A Born Again Corncob Snob
The yolk-yellow hue of a Los Angeles morning sun eked over the horizon and crept through the thatches of my mountain lion hut. I yawned, stretched, and pulled another hearty swig of Makerâ€™s Mark from my nearly spent bottle, welcoming with youthful vigor this new day. Ronald and I had been playing Texas Poker all night and I was down a solid weekâ€™s salary at Dairy Freeze where Iâ€™d been working the past three months to make ends meet. Ronald dropped his cards. â€œYoung Mudd, Iâ€™m not your father, but I think itâ€™s time you answered another question at www.pipes.org.â€No, Ronald, I think, you are not my father. You are a strange, strange, furry thing that plays poker. But you are right.
â€œIâ€™m not sure Iâ€™m really feeling like an authority right now,â€ I told him. The hut was littered with empty bottles, tipped dottle, and sequined panties. The bottle and dottle made perfect sense, but the panties I absolutely cannot explain. â€œRonald, Iâ€™m beginning to feel like I donâ€™t know a darned thing about pipes. Yes, I have a graying beard and yes, I often say to people, â€˜When I was your age,â€™ even when they are much older than me, but stillâ€¦ does that make me an authority on the art and science of piping?â€
Ronald clawed at his scratching post and retreated to his litter box, disinterested in my human concerns. After clenching a pillow against my chest and sobbing uncontrollably for fifteen or thirty minutes I decided to suck it up and do what any real man would do. I put on a Celine Dion record and gave myself a manicure, then headed to a local internet cafÃ© to find out just what was on the minds of todayâ€™s young pipe-smokers.
This world certainly moves faster than I do. After only 10 days of constant and dangerous intoxication I now found that the patrons of www.pipes.org had pressed forward in their quest for more modern replacements for briar and meerschaum. I fixated on a question asked by one young man regarding alternative woods that can be used to produce a pipe bowl, and another question about metal bowls, bowl liners, screws, digital moisture monitors, clip-on ionic smoke purifiers, monogrammed pipe-cleaners, and lastly â€“ my head now spinning â€“ air bags for pipes!
I might not be able to remember the last few days of my life, but I do know a thing or two about technology. In the world of pipes, circuits and wiznits and semiconductors, broadband and monster cables and proxiesâ€¦ these things take a back seat.
A man who seeks wisdom doesnâ€™t speed up. He slows down.
Or does he? By the time I and my knotty walking stick arrived back at my dilapidated cave-structure Ronald had already finished making a round of phone calls. Beside his sleeping frame and drenched in fine spirits lay a note pad scribbled with the names and addresses of a few prominent new members of the pipe making community, companies that specialize in high tech solutions to organic problems. If I were to confirm my belief that I know more or less everything I would need to visit these places and disconfirm their belief that they do. â€œGood work, Ronald,â€ I said to his possibly dead body.
First stop New York City!!!
My new wife, Thomas Barronâ€™s mother, prepared me a bag lunch and I stuffed Ronaldâ€™s limp body into my trusty knapsack. We were headed to New York to meet with Tony Knott, founder of Pipe Bags Inc., which apparently holds a monopoly on the pipe airbag market. My stomach fluttered with more than a little nervousness. Rarely do Ronald and I meet such prominent businessmen, unless they happen to have given up their corporate lives and moved to the wilderness to begin a new life of mushroom gathering and grass eating.
Mr. Knott met us at Grand Central, his hand extended and pre-shaking, making it difficult for me to grab and mutually shake. â€œYoung Mudd, itâ€™s a pleasure to finally meet you! I hope you find our city to your liking! Iâ€™ve prepared a tour of out facilities! Youâ€™ll adore it! Can I help you carry your dead cat!?â€
â€œHeâ€™s not dead, Mr. Knott. Heâ€™s just had a long train ride.â€ I disliked this smiling, adolescent looking man immediately, and further disliked his flagrant misuse of the explanation point.
â€œWell, come along now! You have much to learn about airbags! Tut tut!â€
Mr. Knott was right. I did have a lot to learn. Pipe Bags Inc. had developed the first ever â€œsafety bagâ€ for pipes. In the event that the pipe were to move too quickly in a downward direction an airbag would deploy, protecting the pipe smoker from accidentally inhaling the pipe stem during collision with the floor. The wholesale market was huge but the product had yet to be offered to the general public. And I had some questions for Mr. Knott.
â€œIâ€™m a very, very old man, Mr. Knott,â€ I said. â€œNearly twenty-six. But Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™d be interested in a product like this.â€
Tony Knott looked perplexed, then vexed. â€œWell you have to understand, Young Mudd, â€œthat this product is directed towards health conscious, intelligent smokers.â€
â€œIâ€™m a simple man, yes,â€ I conceded, â€œand perhaps not as brainy as some, but it just seems to me that when I fall forward on my face without even extending my arms to stop me Iâ€™ll probably be dead anyway. And if by chance Iâ€™m still alive, Iâ€™d hate to see my beloved pipe inflate like an angry fish and bounce about the floor like a child wearing floaties.â€ Mr. Knott made a note in his leather binder. As Ronald and I left the building I could hear him mumbling under his breath, â€œâ€¦ you can disengage the damn things if itâ€™s so frikkinâ€™ troublesomeâ€¦â€ I found little hope for the future of this enterprise.
Next stop Detroit!!!
Despite Ronaldâ€™s flaccid stature I could tell that he really was looking forward to visiting Telepipes Inc., the brainchild of Brent Peekus, an entrepreneur and well known cat fancier. â€œNowâ€™s no time to play dead,â€ I pleaded. His wide-open eyes and now-stiffening joints didnâ€™t fool me. I knew that he was just playing some elaborate game. â€œIâ€™m gonna get you for this one, you little critter,â€ I joked, then replaced him in my sack as we pulled into the bus terminal.
Mr. Peekus turned out to be a likeable man of ambiguous decent. His crooked eyes and full-lipped smile made me feel right at home in the sterile Telepipes facility, but, still, something told me that this product too just wouldnâ€™t settle right in the Brotherhood.
â€œAs an internationally renowned expert on the psyche and philosophical dynamics of the pipe smoker I have a few questions for you, Mr. Peekus.â€ He offered me some instant coffee and nondairy creamer, then winked at me and sat down. â€œOh, I donâ€™t drink instant coffee,â€ I said, â€œand never wink at me again you sick freak pervert. I just have a few questions about your product.â€
Mr. Peekus shifted awkwardly in his chair, an odd look of exposure pasted across his face like a flyer for a trashy B-film. â€œAt Telepipes,â€ he said, â€œwe offer high quality progressive scan DVD viewing from a tiny monitor embedded in the bowl of your pipe, and I definitely didnâ€™t wink at you.â€ He produced an example of such a telepipe and offered to demonstrate.
â€œThatâ€™s all right, Mr. Peekus,â€ I said. â€œI think I quite understand, although I canâ€™t be certain that an LCD screen could hold up to the heat of a smoking briar, and yes you certainly did wink at me so please donâ€™t do it again.â€
â€œThatâ€™s the beauty of it,â€ insisted Mr. Peekus. â€œThe heat plates situated on the rear of the monitor absorb excess heat and moisture from the bowl producing a cooler, gentler smoke and Iâ€™d love to give you a hug.â€
Iâ€™d had more than enough. â€œI think Ronald and I had better be going,â€ I insisted. Brent Peekus might well be an excellent businessman but something about our interaction tickled my stomach in a very disconcerting way. Every time I imagined curling up on the couch to a classic film on my pipe bowl with my arms around my wife the image suddenly shifted. Mr. Peekus appeared. He whispered questionable messages in my ear. So that was that for Telepipes Inc. Plus, who on earth would ever want to watch a DVD on his pipe? I pocketed a sample pipe and bid farewell.
I was beginning to grow concerned about the intentions of the contemporary pipe industry. Sure, such gimmicks might prove to earn a man a quick buck but would they really serve the pipersâ€™ community?
My last stop was Washington, MI, home of the Missouri Meerschaum factory. I wanted to be excited but having just visited Detroit and New York, Missouri seemed to contain little of interest.
Next stop Missouri. Yup.
The Missouri Meerschaum Company began in the late 19th century after a farmer discovered the wonderful smoking qualities of the corncob. He approached a local furniture maker and asked him to carve a few bowls for his own personal use. Word quickly spread of this porous new pipe bowl and the orders poured in. In no time the craft of furniture making had been pushed aside to make room for the ever more lucrative craft of cob carving. But corncobs proved slightly too rustic, even for rural farmers, and soon the process of smoothing the bowls with plaster began. Over 100 years later little has changed. But what little has occurred prompted me and my now entirely stiff cat body, Ronald Livingston, to visit.
I awoke on the bus to Washington, MI, from the depths of a nightmare. In my dream Brent Peekus had been massaging my shoulders while whispering to me the secret origin of the sequined panties littering my clay hut floor. â€œNo! Please, Noooo!!!â€ I screamed. The bus driver shook me awake.
â€œMr. Mudd, sir, your just having a bad dream. Itâ€™s okay now. Youâ€™re in Missouri.â€
He winked and squeezed my shoulder as if being in Missouri might excuse both my dream and his behavior.
Iâ€™d read of the recent modernization of the corncob pipe industry but never could have guessed what was in store for me. The factory stood one mile from the bus station so I cut Ronaldâ€™s rock hard corpse from my sack and wrapped a few feet of tape around his hind legs.
In less than one hour me and my walking stick, Ronald Livingston, arrived at the Missouri Meerschaum Company, an indescribable rectangle of perfectly descriptionless bricks.
â€œWell, we donâ€™t have television screens on our pipes,â€ the tour began, â€œand nothing here inflates, but we feel that recent advancements in the corncob pipe industry are worthy of applause.â€ I hardly noticed this petty dialogue, caught up instead with a car chase sequence of Bad Boyz II that was playing on my telepipe sample. â€œMr. Mudd, are you listening?â€
â€œHa!â€ I yelled. â€œDid you see that boat crash into that Mustang? Wow! I mean, wow!â€
â€œIâ€™m not sure we should continue,â€ the tour guide said. But realizing how impolite I had been I promptly apologized.
â€œBy all means continue, â€œ I humbly replied. â€œThese television thingies are for the birds. Iâ€™d much rather talk about cutting up corn and pasting it and whatnot and rocking on my porch and losing my teeth and all that. I hate television anyway.â€
Unconvinced, the gentleman handed me a fresh-off-the-assembly-line pipe. It still felt warm and smelled of sweetened butter, cinnamon, and thick cream. It smelled so delicious that I wanted to sprinkle a dash of salt and pepper on it and eat it as a one-course meal. â€œCan you believe this, Ronald?â€ I asked, propped against his rigid frame for balance. He didnâ€™t answer because he was definitely dead.
I learned a good deal during my day in Missouri, mainly that the way to improve a perfect pipe is to not change anything at all. The only way to improve a fine smoking tool is to reject the modern methods by which it can be produced.
Pretend improvements are interest rates: one great idea, one sweet bowlful of fine Virginia leaf, and year after year, effortlessly, it grows richer and richer.
My life settled quickly down after returning home. I was drinking a tall glass of Jack Daniels while stirring a thick beef stew with Ronaldâ€™s tail and feeling confident that Iâ€™d lived up to this weekâ€™s obligations at www.pipes.org. â€œIâ€™ve really learned a lot,â€ I said.
â€œYou certainly have,â€ Ronald replied. I jumped back gasping and dropped him to the floor.
â€œRonald?â€ I asked. â€œYouâ€™reâ€¦ alive?â€
â€œNo,â€ he responded. â€œYouâ€™re just drunk, Young Mudd.â€
And together we laughed a hearty laugh. â€œYes I am, Ronald. Yes, I really am.â€