Condoms R Boring





Who would have known that a hookup on Adam4Adam would lead me wandering out of bounds? I just returned from a trick's house that didn't transpire the way I intended at all. There’s been a culture clash going on in my San Francisco neighborhood ever since Mayor Ed Lee gave Twitter tax breaks to move into the mid-Market area.  There’s been an influx of clueless techies invading my Tenderloin turf ever since. I am a proud long time resident of the TL which has maintained a reputation so loathsome to prompt area hotels such as the Hilton to warn the tourists against wandering into its borders.
I met condomsRboring, the tag from adam4adam at his immaculate, high-rise flat that featured a sweeping, panoramic view of the gas station across the street. The building was smart wired with digital community message boards The washed asphalt was coated with a shiny top coat that glistened in the soft, recessed lighting.  They had torn down King’s Diner to throw this building up like an Amish barn raising. The greasy spoon that was now gone had been the only place you could get a milkshake at 3:00 AM.  My mind snapped back to the present when I was greeted by my host who opened the door in a towel or was that a sarong…?
 Brian was a 28yo fireplug mesomorph with a tight little ass. Based on his cautious list of questions posed in our cat and mouse chase online, I should have realized something may go awry. Before committing to hooking up, he wanted to know A) if I had bathed recently, B) What drugs I did, the way I did them and if I had any of my own.  The latter questions were posed like he was playing a chess game. One wrong answer on my part could be a potential deal breaker so I watched what I said and tried not to sound too snippy in my retort.  He was trying to find out if I shot or smoked crystal meth but wouldn’t come right out and ask me directly.  “Oh great, another light-weight,” I thought to myself. I preferred to party hard core and get to the “point” (with needles) but I was willing to overlook that and pretend I only blew clouds in order to get freaky with him.
When he saw my tattoos, he asked about the meaning of the number 5150 emblazoned in stencil on my bicep. “You don’t know?” I asked?    He shook his head cluelessly.  “It’s the CA penal code for being a danger to yourself or others.   You’ve obviously never been institutionalized in a psych ward,” I said
 “Hey, what are those,” he said as he traced his hand over the slash and track marks on my arms. “I used to cut… that was a phase, kind of a coping mechanism, know what I mean?”  I peeled off my t-shirt to show him the vertical scar that runs from just under my chest to my navel.  Before he could ask, I volunteered the truth with no regard for TMI.  “I used to have this body dysmorphia issue growing up that resulted in like this…kind of an eating disorder…sees?  That scar is from the surgery I had when my intestines developed gangrene…from not eating…  Anyway...yeah.”
I figured it was as good a time as any to break the news that although I was ordinarily a versatile flip-flopper, I wouldn't be able to bottom for him because I had just had surgery the week prior.
 “There?” he asked.   Yeah, there,” I said as I slapped my ass in exclamation.
 He mercifully didn’t ask for details this time and I refrained from elaborating. I shuddered to imagine what he would think of me if he knew the truth.  The deal was I had just undergone Anal Dysplasia surgery to remove high-grade pre-cancerous lesions that were a result of catching HPV aka Condyloma  Acuminata that sounds so much more glamorous than Anal Warts which is what I had caught 7 years prior. I remember how horrified I was when faced with that bit of news at the STD clinic. They wouldn't be as easy to cure as chlamydia or gonorrhea, both of which I had only just experienced as a result of a whirlwind affair/fling/obsession with the first guy I met after I seroconverted to HIV. From Easter to the 4th of July 2007, I had graduated from being smitten to stalker to slashing his tires before falling into an old habit of slicing my wrists up with razor blades in order to qualify the pain. To say that that situation and subsequent wreckage was the worst emotional fuckwittage I had ever... well… . All the lovelorn Romeos I had ever pined over couldn't hold a candle to the one that ultimately burned me.
But all of that had happened a very long time ago and I was more concerned at the moment with considering the prospect of getting through the next three months without making myself available to be fucked. My walking papers from UCSF hospital had clearly stipulated I wasn't to engage in Receptive Anal Intercourse for at least 90 days. The news was fresh but I had already begun resigning myself to its reality and was actually getting used to the idea of IAI---- or strictly Insertive AI, i.e being a top.   I had been a bottom longer than I had been versatile because I didn’t start getting appreciated for my dick until I had grown out of the chicken coop. I was used to being pigeon-holed (no pun intended) as a twinky bottom up to then. Once I realized I had a commodity that could really work to my advantage in the gay sexual market place, being versatile was the way to go. My prowess for all its merits was evidently lost on my current companion judging from that way he mechanically turned his attention right back to his laptop that featured a home page already tuned to Adam4Adam and what looked like a bunch of Cam4 windows..
 "Well that sucks" he said, "I wanted to fuck," "Yeah, I'll fuck you," I said, trying to keep the exasperated "duh" tone out of my voice.
I settled back on the living room pullout and appreciated the opportunity to jack off to his vast collection of porn all of which were from genres and studios I had never seen. Suddenly, my meager, threadbare little efficiency in the TL didn't seem all that special. Perhaps it was my impending 40th birthday that sat on the calendar like an anvil and hallmark of my quarter/midlife crises. I hearkened back to all my previous life crises, all the while stroking, stroking. "Help you to the cockrings," he offered splaying out a plethora of various materials and sizes. Leather snap-ups were aligned with an assortment of kushee-stretchies and stainless steel CBT devices. Embarrassed, I pumped a squirt of his expensive Swiss Navy lube and lost myself in the task at hand, so to speak. I had a full view of the back of his head and earful of his biographical sketch. He regaled me with a story that outlined a Mormon missionary boy from Salt Lake City. The nubile, tight-assed little LDS devotee wasn't exhibiting his best preferred trait, in my opinion. He adopted the alternate meaning of the descriptor "tight assed" that had nil to do with his proclivities in the sack. 
“Have you seen Book of Mormon,?” I said.    My attention was only half focused on his words until his monologue meandered into Mormon matters. “Andrew Rannells is so HOT,” I proclaimed.  My long time crush on the  Broadway boy belter and co-star of the defunct New Normal sitcom overtook me… “Hello… my name is Elder Price…and I would like to share with you this  most amazing book.” I harmonized.  “I haven’t seen it,” he confessed in a flat monotone.   
“Have you Heard About the All American Prophet?  …“And God said, “Joe what people really want to know is that the…”     “I haven’t SEEN It,” he said   “bible isn’t two par...”  Okay…
Oh, Elizabeth Smart...!”     I shared my recollections of the blond, angelic harpist who was kidnapped by the freaky family handyman and forced to amble around Salt Lake City wearing a burka with his shell-shocked wife for 90 days.   I also mentioned that I had a couple of cousins who hailed from the Salt Lake area. This tidbit piqued his interest as he probed me for questions about my relationship with a male cousin. He wanted to know if I had ever gone down on him or fallen prey to his rape. "No, I recollected,” He was too frail and wouldn't have been much fun," I admitted.    
“So, what is it you do for a living,”?” I finally asked.  He launched into a sob story about how he was this close to walking out of Ebay until they paid him “what he was worth,”    Realizing I was laid out in the lair of techie scum, my dick instantly went south. “Isn’t that in the South Bay?” I asked while already knowing the answer.  “And how do you get to work,” I challenged.   “My car,” what else.   You think I take Caltrain?” he laughed.   He laughed?   Did he think it was funny that his techie scum consumer and carbon footprint was guzzling gas and ruining the physical environment as well as the cultural integrity of my neighborhood and the entire city of San Francisco? 
“I gotta jet,” I said as I peeled off the kushee cock ring and doused it with hand sanitizer.   I told him to add me as a friend on Facebook and pecked him on the lips. I could smell the minty fresh scent emanating from his lips that smacked of Burt’s Bees. I wondered if I had ever been that high maintenance. I knew I had always pushed the envelope to left of center into the margins. I was decidedly un-apologetically marginalized. The only thing that gnawed at my conscience was whether or not this warranted oppression without me knowing it. I speed-walked back to my apartment as the sky turned from black to beige. When I entered my ghetto 4th floor walk-up, I was greeted by my Tippi. My three year old feline tabby erased all images of the higher economic bracketed trick out of my immediacy. It was nice to be home amid my belongings, my Elvis Presley doll that had been rescued from the hoard my New Jersey grandmother had kept before her death.  "Barbra please…pleases Barbra,” I acknowledged to the light switch plate cover that featured Judy and Babs from the October 6, 1963 episode   of the Judy Garland Show. I wouldn't trade my eccentric kooky taste for all of his shellacked concrete and terrace with the simulated California wildlife even if I had a cushy tech-centric job at Google or Twit-for-brains. “  Picking up my ipad, I touched the Camera app and switched the screen over to selfie so I could look at myself.  “I’d rather die first. …  I pulled out a tube of Burt’s Bees from underneath a throw pillow as I rolled up the wheel to allow the balm to rise. Not too low….not too high...until it was just right. Then I started at the corner of my bottom lip and worked my way all the way to the other lip rolling the waxy texture along.  I pressed my upper and lower lips together, closed my eyes and ran my tongue over my teeth and then the outside of both lips until they felt soft and smooth. Then I did it all again with both eyes open as I stared at my reflection in the screen of my ipad/high-tech mirror.
 Of course, I wouldn’t mind the salary…  I went to USC, for chrys-sakes.”    I muttered to myself… 
With all the alacrity I could muster, I yelled, “Techies suck,” while rolling the mint flavored tube over my lips from the opposite direction and finally blew myself a kiss.

How my identification as a queer tranny fag upsets my elders



I am  40 and proud to identify as a queer, tranny, fag.   This doesn't sit well with my queer elders who would sooner slap my hand than hear me describing them by a word that had horrible implications when they were coming of age.   Regarding my sexuality, as a gay man I grew up hearing the word fag thrown at me in contempt and would cringe every time until I decided to reclaim it.  Now  I use it as a run-of-the-mill term to describe gay men.  Sometimes, I still hear a sideways "fag" slurred out of somebody's mouth to which I stop, snap my fingers and say, "proud to be one" or some other affirmative statement to let people know it doesn't sting.  "If you're trying to insult me, you'll have to do a lot better than that because I AM a fag. (The same logic applies to the word "cocksucker" which I can't believe has been used in an attempt to insult fags. It sounds like an accurate descriptor of our behavior to me-- at least it is in my experience. But I digress/)
I may be a fag but it's not the sum of my parts. Gay boys or men can be quite clueless, misogynist and full of internalized homophobia which they demonstrate by their heterosexist interpretations of self-expression, i.e str8 acting and butch.  I scoff at that because it seems so limiting to me. I believe that gender is a social construction open to interpretation. I have no problem shopping in the women's department for clothes because they often fit me better and have a better selection of cute. I've been getting my eyebrows waxed, lashes tinted and body hair eradicated long before the birth of the metrosexual.  My sex is male but my gender can be either based on what I am wearing or how much of a swish there is in my step on any particular day.  My gender transcends traditional either/or binary polarities because no one could tell where to place me.  "Are you a boy or a girl?", says the child standing in front of me in the supermarket line.  As the parent shusshes them and backpedals in embarrassment, I laugh and acknowledge that it happens all of the time.  "You can't wear that because it's for girls," they chime.    "Why not? Who says?"  I challenge back.  I gave up living by those rules a long time ago and for that reason am fully culturally competent and qualified to exercise the vernacular in the lexicon of the subculture.  I was called to task for describing some long time, transgender activists in San Francisco as  trannies.  I live in San Francisco's Tenderloin where transgender "working girls" fought back the cops in a riot at Comptons Cafeteria one hot August night in 1966 that set off the modern gay rights movement only to be swept under the rug and usurped by Stonewall in public consciousness.  There have been recent commemorative events taking place in the SF GLBT History  Museum to honor these forebears of our culture which I have documented on Youtube and Amazon et al. I used the term Tenderloin  trannies to describe the women who fought back that night and was taken to task by one of the three surviving members..  She is of the Baby Boomer generation and a year younger than my own mother.  I respect my elders and was not offended when she brought her objections to me describing her as a trannie.  That's how I describe myself so it certainly wasn't meant disparagingly.  I wanted to let her know where I was coming from in my reply.

"Well thank you for telling me. I will change the term on what I have written and understand you also don't like the word queer. I will respect your feelings about this language but please understand, I'm not coming at this from the POV of some clueless fag. I've always identified more with the "girls" than the gay boys which I call fags. I've reclaimed that word and use it to describe gay men. When I was in my 20s I used to present myself very ambiguously and was always mistaken to be a girl (by design) or described as androgynous. I never took offense to the word trannie because to me, it's just a shortened version of trans-- which is the prefix for many words that apply to me such as transgender,which identifies me because my gender presentation transcends traditional binary gender polarities. I don't live in a world governed by what men are supposed to do or look like. I wear girl's clothing if I find something cute as well as makeup. I believe that gender is a social construction and can be transitional and fluid. That being said, I will respect your feelings about the words because you are coming from a different frame of reference. I just wanted to let you know that I was not being culturally incompetent because I do consider myself as having earned the right to say trannie because of where I live on the gender divide. It's clearly a generational thing and that's okay.  Thank you for letting me know how you feel. I am very happy to know you.."


I'm actually honored to know her because I respect and am completely awestruck by what she and those other queens went through. She feels that it's disrespectful but admittedly, it's a kinder, gentler world for my generation of GLBTs because of what hers experienced.  Christian Siriano of Project Runway has brought the word trannie into vogue so much that  it's thrown around on Saturday Night Live.  I'm a trannie.  I am more than male inside my head. On a physical/sexual level, I am very in touch with my boy parts and the way I use them to connect with men.  On a mental level,  I'm a combination of yin/yang masc.fem and don't feel the need to pick one predominantly in either direction. I trans-cend it.  I am trans-itive. Trans-gender.  That sounds pretty trannie to me.

Farewell to the Fox--- originally published February 16, 1963

When the market hit the sky
And the skirts became knee high,
When a lady's hair was bobbed in boyish fashion,
When the Charleston was the rage,
And we read on ev'ry page
How Capone shot rival thugs without compassion,

When the seas were  our frontier
And we had no gnawing fear
That the world's affairs would ever grow quite tense,
When Cal C., who couldn't lose,
Said: "To run, I do not choose,"
And when blonds were much preferred by all the gents;

When John Gilbert, Theda Bara
And the "it" girl (name of Clara)
Would lend glamour to each motion picture plot;
When the experts stipulated
That depressions were out-dated
(There would always be a chick in ev'ry pot),

When Bill Tilden, Grange and Ruth
Bobby Jones and Albie Booth,
Set up records one could never break, we feared;
When we thought it was no sin
To be guzzling bathtub gin--
That's the moment when our much-prized Fox appeared.

There were movies by the score,
Vaudevillian acts galore,
We'd enjoy each funny show (it seemed so clever),
Ev'ry play was up to par,
If it had some glam'rous star,
Why, we looked upon the Fox as ours forever.

Ills we thought could not be cured,
Troubles, cares that we endured
When depression hit this land and brought real need
We would banish for a while
When we'd sit, relax and smile
At the Fox, where wholesome fun was guaranteed.

Yes, since nineteen-twenty-nine,
When it first put up its sign
And revealed its rich and glittering decor,
The Fox has meant to us
Something truly fabulous.
But alas, it won't be with us anymore.

The end is drawing near,
Business experts make it clear
That this theater is really out of date.
And it saddens each PV
That so-called efficiency
Has condemned the Fox to such a horrid fate.

At this anniversary
(Four and thirty years 'twill be
That this place has cast its foolish, fab'lous spell)
PVs crowd the famous Fox
And from gall'ry seat to box
They salute it, as they fondly say, "Farewell",

Merrill Ten Broeck Spalding 

condomsRBoring in Soma



Originally written September 2, 2008


I just returned from a trick's house that didn't transpire the way I intended. I met condomsRboring, the tag from men4now at his immaculate, Soma flat that featured a sweeping, panoramic view of the gas station across the street. The pad had parquet floors and no bugs in site. Located right next to the Asia SF trannie hotspot for trannie hot messes, the place screamed SOMA, the self-reflexive real estate term preferred by posers. Brian was a 32yo fireplug mesomorph with a tight little ass. Based on his cautious list of questions posed in our cat and mouse chase online, I should have realized something may go awry. Before committing to hooking up, he wanted to know A) if I had bathed recently, B) What drugs I did, the way I did them and if I had any of my own. The latter questions were cloaked in a subtext that I dared not sway from. I knew the wrong answer was the one having anything to do with shooting up. I wanted to reply that if I was after his drugs, I certainly wouldn't resort to his amateur method of smoking. That was for squares and new-timers, I wanted to add. But I held my tongue and remained silent on the matter. When he saw my tattoos, he asked about the meaning of the number 5150 emblazoned in stencil on my bicep. I explained that it was the California penal code for being a danger to oneself. He asked about the slash and track marks on my arms and the running scar down my gut. I told him about my long-ago battle with body dysmorphia/anorexia that caused my intestines to rot, hence the scar. Then I confessed that I wouldn't be able to bottom for him or partake in the RAI Receptive Anal Intercourse pastime popular among MSM (men who have sex with men) because I had undergone an elective surgery on the affected area just a week prior to our interlude (I didn't offer details or elaborate about the reason and he didn't ask. The deal was I had just undergone Anal Dysplasia surgery to remove high-grade pre-cancerous lesions that were a result of catching HPV aka Condyloma Acuminata that sounds so much more glamorous than Anal Warts which is what I had caught 7 years prior. I remember how horrified I was when faced with that bit of news at the STD clinic. They wouldn't be as easy to cure as chlamydia or gonorrhea, both of which I had only just experienced as a result of a whirlwind affair/fling/obsession with the first guy I met after I seroconverted to HIV. From Easter to the 4th of July 2002, I had graduated from being smitten to stalker to slashing his tires before falling into an old habit of slicing my wrists up with razor blades in order to qualify the pain. To say that that situation and subsequent wreckage was the worst emotional fuckwittage I had ever... would be a gross understatement. All the lovelorn Romeos I had ever pined over couldn't hold a candle to the one that ultimately burned me. But all of that had happened a very long time ago and I was more concerned at the moment with considering the prospect of getting through the next three months without making myself available to be fucked. My discharge orders from UCSF had clearly stipulated I wasn't to engage in RAI for at least 90 days. The news was fresh but I had already begun resigning myself to its reality and was actually getting used to the idea of IAI---- or strictly Insertive AI, i.e being a top. The thought of doing so had first occurred to me 10 years prior when I was 26 after I went home with a cater-waiter I met at a Calvin Klein event in Dallas. He was the first guy that had ever voiced an audible appreciation for the aesthetics of my dick. I was used to being pigeon-holed (no pun intended) as a twinky bottom up to then. Once I realized I had a commodity that could really work to my advantage in the gay sexual market place, being versatile was the way to go. My prowess for all its merits was evidently lost on my current companion judging from that way he mechanically turned his attention right back to his laptop that featured a home page already tuned to Men4now. "I'm sorry," he said, "I wanted to fuck," "Yeah, I'll fuck you," I said, trying to keep the exasperated "duh" tone out of my voice. I settled back on the living room pullout and appreciated the opportunity to jack off to his vast collection of porn all of which were from genres and studios I had never seen. Suddenly, my meager, threadbare little efficiency in the L's didn't seem all that special. Perhaps it was my impending 35th birthday that sat on the calendar like an anvil and hallmark of my quarter life crises. I hearkened back to all my previous life crises, all the while stroking, stroking. "Help yourself to the cockrings," he offered splaying out a plethora of various materials and sizes. Leather snap-ups were aligned with an assortment of kushee-stretchies and stainless steel CBT devices. Embarrassed, I pumped a squirt of his expensive Swiss Navy lube and lost myself in the task at hand, so to speak. I had a full view of the back of his head and earful of his biographical sketch. He regaled me with a story that outlined a Mormon missionary boy from Salt Lake City. The nubile, tight-assed little LDS devotee wasn't exhibiting his best preferred trait, in my opinion. He adopted the alternate meaning of the descriptor "tight assed" that had nil to do with his proclivities in the sack. I wanted to tell him about my longtime fantasy of encountering a team of Mormon missionary 19 year old boys on my doorstep... But I didn't. Instead, I shared my recollections of Elizabeth Smart, the blond, angelic harpist who was kidnapped and wed by the cult of polygamists. I also mentioned that I had a couple of cousins who hailed from the Salt Lake area. This tidbit piqued his interest as he probed me for questions about my relationship with a male cousin. He wanted to know if I had ever gone down on him or fallen prey to his rape. "No, I recollected,". He was too frail and wouldn't have been much fun," I admitted. I wanted to know how Brian-the0trick was affording such a fancy pad and asked after his occupation. He prattled on about the PR coordinator position he had just given up at Ebay because "they weren''t paying him what he was worth". He had a South Bay phone number and when I asked him how he traveled to his remote work location every day, he chirped, "My car," as if the gas and mileage expense "didn't mean nothin" (sic) The elephant in the room reared its tusks and I confessed my intention to jet. I told him to add me as a friend on Facebook and pecked him on the lips. I could smell the minty fresh scent emanating from his lips that smacked of Burts Bees. I wondered if I had ever been that high maintenance. I knew I had always pushed the envelope to left of center into the margins. I was decidedly un-apologetically marginalized. The only thing that gnawed at my conscience was whether or not this warranted oppression without me knowing it. I speed-walked back to my apartment as the sky turned from black to beige. When I entered my ghetto 4th floor walk-up, I was greeted by my Tippi. My three year old feline tabby erased all images of the higher economic bracketed trick out of my immediacy. It was nice to be home amid my belongings, the tacky shelf of kitsch inspired decor I had populated with McDonald's Happy Meal Barbies. A roach scuttled by as I turned on the light. "Hello, Judy, Hello Babs" I acknowledged to the light switch plate that featured their shared episode of the Judy Garland Show. I wouldn't trade my eccentric kooky taste for all of his parquet floors and Levelors even if I had a cushy tech-centric job at Google or Twit-for-brains. The salary would be nice, though. Maybe next year, I thought. Happy Birthday Tommy.

Premier StoryCorps Interview-- Adoption, Addiction, AIDS--Actualization

Hello.  I am Michael Thomas Angelo.  Today is 11/16/2013. We are at the Presidio branch of the SF public library and I am talking to my friend Judy  Strebel…

Judy:  And I am Judy Strebel.

MTA: Hello and thank you. I’m so happy to have an opportunity to do this.

Judy: …. What would you like to get out of this journey today?

MTA: Well I am a StoryCorps (click for audio)  facilitator, a volunteer facilitator and hearing other people’s stories, after hearing a few of them I thought, “You know I think I want to do this myself. I have a story to tell and I think this would be a great opportunity… I’m from the South bay originally.

Judy: What year were you born?

MTA: I was born September 15, 1973. So I’ve been 40 for two months now. Two months and a day.

Judy: And looking like 20.


MTA:  Oh thank you (laughs) except for my grey hair. I have salt and pepper hair.Judy:  You look like George Clooney or Richard Gere


MTA: Oh thank you. It’s nice living in a city like SF, especially in my neighborhood because it has so much history… I’m really getting into the history of the neighborhood which is changing. Having been here for almost 15 years now I feel like I’ve been around and am actually one of the old school people compared to the Twitter tech boom crowd which is moving in and who are mostly under 30. They don’t really have a sense of what it was like and I know I  sound like an old fogy saying that but even at 40 I think I have a … well for my scene anyway, when  I came out,  I’d consider myself a pioneer…  Well, I wasn’t around for the early AIDS epidemic because I was 11 years old when that took place  and obviously not living in the city but I grew up in the shadow of that and I guess I’m kind of Phase II as far as that…  but I’ll get into all that later.

Judy: Well let’s start with your history.  You were born…

MTA: I was born on September 15, 1973 in San Jose, CA which is the South bay. I was adopted. The story of my birth, I didn’t know, for half my life. I didn’t find anything out until I was 21. I had always known I was adopted. My adoptive parents were high school sweethearts… They went to high school together and were each other’s first love… they married in 1965 <stage whisper: My mother was actually pregnant but nobody knew.>  And…she miscarried. The baby was born three months premature in 1966 and so she miscarried. Back then… I mean if that would have happened now, of course they would have been able to save it but they didn’t have the technology in 1966…back then.  You know she tried for years…for almost 10 years to have children with my father but she was never able to conceive…she had a total of about 7 miscarriages. They divorced once in like 1970 or 1969…after about 5 years or so, I’m not sure… they were divorced a couple years actually when my mother realized she really wanted a child and she knew she would never be able to have one on her own so she rekindled something with my father and they went to Reno and got married again and tried to make it work again. But they just couldn’t bring a child to term…. They tried adopting.  They had started trying to adopt for years before I came about and it took them a long time… They had even been promised another child who they set up the nursery for and everything but then that child’s parents decided to keep it and my parents were absolutely devastated. It was like another miscarriage. My mother said that’s when she had decided to divorce the first time and she was prepared to put it all behind her and just move on and be single but the need to have a child was just too  powerful and too great so by the time all that transpired and I came along….  I was very….   <Voice cracking into a stifled sob>  I was very…valued, I guess.  I try not to get emotional <tearful voice> …I’m sorry, I didn’t know this was going to happen….  I get emotional because with my mother… I feel like I grew up with… I feel like I really don’t deserve the love that she has for me… what I represent to her, you know? That’s just the way I feel… that she loves me so much that it can be overwhelming because I don’t deserve something like that.  Anyway, I was obviously an only child and they divorced immediately after acquiring me.   When I came along, I was  14 months old so I had already been living in foster care for a little over  a year of my life and the reason why I was in foster care for so long was because my biological mother wouldn’t relinquish me. She wouldn’t sign the papers... The story of my birth, which I found at age 21, was that my biological mother was schizophrenic. She was from a Sicilian family that had immigrated here to San Jose from Chicago. Their name was Domino. Well, her mother’s mother’s family name was Matalone which was one of the founding families that started Contadina Foods during WWI. And her mother, (you know they were Sicilian immigrants) married a Chicago bar owner that beat her up so she divorced him. This would be my biological grandmother. She came to San Jose working in a tomato cannery. One of those Contadina canneries. So yeah she was able to come here with her two children which were my biological mother and my uncle… in the 1940s. They settled in Willow Glen, which is a nice suburb in San Jose and my uncle went to Bellarmine high school which is a local boy’s Catholic school for future rulers of business and industry and my mother Kathy was very beautiful…a very beautiful Sicilian young woman who started to exhibit behavior problems… I guess when she was in high school which is what I was told. They just had a terrible time with her. Back then there was an institution…well there were a lot of institutions. There was an asylum called Agnew Insane Asylum which was in San Jose.  You see when Reagan was governor of CA, he actually shut down all of the asylums back then, under the LPS Act which is the Lanterman, Petris and Short Act and they shuttered all of these mental health facilities which were asylums.  It was basically just a huge fortress. It predated the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  They all but lobotomized people back then. There were movies that document the types of conditions like the Snake Pit and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That film was actually used as an example during the hearings when they were trying to get the legislation passed. That film was used as an example of the conditions and as an exhibit of the inhumane treatment that went on in the asylums while they tried to get them shut down… So when they shuttered that asylum…all of those people that were in there were let out into the street and wandering around the Bay area unmedicated…

Judy: And your mom was?

MTA:  --Yes, she was one of them, yeah. So what they did is they washed up on the shores of these halfway houses. You know, they just opened up halfway houses to house them all. So she inevitably ended up in this decaying Victorian halfway house for board and care in downtown San Jose near San Jose State (university) and that’s where she met my father... And you know my father actually ended up there because…well this was the late 1960s, early 1970s. He was kind of a hippie coming from New York, bopping around, into drugs, you know, travelling, and a drifter. He checked himself into this halfway house because he needed a place to sleep after coming down from a run, like a drug run. Speed, he was on speed, he said, so he talked himself into a couple night’s stay at this place, fell out and when he woke up, he said he was surprised to find himself in a house of women. That’s how he met her there… I have no idea…well she was obviously there as a ward of the state and had been left there to depend on her board and care… It was hard for me to understand.  You see, because when I met her she was lucid but it was hard for me to understand because she talked in tangents and it was very difficult for me to track her conversation or to focus her but then I kept thinking that well, obviously she must have been lucid enough to be able to have had this relationship with a man for as long as she did. They dated for a while before she conceived…well, uh, she got pregnant for the first time in 1971. My sister was born in August of 1971 and they thought they were going to get married but he said he realized it was so hard; they just couldn’t do it because her behavior was so erratic. He said he would come home and all the dishes would have been broken so he realized…that he had to just break it off. He would leave, you know…he was in construction so he would leave for extended periods of time…and when he would come back, they would rekindle or whatever and so I guess it was during one of their “on” times that I was conceived.

Judy: Was your sister also---

MTA: My sister was given up for adoption also yeah. You see, because when she was born, my father said that he tried to come to the hospital and was very excited but they wouldn’t let him in because he was absent. You know fathers had no rights back then. And my mother’s family…well… my mother’s family…. They weren’t really even acknowledging it. Because of the circumstances… here was their daughter who had basically hooked up with somebody she met at a halfway house for the mentally feeble and… you see….(pause) the way my mother’s family handled her mental illness was just amazing to me because they just sent her away. They just sent her away to that asylum and then they moved. They didn’t want to let her know where they were living. Because she had caused them so many problems.  My mother’s mother… because there was no father and because they were Sicilian and that’s what immigrant families did back then…they lived together… their mother lived with my mother and uncle and his wife and they just had a terrible time with my mother. Her brother kind of took over the legal role as her guardian. He was an attorney in San Jose and had actually been District Attorney and a judge at one time.  His name was Fred Domino. He had a wife Ruby, whom he had been dating since high school and I actually just had dinner with her not too long ago, maybe a few months ago, back in March actually because my Uncle Fred recently passed away. But anyway, when I met Kathy, my biological mother, I was in college. I had always grown up knowing I was adopted and had actually begged my mother about wanting to find out everything I could and my parents were actually very supportive of me wanting to identify as an adoptee interested in searching. When I was 10, my adoptive mother actually called the county of San Jose or Santa Clara County and requested that a waiver of confidentiality be submitted into my file which would allow anyone who was ever trying to find me… that you know, that I gave my permission to be contacted but no one ever did. So when I was 18 and in high school I went through a very difficult time. I became obsessed with my identity because when I would look in the mirror, I wouldn’t be able to see past my eyes. I couldn’t look into my eyes. I wasn’t able to see past my eyes …they say the eyes are the window to the soul but I would get this far and not be able to see what was inside… so I was having a very difficult time with it.  I kind of shoved it under the rug and put it aside because when I started asking questions and…you know it was just very difficult…because after all of this time… you know my mother had always told me that…after growing up when she was always telling me she was very supportive of me finding out but when I started to actually do the work, she was all of a sudden a little insecure and so I just.. .I just kind of put it away for a while until I was in college…for two years…my sophomore year… when I was 20.  I decided to… I was in Los Angeles at USC and I decided to do it then.  It was 1994. I contacted an organization that I found in the back of a book called Lost and Found, which was an adoption support book by Betty Jean Lifton, a pioneer of adoption writing… and there was just this little section in the back that listed resources according to area and I looked at the only one listed under San Jose which is where I was born. It was these two women that ran it out of their living room, I think. They were just these search angels. So I sent them a letter I had received from the county of Santa Clara which was basically just a brush-off letter saying they couldn’t tell me anything with a face-sheet they had included that listed all of the non-identifiable information because in place of the information that I wanted to know, there were big splotches of white-out that had then been Xeroxed so I really couldn’t see anything. So I called the county and said, “What’s up with this?” and the guy is telling me, “Well,”  He actually had my file open before him while he was on the phone with me and he says, “I’m sorry, I’m looking right at it but I can’t tell you what’s in it.”  And I was like “(WTF?”)  But then he let it slip that my birth mother was born in Chicago and I don’t know if he meant to do that or whatever but it was the piece of information that I took to my searcher who was then able to track down my family within maybe about a week of me telling her that information. And I remember the day she called me with a name. It was in March of 1994 when she did that. Because it was over a weekend, I wasn’t able to contact her brother or track him down at his law firm and I’m glad I wasn’t able to do that because had I done that, he would have most certainly discouraged me from calling her. So when I called my mother out of the cold for the first time, I had called a few numbers before tracking her down at this board and care halfway house and when I got her on the phone, she said, “How did you get this number? Then, I’ve been thinking about you for a long time. Which she immediately followed up with a request for me to send her some money….!!  Or cigarettes… and I was just a little bit, you know, taken aback…   Because when I said I wouldn’t be able to she said, “But I thought you went to a rich family,”  

Judy: Wow!!

MTA: And she sounded…well, when I met her of course, I understood but when I met her, she sounded, well she looked like what I liked to call basically a Tenderloin Tessie, you know, basically like a bag lady and she lived in this halfway house where she roomed with a…with another bag lady…and she pushed this shopping cart around downtown San Jose… She was just eccentric…very eccentric. She had this white hair… which was different from the way she looked in a picture I saw of her when she was in her 20s and gorgeous when she was normal. She was Sicilian and had beautiful olive skin. But by the time I met her, of course, she was just torn down.  She had been living as in indigent for years and years and years for over 30 years...

Judy: Did you find any recognition in your features…

MTA: Not at first, you know because of. Well…time…but in her younger pictures, yes. People tell me that all the time but mostly with my father… because you see…because she had stayed in contact with my father off and on throughout all of those years, after I found her…he was able to be found as well… and when I saw him for the first time, I mean it was so amazing because I looked so much like him… Let’s see, I found my sister about 3 or 4 months after I found my mother… no… that’s not right…. Yes, actually I found my sister about 3 or 4 months after finding my mother and then when I actually met my mother in person for the first time I was with my sister… In that interim period after finding my mother, I found my sister…who had been adopted into a different family and had her name changed…

Judy: How did you find your sister?

MTA: (pause, laughs) I have NO idea.  I didn’t even think it was going to be possible because all it said on the face sheet was “Sister” and everything had been whited out except for the year 1971 but the birth date and the name had been whited-out so I had nothing to go on. But my mother had told me that she had named her Sally but of course that name had been changed…so I just… well I told my searcher that I didn’t even hope to search because I honestly didn’t think it was going to be humanly possible and my searcher said, “no”, that she really wanted to do this. I don’t know how she did it. I have no idea how she tracked her down but all of a sudden after a few long months that summer, one night she calls and says we could zero in on her general whereabouts. That was such a difficult process because of the address… the address we had was a place she had once lived with this guy who worked as a big rig operator who was gone for extended periods of time so my searcher personally staked out this one house in San Jose for week and then would call me with news of having no news.  She was interviewing neighbors until she realized that people were giving her the cold shoulder, probably assuming she was a bill collector so they were being very protective of leaking information about my sister’s whereabouts. Well, when I finally got her on the phone after months of trying and false starts and stops and starts, she said that she had heard through some neighbor that she had had a brother that was looking for her… which was of course all very overwhelming because she had no idea about any of this… since she was the oldest so she didn’t know anything…

Judy: Did she know that she was adopted?

MTA:  She knew she had been adopted but that was it. She didn’t know much of anything. And I had grown up with minimal information… I mean my adoptive mother had kept the records from when I was in foster care...there was a book kept on me that was like a journal kept by the foster parents about me that recorded and kept track of my feeding schedule and my  habits for the first 14 months of my life. And it was touching… My name was Tommy… Thomas Charles… of course the surnames were secret.  My father’s name was Thomas Smith; so of course, I would have been Thomas Charles Smith.  I laugh and say, Oh my God… I can’t believe I narrowly escaped a fate of being named Tom Smith.  My name is Michael Thomas Angelo which is so much better.

Judy: You’re not stuck in obscurity…

MTA: No, I’m not. Nor anonymity…  Actually, I probably would have been Thomas Charles Domino-Smith--- but they still call me Tommy, my mother still calls me  Tommy…. Well, everybody called me Tommy actually because that was my name for the first 14 months of my life and when my parents adopted me, my father wanted to change my name to Michael to honor his father’s brother, a commercial artist named Michael Angelo. And my mother said, “No, you can’t name him Michael Angelo because he’s going to be teased his whole life…”  Which I was. So they compromised and decided to go ahead and name me that Michael Thomas Angelo which would be my legal name but they wouldn’t call me by it. They would just continue to call me Tommy because that was just me.  My adoptive mother loved the name Tommy because her father and brother are both named Thomas.   That’s the way it is. The name of my soul, my innermost soul, the name I answer to myself is Tommy so that’s what I go by.  Michael was just my legal name that I hated while growing up especially when I would start school every year after the teacher would call out roll, she’d call out Michael Angelo and everyone would laugh and so I saw it as just something that I had to endure.  Until I was 18 when I went to college at USC and suddenly because it was my legal name, Michael Angelo was on every piece of paper and I got tired of having to explain to everybody, “Yes I really go by Tommy,” so I just decided to give up and say, “Okay, go ahead and call me Michael Thomas Angelo.” It was a novelty that seemed to make an impression on people anyway so I just gave up and that’s how I became Michael Angelo in my adulthood. But everyone who has known me since before I was 18 calls me Tommy. So that’s the story of that.

Judy: Do you still have a relationship with your biological mother?

MTA:   Unfortunately…well…. You see, after I found her, I let 15 years pass because I was so overwhelmed with the experience that I let 15 years pass without contacting her because I just couldn’t deal with it.  I barely contacted her for that whole time.  During those 15 years I was going through a lot of my own growing pains…

Judy: …which we’ll come to…

MTA: Yes… where I wasn’t able to… well, I just couldn’t be present. And I have since done a lot of reading about the post reunion experience about what to expect after wards since my reunion and I wish I had been privy to that before as I was going through it because I would have been able to deal with it a lot better. There are stages people go through over time. They liken it to what Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identifies as the five stages of grief that someone goes through after a death in a mourning process. It was so overwhelming because I had been obsessed with it my whole life and after taking this mammoth search on and then being successful in finding every single member of my biological family who were then coming out of the woodwork. Everything I was dealing with…the range of emotions…not to mention the guilt I harbored for having done it…because I couldn’t share it with my adoptive mother… It was just such a sore subject and she acted so hurt by it which I couldn’t understand…that I couldn’t share anything… But I was…I was so excited about it… You know adoption has always been a major part of my identity and I have always been fascinated… when I hear adoptees talk about how they don’t really want to know or don’t have any desire to search for their family, I think they’re lying. They’re lying to themselves because you have to want to know where you came from. I wouldn’t be who I am had I not had that…but now I know… I mean it wasn’t pretty…but I found out…and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to… I didn’t have a relationship with her (Kathy) the way I would have wanted to because I let 15 years pass without having hardly any contact with her until one day in 2007…. I had been living in an apartment South of Market and had just moved to a new place in the Tenderloin and was going through a period of cleaning house, so to speak. I had gotten rid of some bad influences and was taking inventory of my life and where I was at and I decided to revisit the issue.  I started to look through some old letters where I found her address and then called her. She still lived in San Jose and I found out she had been simultaneously looking for me. She had just shown up at the apartment I had just vacated south of Market. .. She had just shown up there a month after I moved out looking for me… She said, “there was this Filipino man” and I knew that my neighbor  was Filipino and she had actually talked to him about where I was and it was amazing, I mean, after all of that time of us not talking to each other, she shows up on my doorstep a month after I had moved out of the building. How amazing. I thought, my god, the Universe works in mysterious ways. … So anyway, we reconnected…  I guess she took the Caltrain down from where she lived in San Jose to my apartment in San Francisco every other weekend or so where we would just sit and jibber-jabber. She would always bring her boyfriend type figure, an older, eccentric black man that she lived with. He was just an old, eccentric coot who would just sit there and talk to her while I watched the two of them talk to each other because they were almost like this hilarious comedy team. She was so… funny… I mean, she would say something was a miracle and then she’d go, <nasally, character voice, “Miracle… It’s a miiiiracle”>  <rapid, low pitched voice, as if Kathy was talking to herself> “Who played Helen Keller in the Miracle Worker?”    
And then I’d say, “Oh it was Patty Duke…and then we’d go on from there. I mean, it was just from one thing to another…and it was so funny. And she always brought me all of these little gifts that were individually gift wrapped. I think she had probably stolen them from Walmart or wherever but they were just little doodads and gewgaws that she had brought, you know…kitschy little things, that were so precious like little picture frames or a little flashlight or a swatch of embroidered flowers that was stuck in a little frame which I hung in the bathroom. There were huge temporary tattoos of flowers and butterflies that I applied to the door in the bathroom.  It was all so precious… 
And I wanted to know so much. I wanted to know everything I could soak up about what her life was like, about her courtship with my father and their love story, and her childhood and about growing up as she did in San  Jose, you know, everything… but  it was just so hard to pin her down… So when I was finally comfortable enough, you see by that time I was 33, I mean I wasn’t 21 anymore so I had done some living and I had developed more tolerance where things weren’t such a shock to me.  The first time I met her was just such a shock to me… I mean to encounter this schizophrenic woman in this halfway house and duh-duh –ta-duh. You know I was so sheltered and had never experienced anything like that… but by 33, I had kind of been around the block and I was living in the Tenderloin so I had a lot more exposure which led to me developing a lot more tolerance for those people.  So I just took her at face value and accepted where for where she was.  So… Mother’s  day happened… By this time we had been back in contact for about three months… When Mother’s day, came, she visited me on the day. We had spent a wonderful day meandering around the Civic Center and just talking. She would sidle up to these winos around the Civic Center and say <in nasally Kathy voice, “Hey do you gotta cigarette?”> and then she would sit right down there on the sidewalk and cackle and just say <as Kathy, “Jesus loves you, ha hahhhaaa”>  And I just thought she was just a hoot, know what I mean, because it was just so funny to see that… I would say, “This is my muthuh---ha ha ha because I love that kind of thing, know what I mean.  She would try to light a cigarette in the wind and she wasn’t able to do it so she would try over and over and over again and it was just hysterical…   Anyway, the next day, early the next morning, I received a call from my sister who I had just recently resumed contact with and I picked up the phone, said Hello and my sister simply said, “Tommy she’s gone”.  < deep breath, pause, shaky voice>  Just like that she had died in her sleep the day after Mother’s Day.

Judy:  <speechless> Wow----

MTA: So a hasty funeral was planned.  Her brother planned a hasty funeral…which was an opportunity that I got to see my sister.  My sister actually drove with her two girls, she has three girls, but she drove with the two youngest girls from where she had  been living in Oregon to stay with me in my little studio in the Tenderloin and we had a slumber party. And then I rode with my sister and nieces to San Jose the next day to attend the memorial service.  It was at this little chapel in San Jose and when I walked in, I felt like Oh my god, it’s the Sopranos, you know, it looked like this big Sicilian contingent in there with her brother…who was there with everyone she had grown up with and her family…and so I was able to say something.  It was very…well the memorial service was hasty because the priest there didn’t know her and it was just thrown together and frankly, I mean, I don’t even know where her body was. I mean there was no casket or anything and I actually asked my aunt what where the body was and she said she didn’t know. So I don’t know what happened. I mean I have no idea what happened. I mean, I think it was…well, I have no idea. I don’t know if she ended up in Potter’s Field or what happened…

Judy:  Wow!!

MTA: I mean, yeah, nobody knows…

Judy: And in Sicilian families, there are things you don’t talk about….

MTA: Exactly. That’s exactly the way it is. I mean my uncle was very reluctant to give me any information and I didn’t find out a lot of what I know until after he died. I was able to really interview his wife Ruby and just this past few months, when I had dinner with her after he died, I was able to sit down with her and really grill her about everything she knew and remembered because she had been dating my uncle since they were in high school and so she saw my mother Kathy go through the change and spiral into mental illness.

Judy:  Oh, so she knew her for her whole life...?

MTA:  Almost. She had been dating her brother since they were in high school and her brother is older so…she kind of saw Kathy grow up.  And so I wanted to know everything.

Judy: Did you mom have other children?

MTA: <pause) Yeah, I’m laughing because there was another child. David. But we don’t talk to him. … David was born 7 years after me from another man although she claimed for years that he was from our same father but we all had DNA tests and it turns out it wasn’t. He was from somebody else. David had had behavioral problems from an early age so he wasn’t adopted from foster care until he was like 5 or 6 years old and so imagine how traumatic that must have been to have been in foster care for that long. His parents that adopted him were an older couple on their second marriage. They had been having problems in their relationship, had both had kids of their own from each respective marriage and had decided to adopt him as kind of like their pet project.  It didn’t work. He was seemingly very troubled by the time I met him when he was 15 and I was in college. His adoptive mother had heard about me because she had been in contact with our bio mother  off and on throughout almost his whole life because his adoption was handled out in the open. Whereas my sister and I experienced a closed adoption where our records were sealed  I had to do a lot of teeth pulling to get any information because it was all sealed but David’s adoption was out in the open so our mother Kathy actually visited him in his foster home regularly until he was adopted and then he ended up in the same town, which is Morgan Hill where our uncle and his family lived. So he always knew where he came from..  So, over the years, I’ve tried more than once to have a relationship with him but he’s just very troubled. He’s a very troubled young man…. He’s very angry and I just had to cut him loose. I blocked him on Facebook and I warned my sister about him. 
Interestingly enough, about a year ago, I was posting on ancestry.com about being part of the Domino family and I got an email back from a guy who it turns out is a distant cousin I guess, from the Domino side, my grandfather’s, which is my mother’s fathers side, the Domino.  He’s about 10 years older than me, and lives in Chicago which is where the whole original Domino clan is from. He’s a tour guide who speaks fluent Italian and conducts tours in Sicily in the same town that our ancestors are from. He has actually researched  the whole Domino family tree incessantly. He’s completed a comprehensive complete family tree.  He has welcomed me and taken me under his wing.   You see, until I met him,  I had always kind of half identified as two different people from having grown up adopted. I mean there was me, Michael Thomas or Tommy, as I know myself and then there was this half-baked Thomas Charles figure that existed somewhere in the murky depths of my subconscious , that person that never really had the chance to develop and there was always kind of a conflict… So when I met him,  I introduced myself as Tommy Domino…who just happens to have been adopted and raised with the name Michael Thomas Angelo and he just accepted that at face value.   He didn’t blink an eye or bat an eyelash. I couldn’t believe it. I mean for him to accept me like that and not even make it an issue that I was adopted…so you mean I could be these people, I could be the same person I was before I was adopted was so liberating and I mean, he didn’t even realize the effect it had on me, that finally, I could just mold these two identities of nature vs. nurture and just be myself. And yes, I am adopted. I am Tommy Domino. I mean I was Tommy Domino, that’s just me…Regardless of whether or not I was adopted, I will just be me as I know myself and well they always talk about nature vs. nurture and I just think that I know myself now and I just think there are certain things about me that would have been me regardless of whether or not I was adopted.  I mean, my environment was completely different from the way it would have been had I not been adopted.  I’m so grateful to have been adopted from foster care… I mean, I really think I got the best deal out of the situations dealt among us, all three of Kathy’s children. My sister and brother didn’t have as savory  conditions….or let’s just say they had less savory conditions compared to the type that I experienced… things like a lower socio-economic bracket, some trauma, my sister had it so bad she wasn’t able to complete high school as a teenager and was forced to drop out because of the conditions taking place in her adoptive family.

Judy: Tell me about your adoptive family,

MTA: Well, my adoptive family life was completely the opposite. I was raised in privilege. My mother and father divorced when I was three years old and my mom and I moved from Sacramento back to San Jose. My father stayed in Sacramento which is where they had grown up and gone to high school.  He settled in Sacramento and I remember him telling my mother,  I’m willing to let you and Tommy go. He had started this electrical contracting company named Angelo Electric, the year I was born in 1973 and it became this booming business that was very successful. I do remember my parents and me living together. I don’t know how that could be possible but I do remember us living together in the same house. I remember doing things together like saying my nighttime prayers, kneeling at the…well, we weren’t religious but I would say my  “now I lay me down to sleep” prayers you know what I mean and I would always say Amen and my father would say “and a lady” and that was just kind of our thing. I just remember that.  And I remember leaving. I remember my father standing in the driveway and I remember my mother and I waving or me waving goodbye to him and I think that was the  last time, well I think that was the day we left.  I don’t know how old, I mean, god, I must have been so young but I do remember that. So we left and my mother and I moved to San Jose and she got a job at Atari which was a new company at the time, it was 1976 or 1977 and she was hired in the secretarial pool. She identified with Nolan Bushnell  who started the company because they were both from Utah. My mother was a pioneer in a lot of ways. I liken it to what is going on with Google today, the enthusiasm that was happening in Silicon Valley at the time, the rush of excitement that was taking place and me being the only kid…because they were all in their early 30s or late 20s. My mother was a divorcee with a kid in kindergarten and she called me the Atari Kid.  I remember her going to bars after work with her Atari crew where she would always kind of tuck me behind her in the booth so I would fall asleep. It was just funny because they were young and very enthusiastic and they knew they were part of this new thing, this new technology that was going on.   My mother rose to… well I always admired her because she never accepted alimony from my father. She denied alimony .She was just very independent. I mean, he sent a pittance child support payment but later on in my teenage years she would just give me the whole check and I would spend it on clothes, know what I mean, because she obviously didn’t need it anymore . She had risen from the secretarial pool to  middle management  when she met my stepfather who was her boss when she was in Sales.  He was VP of Sales and Marketing and they had this office romance. I remember them dating and then they moved in together. Prior to that, my mom and I were so poor when I was in Kindergarten and first grade. We lived in this duplex and I remembered that year because it was very sad.   I remember she had gone grocery shopping and she would always place the bags on the kitchen floor so I could help unload them. This one day, I  pulled this one bag off of the counter to the floor so I could help unload them but the bag contained eggs which all completely broke and <fighting back tears> I remember it was so sad because she just stood there over the sink crying and she said, “Oh, Tommy, how could you do that?”  And I just remember how awful and helpless…<crying…>  wow… I just remember being struck by that…      <renewed voice sans tears> but then she met Frank  and I remember how our lifestyle improved when we moved in  with Frank. They bought a house together in Los Gatos and I was taken out of public school and started attending Catholic school for second grade. I would stay in private or parochial school for the rest of my school career throughout 12th grade from that point on.   I went to St. Francis Cabrini in Santa Clara for my second grade…for third grade,  I had decided or I ended up somehow living with my father who by that time was in his early 30s, living in Sacramento where he had married his secretary’s 18 year old kid sister. She had big boobs . He married her in a quickie Las Vegas ceremony and then put her through her undergraduate college education at UC Davis. She was this 18-19 year old coed—setting up housekeeping at this homestead 10 acre ranch property he owned out in Roseville when I went to live with him.  He would go on to have two kids with her, a boy and a girl born in the early 1980s.  I just hated living with him. I was never sold on the idea and I never clicked with him but I was too afraid to say anything because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. If they had only asked me, but they put me into therapy with a child psychiatrist when I was in the third grade and I didn’t know at the time that he was there to help me try and decide who I wanted to live with.  I just thought he was this nice looking man that paid a lot of attention to me and loved t hear me read aloud. I would read poems from Shel  Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic book of poems which I loved. I remember him correcting my pronunciation of St. Tropez which I pronounced  like a Pez dispenser. I was devastated to have gotten it wrong but what the hell did I know? I was in third grade.  But I digress… anyway… I was always flying back and forth between Sacramento and San Jose to stay with one or the other parent. I was always an unaccompanied minor since I was 5, 6, or 7… I remember one time I had fallen asleep on the plane and I missed my connection so I didn’t get off the plane. My mother was there to pick me up and when I didn’t get off the plane of course she was horrified because she thought my father had kidnapped me so she called him up and he said, “Well Erin, (his wife)took him to the airport” and my mom said, “Oh really, I didn’t know she was old enough to drive,”  <laughs> That was just my mom’s sense of humor. I ended up surfacing in Ontario and luckily she had a friend of a friend there who picked me up and helped me find my way back home. I remember my mom was so pissed that the stewardess didn’t wake me up.

Judy: We’re at 36 minutes…

MTA:  Okay, gosh have we talked that long already? I guess I should fast forward.  My childhood with my mom and stepfather was very wonderful. We moved to Seattle when I was 10 so my stepfather could work for Nintendo. He was an executive, like a  VP of Sales and Marketing at Nintendo so I was basically growing up in the video game industry surrounded by all those early video games. We had a room full of video games in our house which was great for me but I was so tired of them  and hated that all the kids in the neighborhood would want to come over and play video games. I didn’t really like them  or get along with them all too well  so I would basically ignore them and be reading my book when my mom would come up to me and say, “You’re being very rude. You should be out there entertaining your guests and I would say, “They’re not here to see me. They’re here to play video games. “ I knew they didn’t really like me and that I didn’t have fun playing with them because they were just banal and beneath me and I had other interests.  I was gay and didn’t know that but was always teased for that and was sick of the way they would flip the script whenever they wanted to come over and play video games. I put up with a lot of fair-weather, fickle friends, the kind that I learned how to recognize very early. I lived in suburban Seattle until I graduated high school. My stepfather left Nintendo in 1988 when I was in 8th grade and started his own company called Fabtek and my mother joined him in working for that so they had their own empire with that and became a corporate power couple of the video game industry and very successful. Fabtek had many successful  coin-op arcade games under its name. Dead Angle was the first one…it was a shoot-em-up Mafia game. Very fun…it was very successful right out of the gate.  I went to Eastside Catholic high school in Bellevue WA with kids I had gone to school with since the fifth grade. We didn’t wear a uniform in high school.. The community in Bellevue was very white, very suburban, very upper middle class. Bill Cates was from Bellevue.  I was raised with everything under the sun. That’s how a baby sitter had once described it to me. She meant it as kind of a slur but then I realized that yeah, I actually do have everything under the sun.  I’m spoiled, so sue me, <laughs> I was an only child so I had a room full of video games and a room full of toys. My parents were contemporary executives in business so I didn’t have those traditional, do I wanna say...not values but  I guess traditions that my classmates growing up in traditional Catholic households had to abide by where they couldn’t watch TV past a certain time or they had all of these restrictions.  I just transcended all of that. I was very lucky in that respect.  I went to college at USC, the University of Southern California, and I didn’t’ come out as gay, well officially, which is hard to believe… until my sophomore year, which is unbelievable because knowing myself as I do and knowing the way I was  which has always been the way I am, it’s amazing that it was all lost on me. I guess I was just kind of in denial and I compartmentalized everything because I knew I was attracted to men… I just didn’t acknowledge it… I just put it in the back of my mind. Just like when I became HIV positive, 11 or so years ago, the reason it happened is because when I was learning about sex growing up in the shadow of  the AIDS epidemic, we were told to use a condom every time, use a condom every time, so of course we’re going to do that right… so when I started becoming sexually active with men when I was like 18 or 19, of course, I was going to use a condom every time…except when I didn’t want to and then I would just pretend that those experiences never happened so you know of course, I couldn’t imagine how I could have contracted HIV because I was totally safe… not realizing that, yeah it was safe except for all of those times that I didn’t use a condom that I wasn’t acknowledging. I was really able to lie to myself is what I’m saying. I was really able to compartmentalize everything where I lived this reality but then I also lived this alternative reality kind of on the side that I didn’t really acknowledge and by not acknowledging it I could fool myself into believing that it never really happened.  That’s how I justified what was going on, is what I’m saying. That’s how I lived the behavior that led to me becoming HIV positive. But anyway, at USC I was very active in the queer student group. I won a scholarship my senior year for being a role model, well they called me a role model, for being an undergraduate role model, which is funny to me because I was just myself. I was really into pushing the envelope because I would receive a lot of attention at the time because I looked like a girl. Not that I was trying.  People don’t believe me when I say that, but it was because people called me pretty so then I thought ,oh, this is kind of interesting and I decided to see how far I could push the envelope so I would start to present myself with really tweezed eyebrows  which led to me doing drag. You know the Crying Game had just come out. So that was really popular in Hollywood and there was this whole new side of the entertainment industry that was opening up. There was this new talent agency and Rupaul and all that was just coming out at the time. This was in 1994-95 so I took advantage of that.  One, because I had always wanted to be an actor and I was in LA with this talent agent who was representing me in drag.  I had to go on these auditions in drag which led to situations where I would have to pull my car over and change clothes in a Starbucks bathroom, go in as a boy and emerge in drag, and it  was really funny. These were heady times. I did a couple indie films  I was never really able to take advantage and become an actor the way I wanted to because I was forced to leave LA prematurely  because I had gotten sick.   I had always kind of dealt with this eating disorder, kind of had this body dysmorphia issue since I was a teenager and the way it manifested when I was 23 was when my stomach started to get gangrene from me not eating….  I was in the hospital for like two  months hooked up to feeding tubes and I got down to like less than 90 lbs. or so. It was very traumatic. It just changed everything. I went from living in LA trying to be like this little glamorous, well what I thought was glamorous, narcissistic, self-centered, model/actor/whatever type to all of a sudden being committed to a hospice after I was released from the hospital where I was hooked up to feeding tubes forbidden to consume solid food. I was being kept alive by this fluid that was being pumped through tubes that were sticking out of my stomach and because I didn’t want to gain any weight, I learned how to unhook the tubes from the machine when the nurses left the room and I would dump the contents down the sink drain and then hook myself back up before the nurses came in to check. I had the routine down like clockwork and that’s what I did while I was in the hospice.  When I was finally released from all of that after multiple operations, it would take me a long time before I was able to digest food again. My mother by this time had divorced my stepfather and she was running a company in San Jose called Data East. It was a video game company and she was Senior Vice President working under  the Japanese as the only female executive.  She was still tying loose ends up with Fabtek back in Seattle and primarily living in this corporate apartment  in San Jose during the week while she ran Data East.  So I ended up moving in with her into that corporate apartment when I was released from the hospitals and we just weren’t getting along.  I had really wanted to go back to LA so for my 24th birthday week, I bought a plane ticket, went back there and immediately started using drugs irresponsibly again. I was living out of a suitcase, living between nightclubs, living a shallow, club-kiddy kind of tweaker lifestyle that was very erratic.  My mother said, “This can’t go on anymore. I don’t want any part of this. You have to go find other living arrangements” so I went and started staying with my stepfather  who had just been divorced from my mother and was living in San Francisco actually in this neighborhood, right down the street on  Presidio at Clay. He let me come stay with him in 1997 in October of 1997 when I got out of the hospital which is how I ended up living in San Francisco.  I’m really disappointed that we don’t have that much time because I wanted to get into…

Judy:  No, we do… You’re now on 44 minutes.  Keep going. You’re on a roll.

MTA: Okay… well coming to San Francisco after having been in LA and having this idea of how my life was going to go and then all of a sudden arriving here and I didn’t want to be here when I got here. I was only here because I had no place to go so I just ended up here. I had nothing left for me in LA because my parents had packed up my apartment and quit my job when I was in the hospital and everything was in storage so I had nothing to go back to. When I got out of the hospital, I was in San Jose right across the bay and since this was the closest city I could come to… because my stepfather had let me stay with him…and I just really ran through the poor man’s life and wrecked it. Here he was taking me in after being divorced from my mother. He was the only father figure  I knew since I hadn’t had a relationship with my own father since I was 13. I really feel badly for what I did to him. Here I was  showing up wearing all this makeup and all of these little club-kiddy outfits and being on crystal meth and staying out for days at a time, coming back and sleeping for days, tromping around like Clydesdales in my platform Fluevogs at all the wee hours, making noise to upset his boozhy neighbors in Presidio Heights. There was glitter everywhere. Everything was infused with glitter because I would put it into a salt shaker and then just tilt my head back and sprinkle it over my face just to give me that, you know, essence… <laughs>  I was a sparkly boy, know what I mean?  That’s <laughs-laughs> how I was walking around here. So this glitter would get into the hardwood floors and you’d think you’d have it all up and the wood was porous so it would just become embedded in the wood and if the light would catch it a certain way, it would start sparkling. So it was a big mess. Frank, my stepfather actually ended up changing the locks. He threw me out, you know and I ended up finding my own apartment in another situation. Within a year after getting that apartment, I was evicted. I had so many people over there. People were using the fire escape as an entrance and exit. I just let anyone and everyone move in. I had no boundaries. No boundaries whatsoever. I would like, let anybody move in. If you were homeless, I was like, sure, come stay with me, (especially if you had a big dick) and people took full advantage. I think I had like 12 people staying in that studio apartment. And  people totally took kindness for weakness. Well, I wanted to be accommodating, you know what I mean, because that’s how I was raised. Well, I was taken in. I was turned out as they say, After a year of living that way, I decided to pack it in and go to drug treatment and well… <takes breath, pause>  my relationship with drug use has been interesting because there’s that whole thing when you’re in drug treatment about the 12 step culture and I know enough about it for having been through all that to be grateful for not having to be in it anymore.  Because it’s such, excuse my language, BULLSHIT.  A lot of the work I’ve done in San Francisco around social justice is to advocate for practicing harm reduction, to show drug users that they have human rights and how to exercise their right not to be powerless over their own behavior. Because that’s what they teach you in that 12 step bullshit—is that you’re powerless, you’re a victim. I think that is just ridiculous. How can you be powerless or made to feel  powerless over your own fucking behavior. You know a lot of that is rooted, I happen to know that a lot of those beliefs  from the 12 step thing are rooted in this ancient , Christian Oxford ideology. That’s where all that garbage stems from. I know this because I researched it and having grown up Catholic and having always thought critically about everything, I’ve never been one to just accept things at face value. I researched it so knowing that, I just  don’t believe what they’re (12 step groups) are selling. I had to sit through all of those incessant meetings with these pitiful people that were always beating their breast and bemoaning their miserable lives. They were white-knuckling it just to get through the day so they wouldn’t use and then celebrating that they had this many days… and I thought, oh my god, just use for god’s sake, it’s not worth it, it can’t be worth it to be that fucking miserable and I just decided that one’s life didn’t have to be lived in constant fear of falling over the edge of relapse because if you do “quote, unquote” relapse, who the hell cares?  Know what I mean? So I started volunteering  at the Needle Exchange here in the city. When I started, of course I was still under the spell of the school of thought that addiction is this disease…. And when I discovered that that wasn’t true and that you didn’t have to become powerless over your behavior that none of what they were selling was true--- that it was all based on just one model of addiction that had  no basis in real science and was no better than armchair psychology along the lines of Scientology….  Or in other words, a crock of BS  I was grateful to be able to look critically at all of that and really examine it from an academic perspective which I found very liberating.  I don’t have to believe in it. It was a shame because I had really good friends in that program, friends that I had known for 15 years that I no longer speak to because they are afraid to associate with any dissenting opinions outside of their group-think-cult-speak song and dance. I don’t live my life under those restrictions. I don’t refuse to do drugs because I accept that drugs play a part in my life because  I’m a sexually active gay man living in San Francisco. Of course, I’m going to run into drugs. I’d have to be a monk or celibate not to accept that and that just ain’t me, know what I mean? <country accent, laughs>  The whole party and play culture is something I run into quite a bit but I don’t denigrate it and I accept it for what it is and I know how to manage my behavior. I never let it get out of control. I’m not one to throw the baby out with the bath water like some of my friends I have known that go to pieces if they use. They quit their job, they’re homeless, they’re living out in the streets and I think it’s just ridiculous. I mean, why would you do that to yourself? Manage your fucking behavior. Grow up. You know what I mean? I don’t know… maybe I’m just… I know that everyone does it differently and everyone has their own path, but I have no tolerance for… I’m not going to let those customs rule me. I refuse to become a cliché. There is a reason a stigma exists around drug users. It’s because of people like that who don’t know how or think they can’t manage their own behavior. They don’t represent very well.  If I make a decision to use drugs, I have to say that I am going to represent myself as I would like myself to be represented.  I don’t make it a part of my regular…

Judy:  You’re not beating your breast.

MTA:  Exactly.  It’s not a regular behavior, certainly not like it’s been at various stages in my life but it is something that I do take part in once in a while but if haven’t learned a thing or two about how to manage it by this age, then I…well how tragic would that be…   And that 12 step culture where you’re always going to meetings talking about  how you’re not using forces you to obsess about using which leads to using.. Exactly---.
Judy:  So we’re at 51 minutes.

MTA: So I’ll wrap it up…

Judy: No, go for 9 more minutes…
MTA:  Okay, I’ll wrap it up.  Well make it an even hour.   One more thing.  What I was struck by…you know I live in the Tenderloin. I love living in the Tenderloin. What’s happening right now with this gentrification of mid-Market under Mayor Ed Lee which is being called the Twitter tech boom. There are tax breaks that are taking place for these tech companies when they move into our neighborhood.  The  area of mid-Market where I live and the Ambassador Hotel on Mason and Eddy are all very historical.  Mark Ellinger has done a lot of documenting and archiving for his wonderfully comprehensive and thorough website called upfromthedeep.com. Every building in my neighborhood, including the one I live in has a historical value of almost 100 years. I am overwhelmed walking around the neighborhood on daily basis thinking about all of the stuff that took place before me. I mean just right across the street from where I live there is this hotel that was once a Gold Rush whorehouse. It’s documented in a book called Madams of San Francisco. I read that where it talks about how plush and luxurious the carpets were and I see it now and it’s just this crack house, this hovel, this SRO. And I think about how not one person inside that building today probably has any idea of how grand this place was back 100 years ago and it just  kills me. I mean, people are living on top of this gold mine of culture and they have no idea. So I make it a passion of mine. I really want to know everything. I can feel the energy of these people.  Even the building I live in now, the Ambassador was actually a makeshift AIDS hospice in 1994 when the city was just over run with the epidemic when they had no place to put these people that were dying and a lot of them ended up in that hotel where they were just forgotten. They were forgotten by their families and they just died there.

Judy:  How devastating.

MTA: Oh yeah, of course the building has been completely renovated since then, but the ghosts are still there. It’s just amazing to me what has taken place.  … I consider myself to be  old-school. At 40, I’ve kind of had this transition because my 20s and 30s were kind of messy… Ask my mother. She’ll attest to that. I was lost. After growing up as the kid who never did anything wrong with everything under the sun, kind of in denial about my sexuality and everything  then I kind of had this <unintelligible> college…on a certain path… and then graduating from college and having everything that happened with my stomach and then well you know I just lost my way for a lot of years. I was just…very…lost. I was living in the Tenderloin…what I put myself through with all the boys, always at the brunt end of abusive relationships and just always, always struggling. At 40, I just… well… for the past few years, I was kind of bouncing around. I gave up the apartment I had been keeping on Turk and Leavenworth three years ago because it just came to be too much. I ended up being homeless. I wasn’t homeless on the streets. But I was homeless staying with people, couch surfing… and I got into some situations where I was taken advantage of because it was very difficult to live under such conditions.  I had an opportunity over this time to really examine myself… I had to keep it together because I had a cat. My doctor was telling me to just go to a treatment center for the free housing and I was incensed. I’m not going to go check into a treatment center because yeah, then I’ll have free housing for a few months which is what they were suggesting that I do and I said, Hell no, I have a cat. I have a child to take care of.  I have to take care of Tippi. Tippi is my tabby who I’ve had since she was 8 weeks old and she’s 8 years old now. What’s going to happen to her? I had to keep it together for her sake. For Tippi. I did hold it together, know what I mean?   I endured a lot of horrible things until I was finally able to get housing at the Ambassador which is an SRO. And I had never lived in an SRO. Of course I had worked for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic as a desk  clerk of various SRO hotel properties but I had never personally lived in such a place. That’s been a little bit of an adjustment but I do appreciate the structure because there are visiting restrictions which prevents me from just letting any cute boy with a big package come over and stay which they will.  You invite these boys over to stay… and after the first night, they’ll  stay , especially if they don’t have another place to go which a lot of them don’t. Especially these little hustler boys, the 30 year old little hustler boys that I’ve always had an affinity for and I’m a sucker for…well you know…they just show up and stay and since I have no boundaries,  before you know it you have somebody living with you.  But in a hotel you can’t do that because they have to leave at a certain time.  And I like that because it’s given me a little sacred space  that I have with my kitty and it’s our space and if I want to play I can go out and go to somebody else’s house and I don’t have to always bring it back to my own.   I was living right in the belly of the beast at Turk and Leavenworth for years and now I’m on Mason and Eddy right across from the Bristol Hotel which has been closed for renovations and vacant for what’s going on a year now.  They’re gentrifying it to attract a tourist clientele which I am leery over just like they tore down that historical St. Francis Theater across the street at 5th and Market to build this mall project which I am sick over. The Renoir hotel has been closed to be renovated to attract a tourist clientele. There are buildings that have sat vacant for 30 years that are now under construction  to be renovated to attract tourists which I am a little bit leery of . It’s going to be really interesting in the next five years to see what’s going to happen to mid-Market.   I hope that I represent the old school values… of the Season of the Witch era… ,,,  <Unintelligible> are coming up on the anniversary of the Milk/Moscone assassinations and the whole Jonestown suicide massacre—which all happened this month in 1978.  It’s a very weird time…they’re actually having a march coming up in the next couple of weeks to honor those events….
So I’m happy to be living in San Francisco at this time, a part of that, living in the Tenderloin around all of this history. It’s a wonderful, beautiful city and me as a gender-queer, adoptee,  HIV positive, old-school faggott. It’s great to be here.

Judy: Well, to sum up though, where do you see yourself going…

MTA: Well, where am I going now… after having this epiphany and knowing myself better I’m trying to get a foothold into community outreach to be able to pass on what I have. I’m a writer ready to write and have my narratives published. I’ve received a lot of accolades for the way I write and record my life’s narratives. I do try and keep a blog which isn’t really faithful because It fell into the wrong hands one time and somebody that I didn’t mean for it to see read it. So I’m a little bit leery about how much to tell because I do write very frankly and candidly about  my life.  The blog is called Gay as Paint and the address  is http://tommyslastchance.blogspot.com      I want to publish my memoir and be working/volunteering  to champion the SF AIDS Foundation and advocate for the marginalized populations of San Francisco, the drug users, the less fortunate, the people with AIDS, the mentally ill, the ones who can’t speak up for themselves. And I really want to advocate for  the preservation of the historical architecture of San Francisco, maybe volunteer as a tour guide to talk about history for

In unison:  MTA and Judy together :  Keeping history alive!

Judy: And on that note… thank you very much.

MTA: No thank you Judy. I’m so glad you could do this for me.