15 July 2008

Umbrage Is Not Free

One of the latest models of Umbrage Meters

This morning I received an unexpected knock at the door and found an angry man waiting for me. He introduced himself as Mr. Humbert Shade, representing Perugia Fosca & Associates, a little-known yet powerful collection agency, and he’d come to receive payment or else to begin repossessing all my belongings. Now, I’m scrupulous in my bill-paying, and I asked what, exactly, I owed. Mr. Shade handed me an itemized list. “For nearly eight years, you’ve been taking umbrage, and a lot of it,” he said, “but you’ve never paid.”

As I ran down the list, I realized that umbrage is in fact one of the world’s most expensive commodities, currently priced at $5,443,967.04 per ounce; the human organism, being remarkably umbrage-inefficient, burns up umbrage at a rate of as much as 16 tons per minute. This explains why most people take umbrage instead of paying for it — at least until the collection agencies catch up with them. Starting during the Florida recount after the 2000 Presidential Elections, I’ve been taking massive quantities of umbrage, with the result that I’m now deeply in debt.

Umbrage was first developed in Italy during the late-Middle Ages; it is derived from a mixture of raw sienna and yellow ocher (though not, as is widely assumed, burnt umber) which is slowly burned in an extremely hot oven or kiln. The resulting hard cakes, like charcoal briquettes, can be ignited by circumstance, then smoked at leisure, though most people take it in the convenient pill form that is, paradoxically, hard for others to swallow. Umbrage is frequently washed down with large quantities of liquor, and most often while sitting on a high horse. The effects of umbrage, very strong at first, generally weaken until it is passed out of the system. Currently, umbrage is one of the principal products manufactured in Umbria, the region east of Tuscany in central Italy. With revenue declining and other industry failing in Umbria, umbrage producers have begun to clamp down on those people, like me, who take it regularly.

Among the key ingredients in household umbrage

“Because this is an election year in your country,” Mr. Shade explained, “we may be able to avert a severe recession in Umbria — but only if we can collect. If Americans continue to consume umbrage at such high rates without paying, we’re probably looking at the loss of a million jobs and a full-fledged region-wide depression.”

Perugia Fosca & Associates has lobbied to install umbrage meters in every American home, a request that is currently being studied by the Department of Homeland Security. If successful, the plan would mean that each home receives a monthly umbrage bill, much like those associated with other household commodities, such as water, electricity, and gas — too late, however, to facilitate billing for widespread umbrage consumption during the current presidential campaign.

“We had a rough time with you Americans,” Shade said, “because your President Bush gives umbrage — for free. Even in Europe, he’s still getting away with it. He has made it incredibly difficult for our bookkeepers to stay on top of billing.”

Mr. Shade informed me that there’s an umbrage meter in my home here in France. Hidden in a shadowy part of my pantry, it escaped my notice before now. Apparently my consumption of umbrage overwhelmed the device, because the meter was broken, its readout panel burned-out and unreadable, its wiring short-circuited, its valves blocked, and its pressure-regulator exploded. A thin wisp of smoke was still rising from the top.

I seized on this evidence as an opportunity, and I asked Mr. Shade whether it was possible that I’d been billed in error. “Since the meter is broken, perhaps I’ve taken far less umbrage than your records indicate,” I said.

The French are Europe’s leading consumers of umbrage.
Former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is shown here under its influence.

Shade was doubtful, but after a brief conversation we negotiated a payment schedule whereby, in the year 2124, I will have worked off the bulk of my debt. Shade then announced that he was ready to take his leave, for which he offered to pay with a piece of advice: “Next time — and I shouldn’t even be telling you this — try outrage. It burns faster than umbrage, but it’s renewable.” He told me that, in response to the New Yorker cover that depicts Barack and Michelle Obama as a Muslim and an armed revolutionary, respectively, many Americans were taking umbrage this week, whereas it would be cheaper to opt for outrage instead. “Just remember — if you do decide to go with outrage, you need a license.”

Exhausted by this encounter, I decided to take a nap, though I don’t know how I’ll ever manage to pay for it.