Last Sunday was a good day for folks who need help thinking about August. In its opinions section, the Washington Post published a set of reflections on this sultry month. The author, Jeffrey Frank, got all poetic about D.C.’s August rhythms and managed to plug his novel in the same breath. “The aspect of return—the imminence of September—makes August, despite its lazy pace, a stressful time, too,” wrote Frank. “Part of my novel ‘Trudy Hopedale’ takes place in that month of shark attacks and killer mosquitoes…”
Amazing insight there. For a slightly different take on the month, the Sunday Post served up another seasonal gem, this time on the Style page. The author, David Montgomery, got all poetic about D.C.’s August rhythms but didn’t plug a novel. “By late August one knows if the sunsets on the beach were perfect, if any pounds were lost, if ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ was conquered, if the internship yielded a job, if summer camp was fun, if the romance was mere summer love,” wrote Montgomery.
By now, lines like those should feel as familiar to Post readers as the fading, ruddy glow of the August sun, the delighted hollers of children cheering that last cannonball of a hardy summer companion, the welcoming texture of a homegrown tomato plucked at the perfect moment, the beauty of the wave that waits for you before splashing onto the late-summer shore.
The familiarity derives from frequency: Over the past two decades, the Post keeps coming back to its August musings like the salty, crusty old fisherman who comes back to the pier, determined to land the last big one of the season, of his life. Going back to 1977, Dept. of Media found at least 11 pieces that tilt in some way at August’s inimitable essence. Enough material, in other words, to compile a master essay pieced seamlessly together from so many distinct pieces. Here goes!
Late August is the time of sweet surrender. [Montgomery, 2007] It is the left-behind lawyer eating his sandwich at the counter, alone, Russian dressing dribbling down his fingers onto his newspaper, because there is no one he has to see at the Palm. [Gerhart, 2001]
Washington gets as empty as a [D]umpster full of anxieties. Public discourse gets as thin as a soup made from the shadow of a chicken that starved to death. People make like infinitives and split. [Style Invitational, 1994] Yet even as the days hurry by—the slower the faster—and even with the wretched weather that we all complain about, it is a month to savor. [Frank, 2007]
Hidden behind a thick pillar in the Cannon House Office Building, a young man and woman brush against each other, the shy touch of two people in the first stage of dating.
“Good thing we met so close to recess,” says Kristin Accipiter, 25, communications director for Rep. Paul McHale (D-Pa.), to Patrick Bowl, 28, legislative assistant for Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.). “It’s the only time you have a life,” she says sweetly. “You might as well take advantage of it.” [Blumenfeld, 1997]
In Georgetown, discotheques were doing business as usual but with fewer dancers. A waitress waiting for an order of drinks at Tramps said one Friday night crowd was not the same crowd that patronizes the club at other times of the year. “It is a lot younger crowd, a lot of tourists and kids who are working here for the summer,” the waitress said.
“The real Washington night club set make sure they know someone with a beach place,” she said. “You know it’s not classy to disco on a Friday night in August.” [Williams, 1977]
More and more, Washington in August resembles Paris, where the French clear out of their capital, or New York, where Wall Street brokers lead the way to the shore.
No one suggests as many Washingtonians leave town in August, but enough depart America’s capital to make a difference in how those who remain work and play. [Fehr, 1991] Caravans of Vagabonds, Broncos, Ramblers and old-fashioned station wagons hit the trail, duly packed with Thermoses, Snickers, comic books, Walkmen, sunglasses, bathing suits, sneakers, maps and cameras. [Carroll, 1998]
The men and women of Congress are gone now. [Frank, 2007] Mass exodus there. [Frey, 2005]
[T]he City Council chambers in the District Building are deserted; the President and the police chief have spent part of the month out of town on vacation, and the major [sic] is taking a few days of vacation. [Williams, 1977]
We are all supposed to believe that anybody who is anybody (read: anybody who is really rich or is friends with someone really rich) has now decamped to exotic environs like the Vineyard or the Hamptons, the Eastern Shore or some classic, tasteful country house. [Frey, 2005]
Consider how many people are having their mail held at the post office this week while they are away. In Silver Spring, an economically mixed area, only 4 percent of customers have their mail on hold. In upper-middle-class Rockville, the number is 42 percent. And in ritzy Potomac, home to many of the area’s monied lawyers and corporate honchos, fully 71 percent of the homes are mail-free this week, Postal Service spokeswoman Sandra Stewart said. [Fisher, 1988]
The refugees leave us a city that meanders along at a much more civilized pace, still clattering these days with construction noise, still productive, but not so self-importantly so.
That’s the key. So many of the fugitives to Montana or Monhegan Island are full of self-importance, which is the only kind of importance that important Washingtonians have anymore. Always looking for somebody important they recognize, and wondering if the important people recognize them. How Martha’s Vineyard. How edgy. [Gerhart, 2001]
And the cabbies, they will tell you the cold, hard truth: August is bad. Business is down, dead almost. [Frey, 2005] Tourists support street vendors, hotels and some restaurants, but they are not good taxi customers, dispatchers say. “The taxi business is very slow in August,” said Mory Hanson, dispatcher for Diamond Cab. “It’s hot and there’s no fares, and the drivers’ blood pressure goes up and they get on the dispatcher.” [Fisher, 1988]
The real trouble with August is that you no longer see the garden you want to create, you’re going to create, the garden you imagine you’ll create. What you see now is the garden you actually did create which, for most of us, anyway, isn’t nearly so pleasing. [Merser, 1997]
If Labor Day is like a depressive New Year’s Eve, August is when you consider how your life will be and how it ought to be when it speeds up again.…As the cicadas got louder later in the month, it was (and is) a signal of pressures just ahead. All those perfect parking spots in Georgetown vanish, restaurants and movie theaters fill up, and offices where work is a little slow are transformed. Dress codes return and you start to answer the phone on the first ring.… Anyone who lives or who has ever lived in Washington will understand my meaning when I say, as if raising a glass: We’ll always have August. [Frank, 2007] CP
Sources: “As Summer Ebbs, August Casts a Shadow,” David Montgomery, 8/19/2007; “Cheers to You, August,” Jeffrey Frank, 8/19/2007; “Holding Down the Fort in the Land of the Flee,” Jennifer Frey, 8/3/2005; “Ah, August! Alone at Last,” Ann Gerhart, 8/16/2001; “A Look At…Summer’s End,” Cheryl Merser, 8/24/97; “The Pause That Refreshes,” Laura Blumenfeld, 8/25/97; “Week 76: Adios,” Style Invitational, 8/7/94; “It’s August, When Washington Takes a Vacation From Itself,” Stephen C. Fehr, 8/11/91; “Escapes; Picture Perfect Vacations,” Pam Carroll, 8/22/88; “Washington Knows Better Than to Stay for August,” Marc Fisher, 8/20/88; “City’s Pace Slows to Crawl,” Juan Williams, 8/23/77