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The Reign of Rain 

Now it's even worse.

The coming of rain always spreads fear and loathing among moderns who fear and loathe more than anything else the loss of convenience. Like most gifts originating in heaven, rain can be awfully inconvenient.

But now? Post-Katrina?

The storm gathers itself and attacks almost before the children's birthday party sees it coming.

At first, the rain is slight and the sudden high wind sprays it under the carport. Everyone squeals and grabs for their soft drinks and cake plates. As they clamber inside, they shout things that show how unreachably alien the rain is.

Slow down, kids. Take a longer look. Rain has some loveliness. Microscope things. Each drop dancing its dance on the earth in its moment, so soon over, and then looking without eyes for a lower place to get away to.

Watch too how rain confounds light, both the sun's and ours. Less sunshine but more things look shiny in the rain, puddles and ponds and Pontiacs. The sky gets dark, the ground glistens. Pools of rainwater reflect everything, sometimes in dizzying but dazzling confusion. What is that? Where?

This double imagery, someone once noted, "will appeal strongly to anyone with the transcendental instinct about this dreamy and dual life of ours. It will always give a man the strange sense of looking down at the skies."

Now watch the gradual de-escalation of rain; it's been pouring and soon it will be dropping, but in between we get something that wets our hair without destroying our hairdo. Sometimes it's almost like a loving conciliatory pat on the cheek after a slap in the face.

Then the rain stops and the birds come down from the eaves and branches where they'd been seeking dryness. Come down to seek wetness to be found in a thousand tiny lakes that weren't there this morning. It could be any kind of bird: sparrows, pigeons, gulls, mockers. You haven't seen the residual pleasures of an afternoon shower till you've seen a couple of jays flinging water on one another like a couple of 12-year-olds.

On some rare days, the sun is so eager to reclaim the sky and the rain so reluctant to leave it that they share it for some yin-yang moments. "The devil's beating his wife," was the way I always heard these moments described. I liked that description, even though I had no idea what it meant when I first heard it -- and still don't.

When the time comes to drive your car in the rain, take note of the beading-up or fragmenting of your car window, that peep-hole to the outside world, the clouding of that world. Click on your wiper. See the clash between rain and the Machine Age; it's as endless as a metronome, the noise of the wiper blades alternating with the thud of precipitation.

The particular noise of it all. Rain provides its own sound effects, now a consumptive cough, then a prolonged snort, always a rumble or a roar all its own. If there is a time when it is especially providential to have a roof over your head, it's when that roof is tin and that tin is being drubbed by relentless rain.

Admittedly, rain, like sherbet, comes in many flavors. In Somerset Maugham's native England, rain is usually of the gentle variety. But in Pago Pago, he learned of the kind that he described in his story "Rain," which became the Rita Hayworth movie about Sadie Thompson: "... it was unmerciful and somehow terrible; you felt in it the malignancy of the primitive powers of nature. It did not pour, it flowed."

We know of Pago Pago rain right here.

The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but it's more far ranging around here. So now we should ponder the catchers of rain, the abandoned coffee cans and auto tires and hot tubs of Lakeview and Gentilly and Chalmette, all breeding mosquitoes as big as sparrows. We should try to remember that fallen rain had other roles than as incubator of pests and pestilence. Drinking water didn't always come in a Pellegrino bottle.

Yet there can be little doubt that a majority of humanity has some very big reservations about rain. Most people use it as a synonym for grief and trouble (e.g. "Into each life some rain must fall.") or at best, a nuisance. Back in Vaudeville, Al Jolson, the Justin Timberlake of his day, topped the charts with April Showers. The lyrics were OK as Tin Pan Alley lyrics go, but they included this line: "It isn't raining rain, you know. It's raining vio-lets."

Granted, violets are a handsome bloom. But "rain" has a decidedly negative connotation and what, pray tell, is wrong with rainwater?

Despite this historical hostility, humanity has come up with some shabby solutions to the problem of rain. Six-thousand years of recorded lore and the best we can come up with is the umbrella? One wag said that closed, an umbrella is an unmanageable walking stick, and open, an inadequate tent. Only compared to its alternatives -- raincoats, towels, newspapers -- does the umbrella even begin to make sense.

And does this make any sense? We are now the most bath-happy people ever. We spend billions at Bed, Bath and Beyond and almost as much on hot tubs. Our not-too-distant ancestors were content with a Saturday-night scrub; now such casual hygiene would probably lead to commitment to some institution that permits visitors on Sundays.

So why run from a bath at the hands of Mother Nature? Check out that tree in your yard during the next rainstorm. Watch some droplets pause on their way to the earth, form up Indian-file and then run down a branch like silver ornaments till they come to the end and jump.

My advice and proposal is this: During a mild deluge, you must walk at least six blocks without an umbrella. You must lie down and look up to where air and water meet and sing at least three rowdy songs. Then, according to your ability, you have to sing and dance the Gene Kelly title tune from Singing in the Rain. This routine must be followed at least six times per year.

Into each life, some rain must fall.

Thank the Lord for small favors.

click to enlarge MARK KARCHER
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