A digression for August, as summer rots

July 31, 2012

August is what it isn’t, and it isn’t really anything. It is summer rotting, but not rotten. It is autumn as rumor, not rite. August has textures, like damp denim, but not colors, though if it had a color, it would be a roasted orange, the hue of dried apricots.

August is for avoiding thought. August is for thinking about August. August is for reading essays assaying the meaning of August’s meaningless.

August is for digressions. August itself is a digression. You can hear it at the shore, where it’s impossible to get farther away from something unless you swim, in which case the ocean heaves you back with a hiss.

Digress. Digress. Digress.

Already you’ve had enough. Enough about August, you say. Let August be. Stop writing about it, stop suggesting it go away. It will run its course like the flu. Don’t give August the attention enjoyed by its more conceivable cousins: July, with its pomp and relish and purple satin dusks, and September, second only to January in its arbitrary ability to ­re-rudder our priorities.

August is warm beer. August is a nap deferred.

Decapitalized, it is venerable, of supreme dignity or grandeur, majestic, from the Latin “augustus,” meaning “sacred,” akin to “augere,” meaning “to increase,” personified by Augustus Caesar, father of the Pax Romana, during which the populi sprawled on pillows and swilled nectars at the dizzy height of empire.

Capitalized, it is “The grass is dead. We should have bought a sprinkler.”

In dreams, August is for Kowalskiing, for climbing gutters in the horndog heat.

In reality, August is for scrolling Facebook and learning that some people are weathering August just fine — on a deck, on a river, in a skiff, in boozy recreation, surrounded by crab carcasses, attended by bosomy buddies — without you.

The kids are at camp for the week, and what do you do besides wonder what you’d be doing if you didn’t have kids at all?

August “is enough to send a man mad,” implied W.F. Harvey in his antique short story “August Heat,” which nearly ends in murder. Commercials for the NFL trigger paroxysms. “Not yet, Rex Ryan!” you shriek, as if the start of preseason football equals the end of everything.

Congress leaves, but not for good. August’s eternity only lasts 31 days, after all.

The month has such potential. There is the summer rental, with its bookshelf of easy literature and sandy bindings. There is the second sangria, the third spritzer, the fourth “I’m not drunk; you’re drunk.” There is the absent boss, the out-of-town wedding, the totally free weekend that black-holes your best-laid plans, the muggy birthday BBQs for chatty Leos conceived in early winter. And yet the month is freighted with dumb seasonal regrets.

It is too late to start a summer romance.

It is too early to end a summer infatuation.

Everything’s parallaxed to hell, anyway. The second half of July is the new first half of August, and September really begins around the 20th, and your cubicle neighbor has decided to vacation for the two weeks after Labor Day, “when it’s really nice in Europe.” We write essays about August even though there is no such thing as August.

“August is the February of summer,” Martha Sherrill wrote in this newspaper in 1994.

“August is the Mississippi of the calendar,” David Plotz wrote in Slate in 2001.

The Washington 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,” Erik Wemple wrote in the City Paper in 2007.

Yes, August, we keep coming back to write of your lambencies, your slow Faulknerian afternoons, your Coleman coolers packed with Coronas and dread. You, August, will be a stand-in for envy, for doubt. For the void. We will fill you with meaning and call it a draw. Over and over again.

August is for saying “It’s hot.”

We say “It’s hot” because we have nothing else to say to each other.

What is August like in the Southern Hemisphere — in, say, the western wilderness of Tasmania? There it must be green and wet and winter. There is where we imagine ourselves as we stand, eyes closed, in front of the open refrigerator door.

********

August is . . . what? Tweet your answer using the hashtag #AugustIs. We’ll figure out what it is and then you will never have to read another essay about August.

Dan Zak is a feature writer and general assignment reporter based in the Style section. He joined the Post in 2005, after stints as an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a city-desk reporter and obituary writer at The Buffalo News.
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