In Defense Of August
by Andrew Moseman
It came on like “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch of a Yankees game: Tolerated, but surviving solely on inertia. True to form, and for the eleventh consecutive year, Slate republished its 2001 article “August: Let’s Get Rid Of It,” on the first of the month.
If you’ve managed to avoid this warmed-over smug blanket, I will summarize. “August” is a decade-old half-joke rant by Slate’s chief editor, David Plotz, who declares the eighth month on the calendar to be useless and dismal, not to mention hot and muggy, and recommends giving roughly a third of its days to July and a third to September, leaving a ten-day August. He goes on at some length weaving together legitimate criticisms (bad TV), pointless disheartening coincidences (unloveable people who were born and lovable people who died), and bad jokes (“Sonny and Cher” debuted). “August” is the ultimate in cherry-picking, carpet-bombing the reader with factoids of doom offset by a token admission of the month’s few endearing qualities — more birthdays — just to reassure you that the author is being honest. Which he isn’t. Which is fine. Because it’s a joke.
The Plotz plan to chop up August and allow July and September to annex its endparts is a fine thought exercise, even if wound up by a winking opening statement. My concern is the burgeoning August hate industry, which has even gained a toehold here. Consider the recent Sports Illustrated column by Steve Rushin, an athletically themed takeoff on the Slate stalwart. Despite the drama of the London games (actually, amid the drama of the London games), smiling Steve declared August a month void of meaning, a pause between the NBA playoffs and MLB All-Star Game of midsummer and the resumption of tackle football in the autumn. Even February, once the dog of the calendar, now has the Super Bowl. August, the dog days of the calendar, has Royals-Indians Games.
Rushin is not wrong; nor is Plotz. But no candidate should run unopposed. I hereby offer this defense of August.
Remember all those damp, blustery afternoons of March, when you daydreamed of sipping pastel boozy concoctions at sun-dappled sidewalk cafes, possibly overseas? Well, you can’t afford international airfare. But you don’t need month full of cultural self-importance and paid holidays to become your own fantasy. Sweat, and drink. Do it in sexy clothes. August won’t care. Unlike holiday times of year, it’s not guilting you into spending your vacation eating fowl and making small talk with your family. So go ahead and use a personal day to get that 2 p.m. brunch and lose a few hours to mimosas and remembrances of drunks past. In August, nothing planned is nothing to escape.
After today, 15 full days of August remain. So eat overpriced ice cream. Have a mint julep and say something polite. Acquire an extravagant fan. Fan yourself. Imagine everything you’ll be longing to do during the short days of January and do it, preemptively.
Afternoon project: Make your own Abercrombie and Fitch advertisement. Pair your plaid shorts to a blue long-sleeved Oxford shirt, even though it’s 87 degrees outside, and have a friend photograph you in come-hither repose. Wear a hat, maybe. Send the photographs to up-and-coming local talents scouts, along with a basket of scented oils and a handwritten postcard that reads, “Suck it, June.”
Evening Project: Get married. Really twist the knife in June’s wound.
What’s that, kid? August TV is lame, the movies are summer blockbuster also-rans, and the live sports are pointless? I hate to be the bearer of good news, but we’re living in an era of unprecedented media options, in which paying a few bucks monthly for Hulu Plus and a few bucks more for Netflix yields an impossibly large video catalog. The completist’s nightmare shall be your salvation.
Additionally, the cash-hemorrhaging media giants may soon decide they don’t want you to have such easy access to their quality programming and either destroy such services or refuse to grant you access unless you’re already paying for an outrageous cable package. The good time may not last. Get in your binge now, before all those culturally significant events on your September calendar.
Or, get off your ass and go places. Places are still around, just waiting for your going. Your going is really the lifeblood of their being. Plus you could really move around a little and get some fresh, humid air. You’re not looking so good.
NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENED IN AUGUST
Plotz offers up a progression of uninspiring August birthdays as evidence of the month’s deficiency. Big-namers like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but small-timers like Herbert Hoover and Benjamin Harrison.
Frankly, name-days are among the worst ways to judge a month. It’s downright anti-scientific, giving credence to horoscopic ideal that birthdays guide not only your destiny, but also the month’s. It’s time to put down this sickly notion and focus on the real record: What actually happened in August, according to this homeschooling website I found during a lazy Google search.
• Charles Wheeler patented the escalator
• First U.S. milk inspectors appointed!
• Lunar Orbiter 1 took the first photographs of Earth
• Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans
• Anne Frank captured
• Woodstock Music and Art Festival began
• Mt. Vesuvius exploded (consider the archaeological record, folks)
Push. Time to make your own August history.
I HAVE TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL
Sorry, not a legitimate gripe. If you’re under 18, we’re all going to use your different legal status to justify not having to care about what you think. (We’re not ageists; it’s the law.) If you’re over 18, you’re either paying to attend school or somebody is paying for you. So shut up. And if you’re in graduate school, I’d like to take this moment to apologize to you on behalf of your horrible lapse in judgment.
For those of you anticipating the resumption of seriousness after summer’s endless laxness, right on. Get an early start. For the rest of you, August provides an excuse to lie to yourself about why you’re buying that new MacBook Air. You need it for school.
THE NAME SUCKS
No, it doesn’t. Like your precious July, August was named for a Roman ruler. Yet instead of being named for a ruler who ignited civil war through sheer hubris and somehow met his end through a stab in the back (our pal Julius Caesar), August is named after a ruler, Augustus, who knew what the fuck he was doing: consolidating power, becoming an emperor, presiding over the dawn of the Pax Romana, and living for three-quarters of a century in an era when people dropped dead left and right from diseases you’ve already forgotten about.
THERE ARE NO GOOD HOLIDAYS
July gets Independence Day, though just barely. September get Labor Day, though just barely. August offers no federal holidays, only a checklist of those pretend celebrations such as Lazy Day and National Underwear Day that exist mainly to set up opening gags on “Pardon The Interruption” or get David Letterman through yet another monologue. (Still, let’s not rush to judgment on International Beer Day).
I feel the need to reiterate here that the legal holidays you pine for are often terrible. Founded on abstractions or anniversaries, coming to you fettered with family problems, and forcing you into begrudging gift-buying. If you take a random day off in the middle of August, nobody has to know about it outside your office, so nobody has to pressure you into coming over for dinner and strained conversation. Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t make pot roast.
WE ARE ALL AUGUST
July is the month we wish we were: traditional, festive, patriotic, family-friendly. August is the month we really are: hot, stupid, and devoid of meaning. July is baseball and burgers; August is Arby’s roast beef & cheddar and “Toddlers & Tiaras.”
Enjoy it! Ignore your relatives. Don’t take the kids to the ballpark — and afterward, tell ’em you’re glad they’ll be back in school soon. Shower their piano playing with listless, half-hearted praise. No kids? Sneak hooch into a public pool and make a scene during adult swim. Get your special person to forgive you for whatever it is you’ve done by bringing home a summer bouquet unexpectedly. Slack off at work and read interesting articles, because everybody has an excuse to be lazy. It’s August, for goodness’ sake.
So much to do. And here you are, complaining.