AIDS Affects U.$. All -- The photography and Words of Morgan Alexander

A Project of The International Humanities Center

The Photography of
Morgan Alexander
   

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ISSAN IN THE DEEP KIVA
Ojai Foundation
Ojai, California
February 1990

Copyright © Morgan Alexander 2004

America's first Buddhist Saint, born Thomas in 1933 to working-class parents in Santa Barbara, California; in short order became the eldest of 10 children. Groomed by Catholic nuns for seminary, ran away instead to the Navy in 1951. Soon discharged--Honorable, Under Dishonorable Circumstances (i.e. being gay) --took up residence and unsatisfactory employment in San Francisco. Ditched white-collar insurance jobs to work instead as nightclub host, waiter and finally performer.

Left town in a revue of female impersonators, billed as Tommy Dee The Boy So Pretty You Wont Believe It. -- Alaska,Montana,Detroit,Toronto, New York, Philadelphia. Knocked around in group and solo tours for years. Heavy alcohol, steady diet of intravenous drugs, a modicum of crime including prostitution (jailed a dozen times) & terrible car accidents. A few years in the mob-run clubs of Chicago eventually leading back to San Francisco in the early mid-60's Different drugs-psychedelics --Tommy co-ran The Family, an early urban Haight-Ashbury commune and managed their rock band, Salvation. At a Human Be-In, saw Zen master Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi; immediately took up Zen Buddhism, cleaned up his drug habits and practiced with such steadiness that his teacher named him "one mountain"-Is-san.

Twenty years later, he was installed as Abbot of his own temple, Hartford Street Zen Center in San Francisco's Castro District. Spent time with people dying from the epidemic there, then began to bring homeless kids with AIDS in to the temple and care for them. This blossomed as MAITRI Hospice in the house next - door which through sheer stubbornness he managed to lease. Died himself of AIDS, September 6, 1990. The hospice, temple and benevolent spirit are still going strong.

Street Zen, The Life and Work of Issan Dorsey by David Schneider was published by Shambala in 1993.

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