Oscar Porter stands at the end of a narrow path that curves through a planted area near San Diego City College. After spending the morning writing-"getting it down in black and white," as he puts it-now he's picking gnats off of a black hooded sweatshirt.
Getting the full story on the sweatshirt takes almost a half-hour of conversation about other things. It goes something like this: Porter slept under a freeway overpass the night before, and someone placed the sweatshirt either on him or near him. The sweatshirt looks new, and he could use the extra clothing, but, he says, "I don't want to be the guy with the bugs stuck on him."
Porter is 72 with striking blue eyes, so pale that they almost vanish in a photo. He insists, though, that they're green. With skin that's been burnished by the sun and tightly curled graying hair, he could pass for light-skinned African American or Hispanic. He talks about Belize-how he's going to hitchhike down through Mexico and then head east to the Caribbean country, but he's not Belizean, he says. He was born in North Carolina, but his family is, as he puts it, "related to the last guy to leave the island before it disappeared into the ocean."
It takes awhile to realize that Porter's talking about Noah and the biblical story of the flood. In his mind (and a lot of people's), it's a true story-and in that case, we're all descendants of Noah.
Porter says he came to San Diego a couple of years ago to check on some land his grandfather owned, though apparently that land's now part of Balboa Park. Before coming here, he lived in Tucson and before that, Rapid City, N.D., where he worked as a bus driver for a school district. Before that, he was in the Army for 10 years, stationed at Fort Dix.
Though Porter doesn't look 72, his swollen hands tell you something's not right. When asked if he receives veteran's benefits, he says he stopped receiving his checks from the VA. He can't recall exactly when, and he's not sure why. He tries his best to recount his discharge from the Army, the exact moment he signed his papers-he's certain there was a mishap with his paperwork. Trying to sort things out now seems pointless, he says, because he's sure that the paperwork was destroyed when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon on Sept. 11. Besides, he has friends in Belize who'll take care of him.
"I just want to get to Belize," he says. "Somewhere where I can lock myself in a room and get things down in black and white. My house in Belize."