When I first arrived in the east, in my heart I laughed at people using umbrellas in snowfall, which is very much not a midwestern thing to do. But after getting dampened by soggy flakes a few times, …
When I first arrived in the east, in my heart I laughed at people using umbrellas in snowfall, which is very much not a midwestern thing to do. But after getting dampened by soggy flakes a few times, I learned that snow on the Atlantic coast was not the same as the too-cold-to-melt snow we got in Illinois. It made sense to try and keep it off with umbrellas. In Chicago, we just shook or brushed it off, but in the mid-Atlantic states, it melts and drips down your back.
Of course in the cities, even when umbrellas are needed, the locals don’t need to carry any, because all cities are blessed with magic fairies who, as soon as the sky offers the smallest promise of wetness, produce them like toadstools at every street vendor’s location.
A sudden shower caught me on my way to a job interview; I hurriedly bought one of the instant umbrellas and opened it. When I pushed the button on the handle, the top popped open, lifted and shot straight up off the bottom. I was left foolishly holding the now-empty black plastic handle of the bisected shaft, while the billowing black polyester flew through the air to land canopy side down, stem sticking up, inside a small fence next to the sidewalk guarding some valiant urban foliage, the rain soaking through my job-applying outfit.
I didn’t get that job.
During another downpour, I was caught between the Staten Island ferry terminal in lower Manhattan and my job, a 10-minute walk away. I ducked into one of the underground shopping malls under the buildings along FDR Drive, malls which had existed before Superstorm Sandy flooded them. As I was exiting the basement, dreading the rain I had to go out into, I noticed, serendipitously right outside the door, an umbrella lying across the top of a garbage can. I happily picked it up and sheltered myself the remaining blocks.
Then I realized it was not broken, as I had assumed.
It was a very good umbrella.
It was not a self-propelling vendor umbrella, or a freebie from a business promotion.
No, this was quite a high-quality umbrella, unlike any I had ever had. The kind you might buy at an expensive men’s store alongside those nice smelling velvety-soft leather wallets. It was not on the garbage can, meant to be thrown away, but instead someone dropped it or forgot it and someone else had thoughtfully placed it there so its owner could retrieve it.
The honorable recycling use I thought I was putting it to was a lie.
I had stolen it.
I kept it as long as I could, and have no idea when or where I lost it.
Umbrellas are the wild and crazy guys of personal furnishings. (Non-boomers can research this reference online.) No one actually owns them; they belong to all of humanity, and never hang around with just one person for long. They love to ramble endlessly through the world on buses, cabs and subway. They are notoriously unreliable—waking up to a nor’easter almost guarantees that your umbrella will have decided that day to lurk in the back of the closet exploring the fascinating psycho-dynamics of old shoes and broken suitcases, from a discreet and unfindable location.
Umbrellas live fast and die young, leaving shattered and misshapen corpses strewn over city streets, where even in death they refuse to stay in trash cans, but loll beside them, waiting for a gust of wind or bus backdraft too send them rolling like urban tumbleweeds.
We may have finished having a need for them, but they are still happy wanderers.
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Sunday, March 26 Report this