Wednesday, Aug 4 1999

The L.A. Times last year wrote a front-page story about a $750,000 educational-video series shepherded by the L.A. school district that was deemed so bad it was never shown to a single local schoolchild. Example: a segment called "Dog-Gone" featuring a talking canine who persuades pets to flee their environment-fouling owners. The seven-part, federally funded project became an instant symbol of waste and mismanagement in the school district.

Well, guess what? Theeeeey’re back. A Kentucky-based school-supply distributor has the tapes on sale for $89.95 apiece ($579 for the series). Some U.S. school districts have actually purchased sets, generating $10,000 in sales and counting.

Now, you might think the school district is getting the money. Or perhaps the National Guard, which funded the project as a "public service." Not at all. According to lawyer David Eisen, who was hired by the district to investigate, the money is going to series producer Lesa Walden-Young. The problem is, Department of Defense regulations prohibit her from profiting from the project.

The Guard is looking into whether Walden-Young violated federal rules and, if so, what to do about it — but only because the agency was tipped off to the situation by OffBeat. Eisen buried the fact of the video sales in a footnote to his report, which, no big surprise, exonerated L.A. Unified in the affair. And district officials apparently saw no reason to risk another round of bad publicity by alerting the National Guard. (Walden-Young would not comment for this article. In past interviews, she defended her integrity and the quality of her work.)

The real losers in the whole mess are the children at Youth Education Town (YET), a National Football League–sponsored group in Compton and the supposed recipient of the original federal grant. Other than appearing in some of the videos (Walden-Young had volunteered at YET), the kids got nada. "The lady that made the tapes," said center director Shirley Allen, "used some of my students as volunteers to appear in the tapes. She never got back to me after taping the kids. We haven’t benefited at all."

—Jennifer Smith



Ever notice that bottom-feeding celebrities, after dropping below the radar, tend to resurface in unlikely pairings? Think big-box store openings and aging baseball players. Think The Joey Bishop Show. The latest celebrity odd couple is Norma Jean Almodovar, the L.A. cop turned call girl, and former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, the maven of masturbation. They’re back, amidst a bevy of bikers and prostitutes, in, of all places, Butte, Montana.

Almodovar, you may remember, is the Daryl Gates–era civilian traffic officer who enraged the then-vindictive and unfettered LAPD by turning prostitute and announcing her plans to write a book about her conversion. Unsurprisingly, she was soon arrested for pandering and ultimately packed off to the state pen for most of 1988. Almodovar’s latest brainchild is transforming a former brothel in downtown Butte into a museum celebrating the world’s oldest profession. The museum will exhibit such artifacts as vintage whips, corsets and a metal vibrator, as well as prostitutes’ art, including Almodovar’s ceramic figures. "It will be a place where ordinary people can see our lives, and the art we make, so that they realize we’re human beings," explains Almodovar over the phone from her new Butte home.

More than 100 sex-industry workers, including several from L.A., have come to Butte so far this summer to donate volunteer labor — of the legal kind, Almodovar assured OffBeat. But that’s not enough to meet the estimated $500,000 price tag for buying and restoring the old brothel. (A fund-raiser last fall at L.A.’s Improv club, featuring performances by porn icons such as Xaviera Hollander, raised only enough to cover part of the $25,000 down payment.) That’s where former Surgeon General Elders and the bikers come in.

Jeff Matney, president of the Agoura-based Harley-Davidson Riders Group of Southern California, expects to rally as many as 10,000 hog jockeys in Butte August 6 through 8 to help raise dollars for the museum. On the fund-raising menu: coed mud wrestling and a "best breasts" contest.

Elders arrives August 9 for a ceremony adding a condom-promoting post card from the 1930s to the museum’s collection. The card shows a woman sitting on a fence, watching a man reach toward his car; where the spare tire should be is a giant condom emblazoned "Safety First — Carry a Spare." What’s Elders’ interest in the museum? "Sex workers have been and are safe-sex educators," she explained.

Since her 1994 book, Cop to Call Girl, Almodovar has been a full-time sex-worker advocate, running the L.A. branch of the prostitutes-rights group COYOTE, hitting the international conference circuit and organizing a 1997 symposium on prostitution at California State University, Northridge. To her regret, she no longer practices her craft, she says. Her bills are covered by a personal benefactor she won’t name.

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