By Andrew Ramirez
Too much acid rain makes Andrew a dull boy.
It also makes me wish I had an umbrella.
So last week I stepped into the Dollar Dollar over at the University Village. They’ve got a whole bucket full of umbrellas there, some sturdy-looking ones with wide coverage and U-shaped handles for ten dollars, and some smaller ones for two. I picked a navy blue umbrella out of the pile and opened it for size. Then I thumbed out eight quarters onto the counter, holding the open umbrella over my shoulder.
The lady cashier looked at me. She was Asian and sported a frown that looked like it had been tattooed to her face. Her eyebrows were definitely stuck on with marker.
She said, “Your mom never told you you’re not supposed to open umbrellas inside?” She looked genuinely concerned. She took a step back like I was contagious. Truth be told, I’m more superstitious than I’d like to admit, too. It’s a byproduct of being born Mexican and raised Catholic—I’m a nervous wreck. When I lived back in El Paso my mom used to light a prayer candle every time something was pending, like when a family member was traveling by airplane, or a big decision was brewing, or when an aunt was undergoing surgery in the morning, or an uncle was trying to get a job. We always had a nice little row of candles going in our house. The act of lighting a candle was a called a novena. And it’s not like I could speak a word of Spanish. It’s not like I was ultra-cultured or anything either. It’s just that when you’re a kid, you pick on the stuff that scares the shit out of you the fastest. And when you’re a kid—the bad luck that comes with opening an umbrella before you get outside and the Catholic negligence that comes with leaving a candle unlit when someone you know is put under with anesthesia—it all mixes in together to make the same kind of superstition stew. These days, every time I hear about someone with something pending, it’s not about karma or diving providence or even chance. I don’t even care if he’s a good guy. It’s that stupid candle and whether it’s burning or not. And if not: Good luck.
I know superstition isn’t supposed to be a part of Catholicism, but you can’t tell me you’d ever catch the Pope walking under a line of ladders either.
The Asian lady didn’t even bother to count the quarters, she wanted me out of there so fast. She dialed up the register and dropped the handful of quarters in. She slammed it shut. She said, “OUT.”
I closed the umbrella so I could get through the door and then I opened it again. I wanted to tell her that the only reason I opened it inside was because I wanted to see how big it was. It’s not like I go looking for bad luck. I wanted to tell her, “It’s not like I’m trying to piss you off. The whole city I grew up in was Catholic. I’m practically scared of my own shadow.” But another thing I learned growing up was that any time something’s two bucks, naturally you got to test it. It sounds like grandpa advice but I swear, one time I bought an electrical typewriter for two bucks at the swap meet and when I got home and plugged it in, it exploded. I didn’t even pay in quarters that time either. It just blew up in my face.
When I got outside the rain had let up a little bit. But in Los Angeles, when the rain lets up, it’s not like you’re better off. It’s not like fresh rain up in the mountains or catching a mist off of a waterfall in the wilderness. By the time the rain gets to your face in Los Angeles it’s more like someone’s flecking toilet water at you or squeezing the moisture out of a dead cat—it’s that kind of bad. So the entire walk home I held the umbrella in front of my face so I wouldn’t get any of that sewer water in my eyes. Plus, by blocking my vision I wouldn’t be able to see a black cat cross my path on the way home either. It was only drizzling anyway, and I’d rather have it on my back than on my face. Something about that Asian lady had me on edge. But so long as I avoided black cats and candles and ladders and airplanes and big decisions and unknown callers at 2 AM and babysitters and broken mirrors and saying Bloody Mary three times in a dark bathroom and not knocking on wood, I would be all right. So long as I kept the umbrella in front of me and my eyes on my feet, it wouldn’t matter if a black cat crossed a block in front of me or a if a thin man was waving a hatchet at me from my bedroom window. I wouldn’t see a thing. A car could run a light and I wouldn’t even know it till it happened.
Some people spend a lot of money to put on the blinders like that.
But sometimes you can get it for eight quarters, too.