Pipe Tripping

Guest Trip by Robert M. Boughton
Member, International Society of Codgers
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
http://roadrunnerpipes.biz (Coming Soon!)

‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); ‘now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!’ (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). ‘Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings, for you now, dears? I’m sure I shan’t be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can; –but I must be kind to them,’ thought Alice, ‘or perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go! Let me see: I’ll give them a new pair of boots every Christmas.’ — From “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Ch. 2 (1865), by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll [1832-1898], English mathematician, noted photographer, essayist, poet and novelist

Pipe1The origination of tobacco in the Americas and Australia is not as common knowledge as, say, that Columbus didn’t actually discover America, but then, there are stranger facts associated with the leafy plant’s history. Certain forms of tobacco were – and likely still are – used in the spiritual practices of various native populations to produce reactions that, by newer and more close-minded cultures, are called hallucinogenic. While there is no evidence to support the idea, and I am not suggesting a serious connection, Lewis Carroll (as the brilliant author will always be remembered) could have been under the influence of tobacco hallucinogens when he wrote the above masterpiece and its sequel.

To be fair and clear, however, Carroll’s unique composition style was the result of the Universal Impetus Theory (UIT) for all great literary innovators: having a gift as an ingenious raconteur able to choose and order his words in a precise, inimitable form, and the good fortune of living in the right time. Carroll also had an unparalleled knack for the creation and blending of words. Of course, the fact that he was a good friend of the British lexicologist Henry George Liddell, after whose daughter the timeless Carroll classic was named – and at whose insistence he committed his oral tales to paper, leading to its publication – no doubt played a part in the use of combined and nonce-words (those created for the moment, or nonsensical) and complex sentence structure by the mathematician turned writer. Coining the word galumph, for example, which means “to bound or move clumsily or noisily” (OED), Carroll blended gallop and triumphant. His works still thrill children and adults alike.

Pipe2Consider this. Without Carroll, we would not have fantastic, imaginative and endearing verbs, adjectives and nouns such as galumph as well as chortle, frabjous, mimsy, vorpal, snark and, last but not least, jabberwocky. The colloquial term snarky, for irritable or short-tempered, was adapted by Edith Nesbit, in her 1906 novel “Railway Children,” from the name of a variety of disconcerting creatures introduced to the world in Carroll’s poem, “The Hunting of the Snark.” As a hopeful point of interest, my spellchecker recognized chortle, galumph and jabberwocky, so accepted in the English lexicon they have grown. And as I added the rest to my Word dictionary, should I ever have occasion to use them again, they will appear without the annoying red, squiggly underlines. What’s more, thanks to the periodic transmission of these additions to Microsoft, where they will undergo due consideration by vorpal, slithy folk whose job it is to determine their worthiness, perhaps someday the perspiration-coated toilers over such heady decisions will make it possible for Carroll’s now-real words never to trouble other users of the magical expressions.

Now, lately I’ve been thinking about pipes and tobacco in a different frame of mind. Those who know me best seem to agree that my arguably Byzantine cognitive processes can be scary or even stupefying, if not downright dangerous, depending on the attention level of the person listening to or reading my discourses. Nevertheless, these commentaries often made off-the-cuff and on diverse topics, when joining a conversation, tend to come together with certain cogency, the suddenness of which is a bit like the epiphanic ending of a Faulkner novel.

At any rate, my musings of late, at least in my own mind, have produced some unusual notions, some of which have even made me laugh out loud. That’s LOL, for those young enough to have been raised in the Cyber Age and have forgotten what the three letters even abbreviate. These ponderings, reflections or reveries, or whatever else anyone might choose to label them, up to and including absurdities and/or deliriums, grew curiouser and curiouser the further I allowed them to metastasize within my psyche, and have now reached the point where I am compelled to share them, for better or worse.

In the beginning, as far as pipe tobacco goes, there was a peculiar plant of the genus Nicotiana, from the nightshade family, called N. tabacum. The simple fact that our revered tobacco derives from Deadly Nightshade – or belladonna , the black berries of which are frightful in their toxicity – should be enough to give pause to all of us who, with regularity, take such special pains to pack our pipes just so with the stuff, so that it might burn all the longer and thoroughly. But of course this knowledge, even if acquired by some readers who just now digested the previous sentence, will have no such effect.

Let’s start this silly exercise with an image, stemming from the relationship, however distant, of tobacco to Deadly Nightshade, and which appeals to my admittedly perverse, at times, sense of humor. Conceive, if you can, how many hapless, hungry and heedless berry-pickers perished from eating the wild belladonna back in the day when people didn’t know better than to pluck such frabjous-looking things without care and pop them into their mouths; or, if the victim of eating the fruit of the somewhat drab green and weed-like flora were spared death and merely rendered howling mad, attempt to visualize the resulting hallucinations that are so vivid the sufferer has no grasp of reality whatsoever. Whichever outcome presents, it is just because of the berries appearing so plump and pretty and sweet, and impulsive human nature.

Then the kicker: one day, someone came along and experienced the brainstorm to toss the berries aside and turn the unattractive green leafs into something that could much more safely be ingested by somehow cultivating, processing and at last chopping up into suitable pieces for placing in a crude bowl with a similar stem (perhaps in the botanical sense) for the purpose of igniting and inhaling them.Pipe3The worst part of this opening cogitation is the rare but continuing incidences of accidental poisoning from these lovely though heartless elements of nature. Take, for example, the case of a very large American (naturally). He measures 6’ 3” in height and 220 pounds in width. Wandering through the wilds of Germany late this very year, he spies the shiny, luscious appearing fruit on a plant he mistakes for elder berries. He gobbles 20-30 of them despite their semi-sweetness with bitterness from the seeds, and not feeling quite himself, promptly decides to take a nap right there in the woods. His sleep is frequently interrupted by a nagging need to urinate, which is difficult because nothing seems to want to come out except small, forced amounts of clear liquid with a strange blue tint which the tourist has just enough sense left to be unsure if it might not be a hallucination.

After giving up the nap idea, his mouth becomes dry and his throat sore. Then his vision goes blurry, and he decides it’s time to see his doctor, who happens to notice the patient’s pupils are dilated to the max and unresponsive to any safe and sane stimuli. The physician thinks it best for the man to be taken to the hospital. During the ensuing drive, the hallucinations commence. A single hedgehog appears as thousands, and deer are kangaroos. The poor fellow arrives at the hospital a mere four to five hours after scarfing down so many of the marvelous berries, and all the hospital staff can do is observe him – intensely – for several days that seem like an eternity to the man.

The situation rapidly escalates to seeming insanity filled with hideous, terrifying visions and other misperceptions of reality, like a singularly bad LSD trip, prompting a transfer to the psych unit. This is just the beginning of the trip down the rabbit hole, but at last he does begin to get better. As soon as he is able to comprehend the words, he is told how lucky he is to be so large, as anyone smaller would surely have died. Recovering even now, the man still is not his old self again.

You see, this is a true story, and not in the sense of the often misleading tags at the beginnings of movies. Heaven knows I didn’t make it up! I strongly suggest reading the full account at http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/blog2/blog281115.htm for a jolly good first-hand account of the ordeal.

The interior of the bowl of a pipe, where we cram or methodically place the tobacco, is called the chamber, yet one never seems to hear a pipe smoker refer to settling down in his easy chair to enjoy a good chamber of whatever blend has been chosen for the occasion to contemplate life. Could this habit derive from the alternate definition of chamber as a room, as in a chamber of horrors? Or might it be a subconscious aversion to a comparison of the pipe’s chamber to the part of a gun that renders the weapon armed or not? I mean, think of it! What merry piper would want to sit in a dreadful chamber or put a chambered gun in his mouth? Just food for thought, nothing more.

The bit is almost universally referred to as the stem. What in the name of all that’s holy is the problem with calling the thing by its proper name? Honestly, I want to know when and where this convention began, and who started the confusion! Yes, I want nothing less than the time, location and name of the guilty party.

Heaven help us if this ruddy awful vacillation stems (pun intended) from some sorry fellow’s fear of comparing the bit of his pipe to the past tense form of bite, all for the day when he was a wee little tyke and a dog bit him, which seminal event has bitten (past participle) his worldview forever.

Then again, maybe the dither is about Man’s eternal fear of karmic payback, in this case for the long, shameful practice of abusing others of God’s finer creations, such as horses, in place of his own back-breaking labor, by placing metal bits in the sad creatures’ mouths and then whipping them onward to finish tilling the fields we humans might just have had to work a bit harder to accomplish ourselves.

I ask, what’s the point of the evasion in the first place? After all, our worldwide band of brothers and sisters, in pursuit of the pleasures and comforts of a nice, relaxing smoke, seem to have no qualms referring to the often sharp but excellent bite of a bit of a strong mixture of a VaPer or other coarser, non-aromatic blend that can become an acquired taste and lead, at worst, to a case of Tobacco Acquisition Disorder (T.A.D.).

While that last note is fresh in the mind, I’ll leap at the opportunity to address the use of the word disorder in T.A.D. and its mates, Pipe Acquisition Disorder (P.A.D.) and Accessory Acquisition Disorder (AAD). Who on Earth dreamed up these ostensible maladies? Surely nobody accredited within the medical community! My guess is some lone pipe smoker with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a genuine and serious and hardly uncommon psychological irregularity that can easily lead to an overspending problem, started the whole thing, and others jumped on the old bandwagon and added the others. I can just see all of them waking up with cold sweats in the middle of the night who-knows-when with the realization that, once again, they’d gone and spent their entire grocery budgets along with half the rent on one of the three categories of pipe expenditures described above.

What’s more, I’ll bet each and every one of them reached for his ever-handy Merck Manual to self-diagnose himself so he could tell his local candy doctor just what pill he needed to overcome the dread “disorder.” My gosh, the measures people will take to get a new drug! Why, it’s scary even to contemplate. I thank the stars I’m not that bad off, you know I do! I mean, sure, I’ve been late with the rent or cable bundle bill, or paying for my cell phone – maybe, on rare occasions, all three – but I swear I do not have any kind of disorder! Well, other than Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), not to mention chronic migraines and – oh, yes – agoraphobia. But those trifles are all under strict control, and you may take my word on that to the bank!

Last but not least is the odd practice of the average piper, who will speak in calm, even tones of smoking his pipes – with utter disregard for all of the expression’s negative connotations. After all, where there is smoke, there is fire. Picture yourself in any of Dante Allighieri’s infernal nine circles of Hell on Earth leading, with fervent thirst, for ultimate eternal salvation. Do we really want to go there? Let’s not. Dante already did the great favor of doing so for us! Just say no, as Nancy Reagan did to drugs. Instead, join me in the somewhat troublesome practice, I admit, of enjoying a pipe. I picked up this routine after reading an excellent essay last year concerning positive methods of writing and speaking of the multi-faceted pleasures associated with tobacco pipes, by a member of the North American Society of Pipe Collectors in its magazine (they insist on calling it a newsletter ), “The Pipe Collector.”

Seriously, if I can do it, you can, even if in our hearts we are thinking of Lady Mary Wroth’s 1621 controversial and groundbreaking literary work, “The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania,” and one line from it: “Those loose and wicked enjoyings which we coveted.”

This little exercise in writing is at best an essay, and at worst a work of fiction, lest anyone who failed to grasp my attempts at satire walk away from the experience with the notion that I might in any way have been serious.

I welcome, more than usual, any responses with contributions of other examples of pipe trips (or, for that matter, alternative critical thoughts), with the hope of someday compiling an Encyclopedia of Pipe Trips.


One thought on “Pipe Tripping

  1. Sonia Golden

    What a delightful journey through imaginative prose which leaves much “Food for Thought”.
    Feasting on content, factual knowledge and delicious style, I find myself satisfied and
    happy with another literary meal from Mr. Boughton


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