Weapons of Wetness


Weapons of Wetness

You have a strange contraption, a dangerous device, right there in your house; I’m sure you do. It’s quite long and somewhat pointed and it’s way bigger than your head.
It’s commonly known as an “umbrella.” It’s designed to come between you and something called “rain.”
As a longtime desert-dweller, I was not much concerned about Hurricane Sandy’s high winds. Desert rats know all about wind. We have “haboobs” — sandstorms so ferocious, they make YouTube. (Search for “Phoenix Dust Storm” and you can watch this year’s massive July 21 haboob, but without having to pick the grit out of your teeth afterward.)
Wind, however, is only part of the hurricane formula. There’s also this thing called “rain.” Decades in the desert leave you unfamiliar with this strange phenomenon: water tumbling out of the sky. In fact, when I moved here, I had to learn not only about rain, but also about these strange contraptions known as umbrellas. Or does one say umbrellae? A longtime desert-dweller doesn’t have a ready command of all the rain-related technical terms.
To me, this so-called umbrella appears to be a dangerous device. It’s quite long and somewhat pointed, and it’s way bigger than your head. Yet people actually keep them in their houses. As I understand it, this “umbrella” is designed to come between you and the falling sky-water.
Back in Phoenix, with less than nine inches of rain a year, business came to a standstill at the first sign of a raindrop. People literally stood in the doorways of storefronts to watch the rain. Children danced in the streets — my son took his skateboard out for a soggy, jolly ride — out of sheer joy, simply because this remarkable chemical compound, two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, was falling from the heavens.
Here in Ipswich, on the other hand — precip happens.
And you need an umbrella.
After the ecstasy of buying a house in Ipswich, my first shopping expedition was an umbrella hunt. To survive in the extreme environment known as New England, I understood, I would need this extreme device. I had a vague recollection of using one of these instruments long ago, perhaps in my childhood, perhaps during the Eisenhower Administration.
Soon, however, I was mortified to discover that I didn’t really remember how to use an umbrella. There is no Umbrella School. If there were, they would teach you that some swoosh out, and others swoosh in. There’s a spring inside the shaft of that umbrella, and this spring only sproings one way or the other. The key is to know, in advance, when your particular umbrella is going to strike.
And I never can remember.
Let’s say I grab an umbrella from the mudroom and head to the bus stop to retrieve my kid. I certainly want to look cool for the bus stop moms. But let’s say while we’re waiting for the bus, it starts to rain. I grasp the umbrella handle, press the little button, and thwack! The umbrella jumps open, knocking me back on my heels. If any bus stop moms thought I was cool, it’s all over now.
Or let’s say I’m heading to a meeting, I’m a bit dressed up, I’m trying to look nice and professional for my client. It’s pouring, but my trusty umbrella is keeping me dry. I arrive, I greet the pretty receptionist, I grasp the umbrella handle, I press the little button, and shplack! The umbrella snaps like an alligator, dousing my suit with rainwater, and splattering that expensive lamp table.
I told you these things are dangerous.


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