I reached for one of my most trustworthy pipes, a Castello Sea Rock made in 2000, and was surprised to detect a small gap between the stem face and the end of the shank that should certainly have attracted my attention before now. It's rare to find such a manufacturing error in a Castello. I tried pushing the stem back to acceptable orientation, but it wouldn't go. What had happened to my beloved pipe?
I held it in front of my computer monitor to check the profile in silhouette, and there was a definite gap, so I took it apart. I rarely take the stem off a pipe. I run pipe cleaners through a pipe during and after each smoke, and repeat until the cleaners reappear white and clean, but I break down a pipe for thorough alcohol cleaning only every six months or so, depending on how much smoking time it gets and how it performs. That isn't laziness; it's a regimen intended to reduce wear in the mortise. I also remove stems by turning them in a consistent direction (clockwise is easier for me to remember) so that the wood fibers aren't potentially weakened by the alternating forces of erosion caused by twisting a mouthpiece back and forth. I prepared to measure the length of the tenon to see if it was longer than the depth of the mortise, which would account for this weird spacing.
It's rare to find such a manufacturing error in a Castello.
But there was no measuring what I discovered. It was a deplorable nightmare of gunk and pipe cleaner fuzz, and generally a loathsome accumulation of immeasurable wretchedness. It had become so abominable that it was achieving sentience and beginning to push the tenon out for more aggressive colonization.
I couldn't remember the last time I'd cleaned this pipe. It's such a dependable smoker that its flavor hadn't noticeably diminished, at least not to my conscious mind, and evidently I just kept reaching for it because it continued to perform well. I usually find myself smoking a pipe more infrequently as it gets dirty because I'm enjoying the smoke just a little less than in previous sessions, until I realize I'm smoking it less because of diminished flavor and clean it.
This Castello is so dependable, though, and so nonchalantly overcame internal performance reduction, that I didn't notice. Without realizing, I'd kept pushing that pipe until it pushed back, in this case pushing the stem itself back.
I've learned how easy it is to take our best smokers for granted.
It was a new experience for me, and I'm pretty disappointed in myself, but also particularly impressed with the pipe. And I've learned how easy it is to take our best smokers for granted. Those that are especially consummate smoking instruments may be more neglected than we think, because they don't complain the way less accomplished pipes may; they just keep performing. Our best smoking pipes warrant watching. It's up to us to anticipate the issues that they are too resolute and loyal to acknowledge.