Thursday, January 13, 2005

The umbrellas of Tucson

I don't believe in umbrellas.

I grew up (for the most part) in Tucson, Arizona, where it hardly ever rains. You don't really need an umbrella, because if it's one of those rare days when it actually is raining, it certainly won't last long. Just wait it out. It'll be over in a minute, and then the lovely, harsh, glaring, bone-bleaching sun will be back to business as usual.

So, having an umbrella in Tucson is like having a heavy scarf. Really unnecessary, and a little bit of an affectation.

When I moved to New York, my stubborn resistance of the notion of rain and rain-related equipment meant that I would go striding out the door in all weather with no umbrella.

C'mon. That's not really rain. It's barely sprinkling. How long could it last? How wet could I get, really?

Really, really wet. So I bought a three-dollar umbrella like everyone else.

I loved the rainstorms in Tucson. During the August monsoons, clouds pile up over the Catalina Mountains to the north, glowering ominously. There's the smell of rain on the wind, which picks up briskly, bringing cold downdrafts - a delicious reprieve from the August hundred-plus temperatures. Then around four o'clock, a spectacular downpour - a mad rush of water, sheets of it, columns of it, whipping curtains of it, blown about by tremendous winds. Lighting flashes in serpentine cracks. Thunder explodes. Streets flood. Dry washes flow with water.

Then, half an hour later, it's done. Show's over, nothing to see here.

When rainstorms came, if at all possible I would run out into the rain. (Okay, I might have been occasionally thinking of Charmian Carr as Liesl in The Sound of Music going "Wheee!" at the end of "Sixteen Going on Seventeen." But only occasionally.) It was exciting to be in the midst of a swirling storm that came and left so quickly. Those were storms.

When I moved to New York, the rain came often (this was autumn). It was dull, unimpressive rain. It wasn't theatrical. It wasn't exciting. It was dull gray-blanket rain that fell all day, just making your shoes uncomfortably moist, interfering with your commute and giving everyone in the office something dull to talk about. There was rarely lightning or thunder. When there was lightning, people on the street just. freaked. out. Hadn't they ever seen it before? In a city full of enormous skyscrapers, it didn't seem likely that anyone on the street would get struck, so what was the big deal?

After I had lived in New York about six months -

-- okay, I'm interrupting myself here. It must be tiring to hear me start every other anecdote with "When I moved to New York ..." but since I'm basically clearing out the memory banks here, it's going to be a constant refrain (as it is for everyone who ever lives here.) I have a good friend who had moved to the city from Minneapolis. At a party, she began telling someone, "Well, when I first moved to New York..." I had to interject.

"Julie. You moved here two weeks ago."

It became our catch phrase after that, for any time either of us fell into slightly self-important ridiculousness.

Okay. Now. After I had lived in New York about six months, during a cold and icy February, I started having intense, vivid dreams about the Arizona monsoons. I had thought I would never miss Arizona - I didn't like the sun since I'm fair and burn easily, and I was ready to get the hell out of there and move to the city. But here I was, having dreams about the smell and feel of the wind, the sound of the rain and the warmth of the sun baking into my bones. Maybe I didn't miss New York, but my body certainly did.

So. Tonight, I took the train back to Baltimore. We came out of the station, and it was raining. But, come on - that? Is not really rain. It's barely sprinkling. How long could it last? How wet could I get, really?

I don't believe in umbrellas. Which is good, since I don't know where I put my last one.


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