Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Umbrellas of New York

Some years ago, there used to be a crappy discount homewares store on 14th Street near Union Square in what is now a Bank of America building. The entire building was demolished to make way for a Bank of America. The building that was torn down was ugly, but distinctly so in a way that gave it a strange sort of beauty, especially as a holdout in the big-box gentrification of Union Square that was well under way then. I can't remember the name of the store any longer. During a rainstorm though, I ran into the store looking for an umbrella. In the back they had a big bin of pink and gray umbrellas that I soon saw were Patrick Nagel umbrellas. I don't know what warehouse of eighties unsold goods this store purchased these from but I was in love with the umbrella in a way I had never loved an umbrella. I bought one for two dollars.

The umbrella had a typical Nagel portrait of a whiteface smiling woman on it at several points. I was very proud of this umbrella and loved walking underneath it, took an insane sort of joy in this time capsule of an umbrella that had emerged in the bargain bin of the early 2000s. This was during a period when I really loved the work of Patrick Nagel and so finding this umbrella, this treasure trove of them, felt like some sort of cosmic present.

Umbrellas, of course, don't last. They get lost, forgotten in bars and underneath subway seats. Wind mangles them useless. I should have bought the entire stock of them at only two dollars each. But, for whatever reasons, probably though because I was very broke in those years, I only bought the one.

There are rainy days, today for instance, when I still miss that umbrella, dream about it, wish that I was walking underneath a dome of Patrick Nagel portraits, a delirious eighties vision of female sexuality and power, instead of the little anonymous black dome I now scramble about under, jostling with other black domes for sidewalk space.

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