Forty Bucks and A Dream, Stories of Los Angeles. Chapter 10: Giving, the Hollywood Way
I am serializing Forty Bucks and A Dream: Stories of Los Angeles on Substack. New chapters drop Mondays. Below is the Table of Contents, with links to what’s posted before. If you like these chapters consider becoming a paid subscriber (or hit the Venmo!) - thank you for reading
FORTY BUCKS AND A DREAM: Stories of Los Angeles
4: The Waxer
7: Punch Drunk
10: Giving: the Hollywood way
11: No Exit Plan: The lies and follies of Laura Albert, a.k.a., J.T. Leroy
12: Porn for Women
13: Sanctuary: Days and nights at the King Edward Saloon
14: Why Not to Write About the Supreme Master of the Universe: A day with the disciples of Ching Hai
15: Playboy: The next generation
16: J. Lo in the House
17: The Marrying Room
18: Meet the Neighbors
19: The Pathos of Failing
20: Bite and Smile
GIVING, THE HOLLYWOOD WAY
’Tis the season, of bell ringers outside every market and mall. But the collector outside the Vons Supermaket in Hollywood has no bell, and instead of a red hat wears skintight hip-huggers, snakeskin boots and what looks to be an ounce of lip liner.
“Can you help the transgender community in crisis?” she asks passersby.
An elderly gentleman automatically hands her a buck on his way out of the store. She gives him a flier, which he nods at absently as he walks toward his car. Then he stops, looks back at the woman, back at the flier, and stands there with the leaflet from El Shaddai Resurrection flapping in the wind.
“I do have a lot of men wonder if I’m transgendered,” says Pamela Petty, who says she’s not, as she collects for the ministry she and her husband started eleven years ago. “I guess they want to know if they should be interested.” She laughs. “It’s all for God’s glory.”
Unlike the nearby Salvation Army collector, who does not stray from his collection kettle, Petty uses her lean, midriff-bare body to politely invade people’s space. The reactions she elicits are both wary and fascinated; what, exactly, is this woman with severely penciled eyebrows, tinted sunglasses and Cher hair circa 1970 asking for?
“We work with transgender prostitutes, runaways and drug addicts,” Petty says, to a woman with a baby strapped to her chest. “We provide emergency clothing and food, and we’re trying to open a crisis center and disciple home here in Hollywood.”
“I live in the area,” the woman says, digging into her purse, “so it sounds like a pretty damn good request to me.”
“Can you give a dollar to help transgender prostitutes?” Petty asks two African-American teens, laden down with cases of soda.
The boys look at each other, and, in turn, set down their cases and each hand Petty a dollar. An elderly Russian couple says together, “God bless you,” as they offer their money. A middle-aged man teases Petty about the patchouli oil she’s wearing (“Takes one to know one,” she jokes back) and hands her a five. People who don’t have any cash with them actually apologize. So many stop to throw money Petty’s way, they’re causing a jam-up, which chagrins the Salvation Army guy, who’s just been told by a Vons manager to move to a lesser-used entryway.
The consistency of the donations seems a little bizarre. Shouldn’t Petty get the occasional negative reaction, perhaps someone saying, “Well, you know, these folks you’re helping have made lifestyle choices I disagree with”?
“I think people who have a problem with this would basically have a problem if I were collecting for the Girl Scouts,” Petty says. “Though I do sometimes wonder if people think I’m telling a joke. I mean, what could be weirder, pedophiles with dyslexia? Sometimes one of my hookers will come stand with me, so people know we’re legit.”
“What’s El Shaddai mean?” asks a man who puts the brakes on two overflowing shopping carts in order to speak with Petty.
“It’s a Hebrew word that loosely translates to God,” she says. “Years after we chose the name, we found out it also means ‘big-breasted one,’ which seems pretty appropriate for a transgender ministry.”
The man hands her $3. I congratulate Petty on her large haul.
“Oh, it’s not me, it’s God,” she says, rolling singles into stacks of ten. “Then again, I do have a lot of people tell me they’re happy to give me money just because I don’t have those damn bells.”