By Jared Stutzman
Once upon a time in a world very much like ours, a little boy named Albert was fascinated with umbrellas. He didn’t own an umbrella, and neither did his parents—they felt umbrellas were unnecessary encumbrances made obsolete by technologically advanced raincoats.
Albert was fascinated by the old-fashioned curves in the handles of umbrellas, by the sudden, forceful, explosive way they unfolded and opened at the press of a button. He was fascinated by all of the different ways that an umbrella could be twirled, tossed, flung, opened and closed, hidden in a briefcase, and used as a crowbar, parachute, or walking stick. He owned action figures who held umbrellas in various poses and he owned some toy umbrellas, but no real ones.
Albert saw umbrellas when he watched TV or went to the movies with his friends. Most of the cool, suave leading men in the movies carried umbrellas. Secret agents seemed to be particularly skilled with their tiny umbrellas, concealing them beneath their suits at parties only to whip them open at the key moment, to everyone’s shock and surprise. Cowboys carried their massive, heavy umbrellas in holsters attached to their belts so that they could pull them out for sudden rainstorms, or to prod a reluctant cow, or to fend off an attack from a bear. Gangsters walked around with multiple umbrellas dangling from their bodies. Albert loved to watch umbrellas in action in the movies—the constant opening and closing, the twirling from the crook in the handle—it was so exhilarating!
Albert, like all boys his age, loved video games. Most of his games involved using umbrellas to save the world from an invasion by aliens or zombies or terrorists. He had played these games since he was a small child. What he liked best about these games was that they allowed him, Albert, to actually become the umbrellaist! The screen showed his hands grasping an umbrella. By pressing a button on his controller, he could see “his” hands on the screen flick the lock on the umbrella to open it. Another button made the hands twirl the umbrella by the crook. Still other controls allowed him to use it as a parachute, a walking stick, a crowbar, or a club. He could twirl it in the air or fling it away. As he progressed deeper into the game, the points he earned allowed him to trade up for bigger, better, more powerful umbrellas—sometimes he could carry and use multiple umbrellas at the same time.
One day, Albert found a real umbrella! He was walking to school when he saw it lying by the side of the road, looking abandoned. He grabbed it, and as he picked it up, he saw another lying nearby. He looked around. Then he picked up the second umbrella, tucked both of them under his coat as he had seen secret agents do on TV, and raced to school. It was the first time in his life he’d ever held a real umbrella, but he knew exactly what to do, as if he’d been training for this moment for years. He went straight to the school cafeteria, which was crowded with students. Without thinking, he reached under his coat and pulled both umbrellas out into full view and snapped them open with a whoosh, just as he had done so often on his video games, just like the heroes in the movies.
Screams filled the cafeteria. Kids stampeded for the exits. Albert leaped up onto a table—he was acting instinctively, trained by hours of repetition. He barely heard the screams—his video games and the movies led him to expect them. With a graceful motion, he leaped into the air and parachuted softly to the ground with both umbrellas. With surprising speed, he folded both of them up again and strolled across the cafeteria, using them as walking sticks. He stuck one umbrella under a table leg and pried the table into the air. Somewhere on the edge of the room, a teacher begged him to stop, but she sounded just like the pleading voices in his video games. Albert twirled both umbrellas by their crooks, tossed them into the air, caught them again and opened them in one smooth motion. He was having the time of his life! Even though he’d never held an umbrella before, he felt like he’d been preparing for this his whole life.
That night, the news carried photos of the events at Albert’s school. There was outrage throughout the community. Some people were furious that a boy Albert’s age had access to umbrellas in the first place and were calling for more stringent umbrella control. But most people were simply mystified. “Why?” they asked. “Where on earth would a young boy have gotten the idea that it was OK to use umbrellas like that? What could possibly have put that notion in his head?” They shook their heads. They didn’t understand it. Then, because they needed a distraction, they got in their cars and drove to the theater to watch the latest umbrella action film while their kids played umbrella video games at home.