman, and other such founding figures of the Tiki/exotica genre. From the ashes of the East Coast Bar, "Tiki Boyd's" was born: A strange and exotic, never-ending beach party in the dead center of the Mile High City.
Well, perhaps not quite never-ending, for with Tiki came booming success, drawing not only droves of locals just looking for a lively night out, but various celebrities ranging from The Delphonics to the creators of South Park. Reviewers raved. Drinkers drank. Yet as is too often the case, from such sudden and unexpected success through the efforts of another, there was born a juggernaut ego-trip. To quote Lorin Partridge, "The manager went mad with hubris and paranoia," and, despite all evidence to the contrary, came to the conclusion that Tiki Boyd's explosive popularity was the result not of Boyd Rice's efforts and vision, but perhaps merely some strange aligning of the planets with his own, now much-inflated financial status. Rice perceived, it would appear, that an example had to be made, that such injustice would not stand... and who better to rectify the tyranny of narrow, grasping minds than a league of gentlemen? And what better a league of gentlemen can there be, than a league of pipe smoking gentlemen?
As has often been observed by men since antiquity immemorial, to create something beautiful takes great time and patience; to destroy such a thing, but a moment. In the case of Tiki Boyd's, it is said to have taken roughly forty minutes. With the aid of a crack team of well-dressed, pipe smoking gentlemen armed with hand tools, stylish facial hair, and impeccable manners, Boyd Rice infiltrated the bar which had for a year and a half born his namesake, and saw that every trace of Tiki-ness was well and thoroughly pillaged. Every slender reed of bamboo, every record, the drink menus, the lights, the wooden masks - every scrap of it had been Boyd's, and nothing of it was to be left to sustain the management's prideful, pedestrian avarice. He took with him even his name: Tiki Boyd's was no more.
From the cold, bland ashes of the East Coast Bar, Boyd Rice had created something strange and thriving, and when his hard work and vision were ultimately betrayed by shameless philistinism, it was none other than the Denver Gentlemen's Pipe Smoker League who answered the call to return it to those ashes once more.
For seven weeks now we have been extremely lucky to have an intern helping us with the daily duties that make our updates possible. Sarah has turned out to be an awesome asset to us. Not only has she done everything expected of her, but she has also contributed ideas in areas where most of us are still uncomfortable.
Sarah, in a short time, has turned into an important member of the team. We joke with her, con her into having lunch with us (even though she has brought her lunch) and ask for her input on ideas. She has been efficient, thorough and capable while performing her work here at Smokingpipes.com. She has made us all look at pipes through the eyes of Lady Gaga while staring at a milkshake. In other words, we’ve become quite fond of her.
But, alas, today is her last day. Sarah will be leaving us this afternoon to prepare for her return to college. Knowing how much she will be missed, we surprised her this afternoon with a cake and a card. I think she was shocked and, in the words of Lady Gaga, we left her “Speechless”.
by Sykes Wilford, Smokingpipes.com, and Kevin Godbee, Pipesmagazine.com
When one has an opportunity to visit two of the largest pipe tobacco manufacturers in the world on back to back days, comparing the two is all but
impossible. Mac Baren and Orlik, between them, produce over half of the world's pipe tobacco. Along with the Lane factory in Tucker, GA, they make up the big
three pipe tobacco producers in the world. And they're both on the island of Funen that sits between Sjaelland, the largest of the Danish islands, and
Jylland, the peninsula that juts off of the European mainland. Indeed, they're an hour drive apart on either side of the island. Having had a thoroughly
hospitable reception at both factories and being tremendously impressed by both operations, we nonetheless found ourselves drawing some comparisons.
Having left Orlik, we started discussing the differences between the two. Perhaps the similarities are more obvious: both operate massive, modern
factories, both are fanatically dedicated to the quality of their tobaccos, and both have a long history and make famous brands that have stood the test of
time. But this, our dear readers, is about the differences.
For starters, no pun intended, let's talk about lunch. Typically, large companies have cafeterias. In the United States, outside of Google, such places
offer fare that make sixth grade school lunch seem palatable. At both Mac Baren and Orlik, we were pleased to discover that the Danes have a subtly different
approach to such things. They serve edible lunches in company cafeterias. Offering traditional Danish comestibles, including black bread, a variety of
impressive cheeses and cold meats, paté, and full salad bars, Sykes wants one of these for the Smokingpipes.com campus. Imagine visiting a tobacco company and
coming away with company catering ideas. Picking a winner in this category was impossible.
Both Orlik and Mac Baren have machinery that causes otherwise reasonable grown men to act like eight-year-old boys who just saw a backhoe. Conveyor belts,
automatic weighing machines, little robotic arms to fold packaging, slides, chutes, and sundry whirring doodads abound, but the nod, if only a half-nod, goes
to Mac Baren, who can go from tobacco coming in from the ceiling, to pouches, to cartons, to outer cartons, to pallets, all without ever being touched by a
human hand. Orlik was close, requiring slightly more human intervention, but in this category, Mac Baren is a clear winner.
Both factories produce rope tobacco. Rope tobacco is a traditional method of fabricating tobacco for transport, back when finding a way to keep tobacco smokable after a transatlantic journey on a wooden sailing ship was a serious problem. The tobacco is literally spun into ropes: the process lies somewhere in between cigar rolling and rope braiding. But, the factories' respective methods are a little different. Mac Baren uses whole leaves as something comparable to the binder and filler. Orlik uses thin pressed sheets of tobacco, similar to those used for flakes, but much thinner. Inside, Mac Baren generally uses loose leaf dark fired Kentucky, whereas Orlik uses pressed perique or black cavendish. From this process comes some of the world's most famous, most tastiest blends, including Mac Baren Roll Cake and, Sykes' personal favorite, Escudo, which is made by Orlik (which we both happen to be smoking while engaging in this absurd literary exercise). However, the nod goes to Mac Baren in this category, for they have what looks and works like a giant RYO cigarette machine. Frankly, the little machine that presses it into a rope at Orlik just isn't nearly as cool.
About an hour on the road after our visit to Orlik, Sykes turned to Kevin and said "did the tobacco blender guy make you think mad scientist too?" To which Kevin retorted with a maniacal laugh. Yes, Orlik has its very own evil genius tobacco blender. Here in Denmark they offer a personalized blending service where different stores or individuals can choose to craft their own blend. The idea started in the 1930s and grew into Paul Olsen's My Own Blend, which Orlik purchased from the Olsen family in the 1980s. Today, roughly eight metric tons of pipe tobacco is custom blended for customers and stores to the exact recipe, based on almost fifty component blends and dozens of flavorings, by Lasse Berg, Chief Evil Tobacco Genius (ok, we made up the title). It is abundantly clear that a) Lasse thinks he has the best job on the planet, and b) he played with chemistry sets as a kid. At one point, he showed us a cola flavored tobacco topping of his own creation, of which he was very proud, but then went on to admit that he doesn't use it very much because, apparently, no one really thinks of cola as a tobacco flavoring. He went on to create for us, sans cola topping, individualized blends based on our preferences. Sykes' had more perique, Kevin had more rum. Also, during this exercise, Kevin drank a bit of the rum used on the tobacco (he approves), also giving Orlik the nod for best adult beverages (Mac Baren did not offer adult beverages at 10am when we arrived there). So, two categories at once to Orlik: mad scientist tobacco blender and best adult beverages. Does it surprise anyone that the mad scientist blender was also the keeper of the adult beverages?
While we were visiting Mac Baren, after the factory tour with Per Jensen, who is something between a product development guy and a general Mac Baren evangelist, we sat and had coffee with him. As our conversation meandered from topic to topic, we ended up with Per showing Kevin, with Kevin's pipe, how to pack flake tobacco by folding it and packing it vertically. So, not only did they humor us with a factory tour, fed us lunch, plied with coffee and tobacco, they even had a Mac Baren executive pack Kevin's pipe.
On net, it was a tie. Both organizations are impressive and were wonderfully accommodating to two very excited, tobacco crazed Americans.
As I was reading the last couple of blogs about pets in the work place here at Smokingpipes.com it occurred to me that we already have them! I am still fairly new to the world of fine pipes and during my first few months here I was more than a little confused at all the pipes I was both pulling for orders and putting on display. One could argue that given the
names of the pipes I was handling you could in fact confuse us with an exotic pet store.
I still recall an hour I wasted looking for a Flying Squirrel before finding it on Brian's desk, we also had trouble finding the Angler Fish in the J Alan case and while I'm on fish I shouldn't forget to mention the Speared Fish or Smooth Fish I located in the Gotoh case or the Swordfish in with the Heding pipes. There is an entire school of Blowfish scattered in several cases as well as a Seal in the Danish estates case, and I remember a Dolphin and Killer Whale in the Kent Rasmussen display. If you're noticing a trend here, I assure you I intend to beat this dead horse for all it's worth, which reminds me of the Horse in the Meershaum case which happens to be along side a Lion and an Eagle; there is also a Lion in the Ardor case and I recall a Lion from the Heding case although it has been "re-homed" as have the Rasmussen Armadillo and Knudsen Conch.
If you're still looking for a "pet" we have a large number of Bulldogs in every coat color you can imagine, not to mention a Jumping Horse in the miscellaneous estates along side a Lion and Deer on the same pipe; though things don't look good for the deer. As I turn around in the shop and face the tobacco I also start to see a pattern: Old Dog, Junkyard Dog, Black Parrot and on and on. So as for pets in our workplace I say we have plenty. They cost money, give enjoyment and comfort, require feeding and care, and every time I light mine my wife says to take it for a walk!
Unfortunately two years of begging and pleading have yielded no results for me either (aside from me smuggling my cat in to pose with me for my employee photo). “People are allergic” and “We have expensive pipes lying around” are some of the lame answers I have received in opposition. Although I haven’t completely given up on a corporate feline, Susan and I recently came up the interim solution of fish.
About a month ago we snuck out of the office on our secret mission to acquire fish & milkshakes. Susan already purchased the tank and had worked on getting the water just right in the days preceding the mission. It was now time for some serious fish shopping. We settled on two Tiger Barbs and some live underwater plants before heading to Arby’s for some afternoon milkshakes.
Once the fish were settled in the tank it was time to name them. Bonnie & Clyde? No. Starsky & Hutch? No. Thelma & Louise! YES! (Ok, ok...we are women and we do like the occasional chick flick; cut us some slack.) For our gentleman readership who have not seen the movie, Thelma (played by the beautiful Geena Davis) and Louise (played by the equally lovely Susan Sarandon) are two completely different characters. Thelma was somewhat of a sheltered, emotional disaster, whereas Louise was a tough, no nonsense, take the bull by the horns kind of gal. So it became clear who ruled this tank with an iron fin. Louise swam around with a strong vigor, occasionally nipping at Thelma and Thelma would come out to eat and then retreat behind the filter with her nose pointed downward.
Several weeks went by like this until Tuesday when Thelma started looking a little peaked; swimming crooked and occasionally rolling over. Susan began emergency treatment immediately by removing Thelma from the tank into a separate container placed directly next to her monitor where she could keep an eye on her throughout the day, checking her movements and periodically aerating the bowl.
Alas, it was all in vain. When I came in this morning Thelma was lying sideways and motionless at the bottom of the tank. I broke the news to Susan when she arrived and then went to the kitchen to get a plastic serving spoon to remove the body from the tank. (It’s ok; Adam occasionally uses the same spoon for tilapia.)
We had a small service in the ladies room this morning and sent Thelma off to her final resting place: The Horry County Sewer System.
Lisa, of course, will probably be relieved that she won't have to sign it up for the company health plan.
Let me start by saying my dream job has always been to work somewhere that I could bring my dog to work. Studies have shown that employees who are allowed to bring their pets to work are happier and much more productive. I am an avid pet lover, so you can imagine my excitement when company pets began to show up here at smokingpipes.com.
Here comes the disappointing part: they are all aquatic. That said, I am hoping this is beginning of something really big. Bobby, our resident photographer, has setup an aquarium in his office, across in our other building. We are not talking regular fish, but coral, banded coral shrimp, hermit crabs, and snails. This I knew about, but one day I walked into Susan and Alyson’s office and saw a small aquarium with 2 small fish. My immediate response was, "does Sykes know about these?" (this being my usual reaction when we get new employees). I was told no company pets...anytime I have mentioned to Sykes that we need an office pet, I get a look that speaks volumes (roughly translated): Lisa, don’t even go there. Do you know what kind of damage a pet could do to all these pipes? In a way I can relate: pipes are like Sykes’ children and pets are like my children. We do have a few stray cats that roam around the parking lot and live under our building that Alyson and I feed.
For now, all I can do is dream and keep a picture of my dog as my computer wallpaper: how cool would my Old English Sheepdog look walking around the office or hanging out in our retail store lounge with a Dunhill pipe hanging out of his snoot with a bowl of Low Country Cooper?
I’ll keep you posted, at least the fish food isn’t going to kill our monthly food budget and as of now they are not on the company health plan. We’ll wait and see if they are alive after the 90-day new employee probationary period.
Many nights of the past weeks, I’ve found myself measuring pipes in my head before falling asleep. Just going through the motions… length, chamber diameter, chamber depth, etc. It’s actually quite relaxing. This is not a comment on how I feel about measuring pipes during the day, of course. The task is engaging, in that repetitive way, during the day that my mind simply returns to it when it is free to wander that dusky plane of consciousness immediately before sleep. It’s a little like looking at a bright light for too long, you see spots; I look at pipes all day, and I’m starting to see pipes everywhere…
With a couple of weeks at smokingpipes.com behind me, I am certainly beginning to see the world in an entirely new light. Much as an influential Art class would, my elementary education in pipes has enormously affected they way I view everyday things lately. This may seem like an exaggeration, but my new involvement in this world has indeed caused an enthusiasm for pipes I certainly did not expect.
Fairly recently, Lady Gaga came out with her video for the song ‘Alejandro’. Characteristically sensational, the new video features a less than ten second shot (out of a more than eight minute video) of Lady Gaga smoking a pipe. Well, I was so delighted! This affected me in a way it would not have a few weeks ago. Not simply one of my favorites, but *the* worldwide pop-star accessorizing with a pipe! As with all Lady Gaga productions, this video will be one of the most viewed, discussed, criticized, and acclaimed videos of a generation, and she’s smoking a pipe in it (well, holding a pipe that is smoking)! I was thrilled to see the pipe smoking, adding allure, in the already unusual video. I was practically bouncing out of my seat, so happy to see a pipe in such a mainstream context. In keeping with her typical style, Lady Gaga fearlessly incorporates the untypical, and I’m terribly enthusiastic about it. My BP days (that’s Before Pipes, not the much distressed oil company) collided with my AP days! Will the worldwide popularity of pipe smoking skyrocket? What are the exact social implications of these historic ten seconds? Recognizing my audience, I understand that embellishing a music video with (what is to you) an “ordinary” object may not seem as exciting as I am making it out to be. Also, I have a feeling that those reading may not be avid Lady Gaga fans, and may think I’m exaggerating her global reach. I’ll clarify because, as an outsider now semi-initiated into the pipe world, I immediately noted the pipe in the video as well as understood the significance of its presence “out there” in the mostly tobaccophobic world. Let me make my point this way, in the language of the average Gaga fan: pipes are totally unusual, and Lady Gaga is totally huge. Never have I so appreciated Lady Gaga’s tendency to include the esoteric and bizarre in her work as I did with this video. Additionally, I paused, re-watched, paused, and tried to determine the shape of the pipe she’s holding. I simply had to name the shape. But it’s difficult to make the call; I think it’s a sort of short churchwarden, maybe an apple bowl. Knowing pipes and Lady Gaga, I think a churchwarden would certainly be her choice, the more attention grabbing, the better.
Next, the other night I watched ‘National Treasure’, and the meerschaum pipe introduced towards the beginning of the film struck a new chord with me. While this doesn’t have the immediate cultural impact that I perceived in the Lady Gaga video, it did get me thinking. Having learned that meerschaum pipes are from Turkey, I began to wonder what in the world eighteen-century, American freemasons were doing with a pipe from the near East, and why they put a mysterious clue on the shank. Funnily enough, a meerschaum pipe carved with freemason insignia went up here on the site recently. Hmm… well, a connection between Masonic tradition and meerschaum pipes would be well worth scholarly investigation. After I mentioned these observations to Eric, he suggested that our Masonic meerschaum is a cry for help from a freemason stranded in a Turkish meerschaum workshop, however that doesn’t explain the peculiar connection implied by ‘National Treasure’… So, continuing my very scholarly investigation, I googled “meershaum pipes freemasons”. Many hits route you to meerschaums with freemason symbols, but I couldn’t find anything that explained the historical, sociological angle. Perhaps this will require more in-depth research on my part, and perhaps more enjoyable and inaccurate films on the part of Nicholas Cage.
Finally, the most, well, weird way my pipe education has influenced my perspective occurred while buying fast food the other day. When I saw the posters advertising a Chocolate Swirl Shake, I thought immediately “oh! Cool! It’s just a like an acrylic stem!” My next thought: “I am going nuts.” Maybe I’m not going nuts; maybe, I’m just getting good at my job. Or maybe both, which would be ok because I’ve noticed that a level of nuttiness may be necessary for success in this place. Anyway, this is a perfect example of how this internship is affecting that way I see the world. And, I suppose I’m thankful for it. While waiting for my order in an Arby’s, I don’t just see a picture of a milkshake— I see art.
I’m the summer intern here at smokingpipes.com. This means I have managed to infiltrate a close-knit community at the heart of the pipe industry. But, really, this means I measure pipes and make coffee. I have quickly learned that both the pipes and the coffee at the offices of smokingpipes are of exceptional quality. Of course, I knew nothing about pipes before I started working here Monday, so I'm not sure if I'm in any sort of position to judge yet, but they do seem pretty...and I'm quite certain of my assessment on the coffee.
I have learned that the tasks of measuring pipes, entering data, and identifying shape from a chart, while tedious matters of minutiae, are fundamental to the product updating process. So I have tried to be very careful. My inner monologue for most of the day runs a little something like this… “ok, bowl diameter is 1.51 or was that the chamber depth? or are they just the same… just measure both again… ok enter the last of that data… click submit load, load...hmm, wait I think I just need some coffee first… ah yes… it’s all under control now… measure, measure, next, next… ok shapes…
And, to quote the inestimable Vonnegut, 'so it goes'...
But, the shapes are particularly challenging. They seem thoroughly and completely arbitrary. Really, why is a long, oval-shanked pipe with a tapered stem called a Canadian? Did the shape strike someone back in the early days of pipe naming as just particularly inoffensive, pleasant, and welcoming? And Billiard? To be smoked only during a session of a refined version of pool? By far the most strikingly, well, just silly name I’ve seen is “Oom Paul”. I first saw this in the list of shape options while entering pipe info, and, nonplussed, I immediately thought of Willy Wonka’s oompa-loompas. Later when I came across an Oom Paul with an odd cap on a thin chain, I thought that I could definitely see an oompa-loompa smoking it [I've since learned that Oom Paul refers to Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal Republic from 1883 to 1900, but that's not nearly as funny]. The names of pipe shapes seem to reflect the unconventionality of this area of art. I’ve been told that everyone has trouble with determining shapes at first, and this is not hard to believe. It is hard to believe that I’ll ever get the hang of the less usual shapes.
As I said, I have infiltrated a close-knit community here, and as an outsider I think I have a fresh perspective to share. I am very much taken with the eccentricities of this work environment, which, while very apparent to me, have become commonplace to the permanent team members, much as you overlook the oddities and quirks of your own family.
I am reporting directly to Alyson. She and Pam have been guiding me through the complex updating process. The first thing Alyson showed me was how to make coffee in an intimidating, industrial machine. Next, we turned to pipes. I noted the priorities here: coffee, and then the pipes. A little unexpected, maybe, but I accepted it willingly. Alyson showed me the pipe 'library', the largest room on the 2nd floor of the main building. I understood why the coffee step preceded the pipe step.
Adam’s desk, along with shelves of pipes, is in this pipe library room. Adam immediately struck me as a cool kind of guy. This is probably because he wears a cool-kind-of-guy hat. This week I discovered Adam is also the hub of the eccentricity here, surpassing even Sykes (though Sykes’ tendency to talk about papal history makes him a close second). Adam manages, sometimes quite literally, to spread his idiosyncrasy all over the second floor offices. He draws out the idiosyncrasies of others. For example, Adam causes Sykes to laugh his (I’ve learned) characteristic, very loud and appreciative guffaw; and he draws out Eric’s characteristic, dry and deadpan comments. Another way Adam eccentrically engages his second-floor colleagues is by cooking something delicious and walking around the office, bowl in hand, to visit and let everyone know just how insanely good his food is. Most importantly, though, is his music. Because Adam’s desk is in the center of much activity, and his door is always open, his music choices permeate the second floor. Adam plays a playlist that reduces the word “eclectic” to the foreign cousin of “monotonous”. Kung Fu Fighting is a daily favorite, and when I was retrieving and organizing pipes from the shelves, I was graced with sonorous voice of Jack Black stringing expletives together for several minutes; later in the day, I heard Bach’s cello suites— and later still, Lady Gaga. The musical diversity is truly remarkable, and (I think) much-appreciated entertainment.
This week I have been struck by just how much of a caring team community this place has: Pam kindly and forgivingly correcting my mistakes (usually the shapes); Alyson and Susan brightening the afternoon with milkshakes; Melissa patiently helping everyone with their computers; friendly hellos and goodbyes…it has all combined to create a great first few days. I took this internship because I wanted to work at a small, tech-oriented company (the '.com' in the name clinched it). I discovered that this isn't really a tech company. It's more of an old family store, filled with eccentric characters, who also happen to have massive tech resources at their disposal. That and thousands of pipes. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad combination yet, having not yet figured out exactly how they do what they do, but it's definitely been an eye opening experience so far.
"So I curtailed my Walpoling activities, sallied forth, and infiltrated your place of purveyance to negotiate the vending of some tobacco-y smokables." "Come again?!" "I want to buy some tobacco!"
"How about a little Full Virginia Flake?" I'm afraid we're fresh out of Full Virginia Flake, sir." "Never Mind."
"How are you on Stonehaven?" "Never at the end of the week, sir. Always get it fresh first thing on Monday."
"Tish Tish. No Matter. Um, well, four ounces of Best Brown if you please, stout yeoman." "Uh, well, it's been on order for two weeks, sir. I was expecting it this morning."
"Yes, it's not my day, is it? Ah, Blue Note?" "Sorry." "1792?" "I almost said yes, but today the van broke down." "Penzance?" "Sorry." "Dunbar? Squadron Leader?" "No." "Any German Hamborger Veermaster?" "No."
Between Samuel Gawith, Esoterica, Dan Tobacco and assorted other things, running a major purveyor of pipe tobacco in the United States right now feels a bit like running Monty Python's Cheese Shop. Every time I have one of these discussions with a customer, I can't help but think of the above exchange. I love the Cheese Shop skit; it's right up there with the football match between German and Greek philosophers and Ministry of Silly Walks among the pantheon of great Monty Python moments, but I don't particularly like living it. Especially given I'm the guy that gets shot at the end of it.
Short and long of it is that we're working on it. We hate not having some of the best tobaccos in the world in stock all the time. We love these blends as much as you do. Last Samuel Gawith shipment (and it was a big shipment) lasted three days. We're getting as much as we can. In the meantime, enjoy the original...
At the very end of last month, on the Wednesday before the Chicago pipe show, we bought an estate of over 500 pipes. Actually, it was more like 600, but there were around 500 that mattered. Plus two. Most of them were top quality English made pipes; but, like most of us as we pursue this passion across years and decades, there was quite the assortment of oddities. And I don't mean oddities in an 'oddities and rarities' sort of way. More in a "why would anyone have made that?" or, perhaps more to the point, "why, indeed, would anyone have parted with hard-earned cash for it?"
One of those 'oddities' was this brilliantly articulated interpretation of, yes, a shoe. Sykes and I were handling this estate together: it takes a long time for two people to work through that many pipes. Sykes, for reasons that continue to elude me, negotiated for the deal to include this little wooden shoe and an absurd cast brass pipe of some sort of Belgian general. Sykes gets rather punchy after ten straight hours of cataloging pipes, so that might have played some role in his sudden predilection towards the absurd.
Far be it for me to argue if he wanted to add it to his collection of Danish and Japanese high grades, so into the box with the other pipes went the little shoe.
Fast forward to Sunday evening in our pipe room. After a long week, the show crew is gathered to pack up the pipes for their trip. From among the pipes from some of the greatest pipe makers in the world, pops up the little shoe, and I go into my standard routine talking about the drilling, the grain and so on. The rest of room comments on the pipe and its design. It is then I realize and announce "what makes this pipe truly special is it has soul...or at least a sole...". That solidified it as some sort of office mascot.
Fast forward a week and back to the Smokingpipes.com conference room, located in the main building of the Smokingpipes.com campus (which, granted, only has two buildings, but we're working on it). We're unpacking pipes in there. Sykes, Alyson, Pam and I have hundreds of pipes arrayed on the table, sorting and organizing, and up, again, pops the shoe pipe. Alyson, the keeper of the new pipes at Smokingpipes.com, so the one who keeps track of, oh, about 2,500 pipes at an given time, and also a woman who, we believe, also goes by the name Imelda and might secretly be married to a Philippine dictator, immediately claims it, indicating that this was the first time she'd been able to, with one item, add to her burgeoning collections of each, at work and home, respectively.
Sykes, no longer quite as punchy as he had been, happily gave it up. But then Susan and Pam each tried to claim it. Then Mark, for reasons I still haven't determined, got into the fray. Alyson emerged victorious, pipe/shoe in hand, but I had long since abandoned that particular battleground, as either a participant or a spectator, so I can't relate exactly how that happened.
Of course, no one wanted his silly Belgian general guy, so he got to keep that. The top row of his pipe rack at work now looks sort of like this: J. Alan, Gotoh, Tokutomi, Tokutomi, Silly Brass Belgian Guy, Teddy, Peter Heeschen, Paolo Becker, Smio Satou. He's happy though. Apparently, even in a more sedate mood he still likes the Belgian dude.
Hours of Operation:
Our website is always open and you can place an order at any time. Phone/office hours are 9am-7pm US/Eastern (GMT -5:00) Monday-Friday and 10am-5pm US/Eastern (GMT -5:00) on Saturdays. Our Little River, SC showroom is open 10am-7pm US/Eastern (GMT -5:00) Monday-Saturday. We are closed on Sundays.
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