San Francisco, California
"You are the best liquor store guy on the planet!"
How did he react?
Of course he reacted in the perfect way. Read below.
How did I feel?
So, so good! I'd been preparing this compliment for weeks. Here's why:
Two months ago I moved to Cologne, Germany. A few weeks later the corner store guy started recognizing me. I was stoked. I had become a regular! And realized: Once that man knows you you have officially arrived. It's him who turns a new neighborhood into home. The one in Cologne is a particularly nice guy, too, which is why I decided to compliment him one night. On the way there I looked for the right words. I decided to go with "You are the best liquor store guy on the planet!" As I stood in front of him and opened my mouth I realized it was going to be a lie. There was no way this man was the best liquor store guy. That position had forever been taken by Omar.
Omar owns a store at Fillmore and Oak in San Francisco, California. He's more than just a liquor guy. He's the corner's soul. You can see him standing behind the counter every day from 5 pm till 12, selling everything anyone could be in last minute need of. Booze, condoms, pickles. And it's it, San Francisco's local specialty. While he does that he hums along with the jazz music that's playing. Not just any jazz, Omar listens to the one and onlys. I have heard Miles, Bird and Dizzie go crazy through the speakers at his store. "No crappy tunes in here!", he told me once with a wink, "Because I have a great taste!"
If a dog enters they run straight to him to get their fair amount of treats and tender loving care. What those get in touch people get in words from him. When I was in boy trouble last time I stayed in the city Omar came outside with me. He sat down in front of his shop and lent me his ear, then gave me a his fair appraisal of my situation. There were some wise words spoken that day. Knowing Omar that didn't come as a surprise as he's down for quoting Oscar Wilde and Carl Sagan anytime: His Facebook cover photo says "I don't know where I'm going but I am on my way."
The heart in his chest is bigger than all of Lower Haight. Although he would never admit it there are tears in his eyes when he speaks of his beloved ones living back in Tunisia. He was born there but he's been in the US for many years and has had his fair share of Bay Area vibes. With the best accent he says "Fuck it!" at least 3 times a minute. He is convinced: "Gay? Straight? Whatever, as long as they're good people..." but if you enter his shop barefoot he tells you: "Cut the hippie crap, this is not the town to walk barefoot in." Omar has figured out the right balance between east and west, swear words and deep insights, down to earth and peace and love. He is himself. Winking, smiling and never at a loss for words he inspired one of the characters for a sitcom exposé I had to write for school last semester. The show was set in Berlin which is why Omar turned into a Turkish guy but his role stayed the same: He was the good guy on the block. The one everyone of the core cast would turn to in material or emotional need- or if they just wanted to share a little love and hear a good joke, in short: Feel at home. That's the thing. While some Cologne liquor store guy makes me feel at home by merely recognizing me Omar is the one who leaves the counter to give me a hug. I return to San Francisco after months and he says, "Welcome back. Girl, you belong here." How amazing can returning be!?
Today I told him the story of how I realized he was the best liquor man on the planet. The whole I-can't-tell-this-guy-he's-the-best-because-Omar-already-is. He listened, smiled, high fived me. Then said, "Fuck it, Rosa, there can be several best! The guy can over there can be the best and so can I! Let's not be greedy, right? And now open your bottle and tell me what you've been up to. Tell me, tell me everything."
Thank you, Omar. I can't wait to come home to this, to the Lower Haight, to you for good.