I hate umbrellas, and that’s what I told my friend Nancy when she offered one yesterday morning. Sure, it was raining steadily when I left her apartment. And yes, the rain was predicted to last all day. And yes, I had twenty blocks to walk to my lunch appointment and many more before the day was done. But I had my trusty turquoise L.L. Bean rain jacket with hood and I like to walk in the rain. Besides, umbrellas blow inside out and they get caught on other umbrellas on crowded Manhattan sidewalks.
Everyone else in the city had an umbrella. I wove in and out, dodging pointy spokes and trying to think deeply between raindrops. I was in the city to participate in a panel discussion on balancing craft and commitment in political fiction, a program sponsored by the New York City chapter of the Women’s National Book Association and Pace University. Maybe it was my smart and thoughtful fellow panelists (Elizabeth Nunez, Tiphanie Yanique, Marnie Mueller and Celine Keating), or perhaps the engaged and lively audience, or maybe the panel topic in combination with an essay on writing across racial and ethnic borders that I’ve been struggling to finish. In any case, my brain was spinning with it all. I dodged umbrellas poking in my unprotected direction and tried to avoid the flooding at every street corner, but those thoughts were getting drenched.
So I gave in and bought a $5 umbrella from a street vendor. It promptly blew inside out in the wind, and while slicing my thumb on the sharp end of one of the twisted wires holding the joints together, I stepped into a deep puddle. Very deep. So I stopped into one of the omnipresent Duane Reade stores (the first time I saw that name, I read it as “d’you wanna read," and I still prefer my literary pronunciation) and bought a pair of dry socks.
Getting to my three appointments yesterday, I walked several sodden miles, from Gramercy Park to Murray Hill to Tribeca and Washington Square, then back to E. 19th Street. I was drenched with each walk, dried out sitting with friends in restaurants and living rooms and coffee shops, then soaked again. By the time I returned to Nancy’s mid-evening, those spinning ideas were nicely marinated by the wet miles and seasoned by the long, intense conversations with friends. And I had lost the umbrella.