Still Calling

Omar

My friend Omar killed himself.

Many residents who grew close to him considered him family. They recounted his encyclopedic knowledge of film, his affection for pets and for walking dogs, and his repertoire of philosophical rants that some found incomprehensible. He was always smartly dressed in clothes rooted from donation bags left out front of the Second Mile thrift store. He often gave people clothing, somehow always in their exact size and style.

However, he had a dark side when he drank — which was often.

He would hurl insults about people’s clothing, weight, and ethnicity. He’d shout, “Go back to your country!” in his heavy accent. Sometimes it seemed there was no way to avoid his abuse. He accosted residents on the street, crashed their parties, or blew his whistle outside their homes in the middle of the night. His longtime friend Ryan Collerd recalled him berating a woman and her child. There was nary a local business from which he wasn’t eventually banned.

“Let’s just say Omar did not understand consent,” said Morgan Jamison, a close friend of Omar’s for nine years, who called him ” a crash course in humanity” and who appreciated his positive qualities despite his antics. “He didn’t allow people a choice, and I think that’s why so many people were hurt by him.”

At the same time, many women described him as protective — someone who would go out of his way to make them feel safe and cheer them up. Sharon Curley recalls that after Omar learned that a customer at Green Line Cafe had threatened her at work, he’d show up every day when her shift began at 6:30 a.m.

When I first met Omar, I nearly punched his lights out. I had brought my son to West Philly Runners for the first time, and here was this maniac jumping into traffic, shooting imaginary guns at random cars (in Philly! Gun crime central!) and screaming at us incoherently. “WHO IS YOUR LEADER? WHERE IS LEADER? HAHAHA YOU ARE TMZ HAHA ESPN HAHAHA PUPPETS! YOU ARE ALL PUPPETS!” And when in the middle of this rant, he put his hand on Sam’s shoulder, my head nearly exploded as I stood half-frozen reminding myself that violence doesn’t solve anything and any number of other comforting things that make one calm down when one wants so desperately to KILL THAT SON OF A BITCH THAT DARED TOUCH MY CHILD….but I digress.

Over the next few weeks, I came to realize that Omar was pretty much harmless, with a bark that was much worse than his bark. What’s more, he was funny and well-versed in art and poetry, and so I wound up tolerating his ordinary madness for the gems he’d drop in any given conversation. When he was out too out-of-control, I’d tell him to leave me alone and walk away: he rarely pressed the issue. And Sam began to look forward to seeing him on our visits as well.

I really don’t know what else to say that hasn’t been said. A lot of people hated Omar. A lot of us liked him a lot.

The last time I saw him, it was an unseasonably warm day in West Philly. Sam and I were getting a pizza with friends, eating outside when we heard the all-too-familiar shouts of Omar. He was half out of his mind drunk, but recognized me instantly and asked me “heyyyyy my friend! How is Nashville?” Later that week outside Fiume, we had a brief drunk conversation about I-don’t-even-remember.

People are complicated. It would be great if we all fit into boxes nicely and neatly. It would be great if we all followed the rules.

All the complaints I’ve read about Omar are no doubt true, and they constitute inexcusable behavior on his part. But all the good stories I’m reading about him? Those are true too.

So I wish safe travels to you, my friend, and I hope you end up in whatever dimension you belong in.

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