When was the last time you saw anybody smoking a pipe? Admittedly, there are fewer smokers of any type than ever before. People are finally realizing that smoking is a disgusting habit and it does nobody any good. It’s disrupted the health of millions of people (including me).
Unfortunately, smoking hasn’t gone away for good and there are still plenty of people who puff away on cigarettes or stinky cigars. But where have all the pipe smokers gone?
There are plenty of famous pipe smokers, beginning with Old King Cole that merry old soul who “called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl and he called for his fiddlers three.” Even though good old Cole had a “bowl,” we won’t speculate what he was smoking.
The list of big name pipe smokers goes on and on. General Douglas McArthur and his corncob pipe must have terrified the enemy in World War II. Others on the A-List of pipe smokers include Albert Einstein, Wyatt Earp, Sigmund Freud, Davy Crockett, Doctor Seuss, Hugh Hefner, Clark Gable, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Where else could you put a list of people together like that?
At one time, it seemed like everybody was smoking a pipe. That happened when the incredibly nasty effects of smoking were becoming clear and impossible to disregard. The medical folks indicated that pipe smoking wouldn’t kill you quite as fast as cigarettes so everyone started firing up their Meerschaums, Briars, and Corncobs.
Long before pipe smoking had this brief moment of popularity, my high school buddy Roger was happily puffing away as a teenager. Yes, it was a bit strange to see a 17-year-old smoking a Sherlock Holmes pipe. This was a time when the typical teenaged smoker rolled up a pack of Camels in his T-shirt sleeve.
Roger hung out a lot in the local pool room. In those days, only three types of people inhabited poolrooms: derelicts, winos, and teenaged boys. (Sometimes the categories overlapped.) It was a little surreal to watch a squeaky clean, crew-cut teenager puffing on a pipe while playing eight-ball with a stinky derelict who had tobacco spittle dribbling down the three-day stubble on his chin. As you might suspect, Roger got beaten up a lot.
Years after my poolroom days ended, I worked for a man who was known to all his minions as the Boss—and yes, he merited the capital “B.” The Boss had no use for pipe smokers. “They’re not worth a #$%&@” he thundered. “All they do is fiddle with their @#%& pipes. They put tobacco in the pipe. Then they tamp it down. Then they add more tobacco and tamp it down some more. Then they light it. Then it goes out and they repeated the tamping, re-tamping and lighting. They never get any #$%&@ work done because of their &$#%@ pipes.” The exact words he used were really a bit stronger than “#$%&@,” “@#%&” and “&$#%@.” I’m just too embarrassed to repeat them.
At that time, I worked with a guy named Russ. The Boss must have been on vacation when Russ was hired because Russ was a heavy-duty pipe smoker. He did all the pipe fiddling, tobacco loading, tamping, re-tamping, lighting, and re-lighting that drove the Boss crazy. Despite the pipe, the Boss and Russ somehow got along famously.
Russ developed an ingenious pipe-based method for judging movies. Whenever he went to a movie, he would keep track of the number of times he felt the urge to get up, go out into the lobby and smoke his pipe. The lower the number, the better. If he wanted to smoke his pipe five times during the movie, then the movie pretty much was lousy. A rating of one pipe meant an excellent movie and, of course, the highest rating of all was zero pipes. Russ’ method was much more fun than Siskel and Ebert’s thumbs-up/thumbs down system.
I haven’t seen Russ in years but, in case he runs across this article, I hope it merits at least a two pipes rating.