Slice of Life: Mitigating the Mary Poppins syndrome


Besides pool cleaning, frog removal and setting out and putting away chair and lounge cushions, an important part of my job as cabana boy at Casa Cuello Oeste is umbrella repair.

We may have had a shortage of rain this summer, but definitely not wind. It seems that the topography particular to our property encourages a type of wind shear that blows all the floating tubes out of the pool, where they are invariably perforated on a thorny bush or on the town code deer/dog/children fence.

Giant gusts also send newspapers to all the surrounding neighbors, lift 2 pound books off tables and, most frustratingly, make shading the pool area a constant challenge since the umbrellas are ripped from their moorings and scattered about, always breaking at least one or two “wooden” ribs in the process.

Once, while I was playing some music at the Chequit, an umbrella that had unfortunately been placed in the hole of a glass table top was lifted out by a huge blast of wind, completely shattering it like a car windshield.

Out in Montauk last week we sat at a waterfront table, where I noticed the umbrella stands were bolted to the deck, the umbrella poles bolted to the stands, and the poles and ribs of the umbrellas were made, not of wood, but of stainless steel. Overkill? No. Not at all.

At least 10 years ago we bought a small market umbrella that has somehow survived numerous bluegrass festivals and trips to beaches of all kinds. We also obtained one of those “anchors” that screw in to the poles and have this auger-like bit that goes deep into the sand. The ribs of the umbrella are solid wood that seem to have stood the test of time, even holding their own as the umbrella occasionally pinwheels down the beach.

We happened to get a pretty good deal on a bunch of pool furniture, just as the installation of the pool was being completed. In that package we also got three market umbrellas with big heavy stands. The furniture is made of teak, which as you probably know, is a strong, nearly maintenance-free wood, the top choice for boat trim the world over. The umbrellas, as I have been repeatedly shown, are made of some kind of piece o’ junk finger-jointed “wood” that is nowhere nearly as resilient.

I have replaced at least one third of the ribs of these umbrellas over the last two seasons, the result of micro-bursts screaming into the hollow, yanking them from their stands and scattering them about the yard. It is no easy task, having to first disassemble the entire umbrella, pry the rivets from the connecting pieces and eventually replace them with a rib milled out of mahogany decking leftover from a project. The supply is dwindling.

Shortly before the arrival of my daughter and her family for their summer vacation, I had spruced up the pool and environs and completed the latest umbrella repairs, making sure that all three were in working order. Stabilizing the umbrella stands with giant rocks and pieces of concrete seemed to have mitigated the Mary Poppins syndrome, and we enjoyed the shade with no problems. Until last week.

In what could only be described as a bumbershoot conspiracy, three umbrellas out of four are now disabled. First, at the usually calm and serene Menhaden Lane, our 10-year-old umbrella was ripped out of the sand, anchor and all. It sailed down the beach, landing upside down in the water, breaking two ribs.

The very next day, at poolside, a cyclonic blast separated one umbrella at mid-pole, ripping the screws out of the brass fitting, as it then attacked an adjacent umbrella, resulting in three more broken ribs between the two.

The summer is over and I have plenty of time to repair them before next season, but I’m running out of replacement wood and I don’t know if my heart is in it. Maybe I should replace all of the remaining ribs with stainless steel or titanium, or maybe I should make a YouTube video on umbrella repair. Perhaps I should find a restaurant that’s closing and buy all their umbrellas, even if they say “Peroni” or “Stella Artois.”

My battle with the wind will now continue on different fronts like leaf gathering. When I’m sailing, I acknowledge that the wind is boss, and the wind lets me use it to propel my boat. What I don’t get is that if the wind already knows that I know that it’s the boss, why does it torture me by destroying my umbrellas? Is it jealous of the sun?

That’s it!

I remember this old fable of an argument between the sun and the wind as to which was stronger. They picked out a man wearing an overcoat to see which could remove the coat from the man. The wind went first and blew like crazy, but the more it blew, the tighter the man wrapped his coat around him. When it was the sun’s turn it just shone brightly, making the man so warm that he removed his coat.

I’m so glad I’m retired and have the time to figure out the answers to important questions like these.