August’s heated history not all beaches, fun

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Pardon my not-so-hot puns, readers, but...

It was so hot I saw a dog chasing a cat and both were walking… The sun’s not coming out today. Would you come out on a hot day like this? A hot August sun sure has its advantages — You don’t have to shovel it.

Pardon my not-so-hot puns, readers, but August is here.

The dictionary defines the word “august” as majestic, grand and imposing. But that is not the origin of its name. In ancient times, March was the first month of the year. Back then, August was known as “Sextillius,” which is Latin for “sixth.” Shame on you if you thought that name had prurient connotations. In truth, the month was named after an image-seeking emperor, Augustus.

Following Emperor Julius Caesar’s death, Julie’s bratty nephew, Augustus, became emperor of Rome. But, he wasn’t satisfied enough and wanted to be as powerful and as famous as Uncle Julie. Since he knew that July was named for his unk, Augie wanted a month named after him, too. In a wink of his sweaty eyebrow, he did just that. He iced the name “Sextillius” and renamed the month after himself. It could have been a lot worse. It was sheer luck that his name wasn’t Humperdinck.

Although I never learned this in school, I have a strong suspicion that Augie must have had a nephew named ‘Septembius,” who, in turn, had a nephew named “Octobius,” and ending the string with nephew “Deci.” How else were months October, November and December named? But, if it were up to me, I would have called August “January.” Why? Because then we no longer would have to freeze on January mornings.

The month of August has no holidays, except perhaps for the Asian-Indian holiday of “Rakhee,” which honors the fulfillment of all promises made. Because of this omission, everyone thinks that nothing ever happens in August and it is just a month of vacations, outdoor concerts, swimming pools and beaches. It has a reputation for being lazy, dull and simply too hot for any proper month to be.

Columnists view August as “the silly season,” the uneventful time of year when they are especially desperate for good stories. Many of them rely on “fluff” to perk up their newspapers on August’s slow, lazy, hazy and crazy days. They resort to photographs of female office workers lifting their skirts to beat the heat and running pictures of butchers sitting on a cake of ice to grab your attention.

I try to be much more resourceful than that. For instance, I am saving an exclusive story about the momentous August day I saw Dan Rather coming out of the men’s room at LaGuardia Airport. Sorry readers, you’ll have to wait for that one in a future column.

However, hang on to your string swim suits and let me tell you about world-shaking events that occurred in August. Historically, it has been the month of great happenings. No, it was not the month that Puff Daddy first began to notice girls.

It was on Aug. 23, 1939, that Russia signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, which paved the way for Germany’s invasion of Poland and the onset of World War II. In August 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii in A.D. 79 (the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the Roman Empire). War clouds gathered in August 1914, precipitating World War I. The first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945, and a second one (three days later) on Nagasaki, which hastened the end of World War II.

The construction of the Berlin Wall began in 196l. An American destroyer was attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964, which provoked Congress to pass a resolution that paved the way for our involvement in the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency in August 1974; and Hurricane Andrew ravished South Florida and Louisiana in August 1992 (the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the United States).

Let me add that August also has been a time of revolution in popular culture. It was in August of 1922 that a radio station (WEAF), broadcast the first commercial in radio history, and the movie that many early childhood educators consider the single most frightening film for a 4-year-old, “Bambi,” premiered at the Radio City Music Hall in 1942. In addition, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley died in August; the Beatles’ last concert was in August of 1966 and the first baseball night game was played in Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 1938.

Why this phenomenon? Historians offer no definitive explanations for the August paradox but there are many theories. Pick the one you like best: One: Bad things happen when it gets too darn hot; tempers flare and emotions sizzle (So don’t annoy your mother-in-law until September).

Two: It is the ideal time for invasion-launching and coup-hatching to occur. There is no snow or bitter coldness to obstruct it. Three: Peoples’ guards generally are down since their psychiatrists are on vacation. And, four: It is an unfortunate month, astrologically. As the sun moves into Leo each year, people generally become more assertive and bad!

But, if you ask me, and I speak from a scientific point of view, I have proof that little purple people who lurk below the earth’s crust control our thoughts. They simply like evil things to occur in August. Why, for example, couldn’t you find your other sock or the shaving cream top this morning? Hmm? And, as if you didn’t have anything else to worry about this month, let me warn you that a comet is predicted to collide with earth on Aug. 14, 2126. Quick, go find Spiderman.

I have a few simple suggestions to help you stay out of harm’s way during August: Batten down the hatches and keep your windows closed, load up on Advil and stay under your bed, with your cat, until Sept. l. However, I deem it safe for you to run to the store weekly to buy this newspaper. (Incidentally, Gloria and I will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary Sept. l. Have you noticed that we had cunningly avoided getting hitched in August?)

So, readers, follow well these suggestions because, as Phil, the philosopher once philosophized, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call 229-0300, ext. 140.

Posted 7:15 pm, October 10, 2011
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