Family Portrait: Adam Proctor

I have a confession. I come from a family of maternal packrats. My mother was/is a hoarder, just shy of us calling Dr. Phil on her (or better yet, Niecy Nash from “Clean House,” since we share a last name and all). Her mother was a “collector” and I fear I have some of the same tendencies. Especially in this day of going green, I get a knot in my stomach when I throw something away that I think someone else could use. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to end the cycle: PAT, otherwise known as Philadelphia AIDS Thrift. I decided to clean out at least a portion of my basement in the summer, but where to take my old cassette tapes and computer parts from the days before I went Mac? I felt slightly embarrassed, fearing they’d look at me with scorn, like the Main Line thrift store I tried last summer: “We don’t take Atari!” Fortunately, at PAT, a young man with a broad smile greeted me, and treated me like I’d just brought in my firstborn as a gift. “We can definitely put these out, I’ll find someone who could use them …” He was so enthusiastic I came back the next day with another trunkload. Little did Adam Proctor know, he may have just ended my family curse. A real people person, Proctor embodies the bumper-sticker adage “Straight, but not narrow.” I spoke to the community ally about his work at Philly AIDS Thrift.

PGN: So what do you do at PAT? AP: My official title is bric-a-brack pricer, but I do a little bit of everything. I open up and close the store, count the money, handle donations and price items; sometimes I’m on the register; greet customers.

PGN: That’s a great job title. How do you figure out what to charge? AP: Bottom line, I go with what I’d be willing to pay for something. But we’ll also go online and use eBay to see what items are worth or sites like Alibris for books.

PGN: Are you a volunteer at PAT? AP: I’m one of the staff members. We have a small number of paid staff and about 30-40 volunteers. It’s great, we have all sorts of volunteers — people who shop at the store and want to help out, college students who do it for credit and a lot of high-school kids during the summer.

PGN: Are you from Philly? AP: No, I grew up in Chichester, a suburb about 20 minutes out of Philly.

PGN: Are you an only child? AP: No, I have two brothers and a sister.

PGN: Were you a liberal household or conservative? AP: I’d say more on the liberal side, but they really weren’t into politics. My brother ran for mayor in California and was the youngest person ever to run for mayor. He didn’t win and that was about the closest our family has gotten to politics.

PGN: How did you end up at PAT? AP: I was the manager at a Goodwill store in Delaware. I like that in the thrift-store business you meet a lot of cool people and have access to some amazing stuff. When I moved to Philadelphia, I tried a few places on South Street and one of the Goodwills here, and was waiting to hear from them when my girlfriend at the time took me to Philly AIDS Thrift. I loved it at first sight. I left a résumé and the manager, Christina, called me back like 30 seconds later and I got the job.

PGN: How does PAT help people with AIDS? AP: We keep enough money to keep the lights on and pay the employees and the rest is donated. We give about $4,000 a month to ActionAIDS and they divide it among the different programs they work with. The recession has actually been good for us: Our weekly averages have been better than ever. We also have a program where people with HIV or AIDS can get $25 vouchers twice a year to shop for clothing and household goods. It’s a great program. A lot of people take advantage of it. I’d say we get about 100-125 people a month coming in to use the vouchers. It’s a real help.

PGN: How old were you when you first learned about AIDS? AP: I was young, maybe eighth grade. I went to school in a really small town and it wasn’t something that was taught or talked about in school. I guess I was as uniformed as most kids are. I still thought you could get it from kissing and all that nonsense. I didn’t know a whole lot about it before coming here, but I’ve learned so much since then. Just a few months ago we had guest speakers from ActionAIDS come to talk to us and bring us up to speed on things. It’s a real education: You see people coming in and see that people with AIDS can live a full life. I also do a lot of reading about it on my own because I like to know what I’m talking about if someone asks me questions. Medication has made such a difference, but you also see how difficult it can be too. It’s sad sometimes, but when you work here you really feel like you are making a difference. It’s the first job I ever had where I felt like, wow, I’m really helping out.

PGN: Do you get many questions about AIDS issues? Or people who object to what you do? AP: Oh, yes! We get people who come in or call and say the most ridiculous things. We have people who want us to change the name of the store. I’ve had people pull me aside and ask if everyone who works at the store has AIDS; I had one person who called and asked if they would get the disease if they wore clothing from our store. But you can’t be, “Wow, really? It’s 2009 and you’re asking that?” You have to be respectful and try to answer them as calmly and respectfully as possible. We want to educate, not alienate. We try to do good whenever possible.

PGN: What’s the worst job you’ve had? AP: When I was 15, I worked at Wendy’s! I’ll tell you this, after working at a fast-food place, you don’t ever want to eat at a fast-food place. It was gross. And at 15, I had to work on the grill, so my face was always covered in pimples and the pay was bad. Altogether, it was not a good experience. I worked there for six months and then quit because I wanted to grow a beard and they didn’t allow facial hair!

PGN: Did you know that [Wendy’s founder] Dave Thomas was extremely conservative? He pulled advertising from the Ellen DeGeneres sitcom after she came out. AP: Oh wow, really? That’s terrible. You get people like that and wonder, What are you thinking? I just don’t get it; that frame of mind should just be dead and gone. It’s just so rude.

PGN: What were you like as a kid? AP: I was a pretty fun, outgoing kid. I loved to horse around with my friends. I generally liked being outside more than inside. I had a lot of girlfriends in my day and sometimes I kind of regret that; wish I would have just stuck to one person. I played sports, ran track, that sort of thing. I played with my siblings a lot. It was my older brother Aaron, then me, then Josh, then my sister Ashley. Ashley and I were the closest because she played sports and the other two couldn’t. I also used to play Barbies with her. But we’re all still close and I’m lucky to have them all nearby.

PGN: What’s most unusual thing someone has donated? AP: Someone dropped off a gun once. I mean, it was old, but it was real. We got a skull donated, a real human skull. Which actually was worth a lot of money. We looked it up online and real heads go for a few thousand dollars. We didn’t sell it, though; we have it on display with a sign that says, “Shoplifter of the Month.” We get a lot of gross things. Probably the most common thing is food. People will donate pots and pans and they’ll still have old food in them, crusty old spaghetti or something. PGN: What’s the most expensive thing donated? AP: Mostly clothing. We get a lot of really nice wedding dresses. Someone dropped off a leather coat and we priced it online. I forget the designer, but it was selling for about $4,000. We also get a lot of expensive books. You’d be surprised at how much they can go for. We’ll get books donated that are over a hundred years old and go for several hundred dollars. We’ll price a book that goes for a few hundred for about $90.

PGN: Speaking of clothes, what were your worst and best Halloween costumes? AP: The worst was one year when I went as a chair. I just strapped a chair on my lap and called it a day. The best was in fifth grade when I went as the headless horseman. It was one of those costumes that didn’t come from a store. My parents made it and it was wicked cool! The shirt was made from an old curtain and it rose above my head, so it looked like I really was headless. It was amazing.

PGN: What did you get into trouble for the most? AP: Staying out too late. I actually had to do community service for it. I’d hang out with my best friend Dave and we were never really doing anything bad; just hang out past curfew. We’d go down to the school at night, climb the fence and run on the track. That was our genius plan for trouble in a small town. When the cops would come, we’d hide under the cars in the parking lot, and one day they shined a flashlight under the cars and caught us. I had to do 18 hours of community service selling Christmas trees at the fire station. The firemen were really cool and I actually enjoyed it so much, I went back the next year and volunteered.

PGN: Maybe that’s what got you started on your path to PAT? AP: [Laughs.] Probably!

PGN: A favorite family tradition? AP: Just getting together on Thanksgiving. My parents recently moved to St. Louis, so we probably won’t be able to have them here this year, which is a shame. I always enjoy the three f’s — family, football and food!

PGN: Are you single or involved? AP: I’m involved with a woman named Eve, so we get the Adam-and-Eve jokes about once a day. We’ve been together for about 15 months, my longest relationship ever. She is a volunteer here, which is how we met.

PGN: What’s great about Eve? AP: Her smile and her ability to make me laugh! To me, that’s the most important thing, the ability to laugh. And not that fake, “huh, huh, huh,” I mean a real laugh from the gut. I’ll make fun of her and she always turns it around on me. She can take a joke and then dish it back. Like, if she comes over and her hair’s not done, I’ll go to make a comment, but I’ll stumble on my words, and she’ll say, “Wow, that would have hurt if you actually got your words out.” She’s very smart.

PGN: What’s a song you’re embarrassed to admit you like? AP: Oh! You know that song by Enrique Iglesias [in falsetto], “Do you know what it feeeeels like loving someone that’s in a rush to throw you away?” “The Ping Pong Song”! I love that song, but it’s embarrassing.

PGN: You have your ears done. Any other tattoos or piercings? AP: I used to have a lot of my face pierced. I had a labret and a Monroe, I had my nose pierced, my eyebrow, my tongue. But I’m 27 now and I just felt like it was time to get rid of them. I have my girlfriend’s name tattooed on my forearm.

PGN: What advice would you give the “you” of 10 years ago? AP: I’d say find a nice girl, but I’ve already done that … I’d tell him not to do the tequila shots! I was competing against this guy named Max and I won, but I definitely paid the price for it. I did something like 27 shots of tequila in a three-hour period and was hung over for days! So I would tell Adam of 10 years ago not to do that! It was probably the worst experience of my life. To this day I can’t smell tequila without getting sick.

PGN: Do you collect anything? AP: Believe it or not, even with all the things that come through the store, I’m a minimalist. But I do have a hat collection. I have about 80 hats of all kinds. I have them hung up on my wall.

PGN: You must have a big gay clientele at PAT. Do you get hit on a lot by the boys? AP: Yes, men do hit on me quite a bit. I take it as a compliment. We had a raffle once and one of the prizes was supposed to be a date with Adam. I think we had more men buy tickets than women! I think the thing fell through, but I would have gone on the date if a guy had won. It’s no big deal.

PGN: What made you so progressive? AP: I think my parents always taught me to be fair to people. They were nice people, my brothers and sister are nice people. I tend to hang around people who are nice to one another. I always look for the bright side of things. You can’t be mean to a random group of people just because they’re different than you. What a horrible way to live. I’d much prefer to make friends.

To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].