It rained the other day for maybe twenty minutes, but it was a hard rain, it came out of nowhere. The sky was blue in the morning, it was blue all the way through lunchtime, but at around one or one thirty, all of the sudden it started getting black, really dark. I didn’t know what to do, because I had my bike with me, and so it’s always this dilemma, do I chain it up and make a break for the subway? Should I attempt taking it with me underground? Or might I even feel desperate enough to try and bike through the storm, to tough it out for the four or so miles back to my house?
I didn’t have any time to think either, because once the rain started, it was pouring. There was no gradual build up, like usually you might feel a few drops here and there, something that eventually turns into a steady sprinkling. No, this was like a light switch, off to on in an instant. I was already twenty-five percent soaked, and while I briefly considered chalking it up as a loss, I worried about the cell phone in my pocket, what if the intensity of this downpour was enough to breach the waterproof properties of my backpack?
My decision was to find some coffee shop or deli to duck into for a few minutes, to stay dry while simultaneously thinking through a next step. But where specifically could I go? The coffee shop and deli ideas didn’t really appeal to me. For one thing, I’m sure everybody else on the street was having the same thought, and so I’d be fighting the crowd just to get inside.
And if I made it in, then what? I could just picture the people behind the counter at either of those locations, all of them thinking, “Here we go, lots of customers, time to move here.” But nobody really wants anything to eat or drink, we’d all just be seeking refuge, maybe pretending to look at the menu, “Give me another minute, please,” acting like paying customers, finally some manager or owner making a loud announcement, “Look, this isn’t a shelter, it’s a business. Buy something or leave.”
It came to me, the giant bookstore was only a few blocks down. That would be perfect. I could pretend to read books, or I didn’t even have to pretend, the employees there don’t care if you’re spending money or not. I started to run but there were obstacles everywhere, all of the sudden everyone had an umbrella out.
And this I never understand. How is it that everyone in the world is so prepared for an unexpected downpour except for me? Where are people keeping these umbrellas? Because I never notice them when it’s not raining, like if there’s a stretch of five days in a row without so much as a drop, you’d think I’d see umbrellas sticking out of bags or people holding umbrellas. Have you ever seen city umbrellas? They’re huge. It’s like we’re all so used to everything small, small apartments, small portions, virtually no personal space everywhere, but then it starts to rain and there’s a mass protest, “I don’t care if there’s not enough room for everyone in this city to carry a giant four-foot diameter umbrella, I’m doing it, you get out of my way.”
All of the umbrella spokes are exactly at my eye level, and so I wasn’t only trying to beat the rain, but I was attempting to avoid having anything gouged out. Where do you even buy a giant umbrella anyway? The only ones I ever see are the cheap-o black plastic kind, the ones that, even if you’re using them, you’re still getting wet. Depending on how you hold it, either your back’s dry, or your front, but not both. I always thought, that’s the price we pay for living in a city, right? We can’t all have giant umbrellas. There’s simply not enough space on the streets.
I finally made it to the bookstore and the usually vacant looking security guard standing out front put his hand up, “Sorry boss,” he told me, “You’re soaking wet.”
“Exactly!” I protested, “That’s why I’m trying to get inside.”
“No can do,” he wasn’t even looking at me, he was still blankly staring across the street, keeping his eyes open for potential shoplifters I guess, “You’ll get all of the books wet. It’s not going to happen.”
“What do you care?” I was getting pissed off now, “I could spend all day in this bookstore reading every single book on the shelf for free. Talk about wasting money. But now you’re worried that I might wet a page or two? What kind of a business model is that?”
It was a pointless argument. I was already soaked. I figured that I might as well make the ride home, I couldn’t get any wetter. By the way, I was wrong, I could get wetter, so wet that it felt like my sneakers had become supersaturated, each step a dramatic slosh-slosh sound.
I came back to that same bookstore the next day and made it a point to collect a huge stack of books. Then I went right by the entrance and sat Indian style while I pretended to read every book, licking my finger each time I turned the page. But the guard didn’t even look my way, not even once, even though I kept coughing, a big, fake, “Cough! Cough!” sound. And I was too busy paying attention to the security guard that I didn’t even get to really enjoy any of the reading. I was just pretend reading really. What a waste of a day. What a waste of two days, if you count the first day that I spent just totally getting absolutely soaked to the core.