Monday, August 3, 2009

The Real Cruelest Month

The other day in the drug store I saw a woman and her school-age son pushing around a shopping cart filled with school supplies: Notebooks, folders, pencil cases, erasers, loose-leaf paper. I felt like crying. It was August.

It’s been decades since I’ve had to shop for school supplies, but to this day an advertisement for a back-to-school sale will cast a pall over me. And August is the month of the back-to-school sale, the month when summer’s end comes into view.

I feel about August exactly as I do about late afternoons. It is the drowsy, listless, humid time when you realize that the clock is running out on your big plans. August has always been, for me, a 31-day period of reconciling myself to the fact that this will not be the transcendent summer that I had imagined back around Memorial Day. The classic text for August-haters is Slate editor David Plotz’s “August: Let’s Get Rid of It,” which first ran in 2001, but which has become a summer tradition at Slate—sort of a crabby, online version of the old “Injun Summer” cartoon by John T. McCutcheon that used to run annually in the Chicago Tribune Magazine—and is now back again. Plotz has his own socio-historical reasons for loathing August. Perhaps the most damning point in Plotz’s anti-August argument? “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour debuted in August," he writes. "(No August, no Sonny and Cher!)"

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