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The rise and fall of an Internet sensation 

Wednesday, May 12 2010
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Then there's Terry "The Fridge" Burton, a 6-foot-5 former Army medic and bodyguard for North Beach strip club owner Sam Conti. Burton, a mixed-martial-arts fighter, wanted to impress his team by getting a photo of Epic Beard Man, so he found Bruso's address through a bail-bondsman connection and staked out the Altenheim for three hours. Burton got his picture, but thought there might be other ways to market Bruso's larger-than-life persona. (He filmed Bruso expressing his support for gay marriage: "Let the gays sperm on each other.")

Bruso signed a "life-story contract" with Burton and his teammate and business partner, Ryan Villarante, who soon after signed a co-manager agreement with Loughran and Burton. Three managers? "Tom's a lot to manage; he needs three," Burton says. Soon after that, a producer and a writer from Los Angeles (who recently collaborated on the spoof The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It) arrived at the Altenheim to sign Bruso to a $6,000 contract for exclusive rights to his life story, guaranteeing him 10 percent of the profits from any future production. The writer, Craig Moss, says that the producer, Todd King, discussed the main tenets of the contract with Bruso, but Bruso was more interested in getting paid: "He said, 'Let's get this over [with] so we can buy my bag of weed.'"

Bruso says he went through the money in about a week, smoking pot and handing out large bills on the street (and flashing the money in interviews with random people that were later posted on YouTube). He even offered a wad of cash to former Supervisor Aaron Peskin to run for mayor after spotting him in Caffé Trieste. (Peskin turned him down.)

The managers didn't even find out about the $6,000 deal until the money was all gone.

I'm in the hole, bro," Burton told Loughran, as Bruso dug into a chicken parmigiana his managers were treating him to at a North Beach trattoria. "No, we're in the hole for sure," Loughran said, chuckling.

The three managers had taken Bruso out for his birthday — his 63rd, according to an expired driver's license; his 68th, if you believe everything he says on YouTube — and tried to both indulge and protect the uncontrollable. Bruso had decked himself out in sneakers and a fire-engine-red suit fit for a pimp, and scurried into doorways to smoke weed he said Loughran had slipped him as a birthday present. He brayed at women in passing cars, "Tarzan wants Jane!" Taking stiff but quick strides that left his managers struggling to keep up, he passed the old haunts that had stay-away orders against him — Saints Peter and Paul Church, Washington Square Park. He yelled obscenities into bars he'd been kicked out of more than once. A couple of male fans dribbled out of Columbus Cafe to greet him on the sidewalk.

"AC Transit!" one yelled. "We're just talking about you tonight. We're worried about you over there in Oaktown, man. ... You're high profile. We were concerned."

"Hey, hit first, talk later!" Bruso said.

"Oh, shit, man."

"Hey, ladies, how are you tonight?" Bruso asked some passing women, who replied with a faint-hearted "Fine." "I'll see you on the rebound, okay? Maybe rock and roll on Friday?"

"He's like a rock star right now," one of the Columbus Cafe guys said.

"What's with the entourage?" another asked.

The managers took Bruso into Little Darlings strip club and offered him dollar bills to tip the dancer gyrating in a thong onstage, but Bruso's claims of being a snake turned out to be all talk. He refused the money ("No, I ain't goin' out there!") and parked on a couch against the wall, saying he wanted pizza. He later explained to his managers, "I respect women. I'm not a pervert. I get plenty of poontang, man. I got plenty of girls waitin' in line." Burton just laughed.

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."

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Lauren Smiley

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