A packet of cigarettes is pushed down the bar. “I do hate to see someone not smoking… it’s most disturbing to me”. The voice is a mid Atlantic muddle. An old ham doing a Victorian gentlemen. Nursing a single malt, his smoking paraphernalia neatly laid out in front of him I meet the Occidental Barfly. With his neatly trimmed moustache and horn rimmed glasses he’s a different class of Barfly to previous encounters but all the same a Barfly.
The offer of a smoke an opening to those bizarre conversations that only happen sat on a high stool. I decline, which draws a raised brow. Pre-empting the question of why a non smoker would be sat in a San Franciscan cigar bar I gesture to the empty stool beside me. I explain that my friend is the connoisseur. Yes, I actually use the word connoisseur. It just seems to fit and he nods accordingly. As the Connoisseur returns from the washroom, he shoots me the look. The look that says, it’s wrong to talk to strangers. He takes a seat and I know within seconds that he’s taken his measure and we’ve come to the same conclusion.
Having nothing but legs of Whisky streaking our glasses it’s the make or break point of the evening. In another mood it would be time to call it a night and leave the Barfly to clean his pipe. The mood is a drinking one and its two more generous Lagavulin’s as the Connoisseur lights his hourglass. While it slowly burns, there is no doubt that the Barfly will talk. It soon becomes clear that this will be a mainly one way conversation. The Ham has his audience and he his ready for the evening performance.
Conversation starts with the pleasantries. The Connoisseur, a Tasmanian, he is sure is from London whereas I, a Yorkshireman (with years in London), he is not too sure about. He informs us that he will need to listen to more of my “brogue” to be absolutely sure.
In between his monologues he pauses, brushes an unseen fleck from his pipe, cleans it further. Seizing on the break, the Connoisseur nods towards the pipe and asks “That a good one? You seem to keep it well”.
As if whispered from the pit, he’s found his line and we’re off. Holding it in front of him, as if evaluating it himself “This. Is what we call… a Good Smoker”, it’s my turn to shoot the look at the Connoisseur, as we embark on a lecture of that when recalled the next day will take in the main players in the pipe Market, Dutch computing manuals, the fact that he would only trust the Chinese with his money and see him deliver the killer line “Dude you’ve been smoking Dutch Cavendish in it”.
As the Connoisseur’s Hourglass burns to it’s end we drain the last drops of Whisky and head out. The Occidental Barfly turns back to face the bar orders a drink with a point and goes back to rubbing the imaginary fleck.