It was the summer of 2013. My 21-year-old son had just returned from an extended internship studying sustainable architecture. His older sister was celebrating a $40,000 pay raise. Someone brought a giant bag of smokable stuff from Mendocino County. No one had a pipe.
“Mom has the bomb bong,” my son reminded the small gathering.
There was silence, then laughter. It was no secret that I used a bong and had a few hand pipes as well. Nor was it secret that my children sometimes found the occasion to use a bong too. We just had never used one together. I broke it out.
Knowing my penchant for all things monkey, my son’s friend asked if the monkey on the bong was Curious George.
“That’s supposed to be Tommy Chong. This is an original Chong Bong.”
“That guy from those movies?”
“Yes. He used to run a glass pipe business but he got tossed in jail during Operation Pipe Dream.”
Looks of confusion abounded.
“Isn’t a pipe dream something you can’t get?” another friend asked.
“Quite.” I answered, not able to give proper historical context in my somewhat altered state.
Someone else mentioned pipe cleaners and asked if anyone had ever used one to clean a pipe. A Ziplock bag full of multi-colored pipe cleaners materialized and all thoughts of bongs (Chong or otherwise) were forgotten in the gentle frenzy of creating pipe cleaner animals.
I thought about the bong question later though. With an illustrious history stretching back to Africa some 3,000 years ago, the bong has long been part of many cultures. Its steady vilification in the last 100 years is only a tiny fraction of this history. In my own lifetime, I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth from the swinging seventies with those bamboo and ceramic dragon bongs to the paranoia of the “just say no” era. The latter culminating in the misguided Operation Pipe Dream, a government program that sought to eliminate all paraphernalia from the United States.
Fortunately, the pendulum has swung again and we are experiencing the renaissance of the bong. Glass pipes and bongs have become functional artwork. With their swirls of color and creative shapes, they fuel our imagination with their mind-boggling beauty and complexity. They are conversation pieces. Like their owners, no two are exactly alike. They are a lesson in the creative capacity of humanity.
It is precisely their outlaw status that has allowed for the stunning evolution of glass pipes and bongs. Untethered from the conventions of traditional glass blowing and glass working, the artists who create these masterpieces lash their considerable creative spirits to the genies of flame and molten glass. The creative process seems more of a partnership with these elemental forces than a taming of them. Perhaps this is why the results are so fantastic. More than any industry I can think of, the glass pipe business embraces and learns from mistakes, spurs innovation for its own sake and rewards creativity. This is one mom who will always appreciate the bomb bong.