The green umbrella was not mine.
I did not buy it the New York Rain Day way: It’s raining. Of course you didn’t bring an umbrella to work or wherever. You ran out the house without it. Maybe you noticed a few minutes into the rain, Damn I need an umbrella. There is always some kind of sidewalk person who sells an assortment of things: weird stuffed animals, Dora paraphernalia, iPhone cases with cats and other animals on them, cheap head phones, sunglasses of course, rain or shine, snow or sun, and other random items. This person will definitely have a few types of 5$ umbrellas: the small black ones with the old fashioned curved handle that last one shower and end up skeletons peaking out of the street garbage can where an angry person sick of the umbrella going the opposite way finally lost the struggle and stuck it there, looking like an upside down Barbie doll with one leg. This guy also sells bigger ones, maybe a few more bucks and some others. You buy one. If it doesn’t end up driving you nuts with the wind added to the rain, you will leave it in a restaurant soon.
I have a thing with umbrellas. I’m not sure how to describe it. I love looking at everyone else’s umbrellas, it’s like tattoo watching in a swimming pool; a total smorgasbord of colors, patterns, sizes and styles; I only have a temporary tattoo but I love seeing real ones on other people. Sort of like with umbrellas. I didn’t used to let myself spend more than 5-10$ on an umbrella for the obvious reason that I’d break it or lose it soon. Now I have a great rainbow umbrella that was cheaper than the red Ikea with white pattern that died a quick death. I was wanting a rainbow umbrella for quite a while. Like most things you yearn for, I found it when not looking. The kind where each segment is a different color. It’s a large one, also something I used to deny myself. There are umbrellas that do their job reluctantly and badly, keeping you from getting soaked but popping out with the wind so you have to hold it the other way to get it back to it’s shape. You forget that a useful umbrella needs to be shaped a certain way to avoid this back and forth thing and to keep you more dry than just somewhat dry.
I have other umbrellas. There is the pink one from Duane Reade that refuses to get broken or used up or lost. It’s just a small retractable one, not too tiny, probably cost 5-7$. There is always some cheap umbrella you hardly notice you’ve had for so many years; the survivor umbrella. This pink umbrella is a cat with nine lives.
Umbrellas for children. That’s a whole other category. I used to think cheap, but first it was: don’t get an umbrella for a child, just use yours with them; those dinky little kids umbrellas with annoying Dora or Disney characters on them – I refused to surrender for a long time. I relented and changed my philosophy to: get a really cheap tacky one made for kids in Chinatown at one of those places that sells that again strange assortment, where you could get a live turtle or this umbrella. Then recently, I finally got the concept of a child having an adult umbrella, and getting to start a whole relationship of their own with umbrellas and rain. It could be the making of a young pluviophile.
I do know a child who loves to be inside looking out her window and watching people outside getting wet in the rain. It’s that sadistic pleasure of watching others suffer and feeling extra cosy and not wet.
Last week I was in a New York kind of storm, the kind where you surrender and just get completely wet. The kind you can’t wait out under an awning crushed together with others. The kind where you have to pick your moment to just get in the wind and rain and take your chances. I noticed that still, an umbrella seems useful, after you’re soaked to the point that your sneakers are full of water. Then you get to be soaked but no longer frantic and watch other people frantically holding things over their heads or fighting with their umbrellas or hiding under scaffolding waiting it out. By that time, you’re having fun finally getting to admit the real thing about rain: it’s water. It will get you wet and maybe cold.
This green one was just a symbol of my day to a terrible point. I took it by accident instead of the dependable pink one. Actually I confess I left the house with that pink one and stupidly gave my child the pink one and took the green one, a quick exchange that I didnt notice would shape the rest of my day and cause me to write this.’This innocent looking light yellow green umbrella came from someone who was moving to Berlin from Brooklyn and had the kind of extra stuff you take to your house and are both grateful and annoyed by more stuff you might need or maybe you didn’t know you needed it. Did I need another small collapsable umbrella? Maybe. Probably not. I had already forgotten my last battle with that damn umbrella. I took it out for the first time and tried to open it but the sliding thing didn’t’ stick to the top, so I wrestled with it while getting wet and got so annoyed I was ready to throw it out, thinking it just doesn’t work and wondering why it was even existing there for me to get angry at. I even walked with it open holding it at the top, very annoying way to use an umbrella Finally by luck or chance I put the umbrella up and it stayed. The trick was it had to be all the way down, then you push the button and it opens fine in one burst. You can’t push the button and push it up. I don’t know how I missed the simple way to open it. I figure it out a second before I was going to throw it out in a fit of fury that only exists when it’s raining and you’re pissed off at an umbrella.
Of course today i had the same problem, and again even more absurdly couldn’t figure it out. This time I had the added torture of knowing it was not broken, and that I was fighting with it because I couldn’t remember the simple way to get it open.
I actually yelled at the umbrella. I was already in a bad mood so the umbrella seemed right to take it out on. Nobody would think it was weird to see someone having a nasty fight with an umbrella on a street in NYC.
This umbrella with its secret simple way to open it represented my tussles with life. I even had seen a 9 year old open it fine, adding more fuel to the fire. This fight was saying, on a daily basis you waste extra energy fighting facts and the physical world, refusing to admit that not only are you doing it wrong, the right way is so much easier and less histrionic.
Why does this always happen to me? was the usual useless thought pattern. I fight and frustrate and struggle against the forces of my own brain’s inability to do simple tasks, then it makes sense to get angry at the object that has a superiority complex like that umbrella. It was saying, “You can’t remember the obvious way to open me. You’re again almost breaking me trying to figure it out. Just a while ago a child had no problem opening me. It was laughing at me and thumbing its nose at me.
I persisted, as I do these days with such struggles, because my mind says, if you can’t figure this out, your’e doomed; the whole rest of your life will be one endless struggle like this with everything and everyone, so you better figure it out now. Finally through chance I realized: it’s the button that says open/close on it, push it. My umbrella fully cooperated, laughing all the way up.
Well the next time today I was back home and left, I took my rainbow umbrella. It isn’t raining, but when it does, I will have my pride back and my ability to function like the other people who manage reality just fine; I can walk down the street holding my happy rainbow umbrella and pretend I know how to navigate the physical world.