'I'm taking classes at a culinary school,' Pixie O'Brian said. 'I'm at the Art Institute. I'm No. 2 in my class. I've already got job offers from Italy.'
The 46-year-old had a direct look and a clear voice. She has all her teeth and if her skin has more dirt and suntan than most San Diegans, it lacks the blemishes common among so many who live on the street. When she speaks, she looks people in the eye, a rarity for street folks.
She said she was from Manhattan Beach, but had spent 12 years running her own business with her husband 'up north,' a shop called Hansa Upholstery. She's homeless because he returned to his first love, heroin, and ran off with the couple's $28,000 in savings. She migrated back to San Diego because her three children are here, living in Clairemont Mesa with Pixie's sister. The children's father died from a heroin overdose.
She said she's a graduate of University of San Diego and a bit of a child prodigy, having matriculated at 16. She said she graduated with a degree in English literature and hoped to be the next great American novelist. She keeps the first three chapters of her novel in a locker at a day center in San Diego.
Who knows how much of that is true? USD has no records of a Pixie O'Brian, nor does the Art Institute of California have anyone by that name currently enrolled. A store called Hansa Upholstery does exist in Santa Ana, Calif., just a 45-minute drive from Manhattan Beach, but the current owner has no recollection of her.
What is certain is that she's spent the last several years 'flying a sign' on Torrey Pines Road near Starbucks. She has a male companion, Glen K., an Air Force veteran who she first met five years ago before he was extradited on weapon charges to Arizona. And she's a bit of an institution to La Jollans who occasionally hand her the money that provides her livelihood.