Omar in the Dell

“Rats always run for holes in times of danger”–Omar

For his second heist, Omar and his crew take their act to the Eastside, partly because they want to lay low after Brandon called Omar out in the Lowrise rip, and partly for some easy pickings. This stickup is the opposite of the first one in every way. This one is in broad daylight, with not a shot fired, nobody hurt, and there is very little in terms of pre-rip reconnaissance. What both raids do have in common (other than the fact that Omar walks away with the stash) is the way Omar exploits a common trait among corner boys: a sort of warped childishness.

We see this in the first raid when two young hoppers guard the stash. Before Omar storms in, they absentmindedly play video games and read comic books. They are blind to the seriousness of both the re-up and the broader game they play in.

In the second rip, the child imagery is even more pronounced. In fact, Omar almost consciously plays off of it, framing the rip up like he is taking candy from babies. The scene begins with Omar’s voice proclaiming “alright, this is going to be so easy, them Eastside chumps, they ain’t nothing like Avon’s people. Watch, y’all going to see.” As he says this, we see his hand drawing lines in the dirt with a twig. The camera is positioned so that we can see Omar’s diagram without seeing much of the actual members of the crew. The effect is to bring us into Omar’s inner circle, as if we are in on the plan.

This makes us root for Omar (if we aren’t already rooting for him), but it also contains a subtle visual analogy. As Omar fills in the diagram with Xs and Os and arrows indicating the movement of the play, it become less a brazen drug heist and more a schoolyard game of touch football. Omar is the quarterback, drawing up a trick play in the playground dirt.

As Omar’s team sets the play, we cut away a few times to its targets, an opposing team that isn’t even aware it is in a game. While these hoppers look older than the boys in the pit, they are equally childlike in their actions. A skinny man needs more vials, so he goes to a pudgy partner wearing a gaudy gold dollar sign around his neck and sitting on the steps of a vacant rowhome listening to a discman and blocking out the world around him. The skinny hopper has to shout to get the pudgy one’s attention, and when he finally says “yo…yo, Maurice short, man,” the guy with the discman jokes “tell him to grow a couple of inches.” They both laugh at the clever wordplay, but they don’t do anything to get those extra vials. Neither of them take what they are doing seriously. They are the low-hanging fruit of the Baltimore drug world.

The scene cuts away for a short scene with the police. When we return to the Eastside, we are greeted with two more images of childhood. The first thing we see when we cut back to the corner is two small boys fleeing to the left. They are running from Omar, which means that they were the first ones to notice his menacing approach. Then we hear it. The ominous whistling quickly takes the form of a familiar tune: “The Farmer in the Dell.”

It is a moment straight out of Kubrick, who knew exactly how to pair a chilling scene with the most happy song imaginable, from the “Singin’ in the Rain” rape scene in A Clockwork Orange to the “Mickey Mouse Club” in the bloody aftermath of Full Metal Jacket (not to mention “We’ll Meet Again” playing over the nuclear apocalypse at the end of Dr. Strangelove). Here, the effect is similar, a comic distortion where fierce impending violence is underscored by the lighthearted spirit of a whistled childrens’ tune.

We hear calls of “Omar’s coming” and “watch out, he’s got that boom” as the people all start to scatter. Omar struts down the street and casually opens up his duster to reveal the shotgun he is packing. The last one to notice him is the pudgy hopper, still wrapped up in the private world of his headphones and his music. As he finally flees, the camera lingers for a moment to watch his discman break on the ground and the disc pop out and make one final spin on the sidewalk.

Of course, this fleeing is exactly what Omar wants. His role is to scare the hoppers into the real trap awaiting them in the alley–Brandon and Bailey with guns out so that Omar can walk in and tighten the noose. Earlier, as he wrapped up the huddle, he assured Brandon and Bailey that it would work. “Man, rats always run to holes in times of danger.” “And you him, ain’t you?” Brandon asks. “Who?” “Danger!” Omar is humble, though. “Naw, man, I’m just a nigger with a plan, that’s all.” Bailey chimes in “and a shotgun.”

There is a doubling of metaphors here. On top of the numerous references to childhood, we also have a series of rodent images. The rodent imagery comes up again in the alley when Omar finishes whistling the song, which ends “the rat takes the cheese…the cheese stands alone.” The lyrics of “The Farmer in the Dell” are relatively enigmatic, with a chain of “taking,” from farmer to wife, to child, to nurse, to dog, to cat, to mouse, to cheese. The song starts out with familial taking of wife, child, etc, but it soon becomes the more predatory taking that occurs in the world of nature (it is also worth noting that the tune has an alternate set of lyrics called “A-hunting we will go,” which is equally relevant in its predatory implications). When Omar repeats the last line of the song, he uses his shotgun to caress the pudgy hopper’s necklace (a necklace he will soon be relieved of). This act seems to indicate that the helpless dealers are the cheese, the lowest form of life in the Baltimore food chain.

But you could also make an argument that Omar is the cheese. For one, he stands alone, unaffiliated with the other drug crews, and thus, not subject to their rules and limitations. He is also the cheese in the sense that he is the bait, the stimulus that leads the rats into the trap. This trap works because it relies on an animal’s instinctive response.

So how do we resolve the two images of rodent and child? One possible answer lies in the later stories of Franz Kafka. He was often obsessed with animals, perhaps because he related to their restless, insecure lives, driven by impulse and need. One of his final stories is “Josefine the Singer, or The Mouse People.” In this story (which, sadly, is not available online in English), he ponders the existence of the Mouse People, a group of creatures who have to grow up too quickly because of the cruel world they inhabit, and yet a people who are also childish by nature. “Our people are not only childish, we are also to some extent prematurely old, youth and adulthood mean different things to us than they do to others.” This seems to be a perfect parallel for the life of the under-educated, under-fed, over-imprisoned inhabitants of the projects. They are forced to grow up quickly (and we will see this in the next episode when finally get a look at Wallace’s home life), and yet at the same time, their lives are based on primal instinct, which keeps them in a perpetually-childlike state.

The other Kafka story that applies is “A Little Fable,” a perfect one-paragraph story of an aging mouse who finds that his anxiety over an expansive world morphs into a claustrophobic reduction of his world into a single corner, where a trap waits to kill him. He hears advice from behind him. “‘You only need to change your direction’ said the cat, who gobbled him up.” In this case, Omar is the cat, the one who offers an escape from one trap that leads right into another one. What Omar seems to show is that in a world governed by the instinct of children and rats, a man with a plan will always come out on top. Especially if he carries a big ass shotgun.

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