Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Deluge Racks up a Casualty

WHEN I LEFT MY apartment this morning — staggering into my second Monday of the week and aiming to board the latest acceptable train — it was raining gently. I hadn't heard anything about heavier precipitation, so I didn't turn around to get my raincoat or waterproof the contents of my backpack. This proved to be a mistake.

The rain worsened as the train streaked south through Bergen County. Ominous clouds awaited over the Meadowlands. The drainage ditches next to the tracks began to brim. I started to have my doubts.

Because I was already late, I eschewed the routes that might have prevented what was to come. Had I taken the World Trade Center PATH train, or had I ridden the 33rd St. PATH all the way to the last stop, and from either of these, taken the NYT subway to my building, I would have been a lot better off. Instead, I got off as usual from the 33rd St. train at 14th.

My first hint that this was a mistake came when I noticed the clot of people unmoving on the steps to the street. This means (a) someone fell or took ill on the stairs, (b) people are deploying their umbrellas and holding up the line, or (c) the rain is intense enough for people to pretend this winding stile is the London Underground during the Blitz. At any rate, the line was moving with the "next, next, next" pace of people shuffling up to receive Communion or pick up a gym towel.

Option (c) turned out to be the winnah. The rain I had beheld an hour and change ago was now a slanting torrent. Without pausing to hold up the line further, I popped my feeble umbrella and headed out.

In two blocks, I caught a healthy water ration. Without awnings or sufficient tree cover (these are medium-sized city trees, not the massive canopies of suburbia or Central Park), I was stuck virtually in the open. The umbrella made things worse. Because it was so small, the runoff soaked my left arm completely, and poured over the back of my pack. This I didn't discover until I finally got upstairs, shoes feeling squishy from the spilling waters.

I calmly walked the long axis of my office, pausing to query an editor about a manuscript I suspected I would soon receive, and to compliment a slender, fetching department-mate on her attire, dripping all the while. I reached my desk, dumped the impotent black parody of an umbrella on the rug, and discovered my backpack was compromised:
  • Four Ricola in the upper compartment were now exuding sugary throat medicine on my keys, wallet, and other loose items;
  • The rest of my Wall Street Journal was sodden;
  • My iPod had gotten a bath, and a wee bit of water emerged from the seam when I shook it slightly;
  • The iPod's battery pack was now refusing to turn off, and likewise dripped a bit of water, which made me nervous about plugging it into the charger when the time came;
  • A pool of water rested at the bottom of the bag's main chamber, which contributed to;
  • The ruin of my brand-new copy of No Limit Hold'em: Theory and Practice.
This last infuriated me. Shoes can dry out. A wet shirt can be removed and replaced (of which more later). Sodden newspapers cost no more than a buck. This book cost me $30. True, I have a Barnes & Noble gift card with which I could replace it, but I hadn't even gotten to soak in any of this new tome's wisdom, which — as the other offerings from poker publisher Two Plus Two have done — was sure to help me win at poker.

I bagged up the dripping, swollen mass of wisdom, bagged it in plastic so the sight of it wouldn't upset me all day, and deposited it in my trashcan. Only the fact that I was barefoot prevented me from dropping it in the kitchen trash. It bothered me that much.

I wrung out my socks and draped them over my trashcan, then stuffed my shoes full of paper toweling from my desk's overhead cabinet. (We continually run out of kitchen toweling, so every week or so I jack a fat sheaf of hand towels from the men's room. Sue me.) My plan was to visit the clothing store that occupies part of my building's first story at opening time, which conveniently was in a half hour. I worked as much as I could while drying out over that stretch, then told my boss I would need to step out for a dry shirt (she is way too overworked for me to have gotten a rise out of her by using the "wet clothes/dry martini" gag).

My errand was well intentioned but futile: This store, a planet in the Gap system, does not carry XXL clothing. Pissed, I walked back the way I had come, in rain less intense but still slanting beneath my cover, to the Urban Outfitters near my PATH stop. My reasoning:
  • Many Goths are fat.
  • I am fat.
  • Ergo, I can get a T-shirt here.
My frame of reference for Urban Outfitters must precede the trucker-hat and juvenilia craze now afflicting them (by at least a decade and a half, if you want to go back to their Newbury St. location in 1990ish Boston), because they had very little plain, pedestrian clothing not stricken with some ironic or arch expression. Very little in the way of Goth clothing per se. More like the type of shit for people who want to look like Paris Hilton when she slums but who can't afford Baby Phat gear. All I wanted was a fat-guy T-shirt. Nothing doing. XL was the tops. I might have been better off at the plus-size satellite of Hot Topic, Torrid, which accurately describes the mood I was now in.

My bolthole of hope was a tourist trap store. If you've entered New York via any of the major mass-transit options, you've seen those long, narrow clothing stores, usually with a bunch of NYC-themed shirt out front, sometimes even with a fake "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS" sign to lure the rube. Near my previous workplace, these were readily available. I could have had a INY knockoff in a trice, maybe even a "FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING FUCK" if this were a staff-meeting day. In Chelsea, these only occur along the main, two-way streets, so I had to hike a bit more. The first store I tried had every size except XXL. I could have walked back to work in a 6XL looking like a human Liberty Bell if I had wanted. Not today, perhaps in the future if I need a nightshirt.

My salvation came at the humble emporium called Tico Tico, between Fifth and Sixth on 14th St. It had the usual canopy of cheap luggage hanging from the entrance, and surely had done a thriving trade in umbrellas that morning. I held mine carefully as I stalked in, so as not to drip on the wares of the shopkeep who might help me out. Which he did. His female coworker directed me to a range of XXL tees, from which I selected a nice plain black one . . . which was more or less my work uniform for the first 5 years at my company. I threw in a three-pack of black athletic socks, forked over my cash, and bade the two of them good day.

I emerged from my company bathroom a quarter hour later, wearing the new shirt and one pair of the socks, the other shirt and socks now scrunched up in the Tico Tico bag, soon to be stretched out and drying in my cube. I put in a productive day, and I stayed an hour later to compensate for the wandering of earlier.

Losing the book still bugs me, though. Not because I can't afford another one. I do, after all, have that gift card. Rather, I hate the thought of books being destroyed. I was raised to take good care of them, to avoid writing in them or dog-earing pages. Aside from making critical notes in my poker books or others, my volumes are pristine. the I don't even like to see extras of various books my company has on hand being dumped in the annual thin-the-herd Dumpster fest we have. When I am done with a book, I give it away, or donate it, or sell it if my local B&N is buying. Someone else can enjoy it. It lives on. In the case of this poker book, I rather would have lost $30 in a game than had a book I didn't even peruse yet go to shit without cause. Shoes I can shine. Socks and shirts I can launder. A backpack I can air out. I had to throw out a chunk of someone's thought today. It doesn't sit well.

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