The Thoughts of a Frumpy Professor

............................................ ............................................ A blog devoted to the ramblings of a small town, middle aged college professor as he experiences life and all its strange variances.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Grand Day! (Part 4)

[Please note, if you have not done so, and wish to read earlier parts of this essay, please scroll down to the first "A Grand Day!" essay. Subsequent parts occur in reverse order.]

Fortunately for me, my father had numerous pipes in his collection. In his den, in fact, he had one pipe rack on his desk that was filled with his most frequently used briar pipes, and he had another drawer in a cabinet that had many other, more worn, less frequently used pipes. I figured this would be a good place for me to look and perhaps "borrow" one for a while. Additionally, while my father carried a tobacco pouch with him at all times, he also had several cans (canisters) of his favorite pipe tobaccos on one shelf of his several bookshelves also in his den. It would be fairly simple to open one of the canisters and to remove a small pinch of the golden brown crumbles of leaf.

On a day much like today, cloudy and threatening rain, I did just that. My father was beginning to teach summer school for those students who did not pass one or more of their courses during the regular school year, and so he was away most days. I was just at the start of my summer vacation after third grade (I started school young), and my mother was quite busy with household work (laundry, keeping up the house, etc) and taking care of my younger siblings, so I had a great deal of flexibility and free-time to explore and have fun.

As I stated earlier, the woods way in the back of our property were a true joy for me and I often spent hours and hours out there searching for various forms of wildlife. But today I had a different mission in mind for out in the woods.

While my mother was in the nursery, I quietly snuck in to my father's den, and opened the drawer and withdrew one of the pipes. It was a bit dusty, the walnut finish was quite dull and rubbed off in spots where my father had held it numerous times, and the edges of the opening of the bowl were battered and rounded from hundreds of times my father knocked out the ashes either into the large glass ashtray on his desk, some other ashtray elsewhere, or if outside, on the heel of his shoe or onto the palm of his hand when he finished. The bowl must have become somewhat brittle and weakened from use as well, for on one side of the bowl a small section of the rounded opening was missing, looking as if it had broken away giving the bowl a crooked, askewed countenance. However, to me, the pipe seemed majestic and beautiful and utterly amazing.

I slid this beautiful beast of a pipe into the pocket of my dangerous (jeans for you younger folks) and then quickly went to the bookshelf lined with various pipe tobaccos. Having always been partial to the colors of orange and red, I quickly gravitated to the canister of Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco... in an orange & black canister, and grabbed a small pinch of the leaf and gripped it tightly in my small fist.

As I quietly ventured out of his den, I hollered loudly so my mother would hear "Im going to go to the woods to play!" and I heard a muffled, but positive reply from my mother in the nursery as I went into the kitchen. I reached up on the wall by the stove and withdrew one of the wooden kitchen matches and slid it also into my pocket. I then bounded through the door out into the backyard.

It took me only a few minutes to reach the woods at the far back of the yard. I then took one of the several paths I had made over the years, this one ended deep into the woods at a small tree platform I had been working on most of the Spring. It would over subsequent years become a fairly grand sized and entertaining tree house that I and several buddies of mine built together. But this early summer day it was simply a comfortable platform about 15 feet off the ground. I climbed the wooden boards I nailed to the trunk of the tree and was soon comfortably seated on my platform.

As I looked at the pipe, I grew more excited and nervous with each passing moment. In my eyes, that decrepit, battered beast of a pipe was majestic, beautiful, and utterly impressive. I uncupped my left fist and held the small pinch of tobacco in my palm. With a nervous and shaking hand, I took some of the leaf out with my fingers from my right hand and dropped it into the bowl of the pipe. I was sitting in such a way that I could hold the bowl of the pipe between my feet, my tennis shoes gently holding the bowl in position. I kept adding leaf to the bowl until it seemed full enough. Luckily for me, the pinch of tobacco leaf I had grabbed was rather small, so I was able to put all of the leaf into the bowl.

It was so beautiful looking, I was truly in awe of the pipe and leaf. Slowly and carefully I brought the stem of the pipe to my mouth and gripped the stem with my teeth. It felt rather hard and cumbersome, not with the comfortable, contented look I saw on my father's face as he gripped the pipestem between his teeth. But still, it the feeling, though strange was wonderful to me. The stem itself, slightly beige at the tip from use, had a slightly acrid flavor that I did not recognize at the time but still I enjoyed its texture.

I likely sat there for the better part of a half hour looking at and touching, smelling, and experiencing the look and feel of the pipe. Finally after a bit of my nervousness subsided, I withdrew the wooden kitchen match from my pocket. Having watched my father use a similar kitchen match out-of-doors frequently, I knew I needed to strike the match against the side of a rock. Luckily I had been carrying many different rocks up to the platform of the last few weeks so that was not a problem.

The weather had started to grow a bit cooler and I could feel a gentle mist starting. I thought to myself that I had better hurry, for it was going to rain heavily, very soon. Growing nervous again, I held the match up against the rock and slid it against the rough surface as I had seen my father do countless times. As I slid the match, I expected it to fire to life quickly, but nothing happened. Perhaps I needed to do it more strongly? So using more force, I slid the match against the rock again. This time the head of the match snapped off the matchstick and feel between the planks of the platform to the ground below.

I cried.

[Another good stopping point for now. Comments or suggestions are always appreciated.]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Grand Day! (Part 3)

[Please note, if you have not done so, and wish to read part one of this essay, please scroll down to the first "A Grand Day! essay.]

The observation I made of my father when he smoked his pipe made me quite curious. Up and until that point, my father's pipe smoking had always simply been a part of who he was... I never thought much about it, other than finding the aromas reassuring that all was well with the world. I had never given any thought as to why my father indulged in the pipe hobby... again it just seemed a part of him. But to notice the visible sense of relaxation/contentment in my father's face.... the gentle drooping of his moustache, the relaxation in his mouth and chin that quieted the bristling nature of his beard. Additionally, I could see in his eyes and eyelids, even behind his owlish glasses, a perceptable change, a greater sense of serentity, his brows became unfurrowed, his forehead relaxed.

Never having noticed this, obviously never having paid attention in my previous eight years, I found it very curious and interesting. I continued to watch him every time he pulled out one of his massive pipes and began the ritual of filling the bowl with crumbles and ignighting flame and leaf. Each time, the same indicators of calmness and relaxation washed over him and I found it amazing.

After a few weeks of observation, curiosity got the better of me and I began to contemplate trying out one of his pipes myself to see more preciesely what was occuring with my father during indulgence in the beautiful briar.

The challenge was.... how?!?

[Another good stopping point for now. Comments or suggestions are always appreciated.]


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Grand Day! (Part 2)

[Please note, if you have not done so, and wish to read part one of this essay, please scroll down to the first entry where the "A Grand Day!" essay begins.]

As I continued to talk with my father about my school day, I also continued to more acutely watch my father's actions as well. After he had filled the bowl of the pipe with the crumbles of leaf, he (again not diverting his gaze from me or our conversation) used tactile sensation to gently tamp the leaf a bit more firmly into the bowl. He brought the curved black stem of the pipe up to his mouth and gripped it between his heavy and very white teeth. The grip was a gentle and loving one, and I noticed how the heavy hairs of his moustache and beard encircled the stem of the pipe, his moustache cascading over and around the top.

Striking a match, my father brought the flame up to the bowl and began to draw the flame into the leaf, melding the two together and causing thick, rich, grey plumes of smoke to be emitted. Only after the bowl was well-lighted, and after he responded to another one of my statements with a question of his own, did my father slowly draw on the stem of the pipe, and inhaled one of the great plumes of rich, vanilla tinctured smoke deep into his lungs. As he slowly exhaled, I watched in amazement as I could notice very perceptable changes in my father's facial features. His furrowed eyebrows seemed to grow less intense, the bristling of his moustache and beard quieted and seemingly relaxed, and even his eyes seemed to grow softer and more contented. His grin became broader and more gentle.

I found watching this process very interesting as a youngster of eight. I kept trying to figure out what had happened. My father is and always was a kind, attentive man, but there was a perceptable change I could see in his whole demeanor in just the span of perhaps 10-15 seconds, where he became EVEN more himself, and less affected by the work he had been engaged in. His face grew even more kindly and more the father I was used to interacting with.

It was surprising and interesting to see these changes, but what was the cause? To me, this was many years prior to my becoming a scientist well-versed in the scientific method, but even at that young age, I believe I enjoyed and appreciated order and began to look at the situation as systematically and logically as an eight year old could. After bypassing a few other possibilities, I concluded that his pipe must be the likely source.

As you would expect, my father was a venerate pipe smoker for decades before I was even a twinkle in he and my mother's eyes. It was always a friendly companion of his, emmitting a variety of pleasant aromas with vanilla-tinctured, whiskey-tinctured, cranberry tinctured, and apple-tincured being his favorites. While I was always aware of the site and odor of my father and his pipes, I had never really examined he and his pipe smoking behavior in any depth. It simply seemed to be a hobby or avocation he enjoyed. The reason for his enjoyment was not particular understandable to me, but neither did I think abou the issue all that much.

Seeing that change in his expression was interesting, and noteworthy, however. When my father inhaled the tobacco smoke, he became MORE his happy, contented self, in ways I could easily, visually discern. To me, linking his pipe smoking to his demeanor was the first clue I had about why he enjoyed his pipe. To understand more, I decided to watch him more closely and carefully.

That is what I did for the next couple of weeks.

[Another good stopping point for now. Comments or suggestions are always appreciated.]


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Grand Day!

There are many days in a man's life that are remarkable and sear themselves into a permanent circuitboard in your mind. They are often called milestones, and a lucky man has many positive milestones. Each time he becomes a new father, his wedding day, the purchase of a home, the first copulatory activity, the first new car, his first time getting drunk, the first day of school, the first home run he has hit, earning his Ph.D., these are but a few of many such milestones I have had the pleasure to experience. They are all wonderful, vivid memories in my mind. The same is true for the memory I am about to share:

The day itself was sunny, yet pleasantly cool and dry. It was perhaps 60 degrees and virtually no humidity marred the texture of the air. The woods had always been a fun and enjoyable playground for me to explore and feel excitement. Being only eight years old, the woods seemed vast and unadorned by any trappings of any other human. It was, I thought, a virgin forest that only I had explored, and yet it abutted right on the edge of our family's two acre parcel of land... how lucky was that? Suffice it to say, I felt these woods were my own personal space and I relished spending hours looking at various bugs, plants, twigs, salamanders, frogs and other ascundry items I could collect, examine, and learn to identify. Yet, this day was to be even more special and amazing in its effect upon me. As I sat in the small clearing in the middle of this forest, I gripped the magical beast and proceeded to...

The start of this adventure could be said to have been a part of me my whole life, perhaps it was genetic? But I only became cognizant of my interest in this adventure roughly 4 weeks prior to this monumental day. This start occurred, as I recall, when I was walking home from school and I met my father sitting on the rickety, old picnic table in the back yard, concentrating very heavily on a stack of papers he was grading. My father was an English teacher in the public school system and was busy making comments on the senior's final project, a 20 page paper over some topic or other that I do not recall. His brow was furrowed, his eyes squinting through the owlish lenses of his glasses, and his moustache and beard bristled from the intense concentration he was engaged in. A red grease pencil was poised in his right hand as he quickly made marks about poor grammar, incoherence, etc on the essays.

"So many mistakes!" I heard him mutter under his breath as I approached.

He must have heard my footsteps as I neared the picnic table for he glanced up and beaconed me over to sit at the table across from him. As I sat, I could see more vividly the concentration, tension, and focus his efforts in grading had on his facial expression.

"How was your day, my boy? Tell me what you learned in school today." said my father. He was a very focused man, and I could see I had his rapt attention, but I could also still see the furrowed brow and other facial features that belied how he was intently concentrating on work only moments before.

As I began to talk about and describe my day to my father, he reached over to the side of the stack of papers, and picked up his tobacco pouch and pipe in the nearly innate manner I had seen him do many times before. Using only tactile stimuli from his fingertips, not diverting his gaze from me and the details of my day, he proceeded to gracefully and with skill fill his pipe with the gentle brown crumbles of tobacco leaf that were in his pouch. Even though I had seen this process thousands of times before in my young life, for some reason this day I was more acutely aware and attentive to these actions than I had been before.

Monday, September 26, 2011


As many of you have probably noticed, when I am away for a while, it is usually because my life has gotten too damn busy for my liking. Indeed, this has been the case, and while crazy goings on are underfoot at the U, I am fighting back with all the energy I can muster to eek out more of my own time for life and living.

This blog post signifies my pledge to fight like hell to keep myself from being sucked back into the whirlpool-like tidal ooze that can be a very negative (and unnecessary) aspect of University life. It is a daunting challenge, but I am fighting the good fight to eliminate the following items of b*llsh*t:

1. To stay out of political wrangling b*llsh*t at the U.
2. To quit being the indentured servant for a bunch of administrative yahoos and an even larger supply of administrative wannabees.
3. To quit letting other's emotions dictate how I live my day.

And I am putting forth an equally good fight to do the following:

1. To give the most love and joy and guidance that I can to my beloved family.
2. Stay an active part of the U life and culture that I so enjoy.
3. Stay on top of my game in research.

I am trying to learn some new tricks here, and hopefully they will pan out.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Peeling An Onion

This is one of those "odd" days, I believe. I woke up this morning hearing a David Haas song in my head (he is a writer of music used in the Roman Catholic Mass). It gave me a feeling of melancholy about all the things I wish I had done better in my life... being a better father, a better husband, a more aware person about the love I have been given and so desperately crave.

The melancholy seemed to be especially all-encompassing, as it remained as I sat outside having a pipe and then even when I went on my five mile walk at 5 am. I almost let the feelings of sadness overwhelm me, but persevered and continued on.

Instead of crawling back into bed after my walk, I continued on with my daily tasks/chores before heading to the gym. I then went and showered and got dresses for my work here at the U.

This morning, I have written three tests so far, and I have written four other documents... all in an effort to keep busy to help dissipate the melancholy frame of mind I am in. Now I will go and lecture for a few hours.

I hope I feel happier soon.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Off My Chest

I need to get this off my chest:

C.C.G. and R.B.C. are obnoxious, uncaring people who do not give a damn about anyone or anything. It is so incredibly frustrating having to deal with those two yahoos.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

10th Anniversary, But...

Of course, today is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Yes, it was horrific on many levels. You can find a huge array of information about that date, the 10th anniversary remembrances, and all manner of related materials in roughly 7 million other sites on the Web. Please do not get me wrong, I am not trying to be callous or disrespectful. I am simply saying that *I* personally cannot spend the entirety of my emotions for this day focused on that event.

However, here today, I want to commemorate a few things that are *not* related to that horrific event:

1. Today is one of my sister and brother-in-law's wedding anniversary.

2. Today I will spend time trying to find my own peace and centered focus.

3. Today I want to show my family more love.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

9 - 10 - 11

Although the notice of it will be very limited and far overshadowed by all the memorials to the September 11th tragedy, today is an interesting numerological date. If you use the American method of date writing with numbers, today is 9, 10, 11. That is a wonderfully nice pattern. To me, such patterns are truly beautiful.


Friday, September 09, 2011


The hardest parts about the nonsensical b*llsh*t that being piled high upon me and my Department by the administration is that it does not make any sort of logical sense, and the issues are all about some "hush-hush" behind the scenes administrative prerogative that no one will talk about or explain (because it is not an academic or scholastic reason). The reason, undoubtedly, involves some monetary hocus-pocus that "trumps" educational concerns.

If people in administration would simply be honest and forthright, it would make all of our jobs a helluva lot easier.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Rough Start

It has just been a rough few days here. There is a helluva lot of administration b*llsh*t going on that I and others of the Department have been dealing with. It is frustrating and tiring to have to do this kind of crap instead of what my job is really supposed to be:

1. Teaching students and teaching well.

2. Researching and discovering new knowledge.

3. Being of service to my community.

Having to be embroiled in inane and useless b*llsh*t just saps the energy out of me and makes it 100x harder to do the above three things which *are* truly enjoyable... and are what my job as a professor is supposed to be about.