By Tommy Zarzecki
Back in the late 1960’s Hugh Hefner, the god of all furry creatures great and small, hosted a hip and controversial show known as Playboy After Dark. Only the coolest of the cool were chosen as guests by Hef himself, including actors, musicians, comedians and of course some of the most beautiful and sexiest woman of the day. There was much adult humor and talk of sex - something that was still taboo to speak of on television in ‘68. But Hefner was a perennial groundbreaker and his late-night show personified what it was truly like to live the life of a "Playboy."
The one thing that Hugh Hefner was always recognized for was his pipe smoking. The dude simply oozed "cool" from every fiber of his being and men everywhere emulated their exalted Bunny King. His pipe smoking was a symbol of refinement, intelligence, and a suave sophistication that guys revered and woman found intoxicating. Young men were brandishing pipes of every make, size, and color. The nubile Hef wannabees experienced camaraderie, and relaxation in their newfound hobby, and hopes of scoring big time with members of the fairer sex. Suddenly the term "laying the pipe" took on a whole new meaning.
I vividly remember as a young kid growing up in the 60’s, my dad and my uncles enjoying their handrolled cigars and briar pipes on a daily basis. While I was attracted to the wafting blue smoke of a real-deal Havana, it was the smell of their pipes that always drew my olfactory attention. The sweet smell of Vanilla, Cherry, Rum, and Whiskey gave the house a delicious smell, one that mom, my aunts and grandmother didn’t even seem to mind. Dad was a school teacher, and at night while grading papers and preparing the next day’s lessons, he sat at his desk with his pipe and some forty years later, I can remember standing by his side because the smell was so wonderful. I would stick my nose into his tobacco pouch while deeply inhaling the beautifully aged leafy goodness, and he would laugh and tell me how one day I would enjoy the ritual that he so loved. (Yes, how politically incorrect as if he made that statement today, Children & Family Services would be at the door, preparing to stick my brother and I into foster homes.)
It was around the early 1980’s that the linking of smoking to disease was all the rage as warnings were placed on cigarette packs, and pipe and cigar smoking decreased in popularity. The incredulous Smoke Nazis were born, and a man enjoying his nightly puff was branded as evil, inconsiderate, and a purveyor of sin and unhealthiness. Pipes were no longer cool or suave, in fact, the thoughts of a pipe smoker conjured images of college professors garnering elbow patches on their jackets, grand dads in their rocking chairs, and salty old sea captains perched statuesque upon the bow of their sailing vessels. Sherlock Holmes and Albert Einstein smoked pipes, as did Hollywood’s version of dear ol’ dad.
But alas, as they say, things go round in circles and trends always make their way back somehow. Suddenly, by the grace of the great god Tobaccus (I made that up), pipe smoking has become cool again. Sales are on the rise for pipes and tobacco, shops and online retailers are busy, and college campuses have once again become a haven for Briar, Meerschaum, and Calabash. Even the sale of corncob pipes has started to flourish, mainly due to its cheap price tag amongst college kids and anyone for that matter who has been bludgeoned by this irritating economy.
Writer Mary Pilon has done a wonderful piece in the February 20th edition of the Wall Street Journal, entitled: The Latest Thing They’re Smoking in Pipes on College Campuses: Tobacco. She emphatically claims that there is a newfound love for pipe popularity amongst the collegiate ranks. Groups of young men are gathering at schools across America, enjoying the experience of time spent having a good smoke. Quoting from the article:
"They’re eager to learn," says 71-year-old Vernon E. Vig, president of the New York Pipe Club and the United Pipe Clubs of America. Mr. Vig started smoking a pipe as an undergrad at Carleton College 53 years ago. "Back then, everyone smoked a pipe," Mr. Vig says. His group, which meets monthly in Manhattan, has seen a definite increase in college students and young professionals, he says.
What’s interesting is that with the rampant tax and price increases on cigarettes, pipe tobacco has actually become a cheaper alternative. The WSJ piece talks of Rich’s Cigar Store, a 115 year-old establishment in Portland, Oregon, that has seen a definite spike in pipe sales and tobacco. Their pipe specialist, Bill Shindler was there during the massive "cigar boom" of the mid 1990’s and he makes an interesting observation on pipes vs. cigars…
"Cigars said, ‘I’ve made it,’ " Mr. Shindler says. "It was a form of reward for yourself. When Wall Street crashed, people backed off from that." Pipe smoking, he says, has a more calming effect. "It’s a comfortable aroma. It reminds you of grandpa. People are looking for that kind of comfort."
Wow, whowoulda thunk… pipes are cool again! No, not the Cheech and Chong weapons of choice, but rather, bowls filled with smoldering Black Cavendish, Virginia, Burley and Perique. Why I’ll bet once Ol’ Hef hears the news he’ll dust off the Calabash and even at 83, add another two ladies to his weekly harem. Oh, yes indeed my friend, pipes are cool again.
Tommy Zarzecki, aka the Zman, lives in northern New Jersey and is a feature writer for Cigar Magazine as well as the writer and editor-in-chief of the weekly column, JR Cigars Blog With the Zman (www.jrcigars.com). Tommy’s latest venture is his website, PLANET ZMAN, the Official Portal to All Things Manly - a site dedicated to the Man’s Man in all of us. (www.planetzman.com)