Last night I drove out to meet a good friend and fellow pipe smoker and collector who happened to be passing through town on his way home. My friend, who must remain anonymous, but who I will call George in this post, had a couple dozen pipes from his collection with him, some to show me, but most were for smoking on his sojourn.
George had some fantastic pipes; the most surprising pieces were a couple of Stanwells that one could mistake for super high grade Danish pieces. One had smooth grain that surpassed 99% of my collection. The other was a ring-grained freehand with which Bruce Weaver or Jim Cooke would have been delighted. These pieces were jaw-droppers.
Over the course of our hour long conversation, the subject rolled around to the George’s very real concerns that his clients might discover that he is a pipe- and cigar-smoker. For George, being outed as a pipe-smoker would have the same effect on his professional employability as my clients’ hearing that I have a gambling problem (In reality, I don’t gamble at all). These revelations could render us both unemployable.
Since I left George last evening, I’ve been rolling our conversation around in my head. It troubles me that we have come to the point in our society where being a pipe smoker makes one a pariah. Regardless of political leaning, we have become a nation of puritanical, coercive meddlers who, on the one hand sing paeans to “freedom” and, on the other hand, refuse to allow their fellow citizens to live freely. Among liberals, it is more socially acceptable to smoke dope than a tobacco pipe. That’s just ‘winking’ at the law, it seems. Smoking a pipe is still legal, although only the Almighty knows how long it will continue to be so.
While I don’t want to imply in any way that I am better or more noble than my friend, George, I have let my friends, family, clients, and acquaintances know, in no uncertain terms, that I am a pipe smoker. If I am an unacceptable friend, consultant, or family member because I smoke a pipe, so be it. To be blunt, if people cut me off for this reason, I don’t want them in my life, anyway. I have little use for narrow-minded, judgmental people, anyway.
Having lived my life as a fat man, I’m already well-acquainted with ostracism in both its covert and overt forms. So being judged for pipe-smoking feels like just a little more of the same prejudice justified for another reason. The way I look at it, if people are inclined to dislike me, I’m a mensch for streamlining their prejudicial processes.
If you’re keeping up with health forecasts here in the United States, you already know that this country confronts an obesity epidemic. A whole lot more people here – in fact a super-majority – will soon join the ranks of the “gravity-challenged.” it is not lost on me that my radical measures to leave this club (becoming a vegan, exercising, etc.) will once again place me in a minority. While it is unlikely that I will be despised for being healthy, I am still generous enough to put my pipe-smoker status out there so that the bigotry-inclined can still loathe me, however secretly.
To be completely candid, I didn’t really have much choice in being an out-of-the-closet pipe smoker. One of the unintended consequences of having developed a healthy readership here is that when somebody Googles my name, this blog pops up right at the top of the search results. I wish I were as well-known for my strategy expertise as I am for my passion for pipes. I’d be a whole lot more successful, let me tell ya.
It’s ridiculous, but even my brothers and sisters read this blog. Former girlfriends and wives read this blog (talk about loving having more and better reasons to dislike me!). New friends and prospective clients read this blog. I have about as much chance of success hiding that I’m a pipe smoker as I have of hiding my haunches. (I’d have used the word “ass,” but that would be indiscrete.)
Rick Newcombe, the author of In Search of Pipe Dreams and Still Searching for Pipe Dreams (a review of the new book is coming soon!) is one of the people who inspired me to NOT hide the fact that I’m a pipe smoker. Rick is not only very public about smoking a pipe and collecting, he’s also a very successful businessman who works in the media category. It would be difficult to be more “out” than Rick.
I have another good pipe-smoking friend who is an academic – and not only an academic, but an academic employed in medical research! He is so paranoid about being outed as a pipe-smoker that he participates in the pipe world using a pseudonym. That’s what we’ve come to in this country. Well-educated, productive, and highly respected people among our professional and managerial/administrative sectors have been coerced into behaving like outcasts or outlaws. It makes me crazy.
George’s situation makes me sad. It also makes me angry. I have had enough of the relentless onslaught of those who would rob the average American of his privacy and his freedoms. I’m a law-abiding, hard-working, tax-paying citizen as is George and all of my other pipe friends.
Is your life as a pipe-smoker a secret one? Is pipe-smoking your dirty little secret? Do your friends and co-workers know?
I hope that the comment stream on this post will be a place for each of us to share our stories. It is important that we don’t feel alone.