As we grow up, we tend to think that social status is very important. We make sure that we have all the clothes that the other kids are wearing. We try to get the “name brand” shoes and we make sure that we have all the neat toys that are advertised on the magic talking box that we sometimes would find ourselves glued too.
We all eventually hit a point in life where it really doesn’t matter anymore. We start sacrificing cool and neat for comfort and convenient. This becomes very evident with jeans and shoes. I can remember when all I wanted was a pair of Reeboks or Nike tennis shoes. Now I am just happy to have something that doesn’t break my frickin in-step when I walk.
I would venture to guess that some of us were faced with this problem when it came to smoking our pipes. I for one started out dipping snuff and then I smoked Camel Lights for a little while. I ended up quitting smoking and stuck with the snuff. I love my Skoal. Anyway, when I started smoking a pipe in Iraq, I was very self conscious due to the thoughts of pipe smoking was for old men. I started out smoking a pipe only when I was around my buddy that taught me. I slowly started smoking around others and would get the occasional ignorant comments but nothing I couldn’t handle.
When I arrived back in the US, I once again faced the same problem. I finally decided that it was totaly stupid to worry what other people would think about a man my age smoking a pipe. I made a decision to go to the town square and sit on a bench and smoke a bowl of Dan’s Sweet Vanilla Honeydew. What I saw was amazing to me.
As I started smoking the pipe, I was very aware of every person withing 25 meters of me. Their facial expressions, their actions, and most importantly their movements. Now mind you most of this comes with my experiences of walking through the population of Iraq for a year, but I was actually looking for reactions to my pipe. So I kept on puffing and watching.
About 10 minutes into the smoke, a lady of about her mid 40s was walking behind me with her sister. They both stopped and sat down on the bench beside me and proceeded to tell me that they loved the aroma of the tobacco. They both said it brought back memories of their father when they were kids due to him smoking a pipe most of his life. They sat there and talked with me for about 5 minutes and then they moved on. A few minutes later, 4 or 5 young men that were students at the local university approached me and asked to see my pipe. Being very wary, I relinquished my pipe and let the men study it. They all seemed very interested in the work of the Stanwell and asked various questions from how much it cost to where to get pipes and tobacco. They really got involved in the conversation and I told them about the local pipe and cigar shop downtown. They hung around for about 20 minutes and then said they were going over to the shop to see what they could get.
Sitting there and studying everyone around me, I noticed a man quite a few years older than me sitting across the small square smiling at me. I acknowledged him with the “official head nod” and he got up and started moving towards my location. He made it to the bench and asked if he could join me. I obliged and he sat down. After sitting down, he reached down into his shirt pocket and produced this very old looking pipe and a pouch of Captain Black. He smiled and told me that it wasn’t often he was able to have a fellow pipe smoker to talk too.
We sat there for at least 5 hours and had some of the most interesting discussions ranging from politics to football. We laughed at how the cigarette smokers chased off most of the people in their immediate area and how no person had left our area in a couple of hours. He told me about how pipes were a common thing when he was growing up and how the art had tapered off as he hit his 30s.
When night started to fall, he knocked the dottle out of his pipe and told me he was heading home. I watched him leave and sat there and reflected on the day. I realized that my fear of being ridiculed or looked at weirdly was my own imagination running away with me. My pipe smoking had actually invited people to sit with me and have wonderful conversations. I feel that we pipe smokers may not be the most socially accepted people in mainstream, but that same society is enveloped in memories, intrigue and brotherhood when they are around us.