Concise Prose. Enough Said.
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No Nic Journal

By Michael J. Cunningham

Day 1, 5:30 AM

After fifty years of smoking one to two packs a day, I finally quit. When I did, I discovered that all those former smokers who told me how tough it would be are full of shit. I know, because I quit at 11:30 last night, and it was a piece of cake. I really stopped. That is, six hours already, and I haven’t gone nuts.

The reason I’m having an easy time with this is because I did all the preliminary stuff—-read the book, Breaking Your Bad Habits, started changing brands and buying only one pack at a time, and bought this notebook in which to keep my “Journal of Quitting.” I announced to everyone that my “quit date” is today. Now, the easy part: Last night after my last cigarette, I threw my cigs away, washed out all my ashtrays, and brushed my teeth. Today, I will follow the tip in “Breaking Your Bad Habits” and take a shower if I get the urge to spark up.

“More difficult than stopping cocaine.”
“Tougher than alcohol.”
“I’d rather stop sex.”

That’s the kind of bullshit they say.

After hearing all that negative talk, I don’t think I could have quit without the support of my wife, Linda. She even asked me if I wanted her to stop smoking along with me. I said no, of course, because in “Breaking Your Bad Habits,” I learned that I, as a non-smoker, needed to be tolerant of those who didn’t have the inclination to stop.

After walking here to the kitchen from the bedroom this morning, I was coughing like a mad man, but I think it’s stopped. Linda doesn’t gag or gasp or cough up icky stuff like I do. How does she avoid all that? She even works out with Richard Simmons every day. It doesn’t seem quite fair to me.

I was the one who got Linda to start smoking. That was a long time ago when we were in college and after guys told me that if I could get a girl to smoke, I could get her to drink, and if I could get her to drink, she would do damn near anything. Some of that is true.


5:38 AM

Just defeated my first urge: Victory number one. When I sat down here with my second cup of coffee, I automatically reached with my left hand to where the ciggies have been on this kitchen table for most of my life. Luckily, they were all outside in the trash can. The only rule I’m breaking is the one about coffee. I figure if a man is giving up nicotine, he ought to be able to keep his coffee.


5:52 AM

Great shower. I’m not sure I needed it, but you know what they say—-“Better safe than sorry.” I must say, I was thinking before the shower about where Linda (at my request) might have hidden her cigs. I also brushed my teeth for the second time today. They say that nicotine hates a clean mouth.

The best thing about keeping this journal is that it keeps my hands busy. In “Breaking Your Bad Habits” I learned that one reason these dummies smoke is to keep their hands busy.

Linda should be waking up and coming out pretty soon. Now, I will walk out and get the paper and have it here when she shows up. It would be nice if she would make the coffee once in a while, but no. Just because I have made it for the past forty-three years, it suddenly became not just a nice gesture, but my responsibility. Some morning I’m not going to make it. Then, see what happens.


6:03 AM

I’m just curious about where Linda hid her cigs. I don’t want one, swear to God. I know how smart she thinks she is about hiding things. She hides my Christmas gifts, and she thinks she’s so damn good at it just because I’ve never found them. She even laughs at me when she catches me coming down from the attic, or looking in the trunk of the car and under the bed, or behind our hedge and in our hedge, in our garage, in our neighbor’s garage. She says I’m “like a little kid.” Well, I think she’s like a little kid. Only someone who is really immature would hide everything from everybody all the time.

I should just read the paper. In “Breaking Your Bad Habits” it says that for some people reading is a good substitute for smoking, but that must be for guys who don’t usually smoke when they read the paper. So, what the fuck is that all about? Maybe the guy who wrote the book doesn’t really want me to succeed. Maybe he just wants to be the only guy in the world who quit smoking, as if it were some big-ass deal. Why else would he give me such bullshit advice?


6:12 AM

Linda should be up by now. I like to read the paper with her. I’ve read only the sports so far and was reminded again just how much my San Diego Chargers suck. I think I’ll just go right ahead and read the rest of the paper without her here. I mean, if she doesn’t have the courtesy to get up on time, what the hell. Since her retirement, I think she’s gotten really lazy. When she was teaching at the university, she was always up by five, showering, fixing her hair and makeup. Now, she wakes up whenever she damn well pleases and comes out here without even splashing water on her face. She had to look great for all her college buddies, but for me? What does that tell you? I think she always looked down on me anyhow because she has her Doctoral Degree and was a university professor, and I had only a Masters and was “just a high school teacher.” Well, let me tell you, without us high school teachers, the universities would be shit out of luck. I need to tell her that.

I think she feels a lot of guilt for the way she looks down on me. I think that’s why she’s been such a good wife all these years. And, I’ve got to admit, she’s been the best. For almost forty years she never missed a freshman football game I coached, even when she had to bring our little kids with her. (I always wanted to be a head varsity coach, but I could never find the right fit.) After a game, a long time ago, I took her right to the hospital where she gave birth to our number three. I found out later that her contractions had begun early in the third quarter, but she didn’t want me to leave my team before the game was over.

Maybe it’s good she feels guilty. It makes her do a lot of nice things.


6:26 AM

Good thing I got rid of my cigs. Like I said, I put them in the trash can outside so I wouldn’t be tempted. I could probably find them if I wanted to, but how sick would that be? They’re probably all wet anyhow from the other garbage. I probably shouldn’t be on my fourth cup of coffee, but when you quit smoking, everything tastes so much better. I had been denying myself the real taste of coffee all these years.


6:37 AM

There she is. I just heard her cough. Now I will hear the bathroom door close and the toilet flush. That’s how I can tell she’s awake.

I have had several victories over “The Beast” this morning. That’s what I call my desire for a cig. I picked up that tip in the book.

Where did she hide them?

Here she comes now down the hall.

“Morning, Jack,” she says, before pouring herself a cup of coffee. And, I wish someone besides me had heard the way she said it. I know she said “Morning, Jack,” but her tone was more like, Good morning, Jack Riley, you miserable pile of dogshit. I know it’s hard to write down a tone, but if someone else were here, they would see what I mean.

So I said, “Morning yourself.”

“How are you doing?” she asked, as she sat down across from me, as she always does, and picked up the front section of the paper.

I didn’t answer.

Then, from her bathrobe pocket, she takes out a pack of Virginia Slims, takes a cigarette out of the pack, and lights it. Jesus, God, she lit the sumbitch. I waved my hand in front of my face to keep her smoke away. When non-smokers used to do that to me, it irritated the hell out of me.

Although she’s never said it, I know she thinks she is so superior when it comes to self discipline. For the entire forty- some years we’ve been married, she has smoked only two cigarettes a day—-one with coffee in the morning and one before dinner with her martini. I tried her way, but I was smoking two packs a day when I quit.

“If this bothers you, I’ll put it out, Jack,” she said. “I read your book. The first three days are supposed to be the toughest. Maybe if you go out and take a good walk, like it says, and cut back on the coffee.”

She then takes a second drag and blows the smoke right out there where I can smell it. This woman knows torture.

I am going to just keep writing.

“I heard the shower running. You smell good,” she says to me.

“Does that surprise you, Linda,” I said, without looking up from my writing. “You mean I usually smell bad in the morning?”

“Maybe I should have said ‘especially good’. That’s what I meant, Jack.”

“And if it weren’t for us high school teachers, you university hot shots would be shit out of luck, you know.”

“Yes, for sure, Jack. I’ve always known that.”

Why does she have to agree with me all the time? Why doesn’t she just tell me to go fuck myself? Where did she hide them? I don’t want one. I’m just curious.

I’m going to take a shower,” I said. And, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.


7:11 AM

I just got out of the shower. I almost froze my ass off when the goddamn hot water ran out. I think Linda must have used it all up starting laundry. Boy, she’s thinking of everything.

The book said I might be irritable for a few days, but I’m not having that problem. For some reason, my being a non-smoker has made Linda irritable. I think she’s jealous because she still needs the crutch of nicotine.

When I came down the hall after my shower, Linda was nowhere in the house. Her car is here, so maybe she’s out tending her winter garden. If I could find her cigarettes, I… No, no. Why am I even thinking like that? Am I nuts? Do I want to give in after all the hard work I’ve done?

I went into our bedroom closet and checked Linda’s bathrobe pockets, but in them was only a little tobacco that had fallen from her cigs. I pinched together as much as I could and stuck it into my mouth and sucked. That didn’t do much to relieve my urge. I wonder if the water has heated up yet. I think I’ll take a shower, just for the hell of it.


7:48 AM

Thanks, Linda. I had like five minutes of hot water.

Here she comes again. Why can’t she just leave me alone? She’s all smudged up with dirt. She’s got some on her cheek and on her elbow, and on both knees.

“How are you holding up, Jack?”

“Why can’t you leave me the hell alone? You have no idea what I’m going through, Linda, and you are making it a lot tougher than it has to be. First of all, you say ‘Morning, Jack’ in that irritating tone of yours, then you blow your smoke right out where I can smell it, then you try to give me all this free, bullshit advice about taking a walk. You use up all the hot water, and then you hide all your cigs. What’s next, Linda?”

“I’m just wondering if you’re okay.”

“Maybe I am, and maybe I’m not,” I answered, turning back to my journal.

I got her on that one. She just shook her head and headed up the hallway toward our bedroom. I’m going out for a walk.


8:01 AM

Had a good walk. “Breaking Your Bad Habits” said not to overdo the exercise at the beginning, so I just stayed in the driveway and walked around my car five or six times, and then a couple more for the cool down.

When I got back into the house after my workout, Linda was in the kitchen doing something over the sink. She was all cleaned up and had on fresh jeans and her Support our Troops. Bring Them Back Now T-shirt. For an old broad and a smoker, she still looks pretty good in a pair of tight jeans.

“For a smoker, you look pretty good in those tight jeans,” I said.

“Go fuck yourself, Jack,” she replied. “I’m leaving.”

“How come? How long?”

“How come? You hurt my feelings, Jack. How long? As long as it takes.”

“How long is that?”

“You need time alone as you do this thing you’re doing.”

Then, she was out the door and to her car. Before she got in, I shouted, “You were the one who started it. You were the one who said ‘Morning, Jack’.” She had already backed out of the driveway when I got out the front door and was able to shout, “Okay, you win. I’ll start smoking again. I promise.”

I wouldn’t start smoking again unless it was for someone I truly love. She should know that.

Maybe she didn’t hear me because she plays her radio so loud, or maybe she didn’t believe I love her enough to join her again in her addiction. I stood on the front porch, waved at her with both arms, and shouted, “Where are they?”

She sped right down the road, like I wasn’t even there.


Michael J. Cunningham calls himself "an old codger, a retired high school teacher and football coach, and a lifelong writer." He lives in Southern California with his wife, Linda. He recently began submitting some of his pieces for publication. This year Summerset Review published his short story Junkyard Dog and VerbSap published First Lesson In Love. He can be reached at

Photo "Smoke" courtesy of Jason Schwarz, Alberta, Canada.

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