Bert is certainly a character and, like any of us, he had his strengths, weaknesses, charms, and annoyances. We worked together for 14 years and butted heads, conspired together, and even once came close to fisticuffs. Still, he taught me how to be a pipe smoker and he taught me how to be a tobacconist. For that, I will always be grateful.serapion wrote:MORE BERT!
I think to best convey the essence of Bert, I should do so with a series of vignettes. Over time, I hope you get a better sense of who he really is and the character he later became.
Vignettes Concerning Bert
#1: The Divorce Pipe
One day, early in my tenure at JFH (Spring '93), Bert was going over the noble art of selling pipes: what to look for in a pipe, what traits to focus on, how to listen to what the customer really wants, and how to help them find it when we have it. Bert really believed in helping people find what they wanted and to not pressure anyone into buying a pipe. More can be said about this (and how this model had to change in the industry) in a future post but, for this vignette, suffice it to say that we were discussing these matters when we heard the door open and shut.
As Bert and I walked to the front to greet whoever walked in, we beheld a fellow in his 30's, slightly overweight, wearing a navy blue pinstripe suit (which was unusual in Springfield then) complete with gold rings, and a heavy gold watch with a face roughly the size of a saucer. [Aside: For all you young'uns, watches could best be described as bracelets with clock faces. Often they were worn by men as status symbols and one was supposed to judge importance or social status by the various cues transmitted by one's selection. This watch screamed "money" and "I'm really important. Really! Please make me feel important!" Of course Iococca was right back then; the most important people (back then) didn't wear or carry a watch--kinda how the most important people now don't carry a cell phone.]
I watched as Bert implemented the strategies we had just discussed as the fellow looked over our pipe selection. He said that he was in town on business and he had left his pipes at home because he brought his wife instead. I watched as his eyes scanned the stock and I saw it when his whole body reacted to a particular pipe in the Stanwell tray. It was a smooth Majestic 54 (shape seen here) and it retailed for $40. I knew that was his pipe and you can bet your last nickel that Bert did too.
Bert continued to show the fellow more pipes but I noticed that the shapes were getting closer and closer to the 54. As he showed pipes, the fellow and Bert chatted about what the fellow did for a living (salesman of some sort) and the blues. Bert loves the blues more than breathing and no matter who you were, if you chat with him more than 5 minutes you are going to talk about the blues--especially Chicago blues.
Finally, the fellow said, "What about that one?" (pointing to the 54). Bert smiled (heck, I even smiled) and said that this pipe was a wonderful pipe! He handed the pipe to the fellow and begin to tell the story of that pipe. He told him about Stanwell pipes and how they were known for excellent quality at a low price. He talked about the curing process and he described the grain that particular pipe has. He talked of the virtues of a bent pipe as compared to the virtue of straight pipes. He talked about the first time he ever saw that Stanwell shape and remembered, with a smile, the first time he smoked a pipe that shape and the young lady that walked with him in the park while he did so. In short, he gave that pipe a living history and, as the fellow listened, it took on something more than pipe status; it became a living tradition and one that fellow wanted to be a part. When Bert ended, the fellow said, I'll take it!"
Just then, a tall lady walked in. She was wearing that makeup where she could be anywhere between 20 and 50, expensive clothing, and a pissed off attitude. She walked up to the guy and said, "Good Gawd! Not another pipe!"
He said, "Look honey! It's gorgeous!" And he started to recount some of the story Bert had told concerning it but she cut him short.
"If you buy that pipe, I'm divorcing you!" she hissed like a box of rattlers slithering over terra cotta shards.
I saw him deflate. He looked hopelessly at me and then at Bert. Bert leaned in and said, "You know, it might be worth it."
The fellow looked back at Bert and said, "You know, you might just be right. I'll take it." She gurgled in rage and stomped out.
So Bert compted him 2 oz of tobacco, a promotional sleeve of pipe cleaners, a box of matches, and a cheap pipe nail. The fellow stayed and smoked his pipe chatting with Bert about women, the blues, and the women of the blues and then he left. Neither of us ever saw him again.
Written while smoking Lane Black Raspberry in a Savinelli Tivoli 606.