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The Black Cat Guy (BCG), as he wants to be called, has gone inside the club for a break after working the door for spare change. Within a minute, the 14th Street Panhandling All-Stars are vying for his turf. There’s the always-drunk Georgetown Rapper, hustling and rhyming. Then comes a guy selling ladies’ footwear to the drunk punk boys. “Ain’t you got a woman?” he asks. Of course they don’t. The two stick around until BCG comes back. All he has to do is open the door and they scatter like injured pigeons. At 265 pounds, he commands respect. “They clear out real quick,” he says. “Look at the Georgetown Rapper. He’s waiting at the steps [at the end of the block], foaming at the mouth waiting for me to leave.”
“Black Cat! Black Cat! Some change for the homeless! Black Cat!”
BCG has worked the club’s front door since October. Unlike most clubs in the city, which think of panhandlers as “gargoyles” and pests, the Black Cat has arrived at a symbiotic relationship with BCG. He opens the door for patrons and guards the block, and the club rewards him with plenty of fresh suburban teens. He may not be on the payroll, but tonight the employees watch out for him. They sneak outside to offer cigarettes, small talk, drinks, and small bills. The club’s need for BCG is made obvious when he spots two kids eyeing a Honda Civic across the street. Once the kids see him, they dash off. “It’s a match made in hell with Dante,” BCG explains, referring both the Italian poet and his namesake, club owner Dante Ferrando.
Throughout the evening, the 48-year-old chats about the Stones, the Marx Brothers, Al Jarreau, and his arthritic knees, which force him to limp. His patter and booming baritone recall Muhammad Ali crossed with James Earl Jones. But instead of having a lucrative career in voice-overs, this McKinley High School graduate worked at a Safeway and on construction jobs to support his wife and daughter. Since being laid off, BCG has been homeless for three years and is currently working two or three days a week through a nearby labor pool for $4.75-$5.75 an hour. It has never been enough. As the Black Cat closes up, he heads out for Chinese food, having made $30 (not all evenings are as profitable). Sitting in his “penthouse,” a bus stop at the corner just below Ferrando’s apartment, BCG settles down to devour some dinner. The Georgetown Rapper and a panhandler named “69” quickly take over the block. BCG says he just dreams of a hotel room, a fifth of Jack Daniels, a cooler of beer, a bed, and a television set. “There’s nothing out here,” he says, flicking an empty soy sauce packet to the ground. “There’s nothing to this life.”Jason Cherkis