August is a hateful month. A month of death and boredom and heat and reruns. The tunnel at the end of the light. If August were a disease, it would be incurable. If it were a television show, it would be hosted by Geraldo Rivera. And then canceled.
Why is August so frightening, you say, sitting in your Adirondack chair sipping a Perrier Lite and waiting for the mesquite in your Weber to smoke? I suppose you've been too mellow to dwell on all the horrible things that have occurred in this month. This cursed month. This month without pity.
Think about it. It's such an intense month, when it's supposed to be such a vapid one. Nothing happens in August, right? Wrong. Billed as a restful month, the silly season, it's actually the opposite. If you're not quaking (summer earthquakes!) with fear at the very thought of August, here is why you should be:
FEAR OF ABANDONMENT. You've been making slight progress in your psychoanalysis when Dr. Milton Groomp informs you he is taking the entire month of August off to windsurf from Nantucket to Martha's Vineyard WITHOUT YOU.
How could he do this, you wonder morosely, finishing off the last bag of Cajun Doodles in front of the tube. Suddenly, your heart starts racing, your palms are sweating. You're having separation anxiety, a completely normal and warranted response to your mental health provider's abandoning you to frolic in the surf. How dare he have fun while you're still in the throes of your Oedipal conflict, not to mention your latent Fear of Ecru Shirts?
It is common practice for shrinks to take off the month of August. Sigmund Freud did it, so now everyone has to do it. You phone your shrink on vacation. He doesn't answer. You send a note instead. Something cheery and noncommittal, on the order of: "IF YOU DON'T COME BACK IMMEDIATELY I'LL EAT EUROPEAN CORN BORERS."
Wives also routinely abandon husbands for the beach. After three vodka and tonics on the deck, the conversation naturally turns to the biceps of the 18-year-old lifeguard. Meanwhile, husbands are stuck in the city with a basement full of laundry and a freezer full of Lean Cuisine. What else can a man do but embark on a short-lived hot-weather flirtation, which tends to end Labor Day weekend, leading most single women to suffer from Fear of Thin Summer Bachelors? FEAR OF FIGHTING. It is no accident that Hiroshima happened in August. You are more likely to be murdered in August than in any other month of the year. You are also more likely to engage in marital discord. Don't ask me why, but people tend to fight more in August. There's nothing on television, the kids are using the picnic table as a battering ram, your cleaning lady just quit because the air conditioning broke, your boss left for vacation and told you to take care of that overdue project, and the bug zapper needs to be cleaned.
We fight traffic to get to the beach, then fight for a parking space, then fight for a spot on the sand. We fight with the hot-dog vendor over the price of a warm soda, then fight to get back to town Sunday night so we can get up and start fighting again.
FEAR OF VACATION. Not all of us like to go on vacation. Some of us are simply too wound up to ever wind down. Many of us are actually petrified at the thought of relaxing. We need tension. Stress. Competition. Financial risk. For that reason, we have boardwalks.
Fear of Vacation is often misdiagnosed as Fear of Intimacy. Being stuck with seven people in a beach house the size of a small foreign car is not everyone's idea of fun. Beach houses harbor all sorts of fears, including Fear of Sharing a Bathroom, Fear of Cleaning the Grill, Fear of Ceiling Fans and Fear of Lamps Made From Shells, which could also fall under the general heading of Fear of Nautical Decor.
The experts say raised holiday expectations lead to feelings of intense letdown. Better to stay home, succumbing to your Fear of Bridges, and send the kids to camp. That is, unless they suffer from another summer malady: Fear of Camp. Camp, unfortunately, can spark all sorts of fears, including Fear of S'Mores, Fear of Wienie Roasts, Fear of Lakes With Indian Names and Fear of Lanyards. These are only cured by Fear of Spending the Entire Summer Sitting in the Basement.
FEAR OF FRYING. You've been baking like a brisket for weeks and will no doubt become a skin cancer statistic. Vogue magazine may be pushing the Jane Austen pallor, but do you want to be the first one to come back from the beach and look like you've been in an iron lung? You want bronze. You want Bain de Soleil not Ban the Soleil. Why do you do it? Does melanoma sound like a new wine cooler? Fear of Beach Umbrellas is no excuse.
FEAR OF TAKING YOUR SHIRT OFF. Many men suffer from this fear. Whether it involves flab, scars or back hair, the fear is the same: exposure to the ridicule of others. Women suffer from Fear of Cellulite, Fear of Bikini Waxing, Fear of Being Seen Next to a Shapely Woman Wearing a Thong Suit and Fear of Hammock Marks, which often are mistaken for cellulite, as are marks left on the backs of thighs by webbed pool furniture.
FEAR OF JUDITH KRANTZ. They are known in the trade as "beach books," those 10-pound literary blobs of dead weight we lug down to the sand, only to lug them back up after reading 10 pages at a sitting. The books are normally published in early summer and make the best-seller lists until the real books are published in September. They usually feature: a beautiful, filthy rich, orgasmic heroine named Tawny, a handsome ne'er-do-well named Chad, a wicked stepmother/uncle/brother whose sinister plot to ruin Tawny and Take Away Her Charge Cards is thwarted by Chad, who turns out to have a Swiss bank account the size of Rhode Island. This could also include Fear of Jackie Collins, as well as the more general Fear of Paperbacks Left by Previous Tenants.
FEAR OF SEA CREATURES. "Jaws" was not filmed in October. There is a reason people are afraid of the water; it is filled with slimy, nasty things. Jellyfish, crabs, horseshoe crabs the size of U-Hauls, seaweed, old Band-Aids. Better to stay at home, risking Fear of the Baby Pool.
FEAR OF THEME PARKS. This can be a debilitating condition to anyone with a family. You've promised them all winter, and now you have to deliver. But the thought of spending one hour amid a sweaty mob of tourists, entertained by pimply teen-agers dressed in Bavarian costume, only to be told that every ride is sold out until next Saturday is simply more than you can handle. As a rule, amusement parks are extremely scary places. Tilt-a-Whirls, roller coasters, bumper cars, cotton candy in your hair. Why do you think there's all that screaming?
FEAR OF NATURAL DISASTERS. Thunderstorms. Lightning. Thunderstorms accompanied by lightning. Floods. Heat waves. Tidal waves. Bavarian Waves (see Theme Parks).
FEAR OF GOLF. It looks so harmless, but it isn't. Look at those clubs. Lethal weapons. And those little crocheted socks with numbers on them. Those shoes with the metal spikes. Step on your kid's foot by mistake and instant swiss cheese. And those caps! Give me a break. And what about those lime green pants and hot pink culottes. Other athletic activities can be frightening for some people this month. There are many documented cases of Fear of Swim Meets, Fear of Harness Racing and Fear of Tennis Skirts.
FEAR OF BUGS. Now that the cicadas are gone, get ready for the Japanese beetle invasion. They snap. They crunch. They eat everything in sight. Other bugs to fear: European corn borers, tomato hornworms, mosquitos, wasps, yellow jackets, wasps in lime green jackets. I find moths particularly loathsome, especially dead ones stuck to the screen door.
FEAR OF BOOK REPORTS. I have a recurring nightmare. My book report on The Mill on the Floss is due, and I still haven't read the book. I didn't read any of the books on the summer reading list. There is a nun standing over me. She is asking what I did all of August. My mouth goes drier than a dune. I can't answer her. I am too afraid.