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.