HELLO? ANYONE THERE? NOT DURING AUGUST

I made the silly mistake of trying to reach someone 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.

August.

Friday.

Bye-bye.

Welcome to the month of “wait until next month.” Welcome to the month of automatic e-mail responses and voice mails that go, “Hi, this is Phil, I’ll be out of the office until Sept. 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 Aug. 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.

New York, New York

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, skipping Fridays, showing up at noon on Mondays.

This is especially acute in New York. Just try getting someone on the phone there on a summer Friday. Fugghedaboutit. 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.)

The month of rest

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 George W. 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 Sept. 4, despite not passing any significant laws, 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 burned 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.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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