The Santa Ana winds sweep across C Street, making it an unseasonably hot, dry day. DeBraer uses the shade of a tiny, malnourished roadside tree, yet sweat still forms along his receding hairline.
The weather is borderline miserable, but nothing can keep DeBraer down. He's cheerful, resting comfortably on an electrical box with his cart and sign that reads, “Cripple Will Sing for Food and/or $$$. God Bless You.”
“What kind of music you like?” he asks. “See, I'm old-school R&B—will that work?”
He pulls his headphones out of his ears.
“We're Americans,” he says, flashing his sparsely toothed smile. “I usually like to start out with the National Anthem.”
DeBraer belts out a strange but somehow beautiful rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” elongating the lines with a vibrato that makes some words last for at least 15 seconds.
DeBraer came to San Diego by way of Seattle just three days ago. He's wearing a Mariners sweatshirt and tugs at it as he explains his predicament. He says he came here to get hip-replacement surgery. Both of his hips, he says, feel like bone is rubbing bone—a result of severe arthritis.
The singer says he had a place to stay back in Seattle and a job working as a musician. He says he's been homeless only for the three days he's been in San Diego.
“Any days is too many,” he says, nodding toward a homeless man walking nearby, yelling profanity at nobody in particular. He laughs again—he laughs a lot—then notices an attractive black girl walking by wearing a shirt that says “Solidarity.”
“Hey,” he says, “I'm still waiting on that meal. Were you serious or were you jiving?”
“I was serious,” she says, handing him a five.