It’s not his real name, but the name he gave me wasn’t real, either. He’s navigated his dual wheelchairs, one for his luggage and one for himself, with impressive efficiency — and even agility, despite the calf braces on each of his legs — down from the city bus and onto the sidewalk outside the Vons in Normal Heights. He settled himself into his seat, then asked me if he could buy a cigarette. I had none to sell, so he pulled out a roller, a packet of papers, and a crumpled pouch of menthol tobacco and set about making one. Golden bits of what looked like glitter flecked the grime rimming his fingernails as he threaded the delicate paper and sprinkled the crumbly tobacco.
“You know who got everybody smoking cigarettes?” he asked. “President Truman. When you were in the military, you got your paycheck and your carton of cigarettes. Do you know why he did that? Because he had a tobacco farm back home in Missouri. What can you buy on every corner in America? Cigarettes, liquor, and pussy. And the newspaper.”
This is why I call him Mr. Halfright. The military did distribute cigarettes to servicemembers, but it started long before Truman, and his farm didn’t grow tobacco. (Also, it’s getting harder to find a newspaper.)
Another example: “You know [champion boxer] Archie Moore’s house [on E Street], with the swimming pool shaped like a boxing glove? Used to be a swinger’s club called Thad’s, but his kids did a commercial for teeth implants and they were able to buy it back and restore it as a shrine.” The pool is visible on Google Maps, and Archie Moore, Jr. did appear in a video for PermaDontics. But Thad’s is still operating there.
Some of his material was intriguing: the military bunkers he’s visited under the parking lot in Balboa Park. Some outlandish: how he set up a camera to get a picture of himself passing drugs to “ex-meth-head, ex-mayor, current chamber of commerce head Jerry Sanders,” thus making himself unbustable. Some fun: finding $10,000 of counterfeit money in a trash can and “passing it off to every store in San Diego.” Some charming: L. Frank Baum writing Oz books on Coronado. And some harrowing: his arrest for men’s room shenanigans at Palomar College (cruisinggays.com mentions several options), and subsequent jail-cell confrontation with a Chester (molester). “I’m a sex offender, but I’m no rapist, and I’m no Chester. He kept talking about it, so I cracked him. He grabbed my hand, got on top of me, and said, ‘I could break your fucking hand.’ I said, ‘You better, because I’m going to yank your nuts off.’ And with my other hand, I grabbed his nuts and yanked them off.’”
As his disquisition ended, he offered a parting gift. “You know the Addams family? Look up Uncle Fester on the internet. It’ll show you how to make meth.” And there it is at unclefesterbooks.com: Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture, 8.5 edition. Halfright was all right there.