Thursday, January 7, 2010

Smoking and sharing

The table in the middle of the small smoking room seems to fill faster than the seats around it, full of tins and bags and pipes and lighters. Invariably on the second and fifth Thursday of each month, I occupy one of the seats around the table. When the other seats fill up, the pipe club meeting begins.
Experiences may vary from club to club, and I can speak only to mine (The Ozark Pipe Smokers), but the spirit of camaraderie quickly takes over as tobaccos get passed around, some brought specifically by request or with a particular taster in mind, others simply because the group will enjoy them. Thanks to such meetings, I had my first taste of too many tobaccos to count, but I'll try to name a few: Peter Stokkebye's Luxury Navy Flake, Frog Morton on the Town, McClelland Christmas Cheer (I think it was 2006), home-blended aromatics, Gawith's Brown No. 4.
Such gatherings are a social setting designed to allow members and guests to share their own pipe smoking experience with others. They are essentially an expansion of the front porch days of long ago, where men sat and smoked and shot the breeze. It is a healthy interaction that has become increasingly rare in modern society, and what are pipe smokers if not nostalgic to some degree for those things disappearing from the past.

What I would love to do is invite you all to the next TOPS meeting. We meet at Romeo's Downtown Pipe & Tobacco Co. for most meetings, but northwest Arkansas is going to require too lengthy a trip for many of our readers. Instead, I urge you to join a club or start one of your own. What follows are my ideas of what a good club should be.
Smoke-filled: I know this seems obvious, but there are clubs that meet in areas where public smoking is entirely prohibited. Sad times. Maybe, in such cases, it is time to return to the front porches, the privately-owned front porches, where the law cannot prohibit the enjoyment of a bowl of tobacco. Wherever you find yourselves, it is all about puffing and postulating.
Boisterous: Someday, somewhere, there will be a pipe club meeting at which the problems of the world will be solved. Global warming will be eliminated. Hunger will end. World peace will be achieved. I don't think it will happen at my pipe club, though. Our conversations tend to digress quickly from talks over the latest tobacco purchases into lectures about fly fishing, although it's impossible to know where the topics will lead.
Some glutton for punishment suggested that we try to have a focused pipe discussion, at least briefly, so that those at the meeting can benefit from the shared knowledge of the group. That glutton was then volunteered to choose each month's topic. Coincidentally, next week we'll be talking about pipe cleaning.
We do not worry much about what is being discussed, just so long as discussion happens. If you're going to smoke in silence, you might as well smoke at home. The din of voices accented by the gentle pop of lips puffing on pipes, the background music barely audible without silence, it all lends itself to the atmosphere.
Open: Pipe smoking is not the only activity that should be allowed at a pipe club meeting. Actually, pretty much any (legal) vice can make an appearance. I'll refer to the example of Jesus Christ, who is never mentioned smoking a pipe, but seemed to include food and drink in all his gatherings. There is something therapeutic about breaking bread. Or, for a sweeter option, donuts or pastries or dunking sticks. Drinking together has similar appeal, and while there are many who gladly pair tobacco and alcohol, other beverages work every bit as well. I suggest tea, coffee, hot chocolate, even Coke (but only the stuff in a glass bottle). The practice is highly communal and only gives the club more things to share among those who have gathered.
Welcoming: This may seem obvious to many of you, but you cannot shun those who wish to join your and add to your community. Even if they don't smoke a pipe. Even if they smoke cigarettes. Even if they don't smoke at all. Smokers as a whole have been divided enough. We have allowed ourselves to be relegated to the garages and back yards and side alleys, 50 feet from an entrance, further from anyone who coughs as they pass. What I preach is a gospel of acceptance, of permitting people to be themselves and encouraging others to be themselves around you, finding ways to share experiences amongst the masses. In that way, your membership will grow, but more importantly, you will grow.

1 comment:

  1. The pipe club meetings are unique. Many different backgrounds, disciplines, and opinions. You are accepted simply on you willingness to attend. Deep discussions have occured....but only shortly. Mostly subject matter on such has to do with pipes or procedure, music, literatue, or fly fishing. Politics, religion, and the like require too many walls to be thrown up. We are all equals....and you treat the next person as you would like to be treated.