May 6 2008 07:56 PM

Our weekly series putting faces on San Diego's homeless

homeless-prime

It's a Friday afternoon, and there are scattered groups of homeless people sitting along Island Avenue in East Village.

Otis sits on a plastic chair in the shade of a small tree. With his top hat and tuxedo (with tails), he stands out from the others.

"I've always had suits. Back in South Carolina, I used to wear capes and 10-gallon hats and stuff like that," he says. "I've got three of these suits right now; I keep them in storage."

Otis is 61, and for someone who's lived on the street for so many years, he could look a lot worse.

"I've been getting disability for about five or six years," he says, mentioning that lifelong trouble with his hip nets him a check every month.

Otis was born and raised in Greenville, S.C., where he lived with his mother until he was 37. Since then, he's lived in Orlando and Las Vegas. He caught a bus out to San Diego last September.

"I probably never worked over four months on a job. I just sold weed," he says.

He doesn't have any family left; his mother died six years ago. Otis is alone, but he seems to take solace in art and music. He opens a sketchbook to give a look at his drawings. His technique is so strong that it's hard to believe he hasn't had any formal training. Most of the art is done with ballpoint pen, and his bold, tribal style looks like a cross between anime and an early Max Fleischer cartoon. He has at least 100 works in one small journal, each one signed with the pseudonym "Charles Rembrandt."

"I can draw one in probably half an hour. To ink it, it probably takes an hour and a half," he says.

Otis excuses himself for a moment as a woman pulls up next to the curb. She hands him a soft nylon guitar case, and he opens it and takes out a cherry-red electric guitar. After playing on street corners and local clubs in Greenville, Otis knows a bit about musical equipment.

"I used to have a Fender Twin Reverb and everything," he says. Now he's down to a Fender Squire Stratocaster and a small Orange portable amp. The cherry-red guitar, it ends up, is damaged to the point of being useless. But he seems to have plans to fix it up. He just needs a few spare parts.

"I don't play blues, I play speed rock," he grins.

 

Write to toddk@sdcitybeat.com.

Calendar

  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • The former local boy and creator of the highly influential blog, Advanced Style, will be signing and discussing his third book, Advanced Style: Older and Wiser, which features inspiring pictures and stories...
  • C.J. Chenier and Bonsoir Catin headline this annual Cajun inspired festival. Also enjoy 10,000 pounds of crawfish, dancing and cooking demonstrations. Held at Spanish Landing Park, across from the...
  • A Cinco de Mayo party featuring $2 tacos, cocktails and live music from Bostich+Fussible, Javiera Mena and Gepe
  • A spoken word showcase hosted by English instructor Karla Cordero and her City College students. There will also be a special reading from poet Mercedez Holtry, as well as an art and photography show....
  • Widely known as host of "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live and for his role in the Showtime dramedy Weeds, Kevin Nealon brings his unique humor back to the stand-up stage
  • New works from over a dozen UCSD undergraduate students. Participating artists include Charity Algarme, Richard Lin, Joseph Maas, Ignatius Nguyen, and more
  • This video art exhibition from UCSD MFA candidate Stefani Byrd features two installations that explore the themes of breath, mediation, and the nature of time. Takes place in the VAF Performance Space,...
See all events on Thursday, May 5