I have a weird pipe and don't know what to do with it. I like it because it was carved by a pipe maker I like a lot, and he went to enormous trouble to make it. His skills are impressive. But I despise it because it's a pipe sculpted to resemble someone whose image I avoid: Me.
I don't even look in mirrors, because, well, look at my photo above and you'll know why. For 21 years at P&T magazine I never published a photo of myself, despite pressure from my superiors, and the folks here at Smokingpipes had to tackle and bind me and hang me up on a coat rack to get my photo on my first day. That's why I look a little hunched over in the photo. It took them an hour to get a shot without revealing my spitting and snarling while I threatened Biblical-level retribution. I've been tricked or blackmailed into a couple of other photos here, but I'm determined that it won't happen again. Whenever I see three or more of my colleagues gathering duct tape and tranquilizer darts and eyeing me from a distance, I fortify a defensive position in the warehouse.
When I review my posts on the Daily Reader, I quickly scroll to a point where my photo is obscured. It isn't because of self-hatred; I like myself fine, occasionally. It's more like self-neutrality. I can take me or leave me, and I see no reason for images of me to exist. I am uninteresting, and I try to make my posts interesting, so those posts are better off on their own.
I have no desire to see myself in the form of a pipe bowl, let alone smoke such a grotesque instrument. It would be far from a relaxing experience. But Bartlomiej Antoniewski (everyone calls him Bart) made this pipe for me and it has profound sentimental value. Because of that I can't get rid of it, and I'm very anxious to get rid of it. I never, ever want to see it, and I desperately dream of it going away. I keep it double-bagged in a locked drawer so I won't accidentally catch a glimpse and recoil onto the floor in paroxysms of profanity. Even knowing it exists is painful, but knowing it exists also fills me with joy because of the kindness of such a special gift.
This pipe has been torturing me for 20 years and I'm no closer to a solution now than when it first entered my life. I can't destroy it or sell it or give it away, because it represents the kindness and many hours of skilled workmanship of someone I genuinely like and respect and appreciate. So I keep it and am hoping that one day I'll open that drawer and it will be gone, stolen, perhaps, by some magical being who appreciates human features of vague facial structure and elevated blandness, though I'd be inconsolable if that ever happened.
My travails started at a Chicago pipe show in 2001, when I noticed Marek Lejzorowicz sneaking around and trying to take my photo when I wasn't looking. But I noticed his guerilla maneuvers; I noticed them a lot, and managed to avoid his attempts, or so I thought. Whenever I spotted him I'd quickly duck and tie my shoe, or maneuver whomever I was talking with between myself and the camera on any pretext, sometimes hugging them as an excuse, or dancing with them to the nearest exit, or yanking a tablecloth from beneath a display of pipes and throwing it over myself, all of which caused a series of other problems that I'd rather not elaborate — because of court orders, mainly.
But Marek is a resourceful man and he somehow succeeded, though I suspect he cheated with a telephoto lens. He was the owner of Bac-Art Pipes and distributor for Bart's pipes, and the two of them schemed together for this project. They liked the fanciful essays I was writing for the magazine, particularly one in which I told the story of convincing my wife that no pipe in existence costs more than $10. Bart carved the pipe from memory and from whatever photos Marek provided, and included a $10 price tag rendered in briar.
I wasn't sure what was happening, but I harbored a lingering suspicion. I began hearing rumors that Marek planned a presentation to coincide with the Richmond Pipe show. I love the Richmond show, but I avoided that one because of a euphemism of some sort, a coma or alien abduction or whatever. However, my colleague at P&T, Steve Ross, accepted on my behalf, the traitorous scoundrel. I thought I'd avoided another embarrassment and hadn't seen that coming. When he brought me the pipe the following week, he suspected what my reaction might be. There was much throwing of furniture and profanity on my part, and he fled my office with a little more amusement than was necessary.
Marek would inquire about the pipe a couple of times over the years. He asked if I had smoked it and I lied through my lying, weasley lying teeth, saying that it smoked great and that I enjoyed it frequently. I also said it was among the finest pipes I owned, which was and is true. It's an amazing pipe and I couldn't bear to part with it, but I'd trade my spleen to be rid of the thing.
I saw the pipe again this week when I brought it into the office for photos to accompany this essay. I'm even more dismayed now. It depicts me with the hair I had 20 years ago rather than the random tufts of defeated beach grass that now adorn my scalp. I thought I cut it all off before it started looking like the limp comb over depicted here, but maybe I was later than I thought. So that's an additional bonus, but what's worse is that it still looks like me, which is intolerable.
I bet you have a similar story. Few pipe smokers escape the gift of a pipe they wouldn't voluntarily own. I gave my dad a pipe for Christmas when I was a boy; it was the coolest pipe I'd ever seen, a facsimile of a revolver that was smoked upside down, its handle the bowl and its barrel the shank and mouthpiece. He smoked it once that Christmas morning and said he liked it, but it ended up double bagged in a locked drawer, so I wonder.
Maybe your spouse or your mom proudly gifted such a pipe to you, and you love that pipe for the sentimental value it possesses, but you sure don't want to smoke it. What are we to do? There must be thousands of pipes that hold great emotional value but can't fulfill their smoking potential because we simply don't like them. They're all packed away in drawers, promoting guilt and distaste in their owners while simultaneously filling those owners with pride and sentimentality. Were they all gathered in one spot, their combined conflicting emotional energy could implode into a black hole that compresses the planet into a singularity of infinite dismay. If you find a solution, please notify me. I'm desperate.