The Cat Man goeth

A decade ago, former SN&R employee Greg Carr quit selling ads for life on the streets. Last week, it finally caught up to him.

Vanished without a trace: the only photo of Greg Carr, a.k.a. Cat Man, SN&R had been able to locate.

Vanished without a trace: the only photo of Greg Carr, a.k.a. Cat Man, SN&R had been able to locate.

Photo By Jim Goodykoontz

Greg Carr, known as Cat Man to his friends, was found dead on the morning of October 22, on the front steps of the Midas muffler shop at 16th and E streets. Carr worked for SN&R more than a decade ago and was a recurring presence in our lives as reporters and editors. But when it came right down to it, none of us knew enough about Cat Man to form more than a partial picture.

We don’t even know exactly what killed him. “Natural causes” will have to suffice until the county coroner’s office issues its final report. Some of his friends figure he drank himself to death. Others entertain doubts that the cause was peaceful or natural. Carr often expressed his fear of being killed on the streets.

Most people who knew him remember Carr as warm and positive. By most accounts, his favorite saying was, “I love you.” The words came easily to him, and he meant them. He had a real love for the people he knew.

That was obvious back in the early 1990s when Carr, sporting a tie and slacks and a bushy ponytail, sold advertisements for SN&R. It remained a constant, even after alcohol bested him, and he couldn’t hold a job, let alone scrape up the rent. Like a lot of people who sell newspaper ads, he was a news junkie, and he stayed in contact with the editors and writers at SN&R over the years, sporadically bombarding them with cryptic notes and late-night rambling phone calls and messages.

Sometimes the bulletins were urgent, like the breathless call about the police crackdown on a homeless encampment in the Richards Boulevard area. On other occasions, Cat Man demonstrated his flamboyant flair, announcing that he was running for mayor, even though he hadn’t filled out the paperwork or even registered to vote. One morning, Carr arrived at SN&R offices and insisted this reporter come and meet an injured friend. The man had been shot in the eye with a paintball gun—someone thought it would be funny to attack a homeless man while he slept in a downtown alley. The shooter was never caught.

“He was kind of like a watchdog,” says “L,” who asked that his real name not be used. “He was very protective of his friends.”

Carr lived mostly around 16th and E streets, and stuck to a few square blocks where he felt more safe and at home. The Midas muffler shop employees on the corner allowed him to hang out after hours.

“He was like the night watchman or something,” said John Thomas, one of the employees, explaining that Carr kept an eye on the premises, though he would have been hard-pressed physically stopped any burglars or vandals.

Next door to Midas is another Cat Man hangout, a used-car lot where Carr would often camp overnight, sleeping inside cars when it got cold or rainy.

During the day, Carr would stash his sleeping bag, food and other possessions in a hole in the wall on the side of the tiny car-lot office building. The lot was a long-term sanctuary; he camped there for more than a year. There was a pack of stray cats living around the car lot Carr would share his space and his food with. Thus the sobriquet, Cat Man.

Carr’s health began rapidly declining last month. “He just looked horrific,” Jennifer Jacobsen, who lives in a house nearby, told SN&R. “I thought he looked like he was going to die.” His face was red, he’d stopped pulling his hair back into a ponytail and his weight had dipped to less than 100 pounds. On the morning of Wednesday, October 22, while he was preparing to open the Midas shop, Thomas found Carr lying dead by the front door.

By the time the police arrived that morning, the rigor mortis had set in, creating the odd effect of freezing Carr’s limbs into a fighter’s pose. His hands were held tight in fists, and one foot stuck out in the air in front of him.

“I saw him. He looked like some sort of ninja fighter or something,” Jacobsen said. “It somehow seemed appropriate to me.”

The police initially investigated the death as a possible homicide, partly because of the scratches on Cat Man’s face, partly because homicide is always a possibility. Indeed, according to friends, Carr himself lived in constant fear of being attacked. His friend Gremlin was stabbed to death in the spring. In the summer, a young homeless transgender woman was pulled dead from the river. Bad things always happen in threes.

“There is a big tragedy here,” says friend Jim Goodykoontz, who for a while let Carr camp in his backyard. He genuinely liked Cat Man, but called much of his experience with Carr “frustrating.”

“He was a really intelligent person,” Goodykoontz explained. “He was a fun person.” But his drinking robbed him of his stability and his health.

Someone removed Carr’s possessions from his hole in the wall and set them on fire the night after his death. Some signs of the fire are still there, pieces of burned fabric and paper, along with a few items that escaped the flames: a canister of garlic powder, some Midnight Special cigarette tobacco. The fire was big and hot enough to melt part of the bumper off of a nearby car.

Whether it was meant as a tribute from a friend or an insult from an enemy, or just an inattentive attempt to keep warm, is just one more mystery about the life and death of Cat Man.

If you have a story about Greg Carr, a.k.a. Cat Man, that you’d like to share, please contact us at <script type="text/javascript" language="javascript"> </script> or (916) 498-1234, ext. 1364.