The last pipeJul 27th, 2008 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Ireland
Tobacco pipes and baggy cardigans were the mark of old Anglican clergy for decades. Rectory studies would have a familiar smell; the pouch of tobacco being about the only luxury possible in straitened times.
Maybe it’s the association with avuncular old canons, who covered half a county on a Sunday morning to read seventeenth century prayers to a gathering of the faithful, but pipes always seemed benign.
Of course, tobacco smoke is dangerous, but so is driving at high speed and I see no banners at the bottom of advertisements for BMW or Jaguar saying “Speed kills”. Obesity is dangerous and I see no legislation to regulate fast food outlets. Alcohol is dangerous, but there are no laws prohibiting drinks companies from sponsoring sporting events followed by young people.
Smokers seem to have attracted the particular ire of the nanny state and I fear my friend Richard who smokes a pipe is an endangered species.
Back in 1992 Garrison Keillor published a collection of essays called We Are Still Married. I bought it on cassette and used to think the piece on the last smokers was really a bit far fetched. It first appeared in the New Yorker back in 1984 under the title End of the Trail. The New Yorker has an online abstract:
The last cigarette smokers in America were located in a box canyon south of Donner Pass in the High Sierra by 2 federal tobacco agents in a helicopter who spotted little smoke puffs just before noon. The district chief called in the ground team & 6 men, members of a crack anti-smoking joggers unit, moved across the terrain, surrounding & subduing them with tear gas. There were 5 people in their mid-40’s who’d been on the run since the adoption of the 28th Amendment. The chief snatched an empty pack of Marlboro’s & said “Look at this! This warning has been there for decades! What does it take to make you understand?” The smokers knew that the end was near. They’d lost radio contact with the only other band of smokers they knew; 5 writers holed up in an Oakland apartment. Among the personal effects were 4 empty packs, slit open, the blank insides covered with handwriting. They were letters to Lindsay & Matt from their mother. They read: “I never thot it wld come to this…those yrs as ashtrays vanished fr parties & old pals made sarc remarks & FAA crackd down… Down to 1 cart… In 50s it was diffrnt, we all smokd… Food, sex, then smoke…theyre closing in… Reminded me of when yr dad turnd me in… Knew he was nut but didnt know he was creep… Goodbye. Love, Mother. ” The 5 smokers were sentenced to write 20,000 words on the topic “Personal Integrity”. The mother was reunited with her children. One night, she saved them from death by pulling them back from the path of a speeding car. Her husband, who had just been telling her she could stand to lose some weight, was killed instantly, however.
Smokers may become as a rare as crusty old canons; both a voice of dissent in a society that has made political correctness an infallible dogma.