We can hear Omar coming from a block away, shouting to someone in the street or to the owner of other shops. I wonder what he says to them. To us, he always says the same thing. That is, if he gets inside. Some days we close the door. He stands outside shouting and we shake our heads and say, “Omar, go away,” or “Omar, go home.”
This is silly because Omar is home. I wonder what part of Telegraph Ave. he sleeps on, if he has blankets. The owners of the hat shop are his neighbors and his daily routine is to walk down Telegraph, sharing the natural exuberance and extraversion that would have served him well in the working world.
Omar is not too drunk today. He walks into the hat shop, gap-toothed and smiling with a Miller High Life. It is a shamelessly beautiful afternoon and Ed, the owner, is eager to be combative. So Omar is allowed to stay, if only for a minute.
Omar says: “Jess’ca!” not talking to me, but talking to Jessica, “you know who you look like?” He turns to me, “She looks like Fae Dunaway!”
Jessica rolls her eyes. “I know, I know, me with my beautiful blonde hair. Good-bye Omar.” Jessica has simple, brown hair.
He insists that I look like someone too. I tell him to come back when he thinks of it.
He does leave but comes back minutes later to tell me that I look like “A YOUNG ELIZABETH TAYLOR! THAT’S JUST WHO YOU LOOK LIKE! ELIZABETH TAYLOR WAS BEAUTIFUL. But not as pretty as Fae Dunaway.”
It is not too hard to get Omar to leave unless Ed is around. I thought today would be the day that there was a break in our ritual conversation, we might discuss how much hat shop girls look like old movie stars. But then Ed sees Omar and smiles, eager to have someone to josh on. It doesn’t matter what Ed says, no matter how hateful, cruel or dismissive, Omar’s response is always the same.
He doesn’t speak to Ed, he speaks to everyone in sight, all the people in the shop and on the street. He says, “THIS MAN SAVED MY LIFE! I MEAN IT! I love this man, I mean, HE REALLY SAVED MY LIFE!”
“What ‘ya got there, Omar?” Ed asks, pointing at the Champaign of beers, “Got one for me?”
“You don’t want none of this!” Omar protests.
“Come on! Saved your life can’t even give a guy a beer?”
“Carol will kill me for sure if she ever found out!” Carol is the other owner and Ed’s wife.
“Come on, can’t even give me a beer?”
“No! HELP! SOMEONE SAVE ME! THIS MAN IS TRYING TO ROB ME!”
But no one looks because who would believe for the shop owner is going to rob a drunk and they’re all smiles anyway.
It makes me happy to see Omar smile. I think how sad it must be to wake up every day and get drunk and set out to find the shop owner so that he can really understand that he saved your life. I wonder how he became this man, what trials changed him from an innocent boy, someone with hope. And how young, and was it a million small injustices or does he strive to blot out a particular memory that haunts him?
But today Amoeba Records has a band playing and the street vendors are happy just sitting in the sun and the punks are selling jokes for change and in short, it is a stunning Spring day. Even a man without a literal or proverbial pot to piss inÂ grinning from ear to ear and relishing the sunshine.