Old Man Joe lived in our basement. The basement had a walk-in, so we didn’t have to see him often, but when we did it was always the… I don’t want to say “highlight” of the day, but it was always the most memorable part.
When my parents split, my dad needed more money to cover the cost of the house, so he rented out the basement to the first taker. It just happened to be an aging hipster with too-tight pants who always told my brother and me he used to be a drug lord in South America, but was hiding out here. He had crazy stories of his time in South America, but when I got older I realized his concept of “South America” was actually Alabama.
“Cops took my farm,” he told us when we asked him why he left. “Too many drugs, you know.”
“Uh huh,” we’d say, suddenly conscious of those within earshot. We thought we were in on some dangerous secret, and that we’d be found and arrested just for talking to Old Man Joe. But nobody arrested us. Even Joe rarely got arrested, and then only for accidentally shoplifting in his sleep. Or so he said.
I don’t know why Dad never looked for a new tenant. Old Man Joe didn’t seem dangerous, but he was still unpredictable. Mom hated him, but she lost custody over my brother and me because of her drinking. Besides, Dad would just say he’d get rid of Joe in a second if Mom could afford to help pay mortgage. Maybe Dad kept Joe around to spite her. Or maybe Dad just liked the guy. They’d share beers sometimes, down in the basement. When I was older, I realized they were smoking pot, too. Who knew what else they got up to.
“Back in South America,” Joe would say when he saw me or my brother, “we wore sunscreen even at night. Hot as the devil down South. You got it lucky up here with the snow and the breeze.”
“Don’t grow nothin’ worth a shit up here, though. All the snow mold.”
“I’d be lord again, ‘cept for the mold.”
We’d have our hands on the doorknob, slowly opening it, while Joe was having his smoke.
“Okay,” we’d say.
“I’d make you lord, too. In South America, we’d all be lords.”
Everyone was lord in South America. I used to want to go there. But then I thought, if Old Man Joe could be lord, maybe it wasn’t such a great thing after all.
Today’s three random prompt categories were, “Old Man Joe who lives in the basement,” “Pants are too tight,” and, “South American drug lord.”
I used to walk by this nice old guy every day on my way home from high school. We’d always smile and nod to each other. Never said a word to him, or he to me. I called him Old Man River, for no reason at all. And then I shortened it to OMR, which, of course, turned into Omar.
I miss Omar.