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Rated: E · Prose · Comedy · #1914391
Fanciful, silly and humorous story about a stolen, lost and recovered umbrella.
The Umbrella Story

“That’s not your umbrella!” she said.

         [Author’s note: Before we continue, I’m compelled to make a quick comment on truth of this story.  I’m not going to try and convince you, dear reader, that this is a true story.  In fact, it’s a highly unlikely story.  However, I won’t say that it’s not true.  I know this is taking the coward’s path.  I really ought to come out and insist it’s true or just come clean say I made the whole thing up.  I can’t do the former because, if we all agree that it’s a nice and accurate history – well, it doesn’t reflect well on me and I like to reflect well upon people.  I can’t do the latter because I have too much respect for the truth.  So there we are.  Let’s start over, shall we?]

         “That’s not your umbrella!” she said.

         “Number one – it’s green and that’s a girl’s color.  Not that you would know that.  Number two – it’s a fancy umbrella.  It’s a Toomie!  You would never buy that because it’s expensive and you don’t know anything about umbrellas anyway.  No way is that your umbrella.  You can’t just take people’s umbrellas, you know.  Now hold it over me, it’s raining.”

         She was quite right.  It was not my umbrella.  You see, I am one of those people who are always losing their umbrellas.  I can’t hold onto an umbrella for more than one or two rainfalls to save my life.  I leave them at clients (I’m a consultant).  I leave them on trains (I’m a commuter).  I leave them at restaurants (I like to eat).  It’s a sadly predictable pattern from which I can find no escape.  Every now and then over the years, I’ve awoken said to myself, “By Jove!  Today is the day I buy a new umbrella and I won’t lose it.”  And I buy the umbrella and I manage to hold onto it for four, five maybe even six entire rainfalls before I lose it.  If I were cleverer, I’d draw an analogy to the appropriate Greek Myth but the best I can come up with is Tantalus and I’d feel a little unclean afterwards, so let’s not go there.  The bottom line is I am always losing umbrellas.

         As you can imagine, this puts me in a bind.  Not as bad as poor Ted’s bind in Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” but a bind nonetheless.  You see, if you work in Manhattan like I do, you will regularly come into contact with the elements – wind, snow, cold, heat, bicyclists and, of course, rain.  And when it rains, you need an umbrella.  Now you can see the nature of my problem.  I need an umbrella but I can’t seem to keep hold of any given umbrella for more than a week or two.  It’s exactly as tragic as you imagine it to be.

         So, what to do?  I am a man of modest means and I could afford to do my part and prop up the umbrella industry with regular purchases.  In fact, I would do this, but the umbrella industry seems to be doing just fine.  (Please don’t email me and tell me that the umbrella industry is actually in distress – I feel guilty enough as it is).  So, continuous umbrella purchasing is off the table.  That leaves two choices – get wet or obtain umbrellas through some other means.  Well, I dislike getting wet and it’s also socially awkward and I am, if nothing else ... well ... let’s say I don’t go out of my way ... well I don’t make significant and persistent efforts to be socially awkward.  Let’s go with “dislike getting wet” because that’s unambiguously true.  I just don’t like it.  I’m sure you can empathize with that.  If you can’t – well, this story maybe isn’t for you.

         So what about these other means?  I forgive you if you jumped to the conclusion that, like a raccoon in the night, sneaking about and with raccoonnish intent, I – ahem – steal umbrellas.  I’ll let you decide on that on your own but let’s be perfectly clear – I don’t consider what I do to be stealing.  I rather view it as rescuing.  You see, it turns out I’m not the only person losing umbrellas.  Lots of people lose umbrellas and thankfully, they often lose them just when I’m in need of one.  Now, I do try and distinguish between a lost umbrella as opposed to one that was merely misplaced.  In fact, using a misplaced umbrella is very risky and as you’ll find out, the first domino to fall in the unlikely series of events that I’m going to eventually chronicle here.  When someone loses an umbrella it may as well be gone forever as far as that person is concerned.  My favorite is when people lose an umbrella on the morning train during rush hour.  If you leave an umbrella on the train when you get off at your stop, you’ll never get that umbrella back again.  This is where I come in.  I rescue this abandoned umbrella.  I rescue this and others like it with a passion.

         I think we can all agree that rescuing umbrellas is, if not virtuous, at least not reprehensible.  There are gray areas, however.

         Consider the scenario that gave birth to this story.  Imagine an office with a large open space surrounded by five conference rooms.  Tuck a kitchen in the corner, cordon off a small area for printers and a copier and top it off with a smaller open area to serve as a kind of communal lunchtime gathering place.  That’s the entirety of my office and let me tell you – after the first month, you know every nook and cranny of the space.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a wonderful space.  It does, however, lose its mystery fairly quickly.  As a consequence people who are always on the lookout for abandoned umbrellas – me – quickly notice anything unusual going on.  For instance – it’s unusual when someone leaves an umbrella in a conference room for weeks on end.  I notice these things.  I am, sad to say, altogether too aware of all the umbrellas in my office at any given time.

         These umbrellas, including the green umbrella to which I’ll shortly introduce you, are clearly not lost umbrellas – at least not in the same way as a lost train umbrella.  In the case of the train, there’s simply no way the owner will ever reconnect with the lost umbrella.  In the case of the office, however, it’s hard to claim an umbrella is lost, even if it’s been sitting in a conference room gathering dust for weeks (weeks!) on end.  After all, the owner is probably walking around and just misplaced it for a while.  Given that, I wouldn’t consider taking that umbrella home and treating it like I owned it.  However, in a pinch, I wouldn’t hesitate to borrow the umbrella without asking the owner’s permission.  With all of this out of the way, let’s get back to the story itself.  By now, you’ve probably forgotten the beginning, so let’s start from the top one more, final time.

         “That’s not your umbrella!” she said.

         “Number one – it’s green and that’s a girl’s color.  Not that you would know that.  Number two – it’s a fancy umbrella.  It’s a Toomie!  You would never buy that because it’s expensive and you don’t know anything about umbrellas anyway.  No way is that your umbrella.  You can’t just take people’s umbrellas, you know.  Now hold it over me, it’s raining.”

         I patiently explained my umbrella philosophy and how I had found this particular umbrella in one of the conference rooms.  The hapless owner had left it there for a minimum of three weeks by one of the plants in the corner.  (Who does that anyway?  Besides me?  But I digress.).  My scold, having called attention to its particular qualities, did make me realize that this umbrella was a peck above the usual umbrella rescue.  For starters, it was green.  I was dimly aware that that was unusual but it greenness registered more on my conscience as a risk than anything else.  Its unusual color increased the risk of the real owner asking unpleasant questions such as “why do you have my umbrella?”  It wasn’t until I opened it that I noticed that it had a certain snugness and snap-open-action that clearly distinguished it from the typical (cheap) umbrella.  This was clearly a cut above the rest.

         This served to make me nervous and also to make another one of my “By Jove!” promises.  This umbrella would make it back to the office safely and I would never borrow it again.  It was simply too conspicuous and fancy for an incompetent umbrella borrower such as myself to have on my person for any length of time.  I resolved to return it to the conference room at my earliest opportunity.

         The Turkess (my colleague and umbrella scold) and I took care of our business and I eventually went home.  As it happened, I made a few stops on the way home and arrive there fairly late.  Late enough to take a taxi from the train station to my house.  The next morning, it was still raining and though I had already forgotten about the umbrella by now, the rain drops on my head served a good reminder.  Belatedly recalling my most recent promise to Jove, I ran back into the house and discovered, to my horror, that I had already lost the umbrella.  It wasn’t in the house anywhere and could be at a bar, on a train, a taxi or Jove-knows-where.  Even as I write this, I’m shaking at the embarrassment of it.  I literally had possession of this borrowed umbrella for less than 24 hours! This was some kind of anti-record – losing the umbrella so quickly and such a precious one at that!  (Plus, it was raining! What was I going to do about that now?)  Well, there was nothing to do about it but go to work.  There was always a chance that’s I’d find another abandoned umbrella on the train and there’s no lack for umbrella vendors in the great city of New York.  I did text the Turkess to joke about it (“Can u blieve I lost the umbrella???”).  As it turned out, I never needed an umbrella that morning as the rain fizzled out, though it continued to threaten for the rest of the day.

         I arrived at the office a bit early that morning.  I don’t recall why.  I typically sit in the kitchen communal area instead of a regular work station area.  The reasoning is a bit complex and goes back to the Great Q2 Annoy-o-tron Experiment of 2012 (an experiment whose success, I may add, was of a decidedly mixed nature – but that’s a story for another time – trust me). This seating arrangement usually works to my advantage but this morning, our office manager, Hooks, approached me with a young child in tow.  She introduced the child to me as Z.  It turned out that Z was actually of legal working age in the state of New York.  “This is Z’s first day.  Would you please help Z out with any paperwork questions he may have?”  I readily agreed, being the agreeable sort.  I also have a soft spot for children.  As usually happens, Z had no questions (we’re not the kind of company that hires people who find on-boarding paperwork very challenging).  I promptly forgot about him.

         I was following my usual morning warm-up routine by reading the news of the day when the Turkess came flowing by and ensconced herself into a nearby conference room.  She was (as usual) late and was dialing the phone line before she even sat down.  Just as the door was closing, I saw an old umbrella that I know I had rescued before!  (By now, the fancy Toomie umbrella was no longer a concern but the imminent threat of rain was).  I ran into the room and grabbed the umbrella lest someone else do the same.  As I hugged it close and ran out I could hear her say “Hey!  That’s not your umbrella!”  But she couldn’t pursue the argument because she was already starting her call.

         If you can’t tell by now, I’m a little sensitive on the whole umbrella ownership “thing.”  When the Turkess challenged my ownership, I knew I had to answer.  I waited patiently for her conference call to finish.  As soon as it did and she walked out of the conference room, I brandished the umbrella and loudly said, “This is my umbrella!  I lost it before but I saw it there in the room!”  She responded and I responded and to the untrained ear, I’m sure it sounded a bit like a brother/sister argument over whose turn it is to clean the dishes.  We are actually quite good at these arguments and I was just getting warmed up when a child’s voice interjected with a plaintive, “I lost an umbrella.”

         There are moments in life when your world sort of collapses down to the basics.  Thoughts of tomorrow or yesterday disappear like $20 bills at the Black Jack table.  You find yourself in the here and now.  Z’s “I lost an umbrella” brought me to that place.  It was gut-wrenching.  There was only one possible response to that statement and the Turkess made it.

         “Was it green?”

         I knew that, of course, it was green.  What other color could it be?

         “Yes!  It was green.  It’s a special umbrella – a Toomie.  It was really expensive but it’s a really high quality and they have a life time warranty.  If it breaks, you can bring it back and they will repair it or replace it forever.  I love that umbrella.  I had it for over a year.  But I lost it here when I interviewed a few weeks ago.  I looked for it when I got here but I can’t find it.” 

         I was horrified.  I had, in essence, stolen candy from a baby.  I could do nothing but sit and stare (in horror) at my keyboard while the Turkess and Z nattered on about the qualities of the umbrella, shared umbrella experiences and the terrible shame and irony that he had lost the umbrella on the day he interviewed at the company and for which he had started work that very day! I was paying half attention at best (because I was furiously staring at my laptop screen) when the Turkess asked, “why didn’t you just come back later and pick it up after the interview?”  Seeing an opening, I seized the opportunity and said, possibly a bit too loudly, “Yes, Z.  Why didn’t you do that?!?”

         Z responded as only a child may – “I was too embarrassed.”

         Only a child gets away with that kind of excuse.

         I am, by the way, aware that I may have some lingering and entirely misplaced anger for Z.

         In any event, a crowd had formed by now and the “I am too embarrassed” argument had won the sympathy vote, particularly from the women present.  Children.

         I’m a highly trained professional and I was able to squeeze my distress into a little ball and push it down into the lower left bottom corner of my stomach while I considered my next move.  I quickly realized that the only way to fix this problem was to replace his umbrella.  I didn’t even hesitate over the double-blow of both purchasing an umbrella and not using it - even once.  I pulled up Google and searched for “Toomie”.  Google kindly informed me that Toomie is really “Tumi” (so you all can stop your snickering now) and directed me to Tumi’s clean and professional web site.  I did a quick search, found the umbrella section and mentally prepared myself to buy an exorbitantly priced umbrella.  My guilt and all the Tumi-worship surrounding me had me thinking it would be $200 but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they cost a “mere” $75.  Sadly, no green umbrella was on offer.  I wasn’t too disappointed, however, because I figured that the web site could be outdated and there’s always eBay.  I still had options and the problem was still fixable. 

         The day went on and as lunch approached, the little ball of distress I had pushed down earlier refused to remain.  I started mentally reviewing the chain of events – Z had interviewed at the firm three or more weeks ago and left an umbrella.  I had noticed the umbrella and was aware that it had been left behind for weeks.  Fast forward about three weeks or so. It’s raining, so I borrow this umbrella.  As it turned out, it was technically a rescue at that point since Z had, in fact, abandoned it since he had not yet started work at the company.  I lose it that very day and the next morning, because I am in the office early, Hooks sets him down next to me so that I can help him out with his paperwork.  The Turkess walks into a conference room and I see, out of the corner of my eye, a previously rescued umbrella which I re-claimed for myself.  She challenges me and I feel the need to answer the challenge a full hour later when she leaves the conference room.  Only then, after this extensive chain of tightly linked events, where any missed link would be fatal to the story, does Z announce that he lost an umbrella.  If any one of those things didn’t happen almost down to the minute they happened, I would never have known that I had borrowed and then lost Z’s umbrella.  Even now, months later, I am in awe. 

         The story doesn’t end there.

         It so happened that Z’s first day on the job was also the day of our company quarterly meeting.  During these meetings, we gather as a company at a suitable watering hole, give presentations, imbibe and attempt to connect with each other.  It’s a kind business version of the modern play date.  While en route to the event (this time held in Wall Street area), my colleague Humble Connoisseur (HC) and the Turkess took the subway.  HC had assured us he know what to do once we arrived but the maze that is Wall Street did slow us down.  I went so far as to complain that he clearly didn’t know where he was or where he was going to which he replied, “Oh, do I?”  He then turned calmly to his right and what do we all see – a Tumi store!  An actual brick and mortar Tumi store.  It was brilliant.

         I stormed into the building and immediately began interrogating the poor sales people.  Long story short – the green umbrella is both out of style and cannot be ordered.  Period.  Z’s umbrella was old enough and he had held onto it (somehow) long enough that at least two entire new seasons had passed since he purchased it.  It was out of stock and there was no guarantee that that particular green umbrella would ever be made again by Tumi.  It was a deflating experience.

         At this point, my only remaining option was eBay.  I still held out hope but who knows what you’re going to get with eBay?  Assuming a green Tumi umbrella was even available, would Z know that the switch had been made?  I’m no umbrella expert, but the lost Tumi did seem like it had been well cared for.  I just wasn’t that optimistic.  I wasn’t in despair but not optimistic.

         Having failed to find a replacement Tumi umbrella at the Tumi store, we move on and arrived at our big quarterly meeting.  This was a memorable night in and of itself, but let’s just keep the bit involving the umbrella.  The big cheese running our office did some intros and while he was doing that, the Turkess decided to announce to the entire company that Z had lost an umbrella and if anyone found it, they should let him know.  Of course, the Turkess knew full well that the umbrella was lost permanently.  She later claimed that she did it to diffuse blame and create some new opportunities to replace the umbrella should the opportunity arise.  It felt far-fetched at the time, but as you’ll see, it actually worked out.

         The evening ended and I eventually went home.  The next day I was meeting a prospective client in New Jersey, so I wouldn’t be going into Manhattan at all.  I got up, I did my usual get-ready-for-work stuff and got ready to leave.  I was in the car and realized I had left my cell phone on the charger in the house.  I ran back inside and what do I see?  The green Tumi umbrella is sitting on the floor in the middle of my living room.  I never did lose it.  I still have no idea how it got there, but I obviously had kept my promise to Jove after all.  I grabbed it and went to see the client.

         This left me in a bit of predicament.  Now I knew that this umbrella was not just expensive and not just of a very high quality.  It was also precious to the child and there was no way I could possibly lose this thing.  At the same time, every day that I held this in my possession dramatically increased the chances that I would lose it a second time.  Let me tell you – that Friday and the weekend were fraught.  Fraught!  But I managed to hold onto it.  I do not wish to experience that again, let me tell you.

         I successfully brought the umbrella to the office the following week and realized I faced a bit of a conundrum.  If I personally returned the umbrella then awkward questions would be asked liked “where did you find it?”  I go to great lengths to avoid outright bald faced lying so I did not want to be asked that question.  I could leave it around and hope that someone else would find it.  There were two problems with that – what if it took a long time for someone to notice?  An even more disturbing problem – what if another umbrella thief found it and took it for himself – especially a thief with a less nuanced umbrella philosophy than mine?  Or worse – no umbrella philosophy at all?

I chose to handle it this way.  I grabbed a conference room and tucked the umbrella behind a flip chart that was lying up against the wall.  I ensured that the handle and portion of the umbrella were visible.  I then waited.  I didn’t need to wait too long for Story Teller soon arrived to ask me some questions about a software system we use in the office.  I answered her questions and as she was getting ready to leave, I said

“Hey, isn’t that a weird place to leave an umbrella?”

She looked down and said, “yes, it is!”  However, that seemed to cover the topic as far as she was concerned and was getting ready to leave. 

To forestall that, I said “Isn’t that a green umbrella?  That’s kind of unusual.”

This time, her interest piqued, she actually reached down and picked up the umbrella.  She said, to my everlasting relief, “Hey, didn’t that kid, Z, lose an umbrella?”

“Yes!  He did lose a green umbrella.  You should email him and let him know that you found it!”

Story Teller is very good at smiling and is a very good soul.  No doubt, the thought of delivering good news to young Z was the nearly the highlight of her day, if not her week.  She practically ran from the room to write the email, smiling all the way.  I was feeling quite proud of myself, let me tell you.  I had set in motion the safe return of Z’s umbrella and made Story Teller happy to boot!  Sadly, that didn’t last.  Within a minute or two, I receive an email with subject, “Great news!”  That was nice enough but the body itself was like a punch to the gut.  “Z, great news!  Pawl found your umbrella in the conference room!  When do you want to pick it up?”

This was a terrible turn of events because all of my careful choreography had failed.  Despite my best efforts to arrange for someone else to “find” the umbrella and take credit, I was fingered as the discoverer!  Worse was yet to come.

Young Z responded almost immediately: “That’s awesome!  I’m so happy!  I’m going to get you guys a present for finding it!”

Whether you believe in karma or not, you can no doubt intuitively understand that it’s bad karma indeed when the thief’s victim rewards the thief for returning the victim’s stolen property.  The gig was up and there was no way to fix this.  If Z did offer up a present to reward me, I would obviously have to refuse and explain why.  Luckily, a steady stream of emails quickly overwhelmed the announcement and promised reward so I had some hope that it would be forgotten. 

Time passed and some more shenanigans transpired with the special green Tumi umbrella.  Although I wasn’t involved (I will never touch that umbrella again, by Jove!) you can get the gist of it by thinking about people’s penchant for stealing gnomes and taking pictures of them in unlikely places.  It actually took Z quite a long while to retrieve his precious umbrella.  It was a well-travelled umbrella when he did finally pick it up from the office.  I wasn’t even around to see it happen, which is probably for the best.

And so the story has a happy ending.  I got good use out of the borrowed umbrella and Z got his umbrella back (whether he deserved to or not – well, of course he did).  I still do have a lingering fear, however.  What if he does present me with a reward for finding his umbrella?  At this point, it’s unlikely.  But this story is already so unlikely that unlikely turns start to feel inevitable.  I can’t fully shake the feeling that he will show up one day at the office with some misplaced token of gratitude.  Perhaps by writing about it, I’ve closed the loop once and for all.  Let’s hope so.

© Copyright 2013 Paul galvin (pagalvin at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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