August is the cruelest month for readers of the New York Times op-ed page not on vacation. Listen to Russell Baker's Aug. 19 column about absolutely nothing save the fact that he has summered on Nantucket for a long time: "It used to be when you took the ferry out to Nantucket Island you were really out of it. ... That was part of its charm." Baker goes on to complain about the island's new popularity and the ostentatious displays of wealth. Less fortunate readers may not quite share Baker's indignation.
Under an Aug. 27 dateline of West Tisbury, Mass., that well-known news hotspot, Ward Just takes the political pulse and finds Vineyarders less excited about the president's visit this year. He also describes in detail his moments on the island's Milk Meadows golf course. On the same page, under a Northeast Harbor, Me., dateline, Paul H. Nitze contributes a piece ostensibly about industrial smog. His lede: "For the past 60 years I have vacationed in Maine during the summer."
But the Times op-ed page, as it turns out, has subtle ways of taunting work-bound readers. The Aug. 24 page offers straight-ahead pieces on the UPS strike and on current understanding of the cosmos, but the datelines are East Hampton, N.Y., and Chilmark, Mass. Given that the page doesn't publish datelines for every op-ed, the reader can only sense that he is being mocked.
Even when pieces don't carry datelines, as is the case with A.M. Rosenthal's column of Aug. 12, the section still finds a way to scald those still straphanging in August's heat. "Lovely day at the shore--warmed by the sun," Rosenthal begins. "Then Jimmy Carter appears, bringing the shadow that travels with him now."
No, Jimmy hasn't just joined Abe at the beach. The 39th president--like the reader--is an imagined presence.