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Umbrella dance

By April Austin / October 20, 1986



I LOOKED out over the sea of umbrellas bubbling into the street. The rain sidled down between them, dampening commuters' toes and shimmying onto skirt hems. The grayness was drawn like a shade, veiling high-rises, shop windows, and fruit stands. I stood there, timing my foray into that madding crowd, my bright yellow umbrella an optimistic voyageur among the somber blues and blacks and browns of business suits, briefcases, and waterproofs. Wall Street Journals peeked out from under a hundred beige trench coats. I thought how on days like this we needed some sort of ``umbrella etiquette'' to guide our maneuverings on the narrow sidewalks. With personal rain-shedding devices arching like miniature towers over each pedestrian -- tall and short -- buffer zones were impossible to maintain. Florid flowered parasols dipped and swayed, rubbing elbows with stiff, proper, strictly businessperson-sized umbrellas.

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There was something of a dance about it all, really, executed with smooth dodging motions; now an arabesque over a puddle, now a giving way to a heavily laden shopper, now ducking under a low-hanging branch. I read one thought on the minds of all the travelers as I bobbed into the press: to get out of cloudburst, raincoat, workaday hat and shoes, into a home cheered by warm smells, bright colors, and soft, gentle light.