I made the silly mistake of trying to reach somebody in his office the other day. He wasn't there. His assistant wasn't there. At first I wondered if something had happened.
Then I looked at the calendar.
Welcome to the month of "wait until next month." Welcome to the month of automatic e-mail responses and voicemails that go, "Hi, this is Phil, I'll be out of the office until September 1, but if this is an emergency, you can press pound and dial seven for my secretary, Marlene, who will be out of the office until August 31."
Years ago, when I was about to graduate university, I remember lamenting how my pattern would change, the summer break I'd always loved would disappear, August would be the same as September, work, work, work.
Yet another thing they don't teach you in college.
Oh, you can work in August. Lots of people do. But they are often working for people who are not working. Or filing reports for people who are not working. Or doing the semi-work thing, leaving early on Thursdays, not coming in on Fridays, and showing up halfway through Mondays.
This seems especially acute in New York. Just try getting someone on the phone in Manhattan after lunch on a summer Friday. Fuggedaboudit. All incoming calls should connect to one gigantic phone message: "NEW YORK IS CLOSED. IT'S HOT. WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU?"
Never mind that the workweek is, last I looked, five days long. Outsiders calling New York are supposed to understand that living there is such a slow, clogged nightmare, the only way to cope is a weekend in the Hamptons, and the only way to get that is to leave early on Friday so you can get out on the highway and endure another slow, clogged nightmare.
(I don't want to say the escape from New York is bad, but I think I had a friend who left on Friday afternoon, came back Saturday afternoon, and never actually got out of the car.)
Now, a lighter load in August is hardly original. In Europe, most countries take the whole month off. That's right. The whole month. Places like France and Spain are so devoid of worker productivity, it's almost as if they were still there.
President Bush has set his own sterling August example, often baling hay and thinking deep thoughts on his Texas ranch for much of the month. Not a good idea to send him any important papers to read during this time. He makes hay when the sun shines.
Even our new buddies in the Iraqi government have decided that August is power-down time. The legislature went on vacation from last week until September 4, despite not passing any significant legislation, despite death and mayhem in their streets, despite our soldiers protecting them around the clock.
Here's an idea. Tell the Iraqi lawmakers that when they recess, we recess. All our troops come home for August. You break, we break. Let's see how that works.
Of course, it won't, because the only group dedicated to working summer hours are the insurgents. You can't get a New York accountant to stay in his air-conditioned office on a Friday, but a bomb-maker under a car in Iraq is available 24/7. Go figure.
In the end, there's no sense complaining about August. It only falls on deaf or absent ears. And I suppose that the war notwithstanding there's nothing wrong with tamping it down in the hottest month, taking time to smell the burnt grass or the humidity-soaked clothes on your wash line.
Just don't try to get a plumber in Paris, a publisher in New York or a lawmaker in Baghdad.
Or, as of tomorrow, me. I've decided to take a vacation. If you can't find 'em, join 'em.