IN WASHINGTON, the abbreviation for August is Aughhhhhhh! This is the month that fries men's souls.
It's not so much that it's hot. June is hot, July is hot. Or humid. June is humid, July is humid. It's just that August is the last one of the terrible threes and by the time we get to it, we have a short timer's mentality. Just a few weeks to go and we may make it to September and the promise of fall: falling temperatures, falling humidity index, falling asleep at night without the fervent prayer that the air conditioner doesn't die before we wake.
By August, we realize that the hardest part of getting through a Washington summer is not the heat, it's the stupidity. Despite the fact that June and July have clobbered us with the reality of living in a tropical climate, people carry on as though the weather here is not a factor in daily life. They scurry from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office trying to pretend it's not a jungle out there.
Nonsense, especially in August. June might have given us a few good days, July may have offered a breeze or two. But this is August: nothing promised, nothing expected. The only way to deal with August is to hate it or leave it. Those of us who cannot retreat to the mountains or the seashore must find other ways of surviving the siege.
The only sane way to make it to September is to put the August rules into effect. They are based on the theory that the rules of social etiquette or business protocol that apply during the rest of the year should take a vacation during August, even if we can't. The August rules are as brief as the month is long.
1. Avoid anything that requires you to wear a suit coat or pantyhose. Make exceptions for testifying before Congress, if necessary. If you wear cotton, you should not have to iron it; wrinkles in August are to be considered an art form. This is the month to dress not for power but for outages. Who are you trying to impress, anyway? Really important contacts have fled to the beach or the mountains. Those who stay behind and swelter should understand.
Corollary to Rule 1. Always carry a light wrap. This may sound like a contradiction but it is not. In Washington, there are always places that push the air conditioning to the polar zone. If you are sensibly dressed to move through the mugginess outside, this sudden change in temperature inside can mug your personal thermostat. Going into places that are too cold is counterproductive. Remember that what goes in must come out again.
2. No house guests. Those of us who live here cannot imagine why anyone would want to visit in August. People who live in normal parts of the country cannot imagine that it is really as bad as we say. The only way they will learn is if they come for a visit. Don't let this happen. By the time they've learned the score, you will be hot under the collar. House guests want to be shown around town or at least be driven to Metro. They add to the humidity level by showering. They also whine about how terribly humid it is and about the fact that you didn't warn them.
3. Accept no party invitations without running them through a checklist. Question your host or hostess relentlessly. Will the party be outside? (Forget it.) If the party is inside, is the facility air conditioned? (Consider it.) If the party is inside and the facility is air conditioned, how many people will be in attendance? Even the best of systems can accommodate only a certain number of bodies throwing off heat. (Calculate it.)
4. Go nowhere that might result in your being stuck on the Beltway, on any bridge or in any elevator. Being hot and humid and stuck anywhere during a Washington summer is plain awful; the same scene in August is ugly awful.
5. Make up any other rules that you want, using August as an excuse.
If the upshot of following these rules means that you wind up transacting little business, accepting few invitations, doing no entertaining, then you will have discovered the secret of getting through August: Do no more than necessary and do it with as little sweat as possible.
Katy Parisi's last story for Weekend celebrated the joys of walking. It's obviously a seasonal celebration.