Burke: Put that in my pipe and smoke it? Don’t mind if I do

Having quit cigarettes decades ago, I indulge, seasonally, in a pipe packed with sweet tobacco.

By Tom Burke / Herald columnist

When I was young and foolish (now, I’m just foolish), “Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em” had meaning. We’d fish out a pack of Marlboros and a Zippo and settle back for a relaxing ten minutes of inhaling a throatful of cancer, a chestful of coronary artery disease, or a sweet case of lung-wracking emphysema. Pure pleasure!

And when I started working at a Madison Avenue ad agency, smoking at your desk was just fine.

But there were hints that “cancer sticks” weren’t healthy, despite ads avowing otherwise; such as when Lucky Strike Green, in 1930, reassuringly claimed,”20,679 physicians say, ‘Luckies are less irritating.’” (Which begs the question, less irritating than what: World War I mustard gas? Agent Orange? Pepper spray?)

We were also reassured by the they-wouldn’t-lie-to-their-customers R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., that, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”

Famous back-in-the-day A-list personalities also touted smoking, such as John Wayne, “A Camel fan goin’ on 24 years” (before he lost a lung to cancer), pin-up girl Betty Grable (died of lung cancer), actor Spencer Tracy (dead from heart disease), and jazz great Louis Armstrong (a heart attack took him).

Now, I started smoking at the Sewane Country Club where I caddied. All the loopers smoked copiously. I smoked in school, on the ships (the merchant navy on freighters and tankers), in saloons, and when I worked construction as an ironworker. I also smoked in that ad agency office, lighting up whenever the phone rang, and it rang a lot.

And I quit, cold turkey, one day as the phone jingled and realized I had one going in the ashtray, one in my mouth, and I was fishing a third out of the pack.

Since that afternoon in 1976 I tried exactly one more time, half-finished it (gawd, it tasted awful) and ground it under my heel.

But now that spring has sprung and summer in nigh upon us, I am beginning my summer-season tobacco indulgence: my pipe.

Wadda ya mean, pipe? No one smokes a pipe any more, unless it’s stuffed with some of that recently legalized weed.

Well, I do, but only on sunny days, when I can sit outside in my shirtsleeves. (Is there anything more pitiful than a small huddle of people, bunched together against sleet and rain, bundled up in blizzard-proof parkas, Siberian-grade winter hats, and three-times-around the neck scarves, desperately trying to “enjoy” a smoke, in a bleak parking lot behind some building?)

Now you don’t inhale pipe tobacco; at least I don’t. And I like fiddling and fussing with the wind-proof lighter and the pick and tamper. (Pipe-smoking is like skippering a sailboat: both are the perfect relaxation for people who can’t relax. On a sailboat there’s always a sheet to tug or a touch of helm necessary to gain an extra quarter-knot.)

And then there’s the tobacco. Mild or strong. Some with headache-inducing nicotine levels (to which I said, ala Poe’s raven, “Never more”) and others as sweet as honey.

I have a “dealer” up in Middlebury, Vt., (OK, not a dealer, a tobacconist) who blends his own and then whimsically names ‘em: his Three Blind Moose after a small herd that wouldn’t move despite flashing headlights; Bald Headed Teacher in honor of a prof at nearby Middlebury College; and my favorite Lord Methley’s Blend (“Flavorful Virginias, mellow Burleys, and Black Cavendish give it a flavor of a berry-filled pie just out of the oven. A true aromatic with no tongue bite developed for the real Lord Methley of West Yorkshire, UK.”)

My cardiologist isn’t a great fan of my indulgence. But as long as it’s maybe three pipefuls a week, he isn’t on a crusade to get me to quit.

My wife on the other hand, well, as a health professional for 50-plus years, she takes a dimmer view than my Doc.

But I figure, what with only a couple of bowls a week, and all of November, December, January, February, March and April to breath again, it ain’t gonna be the end of me.

I just placed an order (more Lord Methley’s and two new ones: Britt’s Balkan’ (full but not overpowering) and Bread Loaf (An Oriental-forward with the slightest hint of Latakia for smokiness) so I should be good ‘til next June.

Now the classic pipe-smoking scenario is aspirational: a deep leather armchair hard by the fireplace, a good book, a dram of single-malt, and the dog at my feet.

But, as I don’t smoke indoors, don’t have leather armchairs or a fireplace, my reading’s been more current events than Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, I’m off the booze for a while, and we had to put our English cocker, Telly, down last September; I’m settling for a Diet Coke, in a lawn chair, on the patio, with today’s Herald.

And my pipe.

Stay safe. Keep masking up.

Tom Burke’s email address is t.burke.column@gmail.com.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, July 28

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Election thing
Editorial: Gobel best choice for Marysville council seat

Perspective and focus offer the contrast among three strong candidates for the council’s Postion 1.

Comment: As delta variant surges, doctors facing hard choices

Intensive care staff may be forced to choose beween helping vaccinated or unvaccinated patients.

Comment: Opposing vaccines, masks isn’t principled; it’s deadly

Mother Nature and covid have shown little patience with the anti-factual hubris of anti-vaxxers.

Snohomish city voters should reject Prop. 1, TBD tax

The city of Snohomish’s 10-year Transportation Benefit District sales tax was necessary… Continue reading

Lynnwood council, Pos. 2: Lashgari best choice for council

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with Naz Lashgari for… Continue reading

Infrastructure spending well worth the investment

I’m sure that our esteemed leaders, like ourselves, have no idea of… Continue reading

Senate can add safety measures to infrastructure package

Last year an estimated 38,680 people were killed on our nation’s roadways,… Continue reading

toon
Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, July 27

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Most Read