The lengths to Which We Will Go...

Yesterday, after an important appointment, I had it in mind to smoke a bowl. I came prepared with pipe, tobacco, pipe cleaners and tamper. I was set. Except for one little detail: I had no fire.

I desperately searched the car, finally finding a box containing 4 matches. Perfect! I could use a couple to light now, and a couple for the inevitable re-lights later, and by then, I should be home. I filled the pipe very carefully, for a change, knowing that I didn't have a lot of flame to spare on my usually sloppy packing, which often requires a dozen lights. A pinch and a shake. Another pinch, a shake and a delicate tap. A third pinch and a slightly more assertive touch. Finally, the fourth pinch, a gentle but manly press, and I was ready for the smoke I'd been looking forward to for hours.

Matches are interesting things. They're a simple device, really, nothing more than a stick of dry wood with a bit of chemical on the end that can be enflamed by striking it along the appropriate surface. Right?

Something about being in the car for months, years perhaps, rendered some part of the stick, chemical and striker equation meaningless. The match refused to strike. I might as well have been running the match head over a velvet Elvis. Nothing. Not even a subliminal spark, a hint of heat. I wasn't ready to panic, quite. Time to be resourceful, to rely on my Rube Goldberg secret decoder ring, and figure a way to solve this most pressing of problems.

My car is old enough (a 1991) to be equipped with a cigar lighter. (I don't smoke cigarettes, and I have employed it to light the occasional cigar, so that is clearly its purpose.) I figured it would serve to ignite the match, allowing me to subsequently light my pipe. A little contrived, but certainly workable.

Pressing the button and waiting, I began to consider the foolishness of this whole circus. To what lengths was I willing to go in order to apply a little flame to some shredded leaf stuffed in a wooden bowl? But, damn it, I've been thinking about this bowl for hours, and I would NOT have it snatched away from me as a result of the failure of some archaic wood and sulphur technology! (Devilish things, matches were once known as Lucifers. I understand, now, more of the implications of that particular sobriquet.)

The lighter popped, I pulled it out, touched its glowing coils with the match head, and proudly watched as the brimstone tipped stick flared to life. Perfect! I'd rolled up the windows and turned off the fan, to ensure there were no unexpected wind currents to extinguish my precious and rare flame - only 3 sticks remained in the box. The match burned somewhat tentatively, but seemed like it would serve to get the charring light charred. Things were going well.

The pipe I'd chosen to smoke was a lovely Heeschen Nautilus, a sort of 1/2 bent shape with a top that angles rearward, placing its bowl directly in the stream of air that issues from my nostrils when I exhale. I didn't know this before, but became rather fully aware of it as the match's frgile life came to an abrupt and premature end.

I pressed the lighter into service again. The second match met an earlier death. While the head sputtered and flared, the wood itself was apparently not dry enough to maintain the flame. The third met with a similar fate. Lucifers. Lure me into temptation, and then bedevil my every attempt. The torment was about to get the best of me, when I noticed that the cigar lighter's diameter might be just about right...

Cigar lighters in cars are automagic things. You push them in, and they pop out when they're ready, like toast. I figured I'd need a little extra heat, so I decided to hold it in for an extra few seconds, giving it time to develop a nice, orange glow. Perfect! I could ignore the burning sensation on my fingertips for the moment.

The outside rim of the lighter was a little too large for the bowl, but I discovered that I could press the element onto the waiting tobacco while holding the perimeter against the bowl's top. Surprisingly, this worked very well, and a couple more passes rewarded me with a nicely lit pipe, and a great feeling of accomplishment and innovation. I even briefly considered the idea of designing a special lighter for the car especially for the purpose of lighting pipes. It could be done.

Pipe lit, beautiful smoke rising from the bowl, I set sail for the 40-minute drive home. A great pipe can temper the horrors of East Bay traffic, making it seem almost insignificant in the overall scheme of things. Idiots cut me off, fools blew horns without reason, and apparently nearsighted drivers positioned their cars perilously close to my rear bumper without even drawing so much as a harsh thought, a menacing word or a single-digit salute from this contented puffer. A little tamp now and again, and life was good.

Then, it happened. It always happens. The pipe went out. Try as I might, there was no way to breathe life back into the dying embers. It was over. I glanced at the box containing one last match, glanced at the cigar lighter, glanced at the cars around me. There was no way I was going to get the lighter down that far in the bowl, and the two handed dance necessary to utilize the probably over moist match just wasn't going to happen in traffic. Damn.

The last 15 minutes of the drive home were the longest. Next time I pack a pipe for a trip, I'll be sure to remember the lighter. And, I think it's time for an emergency box of matches in the car, vacuum sealed in a thick plastic pouch.

I suppose I could have used one of my road flares...