This is the climate that tries the soul, when the faint of heart reitre to shore and mountain and the August streets and corridors of the nation's capital wilt in steamy near-emptiness. But some summer soldiers labor on. Today's dispatch from the front:
Suzanne Dilweg shifted around in her poolside patio chair at the Chevy Chase Country Club to catch a few more rays of sunlight from a sullen sky. Robin, her twin sister, opened wide and let loose a mammoth yawn.
Joe Kennary and Olive Cobb wiped traces of chlorine from their eyes. The teen-agers all looked at a visitor as if he were slightly crazed.
"You wanna "what?" Cobb asked.
"Talk to you about summer," the visitor repeated. "You know, what you do all day around here."
"Geez, there's lots to do. You've got to enjoy it while you can," Suzanne responded after a thoughtful pause. "We swim. We flirt. We read. We swim..."
Before that could go on, Robin smiled, "We're club bums, actually."
Club bums, the glamor group, pool pigeons - the labels differ but the players are strikingly similar at private clubs and recreation centers throughout the Washington area this summer. The include youths who share a contented combination of family affluence and carefree summer aimlessness.
Just a few miles away from innercity squabbles over summer jobs for youths, offspring of the suburban upper crust spend these steamy days batling tennis balls (in white outfits only), practicing backstrokes (no cutoffs, please) and watching their skin turn brown.
Their lives in the dog days are defined and anchored by "the club," whether it's Congressional, Columbia Kenwood or the Bethesda YMCA.
And club activity, leisurely though it may be, centers on the swimming pool. In the morning there are diving and swimming practices, in preparation for weekly competition against other clubs. Youths then cram into autos for lunches at nearby fast food joints and return to the club for hefty doses of sun and gab.
"Gossip is the prime activity," Suzanne said, hitching up her slinky blue one-piece swimsuit. "There's really not much else to concentrate on except talking."
"The clique," as Suzanne and her friends call themselves, spends 90 percent of the summer at the club. It's a private worold - a reporter was booted from three clubs when he couldn't present evidence of membership - reserved for the fortunate few whose parents meet the stiff admissions requirements and can afford to pay $3,000 to $5,000 annually in club membership fees.
"My parents think we're going to rot away like vegetables," Suzanne said. "They know we spend eight hours a day here. Actually, though, we work."
Suzanne said she and her sister work part time as clerks at Woodward and Lothrop. "We're on call, really," she said. "But they haven't called in quite a while."
The clique's summer motto is "Meet You at the Club," said Kennary, who caddies maybe once or twice a week to collect a little spending change.
"I'd go crazy if I didn't do anything, " he remarked.
Sometimes clique members are chided by their non-club member friends, who "flip their noses at us like we're snobs or something," Cobb said.
"It's not the status that makes this place fun," Kennary said, leaning back in a deck chair and swatting away an insect. "It's a place to meet and hang out with your friends. Look, this place isn't just for the rich. If we want a pair of shorts to play tennis, we have to pay for it.
"Everybody thinks we're stuck up, he went on, "but look at the other clubs. You just sign your name and get anything you want."
A woman in boat shoes and a fishing cap, who had been sitting nearby, returned at this moment with the club manager, who politely shooed a reporter away. "This is a private club," he said softly. "You don't belong here.
At nearby Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, meanwhile, Carl MacCartee and Scot Aubinoe, both 14, sat on wrought-iron patio chairs, beneath stately oak trees, waiting for a tennis court to become available.
Their families have been Columbia members for decades, they said, and added that the club is "probably the most important part of our lives."
"I wonder sometimes if I'll have enough money when I grow up to become an independent member," said MacCartee. "I really don't want the club to become so important that I'll miss it if I don't earn enough. "
"It takes the place of school during summer," Aubinoe said. "We have watermelon feasts, money dives in the pool, pie eating contests. I'd be really bored without Columbia."
The youths divided their time between swimming, sunbathing, eating and playing tennis. With wide, blue-eyed innocence, they described arguments they'd had with their parents over their club bills, and the rules governing the tennis courts.
"You can sign for anything you want. Your name's as good as gold." MacCartee smiled, returning from a nearby club shop with a fresh can of tennis balls.
"One month I signed for all sorts of things and the next thing I know my dad's coming at me with a $1,000 club bill," Aubinoe said.
Between sets on the neat clay courts, Aubinoe complained. "Everything is too proper here. You've got to wear whites all the time and now there's women's rights. Even they can kick kids off the courts."
"Arthur Ashe came here once and wore blue and nobody asked him to leave," MacCartee said.
"He's probably the only black who's ever played here," Aubinoe said.
"That's not true. We have a black member," MacCartee replied. "I'm not sure what his name is, though."
"We have black caddies. A lot of them," Aubinoe concluded.
After the match, Aubinoe and MacCartee guided areporter through Columbia's elegant three-story clubhouse, topped by bay windows and red shingles.
Beneath rows of chandeliers they tiptoed over thick carpets, and pointed out a series of grills, pubs and other meeting rooms in the clubhouse.
"My dad was kind of poor when he was little and he likes to give me things he [would have] liked to do when he was a kid," MacCartee whispered, looking through a picture frame window at the deep green golf course, where elderly gentry puttered along on golf carts.
"I don't know what I'd do without the club."