Saturday, March 29, 2014


It was early twilight when the young couple crossed the road. They were possibly too self-conscious to hold hands, but it is likely that they really wanted to. It's such an innocent yet intimate thing to do. As they passed, the fellow said: "nice pipe". It took a moment before it registered, then I told him 'thank you'.

What I did not volunteer was where he could have acquired a similar item. That being John's Pipe Shop, located at 524 & 524½ South Spring Street in Los Angeles, which was still extant in the early eighties but no longer exists. Their pipes were made by Comoys at one point, and were an extraordinarily good value. The exemplar which I was smoking was shape number 129, a large smooth apple with a slightly longer shank than normal.

[Many respected pipe stores had their pipes made for them by Comoys - here in San Francisco, among others both Grants and Pinecrest proudly featured such, with their own nomenclature stamped on one side of the shaft, and the characteristic round imprint of the actual manufacturer on the opposite side. Now there are no actual pipe-stores left in San Francisco. Some places do sell pipes; they're largely run by ignoramuses and swine.]

Comoys (founded in London circa 1879) as it was no longer exists either.
Cadogan Investments Ltd swallowed it entirely in the early eighties, and judging by the crap that has been produced since then seems determined to permanently ruin the reputation of British pipes, much like Dunhill and their ghastly evisceration of Charatan, Parker, and Hardcastle.

I was quietly lurking outside the First Chinese Baptist Church at the corner of Waverly and Sacramento after dinner. No particular reason, but it's a pleasant tree-shaded stretch where the hubbub does not reach, and the only sounds usually come from the basketball court upside the hill, or the playground around the corner. It's one of my regular spots for a smoke, not a week goes by that I do not end up there at some point.
It's good for people watching, as the only ones observable are usually not tourists. It's too far uphill from Grant (half a block), and there are no neat-o-keen boutiques selling fabulous San Francisco tee-shirts and coffee mugs. They cannot see the point of the trudge. Not a single place with sweet and sour pork either, oh woe.
I guess they seldom visit the Szechuan place at the other end of the block. The clientele there seems to consist mostly of young Mandarin-speakers.

Earlier I had been down at the Washington Bakery and Restaurant just below Grant. For such a brightly lit place, it is easy to hide in the corner, and like the alleyways and off-track streets of Chinatown, it is perfect for people watching.

Young couple happily devouring fish and a claypot special at one table. Two ladies gossiping over dinner at another, near a table with two high school boys sharing a meal. At the far end of the room a man was neglecting both his wife and the steamed fish while reading his text messages; she didn't mind, she happily made off with most of the meal, and definitely most of the fish. She was very cute, but if he keeps paying attention to his cell-phone she may get pudgy (and she'll still be cute).
Four people had a fine time a few rows over, which included bubble drinks and sweeties.
A family of six came in and were welcomed warmly. They're probably regulars.
Two Caucasians timorously stared in from the street, then went across to the fake Szechuanese joint to get stiffed. A gentleman from Latin America enjoyed some fine pastries near the bakery counter.

Something chicken over rice. You don't need to know the details. And a cup of Hong Kong style milk-tea. I may have overdone the hotsauce.
You never know; sometimes too much is not enough.

Outside on the corner the women handing out menus of a restaurant that caters to tourists were busily roping in victims. Did I mention the fake Szechuanese joint? It is positively thriving. Kitch décor and full-colour photos of someone else's food are a recipe for success.

Once you get away from Grant Avenue, the quiet returns. The only people are the locals, who do not gawk, or stop in the middle of the sidewalk to point and exclaim. There are no souvenir stores where the neighborhood shops, but if you want tonic herbs, you have several choices.
Occasionally an echo of incense drifts across your nostrils, an infant yells piercingly and joyously, an old lady passes with a grandchild on her back, and a mom with a full bag of groceries heads home. It smells of durian somewhere, and there is a clanging of cooking implements audible from the open back-door of a restaurant. People enter apartment buildings, or exit social clubs.
A young couple cross the street, and, in passing, admire a pipe.
Fine briar, with the patina of age and much fond use.
It really is a lovely piece of wood.
Not common any more.
Light fades.

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