Why I Smoke a Pipe

(Dear patrons of www.pipes.org. I submit this story to you from prison. It was brought to my attention by the LAPD that the title of this essay was previously used by Phil Webb, and my using it without properly citing its original author represents plagiarism. In court I argued – almost effectively, I feel – that what we are really witnessing here is reverse plagiarism. Clearly Mr. Webb suspected that one day I, Young Mudd, would compose a brilliantly insightful essay of the highest literary merit titled “Why I Smoke a Pipe.” By knowingly pre-stealing my title I declare that he is the criminal here. Not me.But Mr. Webb’s foresight was ultimately my demise despite further evidence that in the original “Why I Smoke a Pipe” he BLATANTLY used words that he knew I would later use, words such as “and,” “the,” “in,” and “at.”

I’ll be serving my time at the LA Correctional Facility for thirty days wearing neutral gang colors. I asked Ronald Livingston to hand out copies of a petition to set me free, but, incidentally, he doesn’t have thumbs. Enjoy the story and weep not for me.
Humbly,
Good Bad Old Young Mudd)

Why I Smoke a Pipe
By
Good Bad Old Young Mudd

I’d spent the night beside Ronald’s hospital bed contemplating a question recently asked at www.pipes.org. The doctors had assured me that Ronald still had eight lives left to live, but nonetheless I worried. “The Lord only takes good people,” I whispered into Ronald’s sleeping ear. He trembled briefly then opened one eye.

“Why would the lord take goat people?” he asked.

“Good people,” I said. “I said ‘good people.’” Ronald coughed violently and rolled onto his side.

“If you want to talk about goat people all night go somewhere else. I really don’t have time for this foolish goat people talk.”

The question that had been swimming around in my head came from Blue Funk. He had asked, “What made you begin smoking a pipe?” Although I had personally already answered this question I found myself curious as to why others had taken up this ancient hobby. I thought about first asking my grandfather, but seeing that he’s dead I changed my mind. Then I thought about asking my own father, but he really, really hates me. So, finally, I thought I’d ask my mother. She doesn’t actually smoke a pipe but to hell with it. There is absolutely no one in my life left to ask. So I decided to find out why she, a middle aged nurse, smokes a pipe even though she doesn’t smoke one. Boy was I in for a treat!

The road back to Boston was long. Longer than roads that are not very long or are short. Ronald, now on his eighth life, came along for the voyage, wrapped from head to toe in a body cast. None of his bones were actually broken but I thought it would be funny to drive across country with a cat in a body cast. And it WAS funny. “I’ve got an itch,” Ronald would yell. And I would laugh a good belly laugh, pointing at my frozen friend with one hand while balancing a bottle of Tennessee’s finest in the other.

But my conscience began to weigh on me. Perhaps now it’s time to come clean. A week of driving without air conditioning in a stolen Mazda B2300 will make any man honest, even a Hobbit-like pipe-smoker such as myself. And the occasional five-dollar shower at Flying J’s did nothing to cleanse my guilty soul.

“Why do I REALLY smoke a pipe?” I asked myself, and the truck stop waitress standing beside my table holding a notepad.

“Can I take your order?” she asked.

“Can?” I responded. “You mean ‘may.’ ‘May’ you take my order.”

She shrugged and pulled a pencil from behind her ear, “May you take my order, then,” she snidely replied, “or would you rather just sit here and play with your ugly stuffed animal?” She clenched the pencil between her teeth menacingly.

I was hurt. “Ronald’s not ugly,” I said. “He’s just… recovering. And yes, you MAY take my order, but not until I’ve gotten something off my chest. You see, I’ve never told anyone why I REALLY started smoking a pipe. I hide behind this chest-hair-like beard and Tom Waits voice, coiling away from my true essence like a snake to… something snakes are scared of, like… a mongoose. Or mongooses. Mongeese? Or is it one mongoose two mongoose?”

The waitress had since cursed and moved on to the next table but I knew in my heart that she was still listening, waiting for me to reveal this earth shaking secret. She scribbled in her notebook pretending to take the order of the couple seated before her. “Nice try!” I hollered. “Copying my wise words to play off as your own. Ha! Ronald and I are on to you.”

I cuddled Ronald into my arms and took a swig from my flask. “So,” Ronald whispered, “tell me the truth now, Young Mudd. What made you start?” Fearing the Gestapo-meets-homeland-security-waitress-note-taker I carefully looked both ways before saying:

“World domination.”

Surely this comes as a surprise to some of you, those who know me to be the humblest of hut-dwelling creatures. But others of you are probably asking yourselves, “How can we vote you in as our supreme and eternally faultless leader, Young Mudd?” To you people I say, “Whoa now Nelly, let’s not jump the gun. There’ll be plenty of time to take on peasants and have oxen sacrificed at my alter and all that hubbub. Heck, I’m not even a senator or president yet!”

Few people know that the secret to successful and devastatingly violent world domination is pipe smoking. I was clued in a few years back while attending a performance art piece at UCLA. The performers were two very pale skinned grad students who dressed in faded black jumpsuits and held degrees in electronic music and fashion design, “the noblest two arts,” they assured me.

Seven hours and fifteen exploding bottles of whipped cream later I couldn’t have disagreed more. The piece began with an hour of dual screaming between two men dressed like women (or ugly women – Who can tell?) followed by an elaborately slow-motion “molting” or “rebirthing” from body length nylon sleeves. As the two emerged from their transparent cocoons a mysterious ghost drummer began beating an offstage bongo drum and repeating the line, “The egg shell will crack and the yolk will become you.” Then came the whipped cream dance, the infrared plant-growing-haiku-song, and the concluding crucifixion and resurrection of a Styrofoam carrot.

As the ambient sounds hummed from an IMac in the shadow of the warehouse/theater I found myself nearing utter insanity. I crossed and re-crossed my legs as a baton wielding actor seized a bowl of safety pins and declared that “pigeons rule the soul but not the soil…” At last beyond any human ability to control my disdain I turned to the man beside me and begged, “What IS this? Why can’t we make it stop!”

Calmly and with a whisper he responded, “This, old boy, is talent.”

From that moment forward I knew that if ever there were any trait I would proudly deny myself it would be talent. Talent would be less than an afterthought on the schemata of the man I intended to become. As it had done for these men, talent would bring me nowhere beyond a torture chamber of misguided artistry. This supposed “talent” had just brought me inches from self inflicted death, a cutting of my wrists with the slick edge of a construction paper program, and mark my words, on the grave of my ex-wives, I would never subject myself to talent again.

But much like the hours following an upper endoscope, an eerily embarrassing satisfaction was to be found in all of this. Simply put, “talent” had forced me to again look into the vast deepness of my depths to question the language and actions I use to define myself. Who am I? I am Young Mudd. Who is Young Mudd? Young Mudd is one who is not talented. And what does Young Mudd want from life?

I stumble on the question before exclaiming with newfound zeal: Absolute power!

That was where the pipe came into play. I had read extensively about the associations men make with pipes. Certain words were used more frequently than others. “Grandfatherly,” “calm,” deliberate,” trustworthy,” “wise,” “brilliant,” and “wicked awesome” were frequently used to describe the pipe smoker. This differed significantly from words used to describe performance artists, words like “anus-head,” “outcast,” “junky,” and “talented.” Performance artists were also often described as men whose mothers’ said they had been adorable babies, whereas pipe smokers were more often referred to by their mothers as babies who “made great pets, puppy-like even, until the other kids found out that Fido wasn’t a dog, just a bearded baby piper.”

In other words, everybody loves and trusts a pipe smoker. He lacks pretense but demands respect. He wears spectacles but sees the humble truth in things. Like a cabin on a late autumn day he emits great swirls of warm blue smoke and all who see and smell it feel comforted. With his stability and great sense of reason he is the cornerstone of the house in which he lives. He sets spiders outside instead of crushing them. When he smiles it is because he feels joy, not the need to show of joy. When he takes it is because he needs. When he gives it is because his heart tells him that he can never give enough. And when the tamper sets deep a burning stack of tobacco and a coal takes hold as though on a bed of dry kindling, children gather at his feet. They live for his stories.

Who more apt, then, to rule the world?

Ronald and I were evicted from the Flying J in a superfluous show of brute force by the manager who claimed that we were “loitering pests.” It was for the best, I thought, and Ronald, through his white plaster mask, agreed. We had a few miles left to go before we reached my mother and needed to cross state lines before the owner of the Mazda discovered his missing truck and reported our conspicuous duo.

“Wow,” Ronald said. “I never knew that you had put so much thought into manipulating mankind into believing that you were some sort of pipe smoking superhero. I thought the only reason you smoked a pipe was because you were incredibly insecure and thought that a pipe was the only way to emotionally remove yourself from your highly judgmental peers. Young Mudd, leader of One United State? I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Well,” I replied, “you really wouldn’t have thought of that, Ronald. I’m starting to wonder if you ever really think at all. I mean, let’s face it. I’m almost always hallucinating.” At that we chuckled like brothers and pulled into my mother’s gravel driveway in a rainy suburb of Boston, MA.

As had become a sort of non-erotic thrill, a trademark if you will, I decided to surprise my mother. Rather than kicking in her door though, I waited until I saw her form walking about the kitchen, then, with a mighty heave, tossed Ronald Livingston through the window in a brilliant display of shattering glass. I quickly followed suit, jumping through the gaping hole as Ronald in his cast slid across the linoleum and thudded to a halt against the refrigerator.

“Surprise, Mom!” I exclaimed, running towards her with my arms fully extended and a Savinelli half bent gripped between my teeth. She looked adorable – just as I remembered her – swinging her arms about as though caught in a suffocating web. “Oh you,” I cried. “It’s only my massive beard. Give your son a hug. Young Mudd is home.”

When the paramedics arrived and my mother regained consciousness I was allowed a quiet moment with her before being carted off to the hospital to test her now failing heart. She lay on the white dolly with a clear mask across her face and looked at me, her long lost son, as though I were none other than the culmination of all her innermost hopes and dreams.

“It’s me, Momma,” I whispered. She closed her eyes.

“I’ve never seen you before in my life,” she replied. “And I can assure you I’ll be pressing charges.”

“But mom,” I said. “I have a duty to my peers. I came here to find out why you smoke a pipe even though you don’t smoke one. But it’s no longer important. You see, in coming to ask you I finally found the strength to reveal why I, Young Mudd, do. Now, I know you probably won’t last the night seeing how you look like death and all, but should you die before you wake please know that I, your son, will be the next world leader. I will form a common currency and oust rebel leaders from third world countries. I will kiss babies and have elaborate affairs with my interns. I will do all of this because I have chosen to smoke a pipe.”

“Rupert?” The voice came from outside, behind a police tape that had been erected to guard against local media. It had been many, many years, but the voice could be none other.

“Mom?”

“Rupert, what are you doing in that poor woman’s house?” For the first time I looked around me. And I did not recognize this kitchen. The refrigerator under which Ronald was trapped was not my mother’s refrigerator. And the pictures on the wall, they were not my family.

“I, I’m sorry, Mom,” I said. “I just came her to talk to… this old practically dead-now lady. I was gonna come over when I was done talking to her.”

As the police car door slammed I saw her still, my mother, shaking her head shamefully at me and my only friend, Ronald Livingston, as we drove away. I knew that this slight misunderstanding would, as all slight misunderstandings tend to do, give way to something better in my life. I knew that it would contribute to my wisdom. In the distance a camera flashed. Then another.

“Ronald, do you see that? We’re on TV. Get used to it, little buddy. This is only the first appearance of many.” I smiled into the flashing cameras.

I might have stolen a vehicle and drunkenly drove across the country with my talking cat so we could accost an elderly woman, but know this now, know this now:

I promise never to have “talent” in any way, shape or form. I promise to always smoke my pipe. And I promise, world, to one-day serve you well as your iron fisted unyielding dictatorial leader.

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