Yes, that Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame. This winged wordsmith had been having difficulties lately at local head shops, so it decided to give the world's most famous pot-smoker a call and get his insight. After all, who knows water pipes better than a guy who recently did nine months in a federal pen for financing a bong company?
The star of classic stoner flicks Up in Smoke and Nice Dreams did what he could to explain to this pot-puffing pelican why bongs are still widely available for sale, so long as customers never refer to them as bongs. And why, when The Bird headed out for a little Valentine's Day shopping at Tempe's Hippie Gypsy, it was practically tossed out on its nonexistent ear.
The Hippie Gypsy is a pothead paradise, with weed-related paraphernalia out the proverbial wazoo: tee shirts emblazoned with legendary tokers Bob Marley and Jerry Garcia; ashtrays shaped like pot leaves; and books like The Joint Rolling Handbook. Not to mention a massive selection of bongs of all shapes, colors and sizes.
Just don't call them that.
"You're not allowed to use that word," the hippie behind the Hippie counter informed the plumed one when it asked for a nice big purple "bong."
"What, can't say the word bong?" inquired The Bird.
"That's twice. If you say that word once more, I'll have to ask you to leave!"
Feathers ruffled, this cunning kingfisher vamoosed. But it returned another day and engaged a different hippie, this time a woman, in a discussion of bongs. On this occasion, it wasn't asked to fly away, but was informed that, despite all indications to the contrary, the Hippie Gypsy does not sell bongs.
"We sell water pipes," cheeped Miss Saleschick. "Not bongs! Bongs are for smoking illegal substances. We don't sell anything that could be used for smoking illegal substances."
"You're telling me you can't smoke crack out of those little glass pipes over there?"
"Certainly not!" she gasped. "I wouldn't work anywhere where they sold anything you could smoke crack with."
What is this, George Orwell's 1984, where doublespeak rules the day? Has the word "bong" gone the way of the dodo? And doesn't everyone know that a bong is a water pipe, no matter what leaf you stuff it with?
The Bird flew home and consulted its copy of the Arizona Criminal Code. Title 13-3415 states that it's considered a Class 6 felony to possess, sell or even advertise any so-called "drug paraphernalia." The list of potential contraband includes both "bongs" and "water pipes."
"Functionally, they're the same," Gypsy manager Adam Jarvine snitched to The Bird. "It's the intent behind them that's important."
According to Jarvine, the word "bong" indicates the intent to inhale cheba smoke.
The Bird's survey of Valley head shops revealed varying degrees of concern over the use of the word "bong." At the Trails on Indian School Road in Phoenix, salespeople repeatedly used "bong" to refer to their water pipes. But back in Tempe at The Headquarters, the smoke section features a sign warning that anyone referring to water pipes as anything other than water pipes will be asked to amscray.
Yet this toke-happy toucan went unmolested when it visited The HQ and freely used the word "bong," despite the prohibition.
Sergeant Dan Masters, a flack for the Tempe Police Department, told The Bird that the use of the word "bong" might raise some red flags, but that the authorities would still have to prove in court that the water pipe in question was meant for the ingestion of something illegal. They'd prefer that some illicit drugs be present to make a case.
Masters said the Tempe PD does not target head shops, and that they rarely get calls about problems at one.
Don Sherrard, a sergeant with the Phoenix Police Department's Drug Enforcement Bureau, was more emphatic, telling The Bird that the words "bong" or "water pipe" are irrelevant.
"You could go in there and call it a meth pipe," says Sherrard. "But as long as you don't use it to smoke meth (or some other illegal substance), it's legal to have it."
Sherrard ascribed the whole bong/water pipe debate to a sort of urban legend. Even with drug residue present on a water pipe, it's by no means a slam dunk for the prosecution, Sherrard claimed.
But Chong swears it's best to cover your tail feathers.
"Keep living your life," he says. "But protect yourself. Never carry pot where you can get arrested, like in a car. Do your smoking at home. And as far as bongs go, be aware that the government will use any illegal activities against you whenever it feels like it."