by Mark Irwin


Out of the Closet:  "Charles Mundungus” and his benefactor


WHEN I MET UP with Luca di Piazza in his rooms a few weeks ago at the Chicagoland Pipe Show, he asked if I knew the sad fellow who’d just left. I’d missed him, but as Luca described him I knew immediately who he was—“he’s a patient of mine, actually,” I said. The man—boyish face, scraggly multi-color goatee, early 50s—whom we’ll call “Charles Mundungus,” had just left to see if the plasma donor center in St. Charles was still open, hoping to get  few more dollars more to pay for a pipe Luca had agreed to hold for him.

    “It’s very sad,” Luca said. “This man has a very deep love for Italian pipes, but has, how do you say, ‘very shallow pockets’? I do what I can for him, but I sometimes worry at night about how he feeds his family.”

    After the John Cotton Throwdown late the next afternoon I met up with “Charles,” and seeing that fevered look in his eyes, asked if he was enjoying the show. With my professionally-trained eye, I could immediately see that he was suffering from the most severe pangs of what is becoming an epidemic among pipe smokers the world over, one unheard even a dozen years ago. Anxious to do what I could, I offered him a sedative for the night in the form of a lukewarm six-pack I’d been carrying around for an hour or so.

    Back home during our regular session the following week I asked “Charles” if it might not be time to come out of the closet. After all, it was rumored the UPCA (United Pipe Clubs of America) had just met covertly to discuss holding therapy sessions for just such pipemen at future shows. “Charles” countered with the suggestion that perhaps ECT—electroconvulsive therapy [the descendent of electric shock therapy] might have more immediate results. Pulling out his account statement, which was severely overdue, I suggested something much simpler and less expensive. 

    “Charles,” I said, “why don’t you try going public with your story? I’m not sure I can get you a spot on Oprah or Dr. Oz just yet, but I talked to Luca, and he suggested that perhaps if others read what you’re going through, you might find the insight to master your situation.” 

    After a few days’ thought, he acquiesced. I don’t know whether Luca’s offer of additional discounts from Neat Pipes had anything to do with it, but I rather suspect it might.