Umbrellas do far more damage than dogs -- at least they make it far more hazardous to walk on city streets -- yet umbrellas do not require a license.

For years umbrellas did no great harm, since men did not carry them and even women ran largely to parasols or sunshades. In the palmy days of this republic you could go year in and year out without ever meeting an umbrella personally.

In recent decades, however, umbrellas have been like rabbits so that now in a good steady downpour you may find as many as 237 in one block of K Street at noon, and while I have never been actually in the eye by an umbrella, it's like riding chartered planes: sooner or later.

It used to be that Americans had enough sense to come indoors when it rained, but that is no longer the case. As a nation we have accepted more dumb illusions since 1920 than in all the previous history of this continent, and one of them is that weather makes no difference and should not stop anybody.

Another is that you can hail a cab or take a bus and thus escape the rain.

Worst of all -- it is this particular illusion that will destroy us -- we now think that once we plan to do something, we must go through with it and not let a little rain stop us. This is part of another illusion, that the work we do is sufficiently important that rain doesn't matter, and that if we wear a raincoat and carry an umbrella we won't get wet anyway.

Needless to say I have never possessed an umbrella. And that is not all. A man cuts a ridiculous enough figure without seeing how many parcels he can carry or how many coats and galoshes and umbrellas. If the sun comes out, as it does occasionally in this capital, men especially look dumb with umbrellas.

If we as a society are really determined to plod about in downpours, surely the sensible answer is to roof over the sidewalks, not to arm ourselves with umbrellas.

A particular speciality of the capital is to open the umbrella around construction sites that are sheltered by haphazard roofs of rough planks supported by wood posts. Of course they leak here and there, and any person who owns an umbrella is certain to open the device., Invariably the unumbrellaed pedestrian, walking north, is caught between two owners of umbrellas, one heading south and the other north, and the pedestrian has limited choices: He can maintain his pace and his dignity and get speared in both ears, or he can dash madly ahead.

It is plain to any unprejudiced observer that the stupider the person is, the more certain he will have an umbrella. It is also certain that the stupider the person is, the more certain he will unfurl the umbrella the instant a cloud appears and not close it until the sun is fully out. Since there are more of them than of us, and since it rains five days out of seven around here, one is never very far from doom.

You cannot argue that respectable men do not carry umbrellas. That used to be the case, yes, but nowadays men of unquestioned righteousness, sanity and virility carry umbrellas.The day has passed when a man would be ashamed to be seen lugging an umbrella.

It used to be a man would as soon apply skin cream or wear silk shorts as carry an umbrella. Even as late as the period before World War II an umbrella suggested a man of timidity, overly fearful of the world, and not, perhaps, rightly at home in it.

All is changed, of course. And just here let me say I never saw any sense in a man pretending he was a cave man ready to kill, rape or roast whatever came along. As for skin cream, I suppose most men would be the better for it, and there is no reason a male could not like pretty or dainty things. I do not sneer at men's perfumes or the other stuff.

But umbrellas really do suggest a man's hair is not waterproof (indeed, it may not be, nowadays) or that he proposes to wear his shirt for the next six days and does not therefore want to get his collar wet.

My objection, though, has nothing to do with the image a man chooses for himself. If he wants to be prissy, who am I to object?

But I have many times narrowly missed serious gouging by umbrellas, and I see more and more of them on our streets. I also see the history of the automobile repeating itself: At first only a few sportsmen acquired cars and drove them like daredevils down (or more rarely up) Meridian Hill. Then everybody started getting cars and -- here is the thing to notice -- began using them as offensive weapons, racing through caution lights, cutting madly in front of other drivers, honking horns in a challenging way, and banging bumpers to show hostility.

The same dynamics apply to umbrellas. At first only the timid carried them, or only the severely dappered folk. Now almost everybody does. Umbrellas are now used to assert territory or to increase it, and to bully anyone not similarly armed.

The first step is to license the umbrella. Nine hundreds bucks a year, for starters.