The August Almanac


August 1, Lammas, an astronomical cross-quarter day: the sun is midway between the place it occupied at the summer solstice and the place it will occupy at the autumnal equinox. Lammas (from the Anglo-Saxon hlafmaesse, meaning “loaf mass”) once occasioned “first grains,” a pagan festival that Christianity later appropriated. 9, Full Moon, also known this month as the Grain or Green Corn Moon. 10, the dog days of summer are heralded by Sirius, the Dog Star, now visible before sunrise in the eastern sky. 12, the Perseid meteor showers begin. 24, New Moon.


August 14, a block of four 22cent stamps commemorating the art of lacemaking to be issued in Ypsilanti, Michigan. 25, a $5 stamp featuring Bret Harte to be issued in Twain Harte, California. 28, a booklet of 22-cent stamps in five designs that together spell out the preamble of the U.S. Constitution to be issued in Washington, D.C.


No. 3,524,443. Jowl tautener: “A facial skin uplifting device to be worn over the head and temporarily support facia for improved cosmetic appearance. A nylon line detachably supports replaceable adhesive pads at each end thereof and an anchor. . . is used to hold adjusted portions of the nylon line in selected positions of tension while fastening the device in a user’s hair.”


August 8, congressional recess begins, allowing lawmakers to catch up on foreign travel. According to a recent report by the group Public Citizen, 17 percent of congressional overseas trips take place in August, at an average cost to the taxpayer of $12,000 per trip. For obvious reasons, the volume of travel is highest in non-election years, like this one. In August of the last non-election year, 1985, some 90 congressmen visited 63 countries on factfinding trips. The five countries visited most frequently by concerned legislators in 1985 were these global trouble spots: France (112 congressional visitors), Italy (110), Britain (103), West Germany (98), and Switzerland (71).


One good thing about hot August nights is that they help reduce the incidence of “lying-inthe-road death.” This warmweather phenomenon, most prevalent in the South, claims hundreds of lives a year. (Most states do not distinguish in their records between people who are upright and those who are prone when fatally struck by automobiles; in North Carolina, which does, some 25 lying-in-the-road deaths occur annually.) The typical victim is a male who has begun walking home from a rural bar late at night. Evidently, the loss of body heat that results from heavy alcohol consumption causes the victim to be drawn to the warmth retained by the surface of a paved road. The great majority of lying-in-the-road deaths occur from May to October, but the number drops markedly in August, when the nights are at their hottest and therefore the air and the pavement tend to be more nearly the same temperature.


America’s restaurants, particularly roadside establishments, are at their busiest in August. A typical family of four will spend more than $200 eating out this month. The United States now has well over 250,000 restaurants; franchises make up nearly a third of the total and account for more than 40 percent of sales (and their share in both categories keeps growing). Although hamburger chains have nearly half the food-franchise market, their share of the total is declining because of America’s continuing disenchantment with red meat, as is the share held by “steak/full menu” restaurants. But pizza’s slice of the franchise market has been growing fast—even though pizza (owing, a recent study revealed, to the heat-retentive properties of tomato sauce) is among the foods most likely to burn the roof of one’s mouth.


Teachers will begin to unpack some 250 million new textbooks late this month. A typical fifth-grade U.S. history book contains no mention of the McGarthy era or the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The following is one text’s discussion, in its entirety, of superpower relations in the 1980s: “In 1983 the Soviet Union shot down a civilian Korean airliner. There were sixty Americans aboard the plane. The airliner had flown into Soviet airspace by mistake. In 1984 the Soviet Union refused to send its athletes to the summer Olympics in Los Angeles.”


Americans take more vacation trips (average time away: 6.1 nights) in August than in any other month. In a typical summer Americans spend the equivalent of 66,018 human lifetimes on the road, although to parents traveling with children it may seem longer. Time off is not shared equally among Americans. Last year top U.S. corporate executives took, on the average, only 14 days of vacation—6 days fewer than the average mid-level federal employee took (and 33 days fewer than the nation’s most senior federal employee spent at his ranch in Santa Barbara). Western Europeans in general have it easier than Americans. U.S. production workers get some 12 vacation days a year, considerably less than their counterparts in Ireland (20 days), Portugal (22), Finland (25), and Italy (29).