Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Twelve umbrellas

It rained cats and dogs a few days ago, an immensely crazed kind of rain, bordering on a frenzied storm. I had just reached home, and I remember scrambling and looking around frantically in my car for an umbrella to use. Unlike most of the houses in my neighbourhood, my home was not fitted with an automatic gate, so I was relegated to getting out of the car every time I arrived home, to unlock the gates, open them and then drive my car into the driveway. Tedious, for sure, but I’d be damned if I had to spend 5000 dollars on an automatic gate in today’s economic downturn.

So there I was, sitting in my car, limbs askew as I stretched over the passenger’s seat of the car, trying to pry with my fingers, for an umbrella I was certain I had seen lying on the floor somewhere. Nothing. I clambered out of my seat, into the backseat (I drive a MPV) and there, in all finery and glory, in the boot space, were, not one, but seven umbrellas, of different colours and sizes. Well, well! Seven umbrellas in a car. I was, frankly, astounded, that I had amassed such a collection, and upon inspecting each of them, I realized that none of them really belonged to me! I selected one, laughing to myself and made use of it.

Later, when I was ensconced in the warm comfort of my living room with soft music playing in the background whilst the rain beat down on the window panes, I laughed again when I thought of the seven umbrellas in my car. On a sudden whim, I leapt out of my seat and searched around the house to see if I had more umbrellas lying around….. and true enough, I found another five more lying under the staircase, only one of which belonged to me. I began to wonder whom I had pilfered, or accidentally taken these umbrellas from. Because, in all fairness, I am not a thief!- but I am also not ashamed to admit that when I borrow umbrellas from someone or other, I almost always never return them. And why is that? 1) Because I am an irresponsible, flaky person who forgets things; 2) the owner of the umbrellas never asked me for them; and 3) it’s only an umbrella, for God’s sakes!

However, seeing as I’ve amassed an impressive collection of umbrellas which do not belong to me, I will begin to make the effort to reunite these lost umbrellas “which are not mine” with their rightful owners. Daunting task, to be sure, but at least I am moral enough to attempt that feat!- which is more than I can say for some dishonourable umbrella thieves! This brings to mind Roald Dahl’s short story titled “The Umbrella Man”, about an umbrella thief, a seemingly-fine gentleman who went around stealing fine quality umbrellas, and on rainy days, selling them for a pound (using the excuse that he required the money for taxi fare, in exchange for the umbrella) to an unsuspecting victim. I enjoyed this story tremendously- and although it is just that, a story, it could very well possibly happen in real life. 

Statistics reveal shocking revelations on the number of umbrellas lost and found (or perhaps, even stolen) in public places. As of April 2009, the Johnson County Community College campus police revealed that there were 9,368 black umbrellas in their lost and found inventory. An article written by one Yukio Obata pointed out that statistics gathered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police in 2006 showed that about 650,000 items and over 78 million dollars are reported lost, and more than 2.3 million objects and over 26 million dollars are found. Of these, only 0.3% of lost umbrellas are returned. But these statistics may very well be unique to Japan alone. In America and Toronto, approximately 25,200 and 5,600 umbrellas are lost each year on their respective transit systems. The Londonist, in 2004, reported survey results released by Halifax General Insurance, indicating that in just one year, approximately 7,026 umbrellas were handed in to the Transport for London Lost Property Office.

An umbrella is, frankly, an inexpensive and almost-disposable object, which explains why, when lost, a person almost never reports it missing, and is more inclined to buy a new one (which costs less than 10 dollars) at any convenience store, or perhaps “take” or “borrow” another person’s umbrella (as I have discovered I am wont to doing!). Although we should all be thrifty and careful with our personal items, many of us and the consumer society in general, treat our umbrellas with less respect than a clump of clay. This frightening aspect of consumer society is one which we must take great pains to improve, and to nurture a sense of responsibility when it comes to personal items and belongings, no matter how inexpensive the items!

A person would raise a hue-and-cry if he lost, for example, his super-fine, ultra expensive Vertu mobile phone on the subway, and not only report it to the lost property section of the subway, but also, he will probably lodge a police report and hunt the phone down until the end of his days! And if he fails to recover it, he will cry in despair, wilt like a flower in a microwave oven, and berate the person who had found, and didn’t return his phone. He may even be so desperate as to call his phone, or leave text messages, pleading for the person who found the phone, to please return it and he will be more than happy to fork out a substantial reward for it. Somehow, I don’t think the same kind of tenacity will be extended to a lost umbrella.

So where do all these lost umbrellas go to? Frankly, I don’t know- but I’ll be more than glad to enlighten you when I do find out! Maybe they’re just thrown away in a landfill, after several years. Or maybe Mary Poppins comes in the night and takes them all away- she could, after all, do with the variety! Or maybe they all mysteriously disappear to umbrella heaven, where umbrellas of every sort and fancy will unite and shout in glee to be with each other! Or sometimes….. they end up in my house. Who really knows?

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