The rain, it raineth on the just,
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust steals the just's umbrella.

--Baron Charles Synge Christopher Bowen

The Umbrella Incident

An E-mail Saga

Author's Note: The following story is true. I know, because I was there. It happened to me. However, in the text of the communications, some proper names (of companies, cities, and individuals, including me) have been changed to aliases. The reasons for this are left as an exercise for the reader. Grammar what ain't proper and mispellings have been left in tact !

I worked in a warehouse for several years, supporting the computer system that controlled its operation. One rainy day I stopped to use the ATM just inside one entrance. Along about lunchtime, I realized that I had left my umbrella there. Finding that it had been taken, I assumed that someone who worked in our building found it and needed to find its owner.

I asked our database administrator how to send an E-mail to everyone in the warehouse, and he gave me a Unix program he said would do the trick. So I composed and sent this message, with a subject line of "Lost_Umbrella":

I left a large black umbrella hanging from the table by the ATM in the north end of the Kay Em facility this morning about 8:00. It is no longer there. If you picked it up with the intention of returning it to its rightful owner, please let me know. If you picked it up because you are in desperate need of an umbrella, even one that's old and kinda bent outta shape, then God bless you (and your new umbrella too).

Russ Walker

As they say, "I seen my mistake as soon as I done it." The Unix program I used had two major shortcomings in this instance:

  1. It did not cause a mailing list to accompany the message. This caused many a reader, seeing a single "To" name, to think that he or she was the only one to receive it.
  2. It sent the message not only to the people in our warehouse, but to all users of the system, i.e. employees and business associates all over the continental United States.

I then began receiving responses of various kinds. The most entertaining were those who believed they were being accused.

I think that you have the wrong Peter Deere. I've never been to Texas. Sorry!

Sorry, I only have my green duck umbrella.

Who are you, why did you send this to just me and no I did not take your umbrella. I haven't even been by the ATM machine today. I have my own umbrella. Jennifer Peters

I have no idea what happened to your umbrella. I did not enter the Kay Em facility until about 10 AM this morning. Upon entering the north lobby, with my new, medium sized, burgundy umbrella, I stopped to pick up a Wall Street Journal, nothing else. I do not remember seeing an umbrella of any size, color, or condition in the north lobby. Good luck in your search.

Joe Schneider

I don't know if I was singled out for this message or if it was sent to everyone, but I work in California and have never been to Kay Em drive. Anyway, it doesn't rain in California, so why would I need to steal your umbrella. Next time you want to accuse me of stealing, make sure I was at least in the state at the time.

Dear Russ,

When I came to work at 7:30am, there was no umbrella "hanging from the table by the ATM." When I left the building to go over to Folsom Road, there was no umbrella "hanging from the table by the ATM." When I returned from Folsom Road/Lunch at 1:30pm, there was no umbrella "hanging from the table by the ATM." In short, I have not seen a stray umbrella today. I do, however, have a couple of extras that I have accumulated over the years as an Admin. If it if raining this afternoon when you leave, please feel free to stop by and borrow one. One of them is "old and kinda bent outta shape" but you are welcome to use it.

Debby Mitchell

Hey sorry Russ but noone here in Michigan saw your umbrella.

I haven't found a large black umbrella but I do have small black umbrella that is old and kind of beat up. I am not ready to part with it right now but I would be able to work out a time share arrangement. It's not that I am partial to the umbrella, it's just the only one that I have.

I'll let you know if I see a fugitive umbrella trying to make a break for it.


You know Russ,
I just knew this was my luUUUUUUCCCCkkkky Day. I flew all the way from San Diego, just to get that big black kinda bent outta shape umbrella. Now if would ever rain in SD I am prepared. Since it came from Texas I knew it would be a big umbrella and I as well as all my friends can just sit an enjoy the rain all day.

Thank you,

Sorry you lost it or misplaced it, but unfortunately I was a sleep at 08am and not in need of one at that time, but If and that a big IF, I see one tonight during my tour of the building would you like for me to retrieve it or just let it go with it;s new owner...


I do not know what you are talking about. Did you mean to send this to me?? I do not even work at Kay Em.
Beth Woods

Pretty funny ending comments. I don't have your umbrella and I really don't think anyone here kidnapped it and brought it out to California, esp since it's not our rainy season yet.

Good luck on finding your umbrella!

I have several umbrellas to my credit. Most of which are by far in better shape than the one you describe below. I do have an old Totes that you can have. It most closely matches the one you forgetfully left behind. Its about 12 years old, some bent ribs, separating nylon, missing top button, but probably has 15-20 miles of life and 7 good starts in it.

I would also suggest that you attend a writing class to better package your future messages. You can find this class at Clarkston Creek Community College main campus in the room next to the memory improvement clinic.


10. Your umbrella is surfing the 'net.
9. It was found at Madonna's birthday party.
8. Beavis is beating Butthead with it.
7. Mick Jagger is using it as an air-guitar
6. Charlie Chaplin is using it as a cane to revive IBM
5. Was it a smal black, folding umbrella? ...nope, haven't seen it!
4. Letterman gave it away to someone in the audience
3. It was used as the Space Shuttle ultra-violet protection device
2. It's used as a satellite uplink dish
1. How would I know anything about your umbrella, I'm in California!

No, but really, we haven't seen it here in California. Hope you find it and good luck!

Yeh, why do you underline your subject header????


I got telephone messages, too:

Russ Walker . . . This is Karl Kuwitzky . . . with, uh, QED in San Diego. . .
I received your message about your umbrella. . . . Please give me a call . . . 858-555-0001. . . . Thank you. . . . By the way, it . . . it doesn't rain in southern California.

Hi. This is a message for Russ Walker. This is Greg at XYZ in, uh, Chula Vista. We're looking out the window here, and it looks like someone's walking around with an umbrella, uh, that matches your discription. . . . Unfortunately, . . . it's a nun. So, we're wondering if we should go, uh, relieve her of this. We're thinking of . . . we're thinking of . . . yeah, we're sending a couple of engineers out there right now to go relieve her of this. Please call us back to tell us if we should, uh, apprehend this person. Okay, bye-bye.

Hello, Russ, this is Jim Phillips with Superbox. You sent me a, uh, Microsoft Mail message about a lost umbrella, and uh, I was trying to respond to your letter, and um, just checking to see . . . I don't see anyone else, uh, that you sent that to but me. I was not in . . . I haven't been to XYZ in probably a week and a half. . . uh, maybe even closer to two weeks . . . but, uh, I don't have your umbrella, and I don't know who might have gotten it. Uh, if you'd like to call and talk to me, I'm at 555-7550. Thank you.

Within an hour, I found it necessary to send out this disclaimer, with a subject line of "Thanks for the response":


First of all, for any of you thinking that my first note was sent only to YOU as an individual: To mail that message, I used a script that builds a mailing list of everyone in XYZ and then sends the message to one recipient at a time. Be assured that I didn't single anybody out.

Now, on with the standard response. . . .

Thank you all for your concern and support.
I am grateful to be surrounded by so many caring individuals.
Contrary to what my teenage daughter may think, I am NOT too cheap to buy a new umbrella if my old one does not turn itself in.

Some people still did not get it:

Sent to wrong email address.......

Marilyn Studebaker
XYZ-San Diego, California

Sorry, I don't remember seeing an umbrella fitting THAT description. I'll let you know if I do .

Sorry, Russ, I didn't see your umbrella


It wasn't me, but I sure hope you get yours back!

Why do you keep torturing me like this? I tell you that I have no idea WHAT happened to your umbrella. I didn't even use that entrance that day!



I think you got it right! You should look out for your own things ! Dozens of people go through that ATM each and every day. Remember, it is a public ATM. Someone did leave a Southlake Library card . Perhaps you could use this for your umbrella. Dazi

Three hours later, I thought I could bring closure to the whole situation by this note, with a subject line of "THIS_IS_GOING_TO_EVERYONE":

Dear ladies and gentlemen of XYZ,

This is the last time I will ever send a message to everyone at the same time. We in the Systems group have a script that will mail a specified file to all XYZ employees regardless of their location. However, when the message arrives in each electronic mailbox, it does not have the mile-and-a-half-long recipient list that you are used to seeing.

This afternoon I used this script to mail a note in an attempt to locate a missing umbrella. Because of the lack of the aforementioned long recipient list, several people took this personally, thinking that they had been singled out and that they were being accused. Neither was the case.

Perhaps you have noticed that we regularly get mail concerning "Chicago Area Volunteer Opportunities" or "Rockville Blood Drives". Please be assured that whatever process sends these to us is as UNINTELLIGENT as the script I used today (and considerably less intelligent than my ex-umbrella which obviously walked off unassisted).

So . . .

I hereby apologize for the following:
(1) Wording my previous message in an offensive way.
(2) Using a dumb process to send my message.
(3) Wasting your time reading about an almost worthless umbrella.
(4) Losing my umbrella in the first place.
(5) Doing whatever it was I did to make it rain today.
(6) Being sarcastic.
(7) Anything else I have forgotten to apologize for.

Russ Walker

After that, I got some reassuring notes. They are not as entertaining as the nastygrams; I'm just keeping them for my own happy ending. Read on if you wish:

1. I was not offended. I knew the broadcast message was an error. I just found it to be funny. YOU obviously you were spoken to about this. I guess SOME PEOPLE just have no sense of humor. But if you really had the POWER to make it rain maybe you should consider moving to San Diego. Your talents would most certainly be appreciated here. I do hope whomever has your umbrella will now return it after the razzing you have probably gotten over this.

Good luck,

Thanks for entertaining me today. You're pretty funny.

Not a problem, Russ. You neither came across sarcastic or mean. Good luck with your next umbrella! Have a great Weekend.!

You poor thing. I kind of wondered why my name was alone on the message, but I didn't take it personally! You obviously had a bad day, starting with the umbrella lost and then what looks like the wrath of XYZ descending on your misunderstood head. Momma said there'd be days like this!

Russ, some people just aren't as understanding as others. I wasn't offended and I hated to hear that you lost your umbrella. If you are ever in need of an umbrella, I usually have an extra one at my desk. Just call me and if I'm not using it, you may.

I don't know about anyone else, but I enjoyed a little lighthearted-ness (is that a word?) on an otherwise dreary Friday afternoon. Sorry about your umbrella, but I was no where near Kay Em Dr. on that day. Have a nice weekend!
Mary Louise

In response to your memo.....

Everyone has the God given right to retrieve that which is rightfully their own, no matter how they attempt to do it. Personally, I got a quite a kick out of your message regardless of the worthless umbrella scenario and blessing. I can't speak for those people who took your message in the worng context, but then again that's their problem, isn't it. People who are always so up tight with life, subject others to their "supposed " conservative nature. They in turn should stay out of the real world or just get with it!

You have nothing to be sorry about nor need to apologize for trying to reclaim your belonging. Besides, this employee has plenty of beat up old umbrellas. Therefore, should you ever need one lousy looking umbrella on those rainy days after I have washed my car, feel free to come on down and borrow one!

I found your message humorous and far from sarcastic!

So in memory of your loss, let's have a few moments of silence and hope for better days.

A valid, most conservative co-workler, seriously.

Walker: I never did receive your message so I was never offended by it. I just hope you didn't get into too much trouble for sending the first one.

Have a good weekend.

I'm just getting to some of my messages -this one was great!
Hope the aforementioned UM'brella (as we say here in Tejas) was returned to you!
Tony P.

I had a good laugh on both you messages concerning you missing umbrella. I suspect that the folks who took your mail personally my have had something to feel guilty about. I hope your umbrella shows up some day. Maybe a "missing umbrella" poster with a picture of you and your umbrella in the "good old days" would have given you a more sympathetic audience. Just a thought.

I thought you sent it to me personally but then I was smart enough to realize it was a mass distribution and I am smart enough not to be offended. Janet Peabody

Thanks for enlightening this dismal day. I enjoyed your response, and applaud your sense of humor. Good luck in locating your umbrella, hopefully it won't rain tomorrow!

Pete Bismarck

Dear Russ,

Good Luck with the UMBRELLA, sorry to say that in San Diego it was sunny today!
I feel that I must tell you Mmail has never been sooooo funny.

Jacqueline Fremont

Dear RWJ,

I must say these messages you sent today really amused me. I sure hope that after all you went through, you do get your umbrella back.

I can guarantee you that nobody here in the Chula Vista office would have taken your umbrella. It is always sunny and warm here. We would have a earthquake before we had a rain storm.

Good luck to you.

I take it your got bombarded with message,so I thought I would add one more... You crack me up! Maybe not everyone feels as I do, but I thought the whole thing pretty funny. I wish you luck finding your umbrella or luck and buying a new one if it doesn't show up.

If I see your umbrella walking around here in California, I'll let you know... Try to have a nice and please don't get too wet without your umbrella.

Chula Vista, CA


I just wanted to let you know that not everyone thought it was a bad Idea to send your mail that way. Besides there is an umbrella in my area that has been around here for the past 5 storms without moving so perhaps the umbrella you lost was looking for this one or just simply went to the same place all half used pens and pencils go for vacation. I don't know if it is just me or what but I almost prefer sarcastic mail, and thanks for the rain I know it wasn't something I did.

See Ya,

Frank   x4590

I think you've missed your calling. You should be a comedy writer for someone. I hear Letterman is hiring.

Russ, I thaught that your umbrella memo was great. A few of us got a kick out of it. And no offense was taken here. But again, that may have something to do with the fact that I am in Oak Park.

XYZ should be a little less serious. Maybe we could start an e-mail soap opera, "As the Umbrella Turns", or something like that.

But seriously, I hope that your umbrella shows up. Have a great day... RLO

Good job! Sorry about the umbrella.

3 more and you'd have a top 10 list


Just so you won't think we all were offended, I was not.

In fact, I was in complete empathy with you.

Hang in there and don't let us sensitive people worry you. It's their problem for misinterpreting your intentions.

Krystal Schmidt, you friendly SoftWarp Team member.

I loved your message!! I truly cannot believe that anyone could have been offended - guilty conscience maybe? Cracked me up. You're a good sport!

Didn't see any problem with your message - it prompted a smile in an otherwise gloomy day.

Take care...


Cool........this must mean I'm no longer a suspect. Don't feel bad though, we have an important member of the CV office that once sent a "very" private message to practically every internet user in the world.

Russ-You probably don't know me and I'm fairly certain that I don't know you, but I feel some empathy for you and your missing umbrella. If it makes you feel any better, I did not feel you message was offensive in any way. Also, your response to the obvious grief you have received for attempting to locate the umbrella was witty and well-worded. Thanks for brightening my Friday.

Missy Felton
QED XYZ-Lakeside

Thank goodness you cleared that up. I thought you knew it was me who took your umbrella !

Can you stop the rain?

How many times do I have to tell you?? I wasn't anywhere NEAR your umbrella! By the way your memo-writing skills have greatly improved since your last mail :)


I did not take offense; in fact, I enjoyed the phraseology. It showed a sense of humor, that will bear you in good stead as time marches on. That will not be the last umbrella that you lose in your lifetime.
Remember, that someone is happier now that they have you umbrella. And they will smile and be a better person today. Perhaps, someone will steal that umbrella and another person will be happy because they got a free umbrella. Perhaps world peace has been moved forward a step . Have a good day, and if you need an umbrella, see me. I lived in the Seattle area for 10 years and I have plenty.

There was one followup telephone message:

Russ, this is Jim Phillips. Now it's my turn to apologize. I, uh, called you up asking about the umbrella, and I see you've already taken care of my questions with your, with your response "This Is Going To Everyone." Uhhhhhh . . . Thanks, and uh, geez I hope I never make the same mistake. See you later.

Several days later I was still getting responses:

Hey Russ,

Sounds like quite a predicament. I know I'm innocent cause it's not raining here in Michigan and if it were --- well, Kay Em is a little bit out of the way for an umbrella - good look !!!!

The only thing you need in Michigan right now is a WINTER COAT!
Rachel Knight

I was on vacation on thursday the 3rd, so I really dont know any thing about and umbrella.

I just now got to this one - I think you may have missed your calling. I know you could work fewer hours and make a lot more money writing for Seinfeld or someone else. Thanks - I needed a good laugh!
Tony P.

P.S. What size shoes does your UM'brella wear, we are having a clothing drive and might have a pair that fits?

I am sorry that you are sorry for everything but you neglected this chance to apologize for the Neptune Division lose money. And if you were really sorry maybe you would contribute money to a worthy cause. And I am sorry that I waited for so long to reply. I'll bet you had a bunch of mail on Friday and this would have been funnier if it had been number 100 in your mail que.

I'm still willing to work out a time share arrangement for my rather small and beat up, but much loved, umbrella.


And finally, some time later one coworker sent me some instructions for some things I needed to work on, and she tacked this onto the end of the message:

P.S. I have not seen your umbrella.

What? You're still here? Well, okay then, here is what John T. Molloy says in his book Dress For Success, on page 158 of my paperback copy:


A man's umbrella should be black, preferably of the non-fold-up type, with a clean, simple handle. Multi-colored golf umbrellas, which some men carry, have effeminate overtones and should be avoided. When I first began testing the attitudes towards men's accessories, fold-up umbrellas always received negative responses; now, some of the more expensive ones test with more favorable results, and they are quite convenient, but the standard black umbrella is still preferable.

In case you're curious, I never got my umbrella back.

*I think, from reading between the lines, that this is the guy that took it.

Word Wild Web
Dumb Things People Say
Lien À Trois
Elmwood Court