When I was working full time I had 4000 umbrellas. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration but, honestly, there were umbrellas in every corner of my life; trunk of the car, back seat of the car, two in the school closet, two on the coat rack, and a couple or three in the apartment. I might’ve actually bought two, brought a couple home from mom’s collection in Florida and the rest … left behind by my students through the years waiting to be reclaimed. To say I was NEVER without an umbrella is an understatement.
Fast forward to my current early “permanent hiatus” from education. Somehow, 3999 umbrellas have disappeared. For the first time in a long time I have only ONE umbrella. I remember leaving TWO of them behind. One was left under a seat in The Frank theatre in Bayonne, NJ when, in an angry moment, I moved away from two women who were rudely and loudly talking, during the previews, about why people are fat and how easy it would be for them to lose weight. And by the way, these two broads were NOT lightweights. People always talk in NJ theatres and it always made me crazy. But that’s a story for another day. The other umbrella that I’m aware of losing found a home either at the bank or the local Starbucks. As for the other 3997, I don’t know … sent out to Goodwill with the rest of the things I donated when I downsized??? Hanging out somewhere with the lost socks in the universe??? Another one of life’s curiosities; some things just disappear.
So, the last umbrella of the bunch and I walked out of the apartment and into the rainstorm. A compact, beige toned animal print that came from mom’s collection in Florida. I’m not into animal prints but this umbrella had an interesting flat, compact shape. It used to fit into it’s own special fabric case but it was more than ten years old and with age, like most of us, its shape had changed and the case was long gone (probably somewhere with the other umbrellas). We were headed uptown to meet some friends at the Metro Diner. Would we stroll? Or should we take the train? Oh no, THIS decision … again?!?! Well, the rain was blowing on a diagonal and in just four steps the legs of my jeans were already getting wet so we headed toward Broadway and the 1,2 or 3.
The automatic open button was giving me a hard time, which signaled that it might be time to finally let the animal go and treat myself to a new model. “Nah … why spend the money, this umbrella is still fine.” But when the umbrella finally opened, I noticed that several of its ribs were broken (oh right…. that other windy, rainy day a few weeks back when I should’ve bought a new umbrella) and those ends flopped limply like … oh, I dunno … waving hands? I thought … “I must look ridiculous with this twisted thing … I should really get a new one TODAY.”
For a moment, I’d forgotten that New York is the perfect place to lose the ego driven belief of “looking ridiculous.” It just isn’t a judgement in most people’s heads and, as I’ve discovered, is actually something to aspire to. So as I made my way toward Broadway and the train, dodging folks who couldn’t see ahead of them because their umbrellas were in front of their faces, I looked up to see not one but a trend of twisted umbrellas! Suddenly I felt like a part of a secret club….. the “I’m gonna keep using this umbrella until it breaks into pieces and I’m forced to throw it out but it’s raining too hard to stop at a store so I hope it’s not today” club. They were all over … wielding their floppy umbrellas and today, I became an official member! A new badge to add to the collection as I continue to groom myself into a full fledged New Yorker.
Limply keeping my head and shoulders dry, my animal print umbrella and I approached the train station on 72nd street; the place where our final conflict would begin. Once inside the station, I tried to close the umbrella but it wasn’t cooperating. And folks behind me were getting annoyed as most New Yorkers do when you’re taking a second longer than they think you should to do something (I DON’T aspire to become an impatient New Yorker … ever) It would only close partially, and the non-broken ribs seemed to be bending in the wrong direction. Something was definitely wrong … game over … I no longer had an umbrella in my hand; it was taking on a life of its own and morphing into some hideous animal print transformer thing.
Not wanting to annoy anyone on the train with my wet, half open umbrella sculpture thing, I worked to try to bend the ribs in the correct directions and squeeze the umbrella into some closed shape. Wasn’t working. It fought back. We fought across the turnstile, down the stairs, on the platform and even in the train for a while before I was able to get it to resemble a closed umbrella…. and yes, for you “Family Guy” fans, I felt a little like Peter Griffin fighting with the chicken. Cue music here.
We came up out of the station at 96th street and the fight continued. This time, it really didn’t want to open and I was tired of fighting but it was raining hard. Somehow we came to an agreement and it opened … halfway…. Looking a little like an overgrown taco shell with spines. With only 4 blocks to go before reaching the diner, it wasn’t a huge problem. I was only wet and whatever was squishy would dry eventually.
As luck would have it, I approached a little eclectic hardware store where my eye caught sight of a barrel of umbrellas set up outside (Insert the heavenly choir or Scala and Kolacny Brothers here). Seeing a gaggle of pocket models priced at a mere $3.99 (seriously!?!?) I grabbed one, hoping it wasn’t made out of papier mache, paid the nice man and headed back out into the rain twisted animal print brelly hanging from one hand and the new little model in the other.
That’s when I saw the trash can, now functioning as the clubhouse for the “you’ve annoyed us enough and we don’t want to be your umbrellas anymore so please let us go” club. The animal print whispered “Can I go?” I thought for a moment, said a gentle good bye to mom’s last umbrella and placed it in the care of the others who took it sweetly into their arms. I knew it would be taken care of.
And the umbrella was happy.
Look closely and you’ll see it smiling in the midst of its new friends. ♥