It's the swamp season in Washington and lassitude has fallen over the capital. Baron Spitte is worried. "They should remember the guns of August," he warned, just before he took off for his annual walking tour of the Swiss Alps.
" 'Guns of August,' ridiculous," Popsie Tribble said. "I'm worried about the Plagues of August. My Dexter is so allergic to air conditioning that he has to use his bronchial inhaler at the dinner table."
Actually, Beverly, I wondered why Popsie was hanging around her low-lying Georgetown house during these high-humidex weeks. Last year she stayed with Sonny Goldstone in the Hamptons, Oscar in Connecticut and Andy in Sardinia. Popsie's a bit of a vacation snob and is more concerned with whom she's staying with than where she's at.
"Why are you here?" I asked.
"Dexter's mother and aunt have decided to revisit the monuments before they die," she said gloomily. "After August allergies, August visitors can be counted as the second major plague in Washington. I think I'll faint if I have to climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with them. They are in their eighties. Perhaps they'll come to their senses and ask for a darkened air-conditioned room and a tray brought upstairs every three hours with a jug of mint juleps and a plate of cold rare beef, like most August visitors."
"Have you ever heard of the Plagues of August?" I asked wife of Thistle Jr. from State.
"Certainly," she said in her brisk way. "Everybody knows what they are.
1. dog fleas
2. congressional hearings
3. wasp stings
4. noontime joggers.
"I used to think Melvin hated the congressional hearings more than noontime joggers. But this summer he's been acting strange when he drives by the joggers, especially the bald ones. I think the heat wave is affecting him."
"What does he do?" I asked.
"He yells at them."
"What does he yell?"
" 'Broiled brains and broken tibias.' And then he gives this horrible laugh," Mrs. Thistle replied.
Beverly, my No. 1 plague is caused by people who leave Washington permanently. Not unnaturally, they usually move in the summer. From time to time it falls upon us to give an embassy party for those leaving. Which means at least 60 people for dinner. Everyone who leaves Washington permanently has at least 60 friends, don't they? Unfortunately we can't sit 60 guests inside comfortably without the air conditioning breaking down. We can sit a large crowd outside but it might melt away.
So about three days before the party we go in for air feeling. "I don't know," Mr. Ambassador says. "I feel a breeze this evening, don't you? Let's take a chance. Tables outside." The next day is so hot our dog won't go outside for his evening back-yard stroll.
"Inside, I guess," Mr. Ambassador says.
The third day it rains for 15 minutes in the evening. "Bound to cool things off," he says, "for tomorrow."
The day of the party calls for crisis management. The forecast calls for a drop in humidity to "comfortable levels" in the evening.
"Tables outside," I announce.
But our dog will not move from the two air-conditioning vents in the hall, there are reports of a new plague of heat prostration throughout the city, and Melvin Thistle, who has high blood pressure, is taking salt pills.
"Tables inside," says Mr. Ambassador.
For some reason everything is blooming nicely in our garden, and I keep hoping the humidity will drop so everyone can see my white petunias in the dark.
"Tables outside," I say.
But I'm too late. The furniture has been moved and tables are already set up inside, to everyone's relief. Nobody cares about the white petunias. Everyone is praying, during the party, that the air conditioning will blow on them and not just on the dog.
Your best friend,