Monday, June 8, 2009


I moved to Berkeley, California in 2000 and lived in a peeling blue building across from a cornfield, where I heard the corn was being genetically modified, but that might have just been a rumor propagated by the mailman. The mailman always had lots of information to share, including one particularly horrific story about how my scummy landlord had allowed a young girl in one of his apartments to die of carbon monoxide poisoning, then smuggled her out of the apartment wrapped in a large rug. The Cal newspaper had broken the story, the mailman said, handing me my bills. I already disliked the landlord immensely and this information was not hard to believe.

A man named Omar lived in the neighborhood; more specifically, he lived in a basement-type space below my apartment. It wasn’t an actual home, and Omar was not supposed to be there. He was pleasant enough during the day, standing outside my building or on the busy street a block over, greeting strangers and looking for spare change. But at night, after he’d been drinking, Omar would get the wild eyes. It was then that he would pound on the first floor window and challenge my neighbor Micah to fight him.

“I’m not going to fight you, Omar,” Micah would say calmly. I could hear this from my futon on the floor above. “Have a good night. I’ll see you tomorrow.” It wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds, though, and usually Micah would have to repeat himself several times before Omar wandered off to start trouble elsewhere.

One night the police came for Omar. He was in the basement, which you could only enter from a little side door about 3 feet high. The police knew Omar’s name. I think everyone did.

“Come out of there, Omar!” yelled one. “You know you can’t be in there.”

“Just a minute,” Omar called back, as though there was a delivery guy at the door. “Let me put my pants on.”

We didn’t see Omar after that. The reason I’m thinking about him is that there’s a man who sits on a bench outside Madison Square Park who looks exactly like Omar. Maybe Omar pulled himself together, moved across the country, and likes to spend his time outside now, feeding birds. I bet my Berkeley mailman would know the answer.

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