I’m watching the 1960’s movie, “The Fortune Cookie” with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon and there is a scene where Lemon is in a hospital bed and Matthau is standing next to him and the doctor walks in. Lemon lights up a cigarette and the doctor takes it from him and starts smoking it, stating, he needs it more than the patient. And this isn’t even a Greek movie!

I also watched a YouTube clip of the bouzouki player, Yiannis Paleologou, performing live in 1986 in London with Giorgos Margaritis, and it shows Paleologou holding a lit cigarette in the classic bouzouki/cigarette hold – between the pinky and third finger of the hand holding the pick. Smoke is filling the stage. He looked cool, like a real bouzouki player. I’m positive half the audience was smoking too.

Although I grew up in that era, I thought it was the strangest sights. Smoking? In a hospital? In a show?

But thinking about it now, smoking was such an accepted part of life and almost a requirement if you were a musician or singer, at least for Greek bands. You didn’t smoke, you couldn’t play. There were the minority of non-smokers like me but we didn’t complain. It was part of the gig.

Back during the “Mad Men” era, smoking was everywhere including hospitals, courtrooms, offices, the mall, on airplanes, and especially restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and of course, Mommy or Daddy would send junior to the corner store to buy the cigarettes for them! I remember buying Viceroys for 50 cents for my Dad. It was no big deal. The attitude was – if you didn’t like the smoke, you were the crazy one. There was a time when I would go to Toronto to see my relatives and anyone you would meet would first offer you a cigarette. They would proudly say, Canadian blend, not that weak American blend! I’m not even going to mention Greece and the rest of Europe and their fixation with smoking. It was part of the tough guy look, or for woman, the classy look.

If you worked in a diner or restaurant, you saw every cook down the line with a cigarette hanging from his lips, the smoke slowly enveloping his face and usually with at least a 1-inch ash hanging on and if it fell into whatever he was cooking… oh well, it will get mixed in, no problem! People smoked in their cars, with the windows up and their kids in back seat turning all different shades of colors. They would flick the cigarette butts out the window. One time I was passing a car and the driver flicked his cigarette and it landed through the open window and right into my car! Almost started a fire!

Ahh, the good old days… for some.

But for the past 10-15 years, everything has changed. What happened to us? Have we become wimps? No smoking in restaurants, no smoking on airplanes, no smoking anywhere! Smokers are designated to a little plot of land outside, far, far away from everyone else, like they are lepers. If you do smoke, you are looked at like an oddity. Now we have first and second hand smoke, and even third hand smoke, whatever that is. Your children burst out crying if they see you smoking because of what they have learned in school about the dangers of smoking.

Now, in order to buy a pack of cigarettes you have to be at least 50 years old, show 3 forms of government identification, and have an affidavit signed by your cardiologist stating that he has advised you of the dangers of smoking… and then, and only then, if the cashier feels you are telling the truth, he or she will sell you a pack of cigarettes.

Hmmmm… come to think about it, only in the movies does it look elegant or classy. Only on those YouTube clips of the old guy smoking while playing the bouzouki did it look cool. In real life… it is a nasty habit. Raspy voiced women, smoked-stained teeth, coughing up phlegm in the morning, clothes that smell like they were in a forest fire, ashes everywhere, asthma, lung cancer and all the other medical problems! Today, it cost more for a pack of cigarettes than to buy a gallon of gas… that bad! Forget about kissing someone who smokes – yuck!

I’ll tell you what happened to us. We’re not wimps – the world just got smarter. Smoking is a bad habit. The Native Americans introduced smoking to the Europeans… maybe its their revenge!

Sorry to all my friends that still smoke… you thought this was going to be a pro-smoking article… didn’t you?. Nay… smoking stinks… literally, well, except for a good cigar now and then, but that’s for another blog.

As they use to say, “If you got them..”. Well, just throw them away. You’re better off.

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