Summer stories

Anna Quindlen

July 16, 1991|By Anna Quindlen

REPORTERS AND editors have traditionally used reader inattention as an excuse to take long vacations during July and August.

We have promulgated the fiction that in the summer months, people are available to read only paperback books that can be left out on an Adirondack chair in the rain: books about carnivorous sea creatures, books about serial killings with Satanic overtones, books about the glamorous and cutthroat world of big cosmetics with sentences that begin, "His tanned hands moved over her body, the fingers warm and sensitive as isotopes . . ."

This is nonsense. People read in the summer, even newspapers. They simply read differently, just as they eat differently. In winter people eat stew and mashed potatoes, and in summer they eat chicken and potato salad.

It is the same with summer news: mozzarella and tomatoes and read all over. Pet cemetery scandals. The store in Greenwich Village that sells nothing but condoms. The Fourth of July. The eclipse.

If I had made a bet about when Donald Trump would break up with Marla, and when Donald Trump would give Marla an engagement ring -- "And, Rhett, do buy a great big one," as Scarlett O'Hara once said -- I would have bet some time between Memorial and Labor Day on both counts.

There has always been speculation that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August because he knew that invasion is a November kind of story. But Saddam miscalculated. He had forgotten that he was the living embodiment of Satan. Satan stories have summer written all over them.

Tina Brown, who is the P.T. Barnum of the magazine world, obviously knows all this, even though she is from England, a country where journalism is not seasonal but schizoid, veering wildly between high dudgeon and women in thong swimsuits.

At a newsstand three women were arguing over the cover of the magazine Brown runs, Vanity Fair. There is a lovely photograph of the actress Demi Moore. She is beautiful, quite pregnant and nude. In July, this counts as an international incident. The women were irate and repelled. (Anyone who has actually been in Moore's condition will be less struck by her nudity than by the fact that she is miraculously retaining no water in her ankles.)

A heated discussion ensued of the propriety of such a magazine cover, a discussion ironic in light of the magazines with which this one was sharing newsstand space, "Orgy World" among them.

The newspapers wrote of Demi's nudity. They also wrote of the murder suspect who escaped from the Brooklyn House of Detention; he fooled authorities by arranging pillows beneath his blanket to simulate a sleeping person, thereby proving that it is easier to scam prison guards than your mother.

They wrote of the New England Journal of Medicine, in which a doctor revealed the case of the woman who has seizures when she hears the voice of Mary Hart on "Entertainment Tonight."

(There was no mention of the parents who have developed hives from listening to Fred Rogers say "Hello, neighbor" or the man who slips into a coma whenever Doc Severinsen talks with Johnny about his Vegas engagements.) "Audiogenic Epilepsy Induced by a Specific Television Performer," the medical paper was called. Mary Hart had no comment.

This is a sure-fire summer story, a silly thing from a reputable source, like watching the president do the limbo. ("Hold page one for the limbo pix, guys!") You will notice that the Clarence Thomas story took a lively turn with the revelations of college pot smoking, the most humanizing thing I have heard about Judge Thomas so far.

Of course, he regrets it and he only had a puff or two. The big breakthrough in drug-use confessionals for public officials will come when they can admit to buying rolling papers, although they will have to add that they did not enjoy buying them. This will take place during some future August.

Quotas and the rights of the accused are for colder months, when our minds are chattering, but marijuana has that nice leisurely warm-weather feeling to it. Some issues, of course, are timeless, like the Common Market.

Look next summer for the story in the New England Journal of Medicine about an entire town that developed narcolepsy watching a PBS documentary on the Eurodollar.

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