It's the first summer of the anxious '80s. But it is, after all, summer. And in spite of the things we're supposed to be worried about -- or perhaps because of them -- the world seems to be working like vintage Judy Garland to entertain us, to make vacation season passably jolly.
As usual, the word "festival" is on every right-thinking promoter's perspiring lips. But this summer -- austere 1980! -- nobody can take an extravaganza for granted. And so George Wein, founder and still producer of the Newport Jazz Festival, introduced his 27th edition by saying: "What's new about the festival this year is that it's still in existence."
The show goes on, and in the summer of '80 survival is part of the show.
On a page in the New York Times where the only other stories glumly reported that federal aid was being cut off from the State of New York, and state aid was being cut off from the City of New York, the banner headline read: "Band Opens a 'Miraculous' Season." Despite a near-failure in funding, the band concerts in Damrosch Park, it seems, will be mixing Sousa and Strauss -- one more "miraculous" summer. That's entertainment.
What makes one feel that all the gaudiest personalities are putting just a little extra into their acts, for the good of the summer of '80? At Wimbledon, in the middle of a match, Ilie Nastase kneeled on court to examine the new scanning aid used to confirm "in" and "out" services. It was a scene out of science fiction, Transylvanian-style -- a hot Romanian eyeball staring down a cool electronic eye.
In Fenway Park, when rain delayed a Boston Red Sox game, a substitute Baltimore catcher named Rich Dempsey romped among the tarpaulins, miming a one-man game by himself, from pitching to hitting a prodigious home-run while the organ played on.
Even the news of summer '80 seems resolved to be entertaining, at least at the edges. In venice, at the economic summit conference of all places, there was a touch of don't-go-near-the-water comedy when the Americans persisted, against native advice, in using Battle Force, the admiral's barge of the Sixth Fleet, to negotiate those tricky Venetian currents. President Carter was left posing on his fiberglass deck as the Battle Force approached the dock. And then approached the dock again. And again, as gondoliers and their friends on shore were -- well -- entertained.
Meanwhile, on the home front, for people whose summer taste runs to irony rather than slapstick, a bureaucracy joke surfaced. It seems that a former Army captain, Matt Urban of Holland, Mich. -- now a recreation director -- is about to receive a well-deserved Medal of Honor for heroism performed on a battlefield of France 35 years ago. The report recommending him for the decoration got slightly misplaced. Surely the clerk who finally found it wasn't even born 35 years ago? Maybe he should get a medal too. But really? Ex-Captain Urban's first response was reported to be: "I'm just kind of stunned."
And aren't we all?
Still, stunned or not by this summer '80, we're going to concentrate for all we're worth on the suit just filed against a New York bank, charging it with violation of the State's "Plain English" law. The defendant is accused of "gobbledygook" in stating the terms for safe-deposit boxes.
What is it, in this summer of '80, that makes it seem funny for a bank to call a box "safe" and then explain, in a 121-word sentence, with many a "thereof" and "within-mentioned," why the bank cannot be held responsible for its safety?
Every period should produce its own special comedy, even though it may not be recognized as characteristic until later. Like Nastase balefully eyeing the electronic eye from close up, and President Carter wistfully eyeing the shore from afar, and ex-Captain Matt Urban marching toward his medal 35 years late, the case of the "gobbledygook" safe-deposit contract, we firmly believe, is being staged for our entertainment, and we're grateful. We further believe that the scenes we've described are all making the same point -- defining comedy for the summer of '80. We plan to spend a very serious vacation, figuring the pattern out.