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 Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like

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LL

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Location : KCMO
Registration date : 2007-12-29

PostSubject: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 8:20 am

Tad Gage ran this in his The Compleat Smoker magazine back in 1991. Since TCS is long gone, and I'm the article's author, I doubt there are any rights issues to worry about.

I typed it into my computer from a hard copy years ago, intending to re-submit it to P&T or somewhere, but never did. After discovering a copy while searching an old laptop this afternoon, I thought I'd post it to SF. It seemed like the upcoming holiday season was a fitting time.

Thanks to Tad for thinking of the perfect title. I remember handing it to him without one.

Quote :
A Smoky Toast to Art


Showing my pipe collection to new acquaintances is always fun, in part because it is so predictable. After invariably pointing out the gourd calabash as their favorite, they ask how much a good pipe costs. That's when I get to see if they have amalgam or cosmetic fillings.

Briar, I explain, ranges in value from worthless to immense, just like a gemstone, and for exactly the same reason: the rarity of perfection in Nature. "Diamonds aren't as scarce as most people think," I say. "You can buy a bucket of them for a few hundred dollars if you don't mind them brownish-black and filled with imperfections... A blue-white one without flaws, though, is another matter."

Then they ask which of my pipes comes closest to perfection, and I hand them the one in the accompanying photo. "This is very nearly as good as briar gets," I say, showing them a run-of-the-mill pipe for comparison. "How much did it cost?" comes next, and I tell them it was free. A gift. "Wow... what is it worth, then?" "There's a story that goes with it," I say. "Afterward, maybe you can tell me. Would you like to hear it?"

Arthur Englander, I begin, was a very old man--well into his nineties--when we met in 1978. He still worked a few hours every day in his smoke shop in downtown Kansas City, and though I was a relative youngster of 25, and as ignorant of pipes and tobacco as anyone who had ever walked through his door, he patiently answered my questions and showed me his merchandise as if I were his most valued customer. My having taken a job around the corner had quickly made me a regular, and I was eager to expand my newfound love of pipes and tobacco under his guidance.

Several months later, while lingering my customary minute over the case of Charatan and Dunhill high grades before returning to work, he held up a brown chunk of something and asked if I knew what it was. "This is briar," he said, "As it comes to the artist. Are you an artist?" I shook my head. "No, no... I don't mean have you ever worked as one, I mean are you an artist in here?" And he pointed to his chest. I could tell it was important to him that I answer honestly. "Yes," I said, meaning it, but with no idea what to do with the feeling. "Then take this briar," he said, holding out the block, "And turn your heart loose on it."

He loaned me a few old tools, and together with an electric hand drill clamped to a vise in my spare room, I began to work. The block turned out to be a fair mixed grain, but went unfinished because of a large flaw in the heel of the pipe. "It was shaping up nicely, wasn't it?" Art said when I brought it to him the following week. "Bad wood, but that's not your fault... Here, try again." And he handed me another block.

The second pipe came more easily, but the briar was poorly grained and had a number of small flaws. But I'd finished it and was pleased with the overall result. Art's only comment after looking at it from several angles for a long time was, "Wait here!" And he disappeared. He was gone maybe ten minutes, and if it hadn't been for the occasional shuffling and stirring from the back room I would have begun to worry.

Several other customers came in during this time, and I could only shrug and point to the door at the rear of the shop where Art had gone. We all waited. When he finally reappeared, he was smiling in a way I'd never seen before and his eyes were on fire.

"Come over here in the light!" he commanded in his wispy, gravelly voice, uncharacteristically ignoring the other customers who had come in, and held me fast by the upper arm as I entered into a huddle with him over the rearmost counter. "This," he said, holding an espresso-colored block larger than any I'd seen before, "is briar that was the very best available over fifty years ago when I tried my hand at carving, and was already old then. I wasn't any good at it--no patience--but I saved the wood hoping someday to find it a home. Please take it. Give it life. All I ask is that you bring it back for me to see, so I know what it became."

I did. Art never had the heart to point out that I had carved the pipe backward. Reversed 180 degrees the bowl would have had truly straight "straight" grain, and the 45 degree elbow in the grain would have coincided perfectly with the shank making its grain straight as well. But then, maybe a flaw would have been uncovered, turning the whole thing into scrap. I'll never know. (As is, there isn't so much as a sand speck visible under 10X magnification anywhere on it.)

After showing Art the pipe, which he held and beamed over like a new father, asking to keep it for a few days to show some friends, I was transferred to a job in the suburbs and found it difficult to get downtown regularly. After a lapse of about a month, I walked into his shop and knew instantly what had happened. His nephew was behind the counter, looking tired, and told me that Art had passed away in his sleep several days earlier.

I finish the story by saying that if the pipe is properly cared for, I'll be able to give it to my son, and he'll be able to pass it on to his. And that each time I light it up--it smokes as dry and sweet as a dream, by the way--I always let out the first puff while holding the briar high in a silent toast to Arthur Englander and those like him, who make the world a gentler, better place.

They usually still have the pipe in their hands when I stop, and are quiet for a minute, not knowing just what to do with it. Then (virtually all are fast-living, 1990's conscious, non-pipe smokers), they say something like, "I had no idea... smoking these is nothing like cigarettes, is it?" and hand it back gently.

Silently, I score one for our side.








Last edited by LL on Mon Nov 30, 2009 6:36 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Benjamin Button

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Age : 37
Registration date : 2008-10-09

PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 2:32 pm

I absolutely love that story.

I believe each pipe holds it's own stories and personal keepsakes. I can remember the feel of a particular day by clenching a certain pipe between my teeth. I can feel the chill of the fall air, my dry callused hands cradling the rusticated briar, and the rustle of dried leaves clinging to the branches for dear life. Or the warm summer sun, the condensation on a glass of sweet tea, the way the smoke lingers in the humid air. Those instances of each smoke are embedded in the grains of the briar like the wrinkles in our brains, forever kept in there for anyone to experience, as long as they are willing to give it the love and care it deserves.

I don't know how many times I've been walked in on just staring at a pipe, looking at the grain, and the marks, and knowing that it was made for me to hold at that point in time, by human hands, and how it's more than just a tool. Sometimes, I just smile and put the pipe back, or sometimes I get philosophical and try to explain the nuances of the briar to unfamiliar ears.

Until you actually experience something like this, it's hard to explain to people. Your story does that perfectly.

Well done sir!

-Adam
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Trout Bum

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Age : 49
Location : Anchorage, Alaska
Registration date : 2008-09-11

PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 4:40 pm

LL -- That is a very well written, poignant tale that truly hits the mark. A GREAT story, thanks for posting it.
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Centurian 803
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Age : 67
Location : Oak Ridge, TN
Registration date : 2008-09-10

PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 6:49 pm

A wonderful story!! And a beautiful pipe. You truly are an artist.
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Smokey Joe

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Age : 53
Location : Georgia Boonies
Registration date : 2009-10-29

PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 9:03 pm

This is a great story. Kind of poetic as well. Thanks for sharing.
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puros_bran
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Location : Brandenburg, Ky
Registration date : 2007-12-10

PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 9:05 pm

I said it a few years ago... I'll say it again...

That birdseye looks like Pleco skin.
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LL

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Location : KCMO
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PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 9:25 pm

puros_bran wrote:
I said it a few years ago... I'll say it again...

That birdseye looks like Pleco skin.

I'll be damned if it doesn't. Laughing Laughing Laughing

http://i46.tinypic.com/3478uau.jpg
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puros_bran
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Location : Brandenburg, Ky
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PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 9:38 pm

Just one of thousands of my Fav... Alot of people keep 'alegea eaters' to keep there tank clean... I keep 'regular' fish for an excuse to keep Plecos.. theres about 10,000 diff variety...


anyway to sway this back to your pipe and story... I just noticed from the bottom it kinda looks like a 'Goldfish Crackers' fish...lol.. You weren't jonesing for a fish sammich when you carved this was ya?
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LL

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Location : KCMO
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PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:10 pm

puros_bran wrote:

anyway to sway this back to your pipe and story... I just noticed from the bottom it kinda looks like a 'Goldfish Crackers' fish...lol.. You weren't jonesing for a fish sammich when you carved this was ya?

My clearest recollection is listening to the KC Royals in the AL playoffs on the radio while I worked, and that briar dust is like low-grade cayenne pepper in your nose. (No dust control vac or anything back then, just an ancient electric drill clamped to my gunsmithing bench to turn a rubber disk with some 80 grit glued to it, and briar all over everything.) The goldfish shape was just an accident. Hell, the entire pipe was an accident, both the wood and the shape. Art for the wood, and the shape is just what emerged in realtime. No sketching on the block or designing in advance. I didn't even have a stem or know where to get one, so swiped it off an old Ben Wade Golden Grain that I rarely smoked.

Dammit, now I'm hungry for fish.
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SmokeyTweed

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Age : 34
Location : Edmonton, Alberta
Registration date : 2008-10-13

PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:10 pm

Great story,

To me a good pipe is like a folk song or even country song in that it tells a story while cigarettes and to a lesser extent cigars are like hip-hop or rap there might be different styles of them but they are usually only about one thing. Plus they look crappy in a stand!


Last edited by SmokeyTweed on Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:11 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : classic their there mistake)
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Justpipes
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Age : 58
Location : Randolph County, NC If you don't know, you wouldn't understand.
Registration date : 2007-12-17

PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:23 pm

Very nice LL!
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jeremyt

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Age : 40
Location : Alexandria,Al
Registration date : 2009-08-17

PostSubject: Re: Found an old magazine story you BoBer's might like   Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:53 pm

Thanks LL. That is one beautiful pipe and I love that story. People that are unfamiliar with pipes and pipe smoking don't understand the love we have for our briars.
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