The Bong Show

Pay $1,200 for a water pipe? Are you high?

The glass glows dull red, like a campfire ember, above the gas torch. The young artist, sitting on a stool in front of a wooden bench with a metal top, works with confident, quick motions, creating a tube by fusing white glass sticks together around a one-inch-thick cylinder of graphite.

James Lynch, 27, has an average build, short, light-brown hair and a goatee. He's wearing Birkenstocks, a black T-shirt, shorts, and sporty-looking didymium shades that mute the searing orange and blue light of the torch. He soon moves on to a spherical glass shape, holding it over the flame by pencil-thin rods of glass, his fingers inches away from potential third-degree burns. Gloves wouldn't allow him the kind of control he needs.

"My hands are always a little bit red and cooked by the end of the day," he says.

One of the rods is hollow, and, at times, Lynch sends a puff of air through it to the sphere, expanding and shaping it. His workspace is filled with rods of raw glass, forceps, large tweezers, an old butter knife, rubber tubes, and other equipment.

Glass is a strange and beautiful substance, and glass blowing is an ancient process, fascinating to watch. Glass is what scientists call an amorphous solid, meaning the molecules that constitute it aren't stacked into neat, crystalline structures — they're just sort of frozen in place. The idea of windows flowing as some sort of liquid is just an urban myth, but misconceptions about glass only add to its mystique. The way glass can be teased into any form and then become solid, clearer than ice, is like sorcery.

Aside from its beauty, glass has special properties sought by most buyers of Lynch's products. It doesn't melt or give off toxic fumes under the flame of a Bic lighter, and it's relatively easy to clean.

Lynch has a home studio in Chandler, but today, he's doing contract work in a store called It's All Goodz in Tempe, working behind a window that allows customers to watch him blow glass. Lynch describes himself as a budding artist, saying nearly half his income last year came from sales of glass seascapes at the Tempe Festival of the Arts and other venues. He's also a senior instructor in the craft at the Mesa Arts Center.

What's paid the bulk of the bills over the years, though, has been his custom glass pipes and bongs — products that most people would call dope paraphernalia.

The first time he saw someone making glass pipes, he was 17. He says he knew right then he had found his calling. He paid the glass blower to teach him the basics, and then worked for a company in Colorado for a year before becoming self-employed, founding I Blew It Glassworks, a name his mother came up with in an attempt to embarrass him. It's not making him rich, but he does what he loves and it pays the bills. Paraphernalia helped him buy a home and helps support his wife and 4-year-old son.

"I thought, at one point, 'By the time my kid gets old enough to ask what I do for a living, I'd be done making pipes,'" Lynch says.

Now, he no longer worries about it.

"I can't say what other people do with them," he says of his handmade smoking accessories. "It's nothing I'm really ashamed of."

It would be hard to argue, however, that the attraction behind the window at It's All Goodz is wholesome family entertainment. The glass creations made and sold at head shops like this represent lawlessness, rebellion, and sin to a significant portion of society. To many people over 30 — even those who may tolerate the pot-smoking of others or may toke a little themselves — head shops still carry an aura of embarrassing seediness.

Lynch opens the kiln on the workbench and removes one of his latest masterpieces, a finished product that needed a crack repaired before it could be sold. The piece features a detailed white glass skull resting in a skeletal hand, with one cylindrical, hollow "bone" rising from the back.

It's a comely little bong, about a foot tall. To the uninitiated, its most astonishing feature is probably its price. Mark Sayegh, the shop's high-energy owner, says it will retail for $420.

As in 420,the international code for marijuana that refers to both the time on the clock and April 20. Legends vary on how 420 became a symbol for a great time and date to get high, but in this case, it represents a sales trend.

For growing numbers of marijuana users these days, upscale pot paraphernalia is where it's at.

Lynch's glass skull and claw — while it may seem absurdly expensive to aging hippies who remember when a lid of grass went for $30 — is nowhere near the priciest bong in Sayegh's shop. That one, a curvaceous multisection bubbler named The Neutron Bomb, is priced at $2,500.

Most of the bongs at the store are more practical — they're essentially glass versions of the plastic tube bongs from the '80s, like the one Spicoli used in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Yet even the midrange bongs are much fancier than their old-school predecessors, employing the latest glass-working and coloring techniques. Dozens of such bongs line the shelved walls, most with price tags of more than $150. Sayegh points to a monster bong, a nine-foot sectional glass tuber made in California, and brags that he's sold two of that particular model in the past eight months, for $1,200 each.

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11 comments
Frank Baum
Frank Baum

I worked radio i '78-79 when the marijuana tax stamp was in effect. Legal ownership. A $29 fine if not stamp existed. That separated marijuana buyers from the dangerous materials suppliers. Marijuana was NOT on the "problems" list of the police UNTIL the end of the tax stamp program which placed buyers in "impulse buy" situations. The end of the Tax stamp program can be shown by analysis to have INCREASED use of other "problem" substances as known in Emergency room-Law enforcement related public records. Legislators would do well for the public good to think less of pep rally cries and pay more attention to the medical and scientific facts paired with records analysis echoing summarization done in 1978 by a Federal Commission studying world social impacts of marijuana use which recommended opening the 1938 Tax statute-promised tax offices and OTC sale of marijuana. Medical prescription ability will find many of the nay-sayers of today themselves benefitting from prescription of a non-synergistic, non-potentiator therapeutic agent so effective in managing pain, stress, and sleeplessness.

Its all goodz
Its all goodz

Its an honer to be able to represent all the great American glass artist pushing the median to the next level,although its just a BONG or a PIPE!!Who ever said "That Ain't Art"!! Needs to get high!

GOODZ
GOODZ

I think the article was more political,than about the artist and how this art form is evolving into next generation.Sometimes the writer looks for controversy instead of the true since story.Like if everybody doesn't know the hypocritical smoke shop lingo rules!Magazine writers try to be sensational instead of informative and interesting.This story could have had a different ring, but where's the twist?The dam government!!

Colin
Colin

Thanks a lot for this article. Anyone saying "an article about bongs?" or "isn't this stuff illegal" shouldn't comment, this section is for people who READ THE ARTICLE. Go regurgitate your propaganda elsewhere.

whatever
whatever

Bongs? This rag has nothing better to write about? I look to the New Times for the stories that the Az Republic will not publish. Information. Not crap like this. I feel like someone stole time from me and I can only get it back by taking up your time with this response.

helentroy4
helentroy4

Isn't this what Tommy Chong went to prison for? Selling "paraphenalia?"

Amsterdamer
Amsterdamer

All I know is that some of the pieces I see at It's All Goodz are amazing! And to be able to watch the glass blowers do their work is really cool. If I had the money I would buy that spaceship piece at the start of the story!

Henry Anslinger
Henry Anslinger

People need to learn to tolerate other people's lifestyles more. If others enjoy doing it and you don't, well then don't do it. But don't tell other people what they can and cannot do.

There are plenty of people that use it for medical reasons, and although the article doesn't allude to it, you can bypass most of the harmful toxins by using a vaporizer or ingesting the cannabis through food.

Cannabis is amount the most benign "illicit" drug you'll ever find. No one in the history of mankind has ever died from the stuff. In fact, in many countries, elderly attribute their long lives to the drug.

getagrip
getagrip

Why don't these smokers realize high school is over....its not even healthy for anyone first off, and second, hello...its illegal, whether anyone thinks the government is stupid, or that it will be legalized "any day now", it won't be so grow up already!!

The Pipester
The Pipester

Good story! I love a paper that can tell it like it is. Thanks New Times. Pot > gonverment stupidity.

 
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