Michael McGough  

Day Five
Friday, Oct. 11, 1996
       My doctor being unavailable, I was seen yesterday morning by one of his colleagues, a plausible, painfully young man who found no reason to prescribe antibiotics for my mystery bug. After looking in my mouth and taking my temperature, he offered two nonbacterial theories to explain my weepy nose, scratchy throat, and somatic funk: 1) A virus that (of course!) had almost run its course; and 2) Adult-onset allergies, for which he slipped me some new antihistamines. Theory Two is an irritating new intimation of morbidity. My look-alike brother Martin has been assailed by allergies all his life; I had thought I’d dodged that genetic bullet, but the doctor suggested that’s it’s never too late to start sneezing. (I forgot to tell him that I’ve spent a month removing books from dusty shelves and sifting through boxes of newspaper clippings. Dust, yeah; that’s the ticket.)
       Still dragged despite the diagnosis, I picked up four piles of socks, underwear, and towels from Duds ‘n Suds (they should offer me a procrastinators’ bulk discount) and drove home to pack and otherwise prepare for my New York-Philadelphia-New Haven trip. The Philadelphia stop is at a private school where I’m to tell the headmaster what I would do as a journalist-in-residence, other than reside. I’ve been assuming that I could recycle some of the lectures and exercises I’ve inflicted on journalism students at the University of Pittsburgh over the past 20 years, being sure to change the name of the president in the sample press-conference stories; but maybe not. When I ask a friend who has taught high schoolers what differences I should expect, he has an ominous answer: I should be prepared for them to sit there and say nothing. I didn’t tell him that I’d already had that experience with some college students.
       Because I won’t be in town tomorrow morning, I stopped in last evening at the home of my sister Laurie Hanson, who, like me, lives in the near-in “sidewalk suburb” of Edgewood. I enjoy, in both senses of the word, the sort of easy entree to Laurie’s house that families on sitcoms inexplicably extend to obnoxious neighbors. The Hanson household provides me with one-stop shopping: In half an hour, I can have a cup of coffee, watch X-Men or Rugrats with two precocious nephews, debrief my sister on extended-family intrigues, and have a faculty-lounge-quality conversation with my brother-in-law Dave, a professor-cum-lawyer, about anything from Pittsburgh’s tourism infrastructure to politics in Nicaragua to the doctrinal disputes of the early Christian Church. (“But the Monophysites believed that Jesus had only one nature, right? … More coffee, Mike? Just push the dog away if you don’t like being licked.”)
       And there are almost always conversation pieces. A few days ago, it was 8-year-old Stephen’s elegant knockoff of a Goosebumps book, with an “Arthur’s note” advising the reader that other works by Mr. Hanson could be found in local bookshops. Last night, the artifact of the hour was 6-year-old Danny’s Girl-Chasing Map, a schematic of his schoolyard complete with compass points and representations of areas of male and female concentration. Ground Zero was the hopscotch game. Elated by his ingenuity, appalled by the political implications in light of recent news stories on the sexual-harassment front, his parents and I gingerly questioned Dan about whether the girls liked to be chased. “Some of them do,” he said. If Ellen Goodman wants to know more, I’ll plead uncle-nephew privilege.