José Hernández always has one woman on his mind. Like a locket, he keeps a pin of her image adorned to the cap he wears every day; she’s bent forward, flaunting her signature red lips and cartoonish eyes. The first time I saw her, I gasped in delight: Betty Boop.
“I just like her,” Hernández said. “Everything that I see she’s on, I wanted to buy.”
And, as I’d learn from neighborhood sightings, she’s all over him, much of the time. I first noticed Hernández during a ride on Muni — or rather, I noticed the colossal green eyes of Betty Boop staring at me hauntingly from the back of Hernández’s denim vest. The bus jostled, revealing the 70-year-old and his pin, and his belt had the Depression-era flapper’s portrait framed in a red heart-shaped buckle.
That’s not all. Betty Boop’s cherubic face and black curls are on his house key, his blankets, and his telephone. Hernández has been stashing merchandise at his daughter’s place, because his house in the eastern Mission can’t contain the depths of his devotion.
“Some people think I’m weird,” Hernández shrugged. “That’s the way I am. Simple as that.”
Another morning, I found Hernández ambling home from the Walgreens on Potrero Avenue, decked out in his usual Betty Boop attire. He’d just picked up his latest graphic creation; digital design appears to be another passion of his. Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Hernández revealed a psychedelic artwork meant to be an optical illusion, or what he calls “3D.”
For seven years, he’s photographed ordinary objects, like dice or knives, to make his art. (Knives are his specialty; he can distinguish a Japanese knife from a German one, ever since watching his father, a butcher, work.)
Hernández tried to sell calendars with his “3D” art on them, but no one bit. No matter. Few understood his love for Betty Boop, too.
“You are you, and I am me,” he said, flashing a gap toothed grin. It’s just another quirk of his that makes “me crazy,” Hernández said. “No one is normal. Or … at least, I think.”