• U.S.

Dog Days No More.

2 minute read
Nancy Gibbs

Maybe because we idealize bright summer more than any other season, its darkness takes us by surprise, like finding a spider in your sandal. Savoring summer is a habit tattooed from childhood, along with sunburn scars and callused heels and memories of original sins, a first beer smuggled behind the grandstand, cigarettes sneaked in the woods, curfews broken because it’s too hot to sleep. The flip side of summer freedom is anarchy, the structures of school and work melted into casual Fridays and long weekends spent playing on grass now baked to beige by drought, if it has not been drowned by this summer’s biblical floods.

On August nights, stars fall out of the sky in meteor showers while young people are gunned down at random on the playground, on the stoop or on U.S. 26 in Portland, Ore., where a 29-year-old man was shot on Aug. 11 after merging into another driver’s lane. Tempers blister; discipline runs thin. We’ve had summers of riots, of stalkers and serial killers, of orange alerts and Amber alerts, West Nile and wildfires. This August brings familiar fears and fresh ones, the storms now pacing offshore with disarming names like Flossie and Erin; we know, in a way we didn’t a few years ago, the damage they can do when they’re angry. Storm fears drove oil prices up, sending more shudders through financial markets that already don’t like the heat. For nearly 20 years, August has been the worst month of the year for the S&P 500. The folks at Homeland Security are pale and twitchy, recalling the mood of August 2001; the Geiger counters were out again in lower Manhattan. And as families set off for the lake or the mountains, there are bridges to cross; we are all inspectors now, wondering if the steel feels weak in this heat.

These days the fall begins in mid-August: the return of routine and new backpacks and the sudden loss of leisure that comes with the burst of the New Year. For that is August’s real purpose on the calendar, to be its dying days, before autumn comes and the air is fit to breathe again and everything starts over–football season, TV season, fourth grade and the chance to break all the resolutions made on vacation for the year ahead.

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