Michael McGough  

Day Four
Thursday, Oct. 10, 1996
       Yesterday was a bad day for my body. My plan was to exercise before having lunch downtown with Fred Egler, but a morning rain made that impossible. Exercise, for me, means one thing: walking, on the street and fully clothed. It’s the only sort of exertion that has ever enabled me to keep weight off, and the only kind I enjoy. I like to think my aversion to jogging and working out is a principled rejection of cardiovascular vanity (as Michael Frank sings, “All this Jane-and-Tarzan / Just to run the three-minute mile”), but it probably also reflects the residual self-consciousness of a fat boy who had a rough time in gym class.
       The weather cleared after I enjoyed a plate of penne (or complex carbohydrates, as I prefer to think of it) at Piccolo, Piccolo, a haunt for politicos that helpfully hangs a Harrisburg newsletter in the men’s room. So, after bidding Fred goodbye, I decided to take my constitutional downtown and run an errand at the same time. My old friend Mark James had written me from England that his son Nat was still a devotee of X-Men comics–after I sent Nat some for Christmas, the boy wrote a charming thank-you note wishing me “an X-cellent New Year”–so I decided to treat the lad to a time-warp experience by buying him a couple of X-mags published before he was born.
       Purchasing this bundle for Britain required a trek to a comic/sci-fi emporium at the far side of Pittsburgh’s historic red-light zone, now part of a gussied-up “Cultural District” with legitimate theaters. Before I reached the shop, I was sweating–usually a sign that my sluggish system is finally shifting gears. But I hadn’t walked that far, and the perspiration was accompanied by a warm forehead and a fluish fatigue. Obviously the head cold that had had me overdosing myself with decongestants for the past few days had descended into other regions; my throat was also sore. I knew what was happening and I even had a scapegoat: my 21/2-year-old nephew Alexander, who had coughed croupily several days ago while I held him and read to him.
       Damn. Because I would be leaving for New York on Friday, I would have to beg an emergency appointment with my doctor–or one of his associates–to obtain a prescription for antibiotics that might or might not be efficacious. I’m a sucker for placebos, though, so I promised myself to call in the morning. When I got home, I called my sister Megan–Alex’s mother–and tweaked her about her little Typhoid Harry. Meg waxed nostalgic about the pharmacies in Alex’s birthplace, Alexandria, Egypt, where she said antibiotics (and everything else) could be had over the counter and without the benefit of FDA-style paternalism. Maybe Bob Dole and Jack Kemp would like to endorse that sort of free-market medicine; last night, that would have earned them my vote.