As with most of us, when we venture into our (not so) inexpensive hobby of the briar (or meer or ceramic or cob) we quickly begin to accumulate the related paraphernalia without which we cannot do. Our tampers, matchbooks, boxes of matches, windscreens (that we nearly never use), belt pipe holders (aka "pipe breakers". Because you forgot you were wearing it when you sat down...ouch.) pipe racks, pipe reamer, pipe cleaners, burned shirts, etc. all become part of our compulsion, er...hobby.
We wander into tobacconists to seek out the perfect pipe, which, if you're anything like me, after purchasing some 300 or more, have yet to find. But I will keep looking for the perfect pipe while enjoying the 'failings' of my frequent searches. I venture into flea markets, antique halls and yard sales in hope of finding someone else's discarded 'estate' perfect pipe.
Such was my pursuit one sunshining day in Pueblo, Colorado, I happened into a small antique shop. I mean it was small, not much more than five or six hundred square feet. As usually I meandered about the periphery of the shop looking at flouncery old and not inexpensive. I circled the shoppette once, trusting to my well developed instinct to find tobacciana no matter where it is stuffed in which cubby holes. Don't make light of my innate instinct. I'm rarely wrong. I can look into an antique mall window and feel the old pipes and pipe holders and sterling matchboxes almost calling me inside. Alas, it seemed that this time, in this booth of a business, for it wasn't much bigger, my sixth sense failed me, for it had no tobacciana in it, not even an old ashtray. Thus, despondent, I opened the door as to leave the establishment. Before the door was but three inches open I heard a sweet if mid-life voice calling from behind me, "May I help you find something?" As I learned long ago in my years as a Radio Shack grunt, it can't hurt to answer the question, so turning.
* "Well, I was looking for some pipes. You know, smoking pipes, but you don't appear to have any here." I said.
"No, I don't carry anything like that." She paused, and thought momentarily.
I fully expected to hear from her that I should go down the street to the cigar store where I'd already been, but was delightfully surprised when I heard her say, "You know, my husband used to smoke pipes." There was a magic word in there, and the mind, being as astute as it was picked up on it immediately.
"He no longer smokes a pipe?" I asked.
"No, he gave it up for cigars. I hate cigars." she replied with some disgust in her voice.
All I could think of was, "G-d bless the cigar boom." Aloud, I asked. "Does he still have the pipes? Would he like to sell them?"
"I don't know," she answered, "I'll call him and find out. Are you from out of town?"
"Boston," was my response.
"How long will you be here?"
"I leave tomorrow afternoon."
"I'll call him now. Can you be back here in a couple of hours if he wants to sell?"
I thought to myself, 'What horses hauling chariots could keep me from here?' then said, "Sure. I'm just going for lunch now."
While she made the call, I sampled the Mexican food at the nearby restaurant. The food was adequate, but my musings were elsewhere. Why would anyone give up the pipe for cigars? I'm not a hypocrite. I enjoy a cigar about once in a while, and during the summer, I go on the deck and have one or two a week. But sell my pipes? Cigars only? Yes, in many ways cigars are more convenient. They lack something, however, that pipes have. Personality. A cigar cannot ever be my companion. A cigar can't have traveled with me through shared memories. The cigar I smoked while watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series is gone. Never again will that particular cigar return to my hand; where is the shared memory? As I think about my pipes, I say to myself: “That's the pipe I bought on my first trip to the UK. There's the one I bought at one of this country's oldest tobacco shops, in Chicago. That's the pipe I was smoking when the New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl. And what a super bowl that pipe is, I'll smoke it each time they play. It brought them luck for the Super Bowl didn't it?” Can a cigar warm the hand? Only if you like pain. The pipe on the other hand will heat the fingers, the nose, ears or whatever, with safety because its heat is enclosed. Now a good cigar, especially a rich oily maduro, looks lovely to the eye, but think about the works of art that are some of the pipes we've seen. Think of the tactile sensation that we can enjoy. A well rusticated pipe is not only a smoking instrument, but according to my wife, it makes a superior backscratcher.
Now Pueblo has only one cigar store with a very limited selection of pipes. In fact I'd asked the proprietor of the cigar store why he had so few. "Cigars are all the rage" he said, and for that very reason, I refused to get my hopes up.
The sun warmed my exterior and the margarita the interior. The walk back to the antique store was short. As I entered the store, there she was dusting off the pipes. There were more than two dozen spread out on a victorian writing desk. Nearly all had the original boxes. Some of the pipes she'd not yet opened. "I'm sorry you didn't come back sooner. My husband would have liked to meet you. He had to get back to work."
"I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him," I politely responded while my eyes danced over the collection of Comoy, Savinelli, GBD, Chacom and the like. There was even a Ropp in there. In all honesty, the price of each, though used (excuse me... estate), was not out of line. For upon examination each had only been smoked but a few times. Not really broken in as it were. There weren't even any teeth marks. I somehow convinced myself that he had false teeth, removing them before smoking. My mind was reeling from the view. I was an actor, and Shakespearian phrases started leaping into my thoughts, "Is that an autograph I see before me? It's stem pointed toward my lips.... Come let me smoke thee." "Oh, that this too, too solid pipe..." "Alas, a Ben Wade, I knew him, Savanelli.." No pretense that the quotes made any logical sense. But what a nice small collection.
"Are these the prices he wants?" I asked as innocently as I could.
"Do you think they're fair?"
Fair? Of course the prices were fair, in fact they were extraordinarily low for the number of pipes and overall value. I'm honest, really I am. I won't cheat anyone because I believe in karma. What goes around should come around. I couldn't possibly permit myself to lowball the lady. Without at least giving her an option. Therefore I had to avoid answering in the affirmative. "I can't really pay that much for all of them. Perhaps if you leave them with the cigar store down the street. He could sell them off on consignment..."
"I wouldn't give that man the right time of day." She interrupted, then, "He's the one that started my husband on the cigars. I can't stand cigars." At this point I was gaining a new appreciation for cigars, if you know what I mean. She paused for a telling moment, "I really love the way the pipe smells. It reminds me of my grandfather, and the smell doesn't hang heavy in the room. Cigars just stink." Another pause, "What can you do for all of them."
Somewhere along the line she decided to get this over with. So it was that I made her an offer. It was much lower than the group was worth, but it was all the budget I would allow myself for the indulgence.
"Hmm, I'll have to ask my husband. That's a lot less than he wanted." She was right, of course, but that was all I could afford. So, while she called him I waited. Have you ever noticed how slowly time can pass. A second is still a second, a minute still a minute, and yet when anticipation is part of the equation, all time is like bubble gum grabbed by the forefinger and thumb and drawn from between the teeth....stretched and sagging. My personal time warp ended in only about one minute, but I thought the gum would never get back in my mouth.
"He'll take it."
Having been in sales, I learned that once the customer says 'Yes' a good salesman shuts up and takes out his pen. So, I was already writing the check by the time the word 'it' left her mouth. Now I'm not sure what she said to him, but I'm pretty sure he had tuned out and was calculating just how many Churchills, robustos and coronas that much money would buy. And that many stogies will fuzz up anyone's thinking. I won't be gauche and tell you how much it all went for, but shall we say I spent about six dollars per pipe. She accepted the check, getting all the pertinent information on it, including the hotel at which I was staying.
As we packed the pipes gently away, each into its own satin or flannel sleeve and then each its own box, then finally into the box her husband had stored all of them, my unknowing benefactress came upon a small piece of paper.
"This looks like its instructions to a lighter. Well, if there is one in there, just keep it." She placed it in a plastic baggie and then into the corrugated box.
I did not look at the paper. I was too concerned about getting the pipes out of there before she changed her mind. I said good day, thanked her and left. Once back at the hotel I did what any pipe smoker would have done... I opened every one of the boxes, removed everyone of the pipes from their sleeves, spread them all out on the extra double bed and fawned over my goods. I felt like a high school girl drooling over the prom dress I'd always wanted and it came in my size, too. There they were, more than thirty pipes all in great condition. Some were blonde, some chestnut stained, some reddish. I fondled each, taking the time to search for anything I had missed, any flaws, any scratches. There were none. That's when I saw it. The crumpled plastic bag which she'd carelessly then tossed into the larger box. I opened the plastic bag and found the small tube of Dunhill Stem Polish, then there were some flints, then the broken Savinelli polishing paste container and a piece of paper. I read the piece of paper. Hmmm..... Frantically, I searched the near empty box again. In the corner of the corrugated box a glint of light caught my eye. I moved the tissue paper that partially covered the object. The lighter that she said I could keep was there; It was beautiful, one inch by two and a half by three eighths. The finished was sort of a hammered look. On the bottom it said the magic word, Dunhill, sterling. The paper said, 'Care and safety Instructions for your Dunhill Rollergas Lighter.' The least expensive DRG, at that time, went for $350 U.S. I thought of calling her to tell her about the value of the lighter. I said I was honest, not dumb.
There is more to this, of course. The Dunhill had to be serviced and made it across the pond to London for a very special event, but that's a story for another time.
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