Spontaneous combustion : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Spontaneous combustion

spontaneous_combustionby G.L. Pease

We are pleased to introduce a new column, “Spontaneous combustion,” by Gregory Pease of G.L. Pease Tobacco. Pease is widely admired not only as a remarkably talented tobacco blender and a gifted photographer but as a pipe collector with a rare discernment for detail. He has been one of the judges for the Greater Kansas City Pipe Club show’s American Carvers Pipe Carving Contest, and his personal collection is renowned for its astounding examples of the best the pipe world offers. His other accomplishments are myriad (he spent some time as an analog design engineer, computer scientist and punk rock guitarist, all simultaneously), but among them is writing, and we’re sure you will enjoy his contributions to P&T.

It began innocently enough. One day, without anything resembling fore thought, I knew I would be a pipe smoker. Unlike stories so often told, no living member of my own family smoked a pipe, other than an unpleasant, decaying scarecrow of an uncle. When I was unable to escape the monthly visit, he’d glare at my long hair while squinting beneath terrier brows, and through thick clouds of reek from a noisy, never- cleaned pipe, he would mutter threats of chopping off my locks with dull sheep shears, followed by a frenzy of raspy cackling that devolved quickly into a coughing spasm. Not much of a role model, my uncle.

Despite any long-term psychological effect of his traumatic visits, and after a few failed experiments in high school involving a sandblasted Medico stuffed (too tight) with cheap tobacco (too wet) and puffed ferociously (too hot), the knowledge that I would one day be a pipe smoker remained. When my long hair and I managed to make it to university, it wouldn’t take long before the pipe would become my ever-present companion.

Thirty-five years ago society was different. Today’s legion of nannies had not yet seated itself in positions of unbridled power, and people smoked freely and in plain view. And, though the pipe’s popularity had declined significantly from its peak in the ’40s, pipe smokers were far from the endangered species they are today. Every day I would see professors, as well as a few students, wandering the campus, briar in hand, often stopping to chat with one another, a public testament to the fellowship of the briar. It wasn’t long before I’d heard the call and found myself haunting the local tobacco shops in every spare moment, meeting and talking with other pipe smokers, learning everything I could from anyone who would share what they knew.

My first good pipe was a sandblasted Charatan second in the skater shape, purchased for a little more than $16. It was in a glass-doored cabinet on the wall of Drucquer & Sons Ltd., Berkeley’s premier tobacconist at the time, and was recommended as a good starter pipe by a fellow behind the counter named Ken who became the first of many mentors, and who was ready and able to help me with my initiation into the arcana of Pipedom. He then led me and my new briar to rows of apothecary jars filled with fragrant leaf, explained the differences between tobacco types and suggested that I choose something from the row of unscented, unflavored mixtures that appealed to me. Red Lion it was—a light Latakia mixture that smelled of an intoxicating fusion of driftwood fires, leather, black tea and hay. Ken showed me how to fill the bowl without overpacking it, how to light the tobacco in careful stages, how to puff slowly—sipping, not gulping—how to enjoy the ritual.

I didn’t quite know in that moment that I was making a deal with the devil, this fact only to reveal itself gradually over the years, but in retrospect, I should have anticipated it. I’ve always been a collector, or more accurately, a collector of collections—rocks, plastic dinosaurs and model airplanes as a child, more “sophisticated” toys later in life. If one is good, more is more better.
For me, and I suspect for many of us, collecting is more than a simple dysfunction. It’s like some alien retrovirus that has integrated itself permanently into my DNA, expressing itself at will by causing me to fill my world with stuff. Novelist Anatole France wrote, “That which distinguishes man from animals is lying and literature.”

I’d add collecting things to the list. Though animals like magpies and crows gather objects to take back to their nests simply because they like them, perhaps even taking some pride in their shiny new possessions, only humanity does this so enthusiastically, so socially, seeking out fellow col- lectors, befriending them, sharing the triumph of their latest acquisitions. We form clubs, have shows and swap meets, gather virtually in forums on the Internet. A friend, bedeviled by the same disease, once likened our look-what-I- got behavior to “a couple of drunks in the parking lot, launching haymakers at each other, none of which comes within a foot of connecting, until they lose their balance and fall over.” It’s the losing balance part that caught my attention, and not just metaphorically. This morning, not fully awake, I fell over some of the not-yet-organized stuff on my way to the kitchen.

It should have been obvious at the outset, therefore, that pipes wouldn’t have much difficulty sneaking their way onto my ever-growing list of collections. At least this time I’d be well-equipped with a few good reasons. (As collectors, we often seek ways to rationalize our obsessions, another distinction from the magpie.)

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Category: Fall 2015, Other Stories, Spontaneous combustion

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