We pipe smokers are like everyone else: We put our pants on one leg at a time, or not at all if we work from home. We have jobs, and families, and weird idiosyncrasies like eating only the orange Skittles or refusing to set the TV volume at anything other than a multiple of five. Some of us prefer toilet paper to roll over; others argue that under is the only acceptable option; and still others laugh at such primitivity by using bidets. No look or posture or other external aspect distinguishes pipe smokers — other than the act of smoking a pipe, of course — so recognizing one another proves difficult in public.
Sure, seeing someone seated on a park bench smoking a Peterson is obvious enough, but sights like that are rare these days. Perhaps a wayward pipe cleaner peeking out of a pocket or the faint aroma of Latakia could be noticeable cues, but even those hints aren't concrete: Maybe the pipe cleaner is merely leftover from a recent craft project with a niece, and maybe what smells like Latakia is actually just the remnants of a backyard bonfire the night before.
The most obvious means of determining if someone is a pipe smoker is, of course, to ask them directly, "Do you smoke a pipe?" But what a crude, invasive, and ineloquent means of determination; the consequences could be disastrous. Once during a wedding ceremony, I asked the groom if he smoked a pipe. He said, "I do," but everyone else responded with glares; I could tell the question wasn't appreciated. Another time, I asked a police officer if he smoked a pipe after thinking his handcuffs-clip would be perfect for a round tobacco tin, and the traffic stop suddenly transitioned from a speeding violation to an extensive drug search. The two-pound, vacuum-sealed bag of bulk tobacco in the back seat only made it worse. We cleared it up, but officer Andrews was annoyed. Then, during my subsequent traffic-court hearing, the judge fined me $200 after I asked her if she smoked a pipe — no matter that I had been driving 70 in a 45. Quite a costly question, and one I'll never ask a judge again.
There are other methods of determining whether or not someone smokes a pipe, but I've found few efficient enough or worthwhile. Hiring a private investigator was financially burdensome; monitoring a person's every move and staking out their residence, while effective and offering plenty of time for my own personal pipe smoking, proved time-consuming, and even when I did witness them packing a bowl, the resulting explanation of how I came by the information squashed any chance at camaraderie for some reason; and incorporating pipe-related vocabulary into normal conversation resulted in confusion and misunderstanding — apparently "shank," "bowl," and "button" have different contextual meanings.
I learned from these past mistakes, though, and attempted more casual, hip, and conversational means of determination.
"Hello there, fellow cool person. Do you ever, y'know, toke the ol' Tankard?
"Puff the Pete?
"Billow the briar?
"Vape the VA/Per?
"Lunt with Latakia?
"Sip the Savinelli?
"C'mon. You know what I'm sayin'."
As expected, I became an instant hit in all social circles and was invited to lavish parties, my attention vied for and my presence envied. If only ...
We need a universal method of determining whether or not someone is a fellow pipe smoker, a "furtive shibboleth" or secret, seemingly innocuous word or phrase that denotes membership to a specific group.
Secret Password Proposal
History buffs, especially those interested in World War II, as well as anyone who has seen Saving Private Ryan or HBO's Band of Brothers will probably understand the significance of "flash" and "thunder." The two words were used by Allied troops on D-Day as part of a challenge-response system meant to identify friend from foe. One party would issue the challenge word — "flash" — to which the unknown oncomer was to respond with the password — "thunder." In this way, Allied forces were able to ascertain the identity of someone without having to forfeit a secure position to visually confirm. Furthermore, the "th" sound was difficult for Germans to pronounce with native fluency, ensuring the system's function even if the details of the code fell into unintended hands.
Now, unlike determining an enemy patrol during wartime, identifying a pipe smoker is not a matter of life and death; however, that doesn't make a challenge-response system, like the one used in WWII, any less helpful. Plus, it's fun; any sort of secret code is fun, and being a pipe smoker is fun. The more we pipe smokers know of each other's existence, the more fun we'll have.
In the name of fun and camaraderie, then, I propose a pipe-smokers challenge-response identification method using the words "flake" and "tamper." Obviously, with pipe-smoking being a global hobby and community, restricting the challenge-response to only English would limit outreach, so please translate as necessary and certainly don't prioritize native fluency. The next time you encounter someone who appears to have the attractively elusive, je ne sais quoi of a pipe smoker or who seems to smell of sweetened Cavendish, simply utter "flake" under your breath as you pass by. If they respond "tamper," you've made a new friend. If, however, they grab you by the collar, infuriated by what they think you've just called them, then you've clearly made a mistake.