November 13, 2006

I'm bringing umbrellas back.

Being a Seattleite, I’ve always turned up my nose at umbrellas. There’s something about them that seems... so high-maintenance, I guess. I’ve long said there are two surefire ways to distinguish real Seattleites from transplants. One is the umbrella. True locals hardly ever carry them, opting instead to run from building to building or – heaven forbid – just let their hair get wet. The second way is look outside on a sunny, but 57 degree, day. All those people with shorts—usually khaki—and sandals—often Birkenstocks or flippies—on? Born n’ raised.

But over the past week, we’ve seen storming like I haven’t seen in years. The rain is at times horizontal, and always coming down in torrential sheets, flooding roads, driveways, highway ditches. It pools over arterials, bringing cars to silent standstills in feet of water, their befuddled drivers sitting in the fast-cooling passenger seat, weighing the options: sit still and wait for the water to seep in, or open the door and get it over with.

There are farms north of my childhood home that flood every year, stranding cows on raised bits of field – like lonely, obese people on very soggy, very small deserted islands – where they moo and low and shuffle and sleep standing awkwardly in circles like they’re waiting for the ark.

Everywhere the world is covered in brown and green reflective surfaces – stretches of still water lying like cold, mirrored blankets over acres of pasture, miles of freeway, hundreds of feet of baseball fields, tracks and mid-suburb playgrounds.

Kids delight in world-class puddle-splashing, as would I if I had a single pair of practical shoes. Instead, I have opened my closet every day for a week considering what I own that won’t leak, bleed, become see-through or smell like a dead sheep if it gets wet, as I have the aforementioned lifetime disdain for umbrellas, the practical but sissy savers of clothing, hair and laptops.

But it’s been seven days and I have had enough. I’ve battled nobly, but I’m just getting too old for this “too good for umbrellas business”.

After I spent last Sunday spent sloshing around downtown “shopping” (seemed more like swimming, honestly) in pointy flat Chanel shoes, I turned a corner. After finally taking refuge with a herd of friends in a bar, I first drank pint after pint while squirming my feet around in their wet shoes and pondering the likelihood they would actually rot, Vietnam soldier-style. Once they dried and thawed, I weighed my options for exiting the building and navigating the wet on a go-forward basis, as I was totally over this whole “soggy’s just a state of mind” thing.

Option one: retain my pride and remain umbrellaless, spending the next three months being slowly drowned alive – a poor option if you consider the associated pain (90 straight days of frizzy hair and runny mascara). Also, with this option, wool sweaters are out, as they are completely horrible-smelling when wet, as is anything white or cream-colored because of their tendency to reveal more than I wish to reveal on the way to work.

Option two: Stay inside until June. In theory, a great concept. That is, until it comes time to pay rent.

Option three: forsake pride, buckle, and buy a goddamn umbrella already.

After about a football game worth of beer and commiserating, my friends and I were prepared to step back out into the gale force winds and two-foot deep puddles.

“Uh, guys?” I said.

They turned.

“I think I’m going to buy an umbrella.”

Openmouth staring. Like I’d just said “I think I was anal probed by an alien life form – and I liked it -- last night”.

But I’d suffered long enough. My flatiron missed me. As did my little cream tweed wool jacket. And although my shoes would remain impractical, I knew the umbrella would save me from the most uncomfortable part of rain of all: that nearly ice-cold raindrop that insists on falling right in that hollow part of your neck where your shirt gaps enough for it to drip, cold and unexpected, onto your collarbone and then trickle down your chest or under your arm, where it leaves a trail of goosebumps and an uncomfortable violated feeling.

I love Seattle, and the rain, and I’m a native if ever there was one. I’m not afraid of plaid or flannel or bums or beards. I have three square cups of coffee a day and would check “athletic” in a box that describes me. I understand the ferry system and I’m proud of the bio-fuel buses. Traffic doesn’t faze me, but I don’t know how to drive a stick shift, and I like to hike, fish, and pet strangers’ dogs. And if I found a wallet, I’d return it to its rightful owner.

But damn it, I’ve walked my last block in the rain. It’s not like it is in the movies, where people are all warm and sexy and beautiful when wet. They’re not. They smell weird, and are clammy, and most of us women, try as we might to make wet look irresistible and carefree, just look like someone gave us a swirly.

So now, I am the proud owner of a gorgeous little polka-dotted umbrella that goes perfectly with my pointy, wet, impractical flats. (And that newly smooth, dry, shiny hair). And you know what? I like it. I feel a little mysterious under an umbrella, like at any moment a stranger might approach me and duck under for a quick makeout session, or tuck a note into the pocket of my trench. It’s that feeling of hotness that comes from being completely and stylishly buttoned up – like that headmistress all the Catholic boys obsessed about in junior high, or the slightly dangerous but undeniably sultry femme fatale in those noir films.

And I like it.


marinamode said...

Take a look to my shoes...
Marina (from France)

Anonymous said...

I love my umbrella - I just leave it in the trunk of my car and never have it when needed so never get to use it...

(sorry for disappearing) that my hair is in locks I'm no longer allergic to rain ( use to be insta-Afro time)so I don't really worry to much about the weather - it doesn't get to bad here.

Trebuchet said...

Oooh! Locks. I love them... but am worried about lock-care. How do you wash? Do they ever start to smell funny? Please, explain to a white girl how this works.

nico said...

Living in south africa, i wont be buying an umbrella anytime soon.

What's your opinion of a man walking around with an umbrella.

Anonymous said...

I only wash my hair about twice a week - since i have to retwist each and every one after I wash it.

When I first started, I wasn't supposed to wash them that often - but I can't go for weeks without a wash. They would stink like crazy.

Janey said...

I was Google image searching pin-ups and came across the image you used for this entry and decided to read the accompanying entry. I'm a Portlander (though currently stated in Eugene for school), and I understand so much of what you said. I must say you gave me quite a well needed laugh with this entry.