The blue fog, known to linger in true pool-hall tradition above the sea of green felt, was still hours from developing. It was midafternoon, and Hard Times Billiards was far from packed.
But what cigarette smoke there was in the air was under fire.
Word had filtered in: The Bellflower City Council had decided that pool halls and bowling alleys will not be exempt from a strict citywide no-smoking ordinance.
Starting March 5, smoking will be banned in restaurants and pool halls and will be severely restricted in sporting arenas, including bowling alleys. The council rejected pleas to allow smoking in pool halls and bowling alleys, contending the ordinance's restrictions should be enforced consistently.
"I think it's kinda ridiculous," said employee Butch Jackson, a Winston 100 extending from beneath a walrus mustache. "The nonsmokers are ganging up on the smokers. It's going against my rights. I can see separate smoking and nonsmoking areas, but I'm against people telling me I can't come in here and smoke and play pool."
Hot dogs revolved on a rotisserie as Jackson worked the counter with Paul Strbac, dispensing balls and selling snacks and soda. No alcohol is served.
Both men agreed business would be hurt.
"There are guys here who have got to smoke," said Strbac, the Chesterfield non-filters in his T-shirt pocket affirming that he's one of them. "And I don't know how you're gonna stop 'em. The majority of people who come in here are smokers.
"How are you going to police it? How are you going to police 300 people when you have four employees and three are behind the counter?"
Ricardo Espino, 65, and his feisty plaid-shirted friend, Harry Lewandowski, were playing 8-ball at one of the 35 tables in the spacious building on Bellflower Boulevard that was once the King of Solid Oak furniture store.
"I'm 86 and don't smoke, I chew tobacco. You wanna start somethin'?" Lewandowski said. "I spent four years in the Navy and I'm full of salt."
Espino, smoking as he shot, said he limits himself to four cigarettes a day now that he's had a bypass operation, and that it won't be hard for him to stop March 5.
Lewandowski was more interested in getting the 4-ball to drop than in the smoking controversy but put his 2 cents in anyway: "I don't think they oughtta smoke. They burn the god-darn edges of the table and the god-darn carpet."
Onlooker Larry DiSalvo, 40, said he once smoked heavily but now vehemently opposes it. "This is a great place, but the smoke is horrible," he said. "There's a blue fog in here at night. Your eyes are going to be red and your clothes are going to reek when you leave. It's a definite health hazard."
Looking up at the ceiling, he went on: "There's nothing to circulate the air except fans, and they just mix up the smoke. They should either ban (smoking) or regulate it by having a good ventilation system. I used to come here a lot, but I cut down because it bothers me."
But smoker Chuck Long, 43, said that some Hard Times patrons "would be too nervous to play pool if they couldn't smoke."
DiSalvo scoffed and said, "I used to smoke two packs when I was playing in a tournament, and now I don't smoke at all in a tournament, so don't tell me you have to smoke to play pool."
The air, judging from the mixed opinions, wasn't going to be cleared easily.
After 5, younger people began to arrive. They lit up cigarettes and punched up Guns 'N Roses records on the jukebox.
"When you come to a poolroom, you expect smoke and loud music," said Dave Lowrey, 21, happy knowing that if the blue fog rolled in later, he'd be in the thick of it.
It was before 7 p.m. at the Clark Center Bowl on Alondra Boulevard, but the ashtrays were already filled.
"We lost by a lousy 11 pins," Gayle Patterson of the Half Past Five team said above the commotion of thumping balls and clattering pins.
She snuffed out her Merit and said: "If I can't smoke here, I'll probably leave. I think the City Council is overstepping their authority. Maybe the thing to do is start a petition."
Rick Weiland, 42, of Lakewood was also angry. "I'm going to smoke," he said. "If they can stop you from smoking in a bowling alley, they can stop you from smoking in your bathroom."
The smoking controversy was the topic in the bar, one of the few areas of the center where smoking would be allowed after March 5.
"I don't like it," said three-pack-a-day bartender Ann Shipley, who was smoking a generic brand called Best Buy. "I bowl on Sunday nights in the Vegas Rollers League."
It was a typical night at the 32-lane house, whose smoky, timeless atmosphere seemed to bother no one. A banner above the end of the lanes proclaimed the upcoming Sweetheart Mixed Doubles Tournament; another read, "Congratulations to Glenn Meier for 298 game on 1-24."
It was unknown whether Meier smoked, but the odds seemed good that he did. Manager Betty Goulding said 78% of the bowlers smoke.