So when an intruder comes along, Mauer has to protect his turf. This happens regularly, as it did during a recent afternoon at rush hour. Mauer, 50, didn't even notice the guy at first. The vagrant, in his mid-40s, wore a camouflage jacket and jeans, obviously working the war-hero angle, too. Mauer finally noticed the guy because drivers who stopped at a nearby signal the ones who usually look away and make sure their doors are locked were peering past Mauer intently.
He spun to face the new guy.
"How long you been here?" the new guy shouted over the din of the highway. But something about him was off. His head stayed cocked to one side, resting against his shoulder. A patchwork of scabs plastered his face. He reeked of piss. "You got a sign?" the guy added hopefully, holding his own ratty homemade placard like a bargaining chip.
"I don't know you!" Mauer shouted as the man stepped closer. "Get away from me!" He balled his hands into fists and stepped forward.
The intruder blinked. He ranted incoherently and spun in small semicircles, like a puppy that's just discovered its tail. He stumbled back across the street and into the shadows beneath Bartle Hall.
This is the first rule of panhandling: Territory must be re-established daily. And once occupied, it is kept only by brute force.
Other rules: The best hours to "work" are when the rest of the world isn't, rush hours and weekends. Primo work conditions are when the weather is bad, because standing in a winter storm is sure to evoke sympathy. Success is contingent on a gimmick, the street equivalent of a straight-up sales pitch.
Everyone can be categorized by a type of solicitation. Con men fake injuries or use standard come-ons. Recall the line favored by infamous Plaza panhandler Jerry Mazer, who asks passers-by for a "down payment on a cheeseburger." Beggars put out a hand and proposition their marks directly. Cup rattlers push their message subtly, by jingling for change. Guys who "fly a sign" use cardboard to sell their plight, billboard style. They compete with more legitimate sidewalk entertainers and charity organizations, all vying for your change.
'Tis the season to be giving. With this in mind, the Pitch has created a panhandling primer with the real stories behind some of those with their hands out.
Warning: Speaks gibberish; has no concept of personal space.
Tenure: Three years "on and off"
Tools: Cardboard sign: "Need Will Work. Can You Help. Bless you."
Hangout: Center island of 47th Street and Belleview intersection
Smells like: Liquor
Odd detail: Won't make eye contact
Formal education: High school, some college "out East"
Previous gig: Cook
Average take: No comment
Best take: $20 from one person
Justification: "I'm a person of jobs. I'll do any construction, anything that comes along. It can't be anything about narcotics because something with some shit just went wrong."