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Under the Umbrella

     Umbrellas! What do you do with an umbrella? Who even needs an umbrella? Unless it’s raining. I carry one in my car just in case. Kind’a ridiculous, since I live where it hardly ever rains. But I do.

     Lately my umbrella’s been getting a bit of a workout. Except when I leave it in the car because the clouds drifted off to Arizona or L.A. Those clouds come back. Usually about lunch time when I get up from my desk and ask if anyone wants to go to lunch. Monday Martha and I headed for the door, saw the rain-splattered courtyard, and hurried back to get our umbrellas.

     She got hers. Mine was in the car, three rainy blocks away. Lot of good an umbrella is when it’s somewhere else. We ventured out, the two of us under one umbrella.

     Umbrellas weren’t meant for two. One of you gets wet. Not as wet as if you weren’t sharing an umbrella, but wet. If the umbrella owner gets wet, the umbrella sharer feels bad; if the umbrella sharer gets wet, the umbrella owner tries to put the umbrella more over the sharer and bumps some stranger’s umbrella and apologizes to the stranger and everyone gets wetter because they forgot to watch their umbrellas and a wind has come up from behind and blown both umbrellas off-track.

     When we got to the block where trees shade the entire length of the sidewalk, the umbrella kept hitting the low branches and snagging up, so Martha collapsed it. The trees acted like giant green umbrellas so we didn’t get too wet. We made it to lunch and back that day, but our clothes got more than a light shower between umbrella adjustments.

     The next time it started raining at lunch time, my umbrella was ready, next to my desk. And Kim and Martha had theirs, so we stepped outside and we all raised our umbrellas to the clouds.

     Except Kim. Kim’s wouldn’t go up. She pushed the little button that pops it up three times, but it wouldn’t pop up. She pushed that round thing around the umbrella pole that opens the umbrella as you push it up, but it wouldn’t budge. Sometimes it doesn’t help to have an umbrella.

     Kim and I shared. This time it was me trying to make an umbrella that’s barely big enough to cover one and a half people, cover two of us. It’s awkward, you know. You’re holding the umbrella up over the both of you, you think, but then you notice it’s not covering your umbrella sharer at all. She’s getting soaked. So you move the umbrella over to cover her better. Meanwhile, she’s moving away to make sure you’re getting your share of the umbrella but you’re trying not to move in on her territory and the umbrella is bobbing and weaving and knocking into the trees and not covering much of anybody.

     Finally you get there – wherever it is you’re going - and collapse the umbrella. But it’s dripping and you shake-shake-shake it to get the water off before you fold it up and the little strap with the snap keeps slipping out of your hand because the folds of the umbrella are falling out of where they’re supposed to be and you finally get it around the folds, all tidy and such and…

     Drat!!! It’s backwards. The connecting parts of the snap aren’t facing each other like they’re s’posed to and you’re going to have to unwind the strap and start over. Must be because I’m left-handed or something, but I get it wrong every time and I get everyone around me all wet when the folds come unwrapped and the water splatters all over, but finally I get it with a satisfying snap.

     I hear we’re in for more rain next week – and lots of wind. Want to join me for lunch? There’s no cover charge…

     The gas you gotta buy. You can drive a little less, but you still need gas when the tank goes dry. Can’t wait for the price to go down. Interest rates – that’s another matter. Interest rates, you can pick ’n choose.

     At work I chase interest rates regularly. I do my research online and beg bankers on the phone and when I find or negotiate a solidly high rate on a Certificate of Deposit, I snap it up. Kind’a enjoy doing all that negotiating.

     Recently it occurred to me that I should be more businesslike about our home finances – meaning hey! Mortgage rates are going down, way down. So why aren’t you refinancing your loan?

     And here the chase begins. The guy who helps me pay for things and I gathered our papers and drove off to the bank with the lowest rate. On the way, we stopped at the credit union to pick up some cash. Just happened, there was a sign at the entrance: “Lowest interest rates of the year – refinance now!”

     So of course we had to ask. Ohmigosh! The rate was even lower than the one at the bank. And here we were, with all the papers in our car – you know, the copies of W-2s, home insurance, paystubs, property tax bills and a zillion others. How lucky could we be? We sat down and applied.

     An hour later, we left, but we didn’t lock in the rate because there were about three rates, depending whether or not we wanted to pay points. Rates had been going down anyway so I figured I had plenty of time to sleep on it – heck, maybe they’d be lower tomorrow and I could lock in the lower rate from my computer at home.

     Mistake. The rates went up. Now I had a major decision: wait a few more days to see if they’d go down, or lock in this higher rate before it skittered up further. I waited one day. Rates went down. I locked it.

     About that time, the loan officer at the bank where we were originally going to apply called. I explained that we’d stopped at the credit union on the way and they just happened to have lower rates, so we had applied there.

     She asked what rate we got and a slew of e-mails ensued: Bank: Have you closed the loan yet? Me: Not yet. Bank: Our rates just went down. Me: How far? Bank: It’s four point six, one point. Me: What do I need to do?

     What I needed to do was fill out five pages of forms and copy twenty pages of documents and so I didn’t do it. Until she sent an e-mail two days ago with a rate I couldn’t refuse. Don’t know why, but I did refuse it. I think it was ’cause I still didn’t want to fill out all those papers.

     Funny thing is, I slept on it, changed my mind, whipped out those copies and rushed to the bank. Got there ten minutes before closing. Asked about their rate. It went up.

     I was finally beginning to appreciate the credit union’s rate when I got a call from them. With all these falling prices on real estate, the appraisal on our house came in lower than the value in the loan application. A lot lower. So “lower” that our locked-in rate was unlocked and let in another point.

     At this point, I e-mailed the bank, urgently, and asked what their current rate was. I haven’t heard back, but today’s newspaper said mortgage loan rates had hit the highest they’ve been in three weeks. That was about when I started all this…

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