Monday, Oct. 7, 1996
Yesterday morning I was stirred from sleep by a call from Andrés Martinez, a whiz-kid "recovering lawyer" I'm proud to have recruited to the PittsburghPost-Gazette's editorial page. Andrés had some breaking news to impart. Our presidential-debate party had been moved from his and Kathy's city flat to the Lebensraum of our colleague Jane Blotzer's suburban home.
It was a fitting change of venue. Jane's TV room was the scene of the editorial-page staff's 1994 election deathwatch for our endorsed U.S. Senate candidate, Harris Wofford--and, as events unfolded, for the Democratic Congress. A knockout of Bob Dole by the Comeback Kid would be apt atonement for what Jane, a passionate paleoliberal condemned to work with nuance-prone neoliberals, saw as an outrage. Whatever the outcome of the debate, the company would be convivial. And maybe Jane would make some of her delicious pizzelles.
So why did I feel a bit abashed when Jane and her husband welcomed me to Debate Central? Because a month ago, Jane, Andrés, and the other inhabitants of what self-amused reporters insist on calling the ivory tower threw a party to launch me on a yearlong sabbatical, most of which I'll spend away from Pittsburgh instructing prep schoolers on the fine points of media manipulation. (Who knows? Maybe I'll inspire them to form a Dead Journalists Society.) The goodbye bash, at the home of another editorial writer, Tom Waseleski, was warm and wistful. Gag gifts included a sheaf of faux PG business cards reading, "MICHAEL McGOUGH: DRIFTER."
The only problem is that I haven't started drifting--the earliest I'll be doing my Editor Chips thing is the first week of November--and in the meantime, I've found it impossible to make good on my goodbye.
At first, it was easy to dedicate the in-town portion of my sabbatical to exercise, lesson plans, remedial housework (I'm moving out of the place I rent), and quality time with five little nephews. As for the PG, I indulged myself in the unfamiliar experience of reading editorials the way real people do: in the paper.
But then came the withdrawal pangs. When I went on the Drifter List, I neglected to delete the communications program on my home computer that allowed me to tap into the PG and its internal e-mail. All too soon I was logging on compulsively, just like in the old days. While I've resisted the temptation to peer in on editorials in progress, I can't help cyberkibbutzing about topics my colleagues "might want to look into." You can take the editorial-page editor out of the editorial page, but ...
That's not all. As funny as I feel about socializing with people who literally have sent me packing, I have drunk and dined discreetly with several Post-Gazetteers during the past month. Why? At the risk of sounding like a male, middle-aged, print-media Mary Richards, I must confess that my friends and my co-workers are, for the most part, the same people. This may be a comment on the poverty of my emotional life or the narrowness of my interests or both; but it also reflects the fortunate fact that our editorial "family" is well paid to do what we would happily do for nothing: Crack wise with one another about politics.
Last night, after Bob Dole had started repeating himself but before the cookies (I was wrong about the pizzelles) were exhausted, we convened a rump editorial conference to decide which candidate had proved himself the lesser of two weasels. I drove home regretting that I wouldn't be present this morning for the real thing.