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The rise and fall of an Internet sensation 

Wednesday, May 12 2010
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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.

He has to leave his apartment by May 31.

Two days after getting the notice, Bruso got yet more bad news: The Oakland Housing Authority wanted him to report his income and assets to get recertified for Section 8 housing. That could be standard procedure, but Bruso claims he told his building manager about a $12,000 inheritance from his mother. Plus, with the constant parade of managers and movie producers in and out of his room, "I think they think I'm making a lot of money on this."

Bruso spiraled into depression. Over the next few days, he couldn't eat and didn't want to leave his room. "I just feel safe right here, right now. This is about all I can take right now." When I came to visit, he stood uneasily, shifting his weight side to side, and his blue eyes looked wide and worried. This was not the Epic Beard Man the Internet had seen: not high, not hamming it up, no profanity-laced tirades. "It seems like you can't avoid being homeless, once you've been homeless," he says. "It just sucks you right back down."

For the first time, Bruso seemed pissed at his mental problems, for having squandered $6,000 on strangers and pot, and for signing every contract put in front of him. "I can't even remember yesterday, to tell you the truth," he says. "Half the time, I don't even know what I'm saying. I ramble and ramble. I get high and happy and I just start talking, and a lot of things come out distorted in the wrong way."

He continues, "I am so tired of trying to get through life, trying to be happy, trying to enjoy it. And when I do enjoy it, it seems something comes along to destroy all that. I keep bettering myself, and keep going backwards. ... I'm out of my mind and can't think anymore. I don't know anyone who will help me figure this out."

About The Author

Lauren Smiley

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