RICKY: But what about Daddy? Isn't Daddy coming with us?
HELEN: Daddy'll come up Friday night.
RICKY: But Mommy, why can't Daddy come up with us now?
HELEN: Poor Daddy has to stay in the hot city and make money. We're going to spend the whole summer at the beach but poor Daddy can only come up weekends.
RICKY: Poor Daddy. . . --- From "The Seven Year Itch," by George Axelrod
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the perennial exodus of wives and children to Rehoboth Beach, Ocean City, the Hamptons, Martha's Vineyard and other warm-weather resorts leaves behind a curious breed of breadwinner who combines a touch of the swing of singlehood with the security of marriage: the summer bachelor.
Commonly mistaken for an extinct group of 1950s gray-worsted, wing-tipped New Yorkers (personified by Tom Ewell, who was hypnotized by his neighbor Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch"), the boys of summer are simmering in Washington.
Some take advantage of the separation to catch up on business. ("I think most of them in Washington have love affairs with their work," says one summer bachelor.) You find them hovering by the frozen food bins at the supermarket, loading up on Stouffer's Lobster Newburg for one.
Others use the time to catch up on play. They disco at Desiree and dine at The Palm, drink at F. Scott's and party at Pisces, their weekend tans deepening from a June beige to an August bronze.
Their numbers swell as the summer heats up. Weekend commuting is hell, many say, but it's worth it. Sure, they miss their wife and kids, but they're proud to be able to afford to send them off. And of course, batching it does have its rewards.
"It's heaven," says Tony Stout, 42-year-old chairman of the board of the Government Research Corporation, which publishes the National Journal. "For the first two weeks they're gone, you get home at 7 and it's total peace. You make yourself a drink. . ." Stout's wife and four children have been spending their summers at the family farm in Massachusetts for the last eight years. The atmosphere at home during the week, he says, is one you "fantasize" about all winter.
"There's a certain amount of euphoria," says John Damgard, 41-year-old former aide to Spiro Agnew and now vice president with a commodities marketing firm.
There's also a certain amount of status. "I was awfully proud of the fact that I was able to give my family something besides suffering through another Washington summer," said Damgard. "I mean, we don't even have a pool."
But the summer can be a dangerous time, they say. A Time of Temptation. Damgard, a tall, debonair man who friends say was the quintessential summer bachelor, is also one of its casualties. After 14 years of marriage, most of the spent as a summer bachelor while his wife and two children went off to Southampton, Damgard is getting a divorce.
"There was always an alternative to going home," he says. Still, he is not entirely convinced that spending his summers alone in Washington destroyed his marriage.
"On the other hand," he says, his boyishly handsome face breaking into a grin, "I can see where it could have." The Life
Pity the poor summer bachelor.
"All of a sudden, you realize what it's like not to have a family," says Peter Kaplan, 37-year-old senior vice president of Mortage Bankers Association and the father of two children. "You get lonely."
Kaplan's family has been summering at their South Carolina island retreat for the past 10 years. "Cleaning the house," he says, is the worst part of staying behind. Meals at home usually consist of a sandwich. "Every summer I go out and buy an enormous amount of frozen food, put it in the freezer and then end up not eating any of it."
Kaplan, tall and preppie, with wire-rimmed glasses and suspenders, says the separation does give him "space."
"I really do take advantage of the time I have to work longer. I tend to work later and get home later. Sure, you get lonely, but I'm glad to have it."
Every Friday, Kaplan leaves town for the weekend retreat. "It's a pain to commute," he says.
John Damgard agrees.
"It was a strain," he says. "I'd go up on Friday after a hard day's work. I'd be tired. Maybe I worked too hard, compounding that, maybe I'd been out a lot. When I got there, she had already made plans for the weekend. No sooner did I walk in the front door, than I had to change for a cocktail party."
The worst part about the Monday through Friday routine, he says, was "taking care of myself. To come home and not have the bed made was a real pain. To come home and find I was out of tonic."
"I ate in the White House mess all the time," says David Aaron, 42-year-old ex-deputy to former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and longtime summer bachelor. "I ate a lot of hamburgers."
Still, says Aaron, friends feel sorry for the boys of summer. "People made sure you were properly fed, watered and taken care of."
Tony Stout takes care of a lot of his summer bachelor friends by inviting them to a once-a-week Tuesday night dinner cooked by his Mexican housekeeper.
"The worst thing is, you find, after a few weeks, you're lonely when you go home and you need a party once a week. Even with a reasonable group of friends you get bored having a hamburger or a steak every night," he says. "I'd rather not eat than cook for myself."
A gregarious, cigar-smoking man with piercing blue eyes, Stout initiated the Tuesday night ritual in 1975. Since then, they have attracted a wide range of congressmen, senators, socialities, journalists and White House officials. The dinners are strictly off-the-record and strictly casual.
"When wives give dinner parties, it has to be just right," he says. "When a couple of men get together, it can be all wrong and they're forgiven."
The parties were so successful, he says, "that by the end of August, people would call on Monday and say, 'My wife's out of town. Can I come over tomorrow . . .?'"
For several years, Stout teamed up with socialite Page Lee Hufty, who acted as his hostess. But it was an innocent arrangement, they say.
"Sure, everybody flirts," says Stout, "but people wander in and out. There were no romantic attachments."
"There was safety in numbers," says Damgard, a frequent dinner guest who also liked to round up backgammon partners for nightly games.
"There was nothing clandestine about it," says Hufty, who recently married and moved to Baltimore. "His wife and I were very good friends. In fact," she said with a laugh, "I think she was actually happy to know where Tony was one night of the week." The Loves
A 47-year-old Washington lawyer and summer bachelor is heading off to meet friends at The Sign of The Whale, a crowded watering hole on M Street.
"I think a lot of guys go a little crazy during the summer," he says. "School's out. All the rules are off."
And the hunt is on.
"For some people," says Peter Kaplan, "there's a real pressure for those two months to really score, to get a certain number of scalps under their belt."
According to John Damgard, summer bachelors have no problem finding available women to fill those steamy summer nights in town. In fact, he says, there are women who prefer them to year-round bachelors.
"There was something protective about being a summer bachelor," he says. "No threat of involvement." In fact, he says, "It occurred to me that being married was a protection. I know one married man, the more he talked [to a single woman] about how happily married he was, the more chance he had."
Another summer bachelor, a Washington attorney, agrees. "It's hard for young single guys to understand why girls waste their time on summer bachelors," he says. "But a lot of women out there like the idea of older men. They have money to spend. They're more experienced."
Tony Stout disagrees. Most single women in Washington, he says, "are very wary of married men. It is the classic losing situation. You get emotionally involved and he goes back to his wife and kids. Then you see him one night a week when he can make an excuse."
He takes another puff on his cigar. "I can't imagine having a torrid romance in the summer in this town. You'd be out of your mind to do so."
One summer bachelor did have a torrid romance several years ago. The woman he was seeing decided to break it off because he was leaving every weekend to see his family. After serveral weeks, she called back and told him she was willing to settle for seeing him during the week. Their affair carried over to the next winter. By spring, she was anxiously awaiting their summer together. But he, feeling pressured, decided to end the affair.
He said she interfered with his summer bachelorhood. The Lore
There are definite rules and regulations some adventurous summer bachelors follow.
One says he always calls ahead to the restaurant maitre d' to ask, "Is it safe?", i.e., will he be spotted by friends or business associates with a woman who is definitely not his wife. Others subscribe to the separate entrance ruse, having their dates walk in ahead of them to the bar or restaurant. If the man spots anyone he knows, he turns around and walks out.
Damgard says his friends all bought telephone answering machines one summer, to avoid the late-night calls from the beach.
Practical jokes abound.
"I remember one time," says Damgard, "I invited 40 or 50 people to my house for an impromptu deal. I had one of my secretaries call Ridgewell's for the catering. When I got home, there was a telegram from my wife. It said, 'Arriving Eastern flight 465 at 9:55 p.m. Can't explain change of plans. Please pick me up at airport.'"
Damgard says the prank "gave him a few nervous moments" until he noticed that the telegram's origin was Washington.
"I know one story of a summer bachelor," says the lawyer, "who bought his girlfriend a white Mercedes. Somehow, his wife found out about it and drove back from the beach to Washington. She went to all the bars, looking for a white Mercedes. Finally, she spotted it outside in the parking lot. She waited until the husband came out with the girlfriend. The wife ran up and started a fight right there on the sidewalk. She took the kids and moved out a week later."
Another tale, possibly aprocryphal, has a summer bachelor dining at F. Scott's one night with his date. As the story goes, his wife came back to town unexpectedly, found out where he was and followed him to the restaurant. When she walked in and saw a bottle of champagne at the table, the wife became so enraged that she poured the bottle of bubbly over the girl's head, screaming, "DON'T YOU KNOW HE'S MARRIED???"
Still another summer bachelor tells the story of a night out on the town with friends. The party wound up at Pisces, a private club in Georgetown. He picked up the tab. When his wife returned in September, she happened to open the Pisces bill, which was enormous. He swore to his wife that he only went there one innocent night. The next day, his wife went out and bought a mink coat.
"It was the most expensive meal I've ever had." The Wife
Do the women spend their summers suffering long-distance suspicion?
"I think there are wives who go off nervous," says John Damgard, "but they ought not to subject their husbands to temptation. If the woman wants to preserve the marriage, she should preserve and say, 'I'll be with you.' And if that means suffering through another Washington summer, well. . ."
Damgard ponders the question."I'm sure there were times when my wife couldn't wait to go to Southampton," he says. "Number one, it's an idyllic existence. Number two, she didn't have to put up with me."
"Look," says another longtime summer bachelor, "This is not something foistered on an unwilling participant. She gets a house by the ocean, she doesn't have to work, she can go out at night to a bar with her girlfriends. And when the husband drives three hours on the weekend to see her. You tell me. It's not such a bad thing for the wife either."
Jan O'Donnell, who's been summering in Rehoboth Beach for the last 18 years, agrees. "I don't know of any wife who's been forced to go to the beach," says the 38-year-old wife of a Washington attorney. "It's a very relaxed, nice existence. The girls get together. We do dinners and movies."
Obviously, she says, some wives are very suspicious of what their husbands are up to.
"The long-distance calls are frequent," she says. "And some wives are very funny about it. They will not stay down here without their husbands. I guess they're the ones who are a little nervous about their [husands'] activities at home."
O'Donnell says there are moments of discomfort. "When one of the kids gets the chicken pox and you call home at 12:30 at night for some support and there's no answer," she says. "Or you meet people your husband knew. It's something we've all grown accustomed to."
The women, she says, do socialize with men at the beach. But the only ones available, she says, are single. Bartenders, for example, or tennis instructors.
Sure, some women turn into summer bachelorettes, she says.
"Maybe in retaliation for what's going on at home." The Last Word
Nicholas Gibbs, 52-year-old division chief at the World Bank whose wife returns to their home in England every summer, says his summer bachelorhood has been largely uneventful except for one recent occasion.
"I was walking to work one morning when I saw an elderly woman in front of me fall down," he says. "She cut her knee and her glasses were broken. I walked her to a nearby drugstore and patched her up a bit, then took her to a first-aid station in an office building near mine for help."
The next day, when Gibbs came to work, his secretary eyed him suspiciously and handed him a phone message. It read: "The lady you picked up yesterday called to say she'll all right. Thank you very much."