I discovered today that my umbrella leaks. It was one of those moments that we seldom expect, when modernity and all of its promises simply abandon us and leave us wondering if the world has any meaning left at all. For €5 I had purchased a piece of sliding metal, plastered with some kind of nylon sheet, which was attached to more metal that promised to spring out and stretch this canopy wide to shield me from the rain. Have you ever heard of such nonsense? And yet, these things work, and because they work, and because we live in an age where things that generally work are expected to always work (he said with a boldly split infinitive for which he made no apology whatsoever), whenever they do not work, we shake our fists at the sky and cry out that it’s the 21st century, for the sake of some poor soul named ‘Pete’. The fact that we used to cry out that it was the 20th century, back when it was the 20th century, makes us no bother. Likely as not people used to cry out something similar hundreds of years ago. ‘Thiss be the Middel Agees, for the sake of Petrus!’ (English scholars, historians and chronographers: I know, just go with it.)
Did I shake my fist and take my own name in vain this afternoon? No. Instead I wondered aloud what the fornication could be happening. The scene was thus: outside, where I happened to be at the time, there was water falling from the sky. No one seemed troubled by this, least of all the water itself, which seemed to be having an extraordinarily good time of it. It was as if such a thing happened all the time, so often in fact that there was even a special name for this particular kind of water…say, ‘rain’, for instance. So I was walking through this ‘rain’ and getting rather wet, when I realized that I had something in my hand that could help me. In fact, I recall thinking, this ‘umbrella’ that I had purchased could just as easily have been produced with the exact purpose of providing one with an implement that would divert the steady descent of falling water so that it fell around one’s person while leaving the individual dry. What luck that I should have this with me!
I opened it up, and sure enough it did just as I suspected it would. The ‘rain’ slid right off of it and continued falling all around me, but underneath this marvelous thing I was not getting any wetter than I already was. Other walkers, I noticed, had similar devices, and they, too, appeared to be dry underneath them. Some of these water shields that people were carrying were quite large and appeared to keep them drier than others, namely myself. My shoes were very wet, for example, and the bottoms of my pant legs were soaked. No matter, the rest of me was quite safe. I continued on my way toward the grocery store to buy chocolate, fruit and milk, the only purchases I truly make daily, and I sidestepped the places where the greatest amounts of water seemed to be collecting. Not far from my destination, however, I felt something hitting me in the head. I knew that it could not possibly be the falling water that surrounded me, as I was protected by the handy device of modern witchcraft that had promised to protect me. And yet, I was very aware of my hair getting wet, as impossible as this seemed. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and stared up at the underside of my nylon hero, only to be met with water in my face. Drops of it were forming on the wrong side, I discovered. How could this be? What had happened to the safe and reliable world of consumerism that I lived in?
Alright, enough of that. Rain makes me silly, I suppose. As you have gathered, my umbrella was leaking, as I mentioned in the opening line of this post. This was the first time that I had ever had an umbrella leak on me, and I was most distressed. I suppose that I should mention that this is probably the longest I’ve ever had the same umbrella, which I purchased sometime last year. I haven’t used it much since then, mostly because I loathe its very existence, the shoddy thing, but the reason for that is probably built into the same reason that it has started leaking: the thing only cost me €5. Now for me, that’s a lot of money to shell out on something like a non-functional umbrella. In fact, I usually luck my way into umbrellas in the first place. They are given away on the street in some kind of promotion or left behind in a lost and found for weeks. I rarely purchase them myself, but when I do, I expect them to work. It doesn’t matter that I’m too cheap to pay for quality. In fact, my unwillingness to purchase a quality umbrella is likely related to the very way in which I usually come into these gadgets in the first place: umbrellas are easily lost.
I recognize that that statement comes off a bit weak, especially as it is in the passive voice (oh, you English scholars, how you must be cringing in your fast food uniforms! Not to worry, this Germanist will soon join you at the drive-thru). I shall qualify this with a more specific assertion: I frequently lose umbrellas. I’m one of those types who puts things down and then forgets to pick them up again. I frustrate others and myself in this way, but the funny thing is that it has made me quite paranoid even when I don’t have anything with me. Because I’m used to having a least a book bag in tow, when I find myself somewhere with empty hands and shoulders, I freak out for a second and wonder where I left whatever it was I must have been carrying. I will (and this is slightly embarrassing, so I will share it with the world) even ask others that I am with if I had been carrying something. It’s not as weird as waking up and not knowing where or even who I am for a minute or two (I think I’ve actually scared someone with that one), but it’s still a bit disconcerting. ‘Um, no, dude,’ my friends politely explain, ‘you didn’t have anything with you…and we’re dropping you off at the loony bin, b t dubs.’ I don’t think I have a single friend who would say both ‘b t dubs’ and ‘loony bin’, but you get the idea.
I mentioned that I hate my current umbrella and tend not to use it. This is true. I hate it and prefer to wear my rain coat, which I also hate. It keeps me relatively dry, and I’ve had it forever, but it has these weird Velcro pieces that get stuck on things, and the zipper invariably gets caught in the plastic lining. One time something in the tag of the coat even got caught around a necklace I was wearing and broke it when I tried to take it off. Was there malice of forethought involved on the part of the coat? I suspect that there was. I told the coat, then and there, that that was the last straw. I was going to burn it. I would not do it immediately, since I still needed it, but once I no longer did, I would show it who was boss. As it happens, I’m cheap and unlikely to buy a new one anytime soon, and since then the raincoat has been exceedingly compliant and agreeable. Perhaps I’ll reconsider burning it after all.
My favourite umbrella of all time, I must note, was one that I bought about three years ago in Poland. It was like one of those that The Penguin carried, the kind that you can strut with like in ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. This umbrella was so cool that I half expected it to shoot gas or poison darts or at least be bulletproof, but alas, it only kept me dry (which, I suppose, is more than I can say for the one I have now). I carried this umbrella with me all over Europe that summer and on several low-cost flights. I swung it as I strolled along the narrow streets of Poznan and Krakow, careful not to bludgeon unsuspecting Poles as I went, and generally developed quite a fondness for it. It was, therefore, most tragic when I prepared to board a flight in Edinburgh and was told by Simon Pegg at security that I would not be able to take it with me.
Alright, it wasn’t really Simon Pegg, but this guy really looked exactly like him (or at least I remember him looking exactly like him…perhaps he just had a pinched face and short, blond hair). Simon Pegg informed me, as I put my umbrella down on the conveyor belt for the x-ray machine, that it was not allowed on the flight. ‘For real?’ I asked, too shocked at the very idea of this to even bother giving him a more internationally-recognized response. And without any hesitation, with as straight a face as you can make, Simon Pegg replied, ‘For real.’ Now you have to imagine a Scottish accent here, this man looking at me in all seriousness as he says, ‘For real’, and giving a little nod. It was priceless. Finally, he cracked a bit of a smile, and he had me. It was almost worth losing the umbrella just for that. I will never forget this Simon Pegg Doppelgänger staring at me with his funny grin as he took away my awesome umbrella and threw it in the trash (for that’s what happens to all the stuff you can’t take with you-it goes into a big trash bin, even if it’s an unopened can of Dr. Pepper…have a heart, Memphis airport!). I like to think that someone fished it out of there after hours and gave it a good home. It had a lot of storms left in it, of that I am sure.
But now I am left with this cheap, leaky thing sitting on a bench in my apartment. If it has leaked once, I know that it will do so again. It will get worse and worse until it no longer fills the role of umbrella and serves only as a kind of inefficient canal, bringing water from the sky to my head. The strange thing is that I know, even sitting here right now, that I won’t buy a new one. I’ll get wetter and wetter as time goes on, until eventually I will lose this umbrella as well, some unfortunate stranger inheriting it from me in a café when the rainy day turns sunny before I leave again. Even this has happened once already with my current umbrella, picked up by a friend who left after I did and returned to me a bit later. I have yet to decide whether I was glad to see it again, since I was saving myself another €5, or disappointed that I hadn’t gotten rid of it after all. Either way, thanks, Megan. Hope I can return the favour someday.
PS-The title of this post was intended to bring to mind the song ‘Bus Stop’ by The Hollies, rather than Rhianna’s decidedly inferior ‘Umbrella’ (I tend to like Rhianna, but that song drives me nuts). There was one good thing about the latter, however. A German group called The Baseballs, a kind of throwback to Rockabilly, I suppose, did a cover that is awesome. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DM2177pHMT0 Have a listen and see how it grabs you.