The sunflower in my garden has chosen this morning to finally bloom. The sole survivor of a planting lost to birds, rain and wind, it stands alone like a punctuation mark at the end of the summer sentence.

Before leaving this place, I break my news diet - not a fast, mind you, but a diet free of the junk-food political talk shows. Once again, I sample the chattering classes. The "experts" are, astonishingly, still at their TV posts arguing sex and politics, Bill and Ken, today's legal tidbit, tomorrow's poll, having a grand time reporting their dismay.Most Americans are not deaf and dumb. We are numb.

Outside of Washington, people return to the sex scandal repeatedly like a tongue feeling for a sensitive tooth and then darting away at the discomfort.

We are still in a state of gridlock. A blocked intersection of powerful and nearly balanced furies. Fuming anger at the president who would risk everything. Fury at the independent prosecutor who would pursue anything. One immobilizing the other.

Many who voted once, twice, for Clinton have trouble now looking him in the eye. Along the hairdresser grapevine comes the story about a Cabinet member who offers to bring an 11-year-old friend to the Oval Office to meet the president. The girl, startled, says, "You aren't going to leave me alone with him, are you?"

Apocryphal or not, it tells you how far we are from the man who ran for office as First Dad. Indeed, when focus groups are asked which family member Clinton reminds them of, women now say, "the teenage son."

But if the president's private life is a public disaster there is something - equally - horrific about the invasion of this privacy. The obsessive pursuit of the president by a prosecutor in search of every salacious detail is grotesque.

We are told by a newsmagazine that the Starr report will read like pornography. Soft core? Do we blame the actors (Monica and Bill) or the producers (Ken & Co.) or the distributors (the media)?

A friend describes the two-handed, evenhanded ambivalence that I hear everywhere: On the one hand, she doesn't think that a president should be forced from office for sexual behavior; on the other hand, she wishes he would just disappear. She puts the two hands over her ears.

So this is how the fall term begins. It sounds more like study hall than the chattering classes. It begins with absolute dismay at the personal behavior of this president. With absolute dismay at the invasion of his innermost privacy.

Edgy at the news of the stock market, the Duma, the elections, we wait to see which way the balance shifts, the grid unlocks. All the time cursing the sheer waste of it all.

The Boston Globe Newspaper Co.