Piping Away

When I first went off to college, at the half-ripe age of sixteen years, I was baby-faced and completely un-collegiate in my appearance. I decided that I should do something about that, and so I took up pipe-smoking. In my mind, this made me appear more like this gentleman, a rugged-looking individual who might have interesting tales to tell.

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Any photos of me during those early years with the pipe in my mouth were so un-cool that I tore them up and burned the negatives, pledging whoever had taken the pictures to secrecy. Here is one that somehow survived.

As you can see, I did not achieve the result that I was going for.

But I kept at it, and eventually graduated with what would equate to a master’s degree in the black art of pipery. Along the way I burned holes in hundreds of shirts caused by sparks blowing back on windy days. I actually enjoyed the smoking part very much, but eventually I developed a cough that simply would not go away, and I began to experience the rumblings of a conscience about all those folks who traveled through the cloud of secondary smoke that trailed behind me.

It was with some small grieving that I gave up the habit and all of its attendant rituals. Rituals that included studying catalogs of beautiful briar creations, sniffing of hundreds (thousands?) of lovely aromas, cleaning the bowls of the pipes with special tools from London, and purchasing exotic varieties of tobacco with which to mix my custom blends.

Oh, yes, I was a snob when it came to tobacco. Just short of insufferable, I was.

Looking back, quitting was worth it, I know. My respiratory symptoms vanished and my shirts certainly look better. But … there are blue-skied autumn days when the air is crisp and the setting cries out for the pungent aroma of shreds of latakia smoldering in a briar bowl … .

(‘Scuse me while I cough into my elbow at just the thought.)

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I wonder what would happen if Cluck & Pence, our national pandemic comedy team, were rewarded for refusing to wear any sort of mask by catching the coronavirus. I’m not sure that even that would elicit anything like empathy from this ice-blooded pair, but there is the remote possibility.

They are the perfect examples of the let them eat cake approach of our plutocracy. Protected by wealth and position from any of the bad things that are happening out there among the hoi polloi, they pose and preen and posture and declare that they are put upon by life in a way that mere mortals can only guess at.

I think a proper bout of Covid-19 might be good for them. Oh, I don’t mean the awful variety where intensive care and ventilators are necessary. I just mean enough to scare them to death for a few days. To share the pain of tens of thousands of Americans in a decidedly non-metaphoric way for once.

I suppose it’s unworthy of me to think about such things. But there you are.

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From The New Yorker

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David Brooks has gone through a long period of navel-gazing recently, looking for the answers to the BIG QUESTIONS of U.S. society. So whenever he comes back to earth for a day or two I appreciate his insights. In the Times of New York recently, he posted this editorial: We Need National Service – Now.

Thoughtful and well-written, it goes over some familiar territory, and reiterates the fact that most Americans think that voluntary national service would be a good, perhaps a great, thing for our society. So the question always becomes – why hasn’t it happened?

I will own up to my personal prejudices here, in that I never thought that the military draft should have been stopped. In spite of the fact that the system was riddled with abuses, I thought that its benefits – those feelings of a shared experience that the majority of American men had – were worth it. And I also thought that having short-time soldiers like myself in the mix had a restraining effect on those in power. Not as easy to start a war when you know that you will receive some serious blowback from all those soldiers’ mothers out there, as happened in the Viet Nam war experience.

Instead of dropping it in 1973, I would have broadened it to include women, and done what was possible to reduce those abuses (most of which were due to people of various kinds of influence evading their responsibilities) and truly democratize the armed services.

But that’s neither here nor there, to coin a phrase. Wait … somebody already said that?

This new kind of national service could bring back some of that feeling of sacrifice and brotherhood/sisterhood that has been lost. Real, down-to-earth, tangible. Soooo valuable.

I’m for it. And if there was a branch of these new programs that made better use of the legion of wasted geezers out there as well … put me in, coach – I’m ready to play. Just make that obstacle course a little milder, and I’m your man.

[The sharp-eyed among you will notice those shoulder boards. Not American GIs, are they? Nope, they are Russian recruits on the obstacle course … but I loved the mud. And when you cover a man with mud, we all look about the same.]

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From The New Yorker

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