Wandering through the flea market a while back, I ran across a booth by the name of "Burt's Macramé Emporium and Time Machines." Burt himself, nametag prominently displayed, was humming and smoking a pipe as he meandered about, adjusting displays. Anytime I see a pipe smoker, I'm curious, and I was intrigued by the booth anyway.
"Welcome!" Burt bellowed as I walked in. He was smoking a mixture I was unfamiliar with, highlighting not-so-subtle notes of burning tires and overheated electrical wiring. "Need some macramé? Dumb question; everybody needs macramé! We got macramé toaster covers, macramé tapestries, macramé curtains; we got macramé hubcap covers right here, got a macramé doghouse over yonder by that macramé canoe, got macramé coasters and doilies and ceiling fan blade covers. Here's a set of macramé salt-and-pepper shakers — you don't need to turn them over, just shake them over your food; real time saver. You look like a man who knows his macramé; what's your pleasure, friend?"
"I mainly stopped because I saw you smoking, and I like talking with other pipe guys." I held up my own pipe as evidence of my sincerity. "But I'm interested in your time machines."
"Yep, my whole family smokes pipes. My sweet grandmother, rest her soul, taught me how to smoke a pipe when I was yay high. 'Now when you smoke at school,' she said, 'do it only in the restroom, the teachers' lounge when you can sneak in, or an alley. Not in class where the teachers can see, or I'll hide you with a switch that'll leave marks your future grandkids in heaven will feel. We've been through that already with your cousin Theo.' We all smoke our own secret tobacco mixture, grown right on the family farm for generations — we call it 'Armageddon.' You won't find it in any tobacco store, that's for sure. Here, have a puff." He held out his miniature trash fire for my assessment.
He was smoking a mixture I was unfamiliar with, highlighting not-so-subtle notes of burning tires and overheated electrical wiring.
I backed up a step. "No, that's OK, I could smell it from the midway and it's a real attention-getter."
"You bet it is. Few have the stamina to survive it, and the aroma is like nothing else. I have people stopping me all the time, especially volunteer firefighters, strangely. But listen, brother, you don't need no time machine. To be perfectly honest, they don't work. What you need is macramé."
"Burt, I'm already loaded down with macramé," I lied. "If I bring one more piece of macramé into the house my wife will have me sleeping in my macramé hammock in the garage. But I do need a time machine. Could I look anyway?"
"Sure, if it's time machines you want, it's time machines you'll get." Burt led me to a corner of the Emporium. "Here we go, we got four of them, built by my cousin Theo completely out of macramé. I don't know the power source, but this last one started to glow green when he pulled this macramé cord." I pulled the cord and nothing happened. "You gotta talk into the macramé speaking tube," said Burt, "and tell it where and when you want to go, but, like I said, it don't work."
"Is Theo around here someplace? Could he show me?"
"Disappeared shortly after he made this last machine. Left quick, too; he only took one pipe, a Kaywoodie Billiard I liked a lot. Damn nice pipe. Ran off with a woman, I reckon. He always had an eye for women and vintage Kaywoodies."
I tried everything and searched for secret buttons or switches, but failed to activate the time machine. "You say he smoked the same mixture as you? Armageddon?" Burt nodded. "May I borrow your pipe?" I asked.
I took a puff and immediately regretted it. It was like smoking tobacco that had been smuggled out of the inner ring of the 7th circle of hell, but I pulled the cord and spoke into the speaking tube, making sure there was plenty of smoke in my breath: "Duke Street, London, 1920s."
And I was there, standing in front of the Alfred Dunhill shop. Amazed, I went in and the clerk gave me a strange look, probably because I was in cargo shorts and neon green sneakers. The shop was filled with wonders: Dunhill lighters, pipe racks, sterling silver pipe stands and pipes galore.
I asked to look at pipes and the clerk cheered up, asking about my shape preferences. We talked pipes for a while and he seemed to become more comfortable after I lapsed into the advantages of the Billiard and Lovat shapes. Pipes are a universal language.
The shop was filled with wonders: Dunhill lighters, pipe racks, sterling silver pipe stands and pipes galore.
I found two fantastic Dunhill Shell Briar Billiards, and after some confusing conversation about exchange rates, found they were about $8 each, but the clerk was suspicious when I proffered my debit card. "What, good sir, might this be?" "Sorry, man; it's how we pay for stuff in America. But I have cash." I offered him a crisp $20 bill. He examined it and said, "Sadly, we do not accept American currency dated 2018. Is this some sort of clumsy counterfeiting attempt? You leave me no choice, good sir; I must summon the police." He walked to the street and started shouting for a cop. I panicked and ran.
People stared as if I'd just escaped from a primate exhibit. With police whistles sounding behind me, I found a garbage pile in an alley to hide behind and unconsciously took a puff of the pipe in my hand, forgetting that it was Burt's. Vertigo swept over me and I found myself swimming through the space/time continuum once again. I opened my eyes to see I was back in the Macramé Emporium."See?" said Burt. "It don't work." I shook my head like a wet dog to clear my mind. "I want it," I said. "Fi'teen bucks takes her away," said Burt. "Sold," I said. "And I need to purchase some of your tobacco."
"Oh, that's impossible," said Burt. "A puff or two is OK, but you got to be genetically predisposed to survive it. My family has generations of tolerance built up, but there's a special ward at the mental hospital for outsiders who've tried to smoke more. Poor unfortunates will never be the same. It would be irresponsible to let you have any."
"Even just a couple of bowls' worth?"
"Sorry, brother. I'd never sleep again worrying about you."
I left without the time machine, knowing it wouldn't work without Armageddon.
I thought of the episode only rarely afterward, but a couple of years later I read an interesting article in one of my favorite magazines. Paleontologists had uncovered an almost-complete Tyrannosaurus fossil and were terribly excited. The scientists were puzzled, though, because there was a fossilized Kaywoodie Billiard approximately where the beast's stomach cavity would have been.