From J. A. Sidey’s Alter Ejusdem, 1877, via the British Library.
The day of my thirtieth birthday dawned wet and cool. What started as a determined drizzle had settled, by late morning, into hard rain. This scuttled most of our plans, but my boyfriend and I were determined to fill the day with fun, and set off doggedly for Manhattan.
As any tourist knows, filling a rainy urban day can be a challenge; one generally ends up doing a lot of sitting around in restaurants drying off, drinking more coffee than planned (and this in turn creates new challenges). We did this. Our first umbrella blew out and we had to toss it. We took shelter in the Strand bookstore. Our second umbrella was pinched. We saw both Alexander McQueen’s show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, back downtown, a documentary about Candy Darling. We bought a new umbrella from a bodega. Sometime between McQueen’s S/S ’05 Edwardian collection and Candy becoming the toast of Max’s back room, the rain turned torrential.
I was not distressed about leaving my twenties, and had never been prone to birthday blues, but around three P.M., my spirits began to flag. Our feet were very wet. We were standing under the overhang of the West Fourth Street subway station, and everyone looked miserable, either to be going out into the downpour or else to be leaving the downpour for a train car that would, without question, smell like steaming wet dog. McQueen was dead by his own hand; Candy Darling hadn’t even made it to thirty. I didn’t want to say anything to my boyfriend, who had been such a good sport throughout, but I could tell that he, too, was somewhat low.
And in that moment of desolation, I received the single best birthday gift ever given by one human being to another.
We were glumly unfurling our cheap little umbrella, preparing to venture out and maybe see another movie, when we were approached by a prosperous-looking middle-age Indian man in a beautiful, rain-spattered gray suit. He walked up to us, beaming.
“Will you give me your umbrella?” he asked blandly.
“What? No,” said my boyfriend, somewhat taken aback. “If you want one, you can buy them right there”—he indicated the vendor hawking black umbrellas for three dollars a few feet away—“but we need this one.”
The man’s grin did not abate. If anything, it widened.
“But I’m the baby!” he shouted. “You have to take care of the baby!”
And he bounded away.
As Fred Astaire would have said, rain or not, the sun was suddenly shining everywhere.
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