Back when August was called the dog days, columnists got a break. We were allowed, even expected, to write about nothing much because there was nothing much to write about. “Nothing happens in August” was a given. If you pointed out that World War I and Lizzie Borden both exploded in the first week of August, you were reminded that exceptions prove the rule; as for Hiroshima, that was just a coincidence.
The low-key, upbeat, dog-days vacation column thus became a journalistic tradition. As with all traditions, there are certain rigid rules. First, never depress your readers. Strive for humor but steer clear of wit because while humor goes for the jocular, wit goes for the jugular, and this particular twain must never, never meet anywhere within the borders of the United States, however porous they may be. Second, never predict anything, even an idyll. Frayed Americans relax when they hear that nothing is happening, but if you remind them that nothing might not be happening you will set them to waiting for the other shoe to drop. Third and most important, wallow in sweet nostalgia until you sound like a poster child for arrested development. Lemonade stands, the old swimming hole, the toys your grandfather whittled for you, the lamp you made by catching fireflies in a jar — the whole family-values menu found in Edgar Guest’s poem, which you must quote, that begins “It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house to call it home.”
It takes a heap o’ heapin’ to make a heap, so let’s get started.
I predict that banks will never pay interest on savings again, and as soon as they get us resigned to that, they will start charging us a fee to keep our money for us.
In all the turgid analyses of the “global financial crisis” to which we are subjected, nobody ever mentions a critical aspect of it: money as a figure of speech. “Penny wise and pound foolish,” “a day late and a dollar short,” “don’t take any wooden nickels” — the list is endless in every language and there’s nothing global about it. People, miser and spendthrift alike, have an emotional connection to their money that they don’t even realize until the figures-of-speech column turns up blank in their national ledgers. That the euro is now the coin of the realm in 16 countries is a standing order for psychological mayhem.
If the eternal complaint, “There’s nothing on TV,” seems truer since the digital conversion, it is. Cable companies are gradually taking the best shows, like Turner Classic Movies, and moving them to digital without prior warning, nothing but a fine-print footnote on the back of your cable bill. I predict that the History Channel will be the next vanishing act. Even more traumatizing would be the loss of Animal Planet, the only place left to find touching evidence of maternal devotion. Soon we cable hold-outs will have nothing to watch except Girls Gone Wild and steam mops.