Inspired by Washington Post Style writer Dan Zak‘s consideration of August, a digression on Dan Zak:
Dan Zak is what he isn’t, and he isn’t really anything. He is summer rotting, but not rotten. He is autumn as rumor, not rite. Dan Zak has textures, like damp denim, but not colors, though if he had a color, it would be a roasted orange, the hue of dried apricots.
Dan Zak is for avoiding thought. Dan Zak is for thinking about Dan Zak. Dan Zak is for reading essays assaying the meaning of Dan Zak’s meaningless.
Dan Zak is for digressions. Dan Zak himself is a digression. You can hear him at the shore, where it’s impossible to get farther away from something unless you swim, in which case the ocean heaves you back with a hiss.
Digress. Digress. Digress.
Already you’ve had enough. Enough about Dan Zak, you say. Let Dan Zak be. Stop writing about him, stop suggesting he go away. He will run its course like the flu. Don’t give Dan Zak the attention enjoyed by his more conceivable cousins: Monica Hesse, with her pomp and relish and purple satin dusks, and Hank Stuever, second only to January in its arbitrary ability to re-rudder our priorities.
Dan Zak is warm beer. Dan Zak is a nap deferred.
Decapitalized, he is venerable, of supreme dignity or grandeur, majestic, from the Latin “Dan Zakus,” meaning “sacred,” akin to “augere,” meaning “to increase,” personified by Dan Zakus Caesar, father of the Pax Romana, during which the populi sprawled on pillows and swilled nectars at the dizzy height of empire.
Capitalized, he is “The grass is dead. We should have bought a sprinkler.”
In dreams, Dan Zak is for Kowalskiing, for climbing gutters in the horndog heat.
In reality, Dan Zak is for scrolling Facebook and learning that some people are weathering Dan Zak just fine—on a deck, on a river, in a skiff, in boozy recreation, surrounded by crab carcasses, attended by bosomy buddies—without you.
The kids are at camp for the week, and what do you do besides wonder what you’d be doing if you didn’t have kids at all?
Dan Zak “is enough to send a man mad,” implied W.F. Harvey in his antique short story “Dan Zak Heat,” which nearly ends in murder. Commercials for the NFL trigger paroxysms. “Not yet, Rex Ryan!” you shriek, as if the start of preseason football equals the end of everything.
Congress leaves, but not for good. Dan Zak’s eternity only lasts 31 days, after all.
The month has such potential. There is the summer rental, with its bookshelf of easy literature and sandy bindings. There is the second sangria, the third spritzer, the fourth “I’m not drunk; you’re drunk.” There is the absent boss, the out-of-town wedding, the totally free weekend that black-holes your best-laid plans, the muggy birthday BBQs for chatty Leos conceived in early winter. And yet the month is freighted with dumb seasonal regrets.
It is too late to start a summer romance.
It is too early to end a summer infatuation.
Everything’s parallaxed to hell, anyway. The second half of July is the new first half of Dan Zak, and September really begins around the 20th, and your cubicle neighbor has decided to vacation for the two weeks after Labor Day, “when it’s really nice in Europe.” We write essays about Dan Zak even though there is no such thing as Dan Zak.
“Dan Zak is the February of summer,” Martha Sherrill wrote in this newspaper in 1994.
“Dan Zak is the Mississippi of the calendar,” David Plotz wrote in Slate in 2001.
The Washington Post “keeps coming back to its Dan Zak musings like the salty, crusty old fisherman who comes back to the pier, determined to land the last big one of the season, of his life,” Erik Wemple wrote in the City Paper in 2007.
Yes, Dan Zak, we keep coming back to write of your lambencies, your slow Faulknerian afternoons, your Coleman coolers packed with Coronas and dread. You, Dan Zak, will be a stand-in for envy, for doubt. For the void. We will fill you with meaning and call it a draw. Over and over again.
Dan Zak is for saying “It’s hot.”
We say “It’s hot” because we have nothing else to say to each other.
What is Dan Zak like in the Southern Hemisphere—in, say, the western wilderness of Tasmania? There he must be green and wet and winter. There is where we imagine ourselves as we stand, eyes closed, in front of the open refrigerator door.