Oh, the irritations of summer in Washington: the thick, hazy heat; the humidity; the pain of having to don office clothes on such days; the lack of any happenings worth reading about, and, of course, the reporters.

Summer's languor -- and shortage of news -- settles an air of nervous desperation and anxiety over nearly all reporters, and one Fairfax County government official sees in the August news slump a danger.

In an internal memo titled: "The Media: 'Good Old Summer Time,' " county director of social services Edward W. Sterling writes: "The summer is a slow time for the news media . . . . During July and August, reporters are hungry for news. The most insignificant case situation or issue can become a 'cause celebre' depending upon the space and time available."

But the strategy he urges to forestall any crisis would bring a smile to the face of even the grumpiest and sweatiest of reporters.

He wants his staff to return reporters' phone calls, quickly.

"The purpose of this memo," the July 10 memo continues, "is to ask that you be especially alert in your contacts with the media . . . . I am asking you to be sure . . . that you provide prompt response."

It took Sterling slightly more than four hours to return a reporter's phone call yesterday, and he said cheerfully that the memo is something he sends out every year, "because with people anxious to go on vacations and so forth, they don't cover all their bases, and I don't want going on vacation to be an excuse for not returning phone calls."

He signed off with an enthusiastic "nice talking to you."

It took Sterling's boss, County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert, less than 30 minutes to return a reporter's phone call, and he said of the memo: "I don't know what to say. I just never have seen one like it in my life. It's a bit unusual."