When Smoking Was Considered Cool
As someone who grew up in New Jersey, or “New Joisey” in the turbulent 1960’s and 70s, I remember that every home had a milk box, a clothesline, and a wall phone that was attached to a cord which barely stretched into the other room. This forced me to use code language when trying to find out how my rebellious friends and I were going to procure illegal booze for our weekly expedition (puke-fest) to the woods. With the advent of cable TV years from fruition, my family had one shitty black and white TV with the five basic channels. In our house, you had a choice of a crappy New York Mets game (You think they stink now!) or some cheesy John Wayne movie. That is because my dictator father “Murray the Miser” controlled the airwaves.
Smoking was perfectly acceptable back then. In fact, it was considered cool. The stud Marlboro man coerced us to “come to where the flavor is”, and while the Met game or a “Duke” movie had a commercial break, it would often feature Edie Adams, the face of the Muriel Cigar, spewing her provocative come on, “Hey big spender, spend a little dime on me”.
You could smoke almost anywhere with absolutely no restrictions in those days. I remember being forced to go food shopping at Waldbaum’s (Pathmark for Jews) every weekend with my parents before I was permitted to stay home alone. I think they were afraid I would spill Yoo-Hoo on the rug, or even worse, a gang of armed gunmen tying me up and stealing her tchotchkes (Yiddish for porcelain junk) -Ok, back to the story –
Picture dad pushing the rickety cart, his pipe sticking out of his mouth as my mother tossed in any crap that came with a coupon and made sure Weinberg the deli manager didn’t stick his thumb on the scale when weighing the whitefish salad. My father loved his cigarettes, cigars, and pipes but for several years, he only had the pipe in his mouth. It all happened one summer day in 1963 when our neighbor Ben Fondy blocked our driveway with his Ford Falcon. In anger, my father bit through the stem and it became permanently anchored to his bottom jaw. It finally fell out in the winter of 68’ when he slipped on some black ice and smashed his head on the milk box while salting our driveway. Mom and I were glad the pipe was finally dislodged, but due to the impact of the fall, he walked around for two weeks clad only in boxer shorts and tube socks singing Ethel Merman show tunes.
Cigarettes could be purchased anywhere, including machines stationed outside of just about every store and gas station, and even at the ripe old age of ten my dad would send me on a three mile trek to White’s Deli to pick him up a pack of Kent King size. Not once was I proofed. Old man White just assumed either they were for my dad, or I was just another punk kid trying to look cool in front of my peers. Or stranger still, that I had a wild fantasy about trying to get laid before I reached puberty!
Back in those days’ pipe smokers relied heavily on local drugstores that carried tins and pouches of their favorite brands as well as cheap pipes, cigarettes and mostly machine made cigars.
Sadly, the local drugstore is quickly becoming a thing of the past – just like hardware stores and coffee shops. At least the ones that didn’t sell $7.00 cups of scorched Zambian blends and have a tip jar. Personally, I miss the local hardware stores the most. There is nothing more aggravating than navigating your way through the Home Depot, while dodging speeding fork lift trucks trying to find aisle 672 located three miles from the entrance, just to buy a toilet seat cover. Then inevitably standing in line with said toilet seat behind a guy with a giant cart filled with enough lumber to build a small town in Wyoming!
Unfortunately, by the time I became a mature smoker, the regulations started becoming more and more restrictive, leading up to today, where huddled masses of puffers gather in front of their office building feverishly filling their lungs before break time is over or staggering out of their favorite watering hole to do the same. At least smoking outside of a bar in the wintertime is less painful because you are too drunk to realize that your frozen ball sack just dropped onto the pavement.
Oy, and god forbid you smoke in a public place! You are the devil shamelessly spreading that evil second hand smoke to unsuspecting soccer moms and all the rest of those tree hugging self-righteous nuts!
Now this is just one irate smoker’s opinion, but if second hand smoke were that dangerous, most people over 50 would already be dead. You see, The kids from my generation all had at least one sibling stinking up the family room with an un-filtered Camel while watching “The Price is Right”. My father blew so much smoke in my kisser I should have died two weeks before my Bar Mitzvah, and if that were the case, I would have missed all those slobbering kisses from my toothless Aunt Pearl or watching my Uncle Irv shamelessly smuggle a pastrami sandwich and a knish into his overcoat at my reception.
If I could travel back in time, even for just one hour, I’d like to return to 1968, where I could smoke a damn cigar wherever I pleased. On second thought, actually, 1969 might be better. That was the year the Mets won the World Series, and the only time I ever saw dad watch a whole game without destroying a lamp or kicking our dog!
In that precious time, I would join my now dearly departed mom and dad for a trip to Waldbaum’s with a big fat maduro sticking out of my mouth puffing profusely while keeping a keen eye on that ‘goniff’ Weinstein to make sure the fat bastard kept his thumb off the scale while weighing Mom’s whitefish salad !