The Mill

April 15, 2014;
     Tell me that date doesn't send a
chill down your spine.

Stanford Law vs  USPS

    When I spoke of providing parts of
my never-to-be-published memoirs on
this spot (not publishable due to an as
yet unexpressed ennui on the part of
the public.  Why should I give them the
chance to express that disinterest?  
Screw 'em.) I said that the hat I would
hang it on, to reverse & mix the
metaphor, was not my imagined
brushes with greatness or success,
but rather the opposite, my seeming
incessant drive toward failure.  The
appeal of that approach, I would think,
is that anyone who read it could feel
superior.  Feeling superior should be
   With that in mind, I was reminded by
a customer/correspondent of one of
those losing episodes that just clings
and clings.  It begins this way:
    From 1977 to 1989, I worked for the
U.S. Postal Service, as both a letter
carrier and an all-purpose clerk.  I didn't
need to be all-purpose but I like variety
and so I inserted myself where needed,
such as at the sales window, selling
stamps, etc.  I think what I did was
illegal, as jobs like that are bid on, by
virtue of union contract, but as I was
the shop steward and the station
manager was typically short handed,
nobody could really stop me.  
    My job with the P.O. was
exceptionally cherry in that I became a
Part-Time Regular (with today's
austerity, such a position can't be
dreamed about, let alone realized)
which meant I had full benefits but
didn't have to stomach management
more than, at the most, 6 hrs. a day.  
By starting, and thus finishing work
early, I could get my table of used pipes
set up in front of the student union
before lunch and rake in some extra
bucks by selling to students, teachers,
visitors (often dignitaries) that paraded
    A couple of points about this great
stint. One is the irony that Stanford U.,
despite having been sired by a
verifiable Robber Baron (Leland
Stanford), operates on the honor
system.  Thus, I could open my folding
table, place the pipes, put my mat on
the grass and take a nap and almost
expect to wake up to money on the
table where a pipe used to be.  My
biggest daily haul one year was on
National No Smoking Day.  Not a lot of
money, but a satisfying amount
considering the circumstances.  
Another point is that one of the people
that regularly stopped by to talk (and
many did...I met some nice people out
there and one is still a good
acquaintance and a pipe smoker, at
that, plus a Stanford Law grad...about
which more later) told me of a course
he was teaching for full student credit  
through some special program
designed to include non-academic
members of the Stanford community.  I
was interested because I had done a
good amount of reading baseball
centric literature (Philip Roth, Bernard
Malamud, Robert Coover, Marianne
Moore, Mark Harris, Roger Angell,
Damon Runyon, Ring Lardner, et. al.)
and thought the content
valuable enough to qualify as a college
level course.  I went to the director of
said program and with some
perseverance, and typed pages of
what I believed was appropriately
academic-sounding bullshit, (and a
sponsor from the English Lit. and
American Studies departments) got to
teach those gifted Stanford undergrads
The Literature of Baseball  for two
consecutive semesters.  (And no pay.)
    What else I did was sign up the Post
Office to compete in a trivia contest
held on campus.  I think the contest
was supposed to be between the
various departments of the school, for
bragging rights or maybe even a prize
of some sort, but with the arrogance of
Stanford, they probably imagined that
the P.O. on campus was actually a
department of the school rather than a
government org. which conveniently
rented space there.  (I manipulated that
same mentality into providing we
postal workers with access to the
library and gym, rights normally
reserved for faculty.  When I quit the
P.O. to open Sherlock's Haven, those
privileges were left to moulder and
    I don't remember where I saw the
sign announcing the trivia contest, but
I signed us up without inquiring from
my 'teammates,' so to speak, if they
would be willing to participate.  I knew
one colleague, Jill, would be great
against any comer because she was
both literate and brilliant at math,
having been in a PhD program at U.
California, Berkeley until her marriage
dissolved and in a paroxysm of self-
loathing went to work for the P.O.  
(That was OK, though because she
also played the stock market like it was
a Xylophone and left them a few years
later with enough money to buy a
home plus income property and not
have to work again).  Another
colleague was extremely well versed in
music, mostly classic stuff, and also
was very smart.  Postal management,
I'm sorry to say, had nobody on staff
who could qualify for any team I might
want to put together.  
    This could have been, and should
have been a scary proposition, facing
off against academics from the
vantage of the least respected group
on the campus, but I'm an adherent of
the original Richard Daly, the tyrannical
mayor of Chicago, who, when told that
experts make it clear that one man
can't control and run a city as large and
diverse as Chicago replied, “what do
the experts know?”  
    So, our little team of 3 was assigned
to compete in the first round against
the Stanford Law School. Young
chumps.Not even daunting.  
    But the Championship Season, and
its Opening Day intervened.  I had tix
for the game and imagined that I could
fit both the game and the trivia contest
into my schedule.  That was not good
critical thinking because the Giants ball
yard at the time, Candlestick Park, was
in the middle of nowhere in terms of
reasonable ingress and egress.  By the
time the ball game was over, and I
could navigate down the S.F.
Peninsula to Stanford, the trivia
contest was over.
The Post Office team had to find an
emergency fill in for me (still eschewing
anyone in management).
    The next morning, at work, my
colleague Jill, came up to me, nicely
containing her anger at my having
created the date, but not seeing my
way clear to actually being there, and
asked me but one question: “In the
Peanuts cartoon, what is Lucy's last
name?”  “Van Pelt,” I immediately
replied, using as a mnemonic the time
she threatened to pelt Charlie Brown
with  92 MPH snowballs to his face if
he did not comply with her demands.  
“That's right,” said Jill, “and if you had
been  where you promised you would
be, that answer would have won us
the contest against the law school.”  
    It was only a trivia contest, but I felt
terrible.  I did not lose Jill's friendship
because of my rudeness, but I sure felt
terrible about not being there to
support my team and maybe even
worse at not being able to one-up that
august, privileged body, the Stanford
Law School.  Another losing
proposition authored by me that still

P.S.  I managed to photograph some
pipes, so I'll be back posting in my
normal, desultory manner. (Really, it's
not life or death.)     
Most recently posted were a
Castello Collection, a Becker One
Heart, Castello Sea Rock, a Radice Silk
Cut and an Ardor Matera on the Italian
Quotes & anecdotes from "The Portable Curmudgeon"

Life is a God-damned, stinking, treacherous game and nine hundered
and ninety-nine men out of a thousand are bastards.
Theodore Dreiser

Literature: proclaiming in front of everyone what one is careful to
conceal from one's immediate circle.     Jean Rostand

For certain people, after fifty, litigation takes the place of sex.
Gore Vidal

London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers of the Empire
are irresistibly drained.                               Arthur Conan Doyle

London, like a bowl of viscid human fluid, boils sullenly over the rim of
its encircling hills and slops messily and uglily into the home counties.
H.G. Wells                                                                                      
The monstrous tuberosity of civilized life, the capital of England.
Thomas Carlyle

Isn't it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live
there?                                                              Herb Caen

A big hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper cup.
Raymond Chandler

Everything in Los Angeles is too large, too loud and usually banal in
concept...The plastic asshole of the world.     William Faulkner

I figure you have the same chance of winning the lottery whether you
play or not.                                               Fran Lebowitz

Love is the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl and
discovering that she looks like a haddock.  John Barrymore

Love is the state in which man sees things most decidedly as they are
not.                                                               Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

A temporary insanity curable by marriage.             Ambrose Bierce

The delusion that one woman differs from another.
H.L. Mencken

In the forties, to get a girl you had to be a GI or a jock.  In the Fifties to
get a girl you had to be Jewish.  In the Sixties, to get a girl you had to be
black.  In the Seventies, to get a girl you've got to be a girl.
Mort Sahl

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying--
One of you is lying.                                          Dorothy Parker

Many a man in love with a dimple makes the mistake of marrying the
whole girl.                                                                       Stephen Leacock

Many a man has fallen love with a girl in a light so dim he would not
have chosen a suit by it.                                         Maurice Chevalier

It is a mistake to speak of a bad choice in love, since as soon as a
choice exists, it can only be bad.                         Marcel Proust

It's possible to love a human being if you don't know them too well.
Charles Bukowski

Love is only a dirty trick played on us to achieve the continuation of the
species.                                                                        W. Somerset Maugham

The only true love is love at first sight; second sight dispels it.
Israel Zangwill

Boy Meets Girl.  So What?                                       Bertolt Brecht
This photo was taken only days before my beloved San Francisco
store, Sherlock's Haven,  was closed for good in June of '06, thereby
diminishing the quality of life on this planet no little and quite some.  
The man to my right was my trusty pipe tobacco and cigar taste-tester,
Johnson, of the sensitive palate.  He is now  plying his trade in
Phoenix.  The tall gent behind him is Jimmy Walker, hand picked to be
my successor until lease negotiations broke down.  The hoodlum
looking character to my left is my good friend and Consigliere, Steve
Brunner.  Among the regulars are a number who are still friends and
with whom I have regular intercourse.  There has never been a more
congenial spot than Sherlock's Haven, the Camelot of tobacco stores.  
As its proprietor is how I'd like to be remembered.
I wanted to caption this photo, "I knew more about pipes when I was
seven than you know now," but my P.R. firm nixed that idea.  So, let's
try, "With the pristine palate that accompanies youth, Marty smokes a
blend without a full complement of Latakia for the first time in his life."
I don't actually know what was going through my mind at the time, but
the photo was taken circa 1950, and probably in Williamsburg, Virginia.
(And no, I did not actually smoke a pipe until I was 18 years old, really.)
Shortly after my mother met my wife, she told Joy that all it took to
keep me happy in the back seat of our 1938 LaSalle during our annual
one week vacations was a pipe in my mouth and a cap on my head.  
Joy responded with the fact that nothing has changed except that now
I'm in the front seat.  
Above is my sister, with whom I contentiously shared that large back
seat, and my father.  The sweater was knitted by my Aunt Rae.  The
site was most probably Niagara Falls and the year 1949.  I'm guessing.
Welcome to Pulvers Briar
This website is devoted to pipes and my enjoyment of talking
about and showing them.  For your part, I hope you derive some
pleasure in seeing and reading about briar and meerschaum
There are plenty of pipe websites and lots of good pipes other
than mine.  What will distinguish my site from most of the others
is the willingness to voice my  opinion in the relatively rare
occurrence when a pipe is not superior, or has a noticeable flaw.
Mostly, I'm pleased with the pipes I choose to offer for sale, both
in pipe quality and price.  But please, look and decide for
You will see new and used pipes for sale, the new often having
been hand picked and the used always having been cleaned
and reconditioned and ready for you to smoke upon arrival.  
Please enjoy your time spent here today, and please come back
I'm almost always happy to hear from you and to field your
questions, concerns, ideas or other input.
Feel free to write.
Marty Pulvers
Pulvers' Prior Briar
P.O. Box 61146
Palo Alto, CA  94306

(650) 965-7403
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