It was not to be. San Francisco is determined that your personal smoking time be as discordant, nay, disruptive even, as possible. Largely because many of the natives are discordant. And even disruptive.
[If you smoke outside, some yenta will invariably walk past and either loudly exclaim her disgust, or start yelling at you. Someone else will make a wide (and loud) detour. Yet another person will threaten to call the cops, or give you a long lecture about what a horrible degenerate you are. Children will stare at you in wonder - "mommy, that man has a piece of wood in his face!" - "Hush, darling, he's a very BAD man, just IGNORE him!" You will be thanked for ruining someone else's lungs, and a complete stranger will threaten you with a dry-cleaning bill. So you smoke at the tobacco store, or skulk near fast-food joints. Bitches.]
After he had got his pipe lit we exchanged pleasantries. He had been trying to find a substitute for the Saint Bruno Flake, which, if memory serves, was a Virginia style tobacco made from Kentucky leaf. Formerly manufactured by Ogdens. Smelled like shaving soap. Although it has also been likened to old socks and digestive tablets. Spicy and fruity at the same time, due to a top-dressing reminiscent of stale Earl Grey tea.
Not as strong in pong as the Erinmore Flake (Murrays), nor as powerful in flavour (or nicotine kick to the beitsim) as Condor by Gallaher's.
It has its loyal aficionados.
IF THE DEVIL BLENDS TOBACCO, THIS IS IT: DAEMON PUBES
As we talked I remembered the product. Not with any great affection (due to a vomitous experience many years ago), but even so with a straight face. Which was made much harder by the fact that a pilgrim outside the store appeared to be having a fit. A street person with a straw hat had found a notebook lying on the ground near the plate glass, and was happily singing from it. With verve, and what might be talent, he was translating the clearly visible sketched contents into riotous song, veritable paeans of emotion.
"If you like flakes, have you tried..." I would begin, only to discover myself drowned out.
"Eee ah, eeeeeeeh ahhhhhh, my lord, wingggsss!!!" sang the street person. The illustration that he was interpreting showed a tree with birds in it, in smudged charcoal.
"This lovely flake from Cornell and Diehl..."
"These winggggssss of fire, and feathers of flaaaaaaaame" yodeled the minstrel, gesticulating with his straw hat. There was a sail boat on the page that he sang from, no text, no musical notes. He didn't mind.
"...really very nice tobacco, with a touch of Peri......."
"Higher and higher, wings of fayarrrrrrrrrr, yeah clouds, clouds, clouds of glory!!!!!!"
Even from my perch at the back of the shop, I could tell that his teeth needed work. Specks of spittle landed on the plate glass. He was looking at a double spread - a voluptuous nude holding grapes.
His enthusiasm, having reached a very high level, made all talk inside the shop impossible.
In silence, we passed tins back and forth - the tobacconist has a large number of open tins for sampling, including Cornell & Diehl, GLPease, Germains from the Channel Islands, Esoterica, and others.
Every time someone tried to speak, as if by magic (or concentrated evil motives), the squalling from outside would interrupt.
A customer came up to the counter with some cigars from the humidor. Tom at the register tried to ask "did you remember how much these were?"
But what everyone heard (from the now fiercely vibrating songbird) was
"I shall exchange, these cruel chains, for a crimson steeeeeeeeed!!"Tom went into the humidor to note the prices, money changed hands, thank yous were mouthed, and the musical gentleman in front of the store practiced vocalizing - "eeeeh, ah, eeeeeeh, ahhh, eeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhh!!!!"
Then he belched. Before continuing.
The other pipesmoker, having finished his bowl of University flake, loaded up on the fine product from Cornell & Diehl.
C&D's annual blend for the 2008 Chicago Show. A tasty flake of Virginias, Dark Fired Burley and a dash of Perique.
I hope he enjoys it. Cornell & Diehl make some very good tobaccos. If I see him again, I will have to ask. I didn't stick around to find out.
Having finished my own pipe too, I headed back to the office. I'm not a very social person by any standards, and the operatic performance outside the shop had drained me.
As I turned the corner, I could hear "marble pillars, marble floors, gilded ceilings and oaken doors" floating out over Market Street.
What IS that kind of voice called? Heldentenor? Maybe a tenor buffo, but one with a very rich round sound.
It is very, very annoying.
And I think I've got acid indigestion now.
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