By Erin Sherbert
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The night wouldn't be complete without a visit to the North Beach location Bruso was perhaps the most familiar with: Central police station.
"Let's go to the police station and say hi to the coppers, man," he said. "Let's give 'em some fucking doughnuts. The coppers love me. They fucking love me."
Bruso walked into the station and yelled at the officers on the other side of the glass window. "They want to know how many times I've been in jail here," he said. "104 times, right?"
"At least," said one officer who stepped out to greet him.
Bruso and the cops have a bit of a love-hate relationship. He would fight like hell and yell profanities at them when they arrested him for screaming at passersby, violating restraining orders, or, once, slapping a waiter on Columbus Avenue. "When we'd come up on him, he'd be a big fighter and we'd have to wrestle him and cops got hurt and shit," Officer Carl T recalls. "He's a big old dude. Once we'd subdue him, he'd start crying like a baby. ... He's a little bit of a drama queen."
"There's my boy!" Bruso yelled when he saw Officer Mark Alvarez, a night beat cop with a trim mustache.
"Wildman Tom, wazzup?" Alvarez replied calmly, walking out of the station on a call.
Once Bruso was out of earshot, Alvarez said that there is little the city can do about guys like Bruso — court records show he's been on a repetitive cycle through behavioral court, pretrial diversion programs, and trips to jail. "At the end of the day, you can't force people to take their medicine," he says. "All in all, he's just another man with mental problems."
Bruso's run-ins with the law began early, Anne says. In his teens in Milwaukee, he robbed liquor stores and stole cash and cars. He was in and out of juvenile correctional institutions, where Anne says doctors experimented on him with LSD to calm him down.
"I was a mean kid. I had a death wish," Bruso says. "I was like a yo-yo — up and down." Anne says she was in the courtroom where a judge told him he could go to jail or go in the military. There, for whatever reason — Anne says he mouthed off to an officer at Fort Polk, La.; Bruso says he showed up drunk at the intake center — he was billyclubbed in the head. Both say he was discharged for psychiatric problems. (He has a Xerox of his honorable discharge certificate from December 1969.) Bruso admits he was relieved: "I didn't want to kill nobody."
Bruso moved to Chicago soon after, where he worked as a cab driver for two decades, picking fights with police on the side. Bruso first came to San Francisco in 1989 — he says he came to see the hippies (although Anne says it was to chase a woman). He recalls living homeless for two years, before getting disability payments and a room at the Casa Melissa hotel alongside Washington Square Park.
Flip through Bruso's photo albums and you'll see scenes of a self-styled badass: a black-and-white photo of a woman, the "love of my life," lying nude on a bed; random girls in bars; a Polaroid of four rifles; a shirtless Bruso directing traffic as flames burst out of a second-story Columbus Avenue window. Stuffed in one sleeve of the album is a plastic bag full of dark hairs labeled "Carol's Pubic Hairs. I Love It!"
Bruso was evicted from the hotel in 2006 for, among other nuisances, letting homeless people sleep on his floor. He got a Section 8 voucher and moved into the stately Altenheim in 2008. Some North Beach regulars began to wonder where he'd gone — although some were just plain glad — until the video of him being Tased surfaced on the Internet last August. Anne traveled to California to bail him out of jail again, and helped him fill his psychiatric prescriptions. She warned him that if he didn't calm down and get his life in check, the Altenheim would kick him out.
But then came the last straw: Bruso never made it to his mom's funeral after the bus fight. Instead, he was handed over to the local police in Wray, Colo., for smoking onboard an Amtrak train. He wasn't charged, and won over Police Chief Adam Srsen with his tall tales. "He told me he was taking me to see a New York Yankees game and we were going to sit in the owner's box," Srsen recalls. "Is he worth the millions he says he is?"
Anne was not amused. She says she and her sister have considered having Bruso committed to a mental institution. "He's burned all his bridges with the decent people in this life," she says. "He's truly alone now. I have empathy for him, but I'm out of sympathy."
The day after Epic Beard Man's birthday carousing in North Beach, reality hit hard. Bruso was being evicted. Again.
The eviction letter from the Altenheim's management cited Bruso's numerous high-jinks. He was "aggressive" at a management meeting and stepped on plants in the garden; he smoked in common areas and extinguished cigarettes on his carpet; he pilfered newspapers and notices from other tenants' doorways; he made "unnecessary loud noises" after curfew, walked around barefoot, and made "improper advances and suggestive remarks" to female residents. Furthermore, there had been "events on and off the property that have made other residents feel afraid and unsafe." The letter doesn't explicitly mention the YouTube videos, but Bruso guesses that's what it was referring to.