|Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov|
Tis the season of bell ringers outside every market and mall. But the collector outside the Vons in Hollywood has no bell, and instead of a red hat wears skintight hip-huggers, snakeskin boots and several ounces of lip liner. Then you hear her plea: Can you help the transgender community in crisis?
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 just stands there with the leaflet from El Shaddai Resurrection flapping in the wind.
I do have a lot of men wonder if Im transgendered, says Pamela Petty (who says shes not), as she collects for the ministry she and her husband started 11 years ago. I guess they want to know if they should be interested. She laughs. Its all for Gods glory.
Unlike the nearby Salvation Army collector, whose feet appear embedded in the concrete, Petty uses her lean, midriff-bare body to politely invade peoples space. The reactions she elicits are both wary and fascinated; what, exactly, is this woman with severely penciled eyebrows, tinted sunglasses and Cher (circa 1970) hair 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 were trying to open a crisis center and disciple home here in Hollywood.
I live in the area, says the woman, 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 then, one after another, put down their cases, and hand Petty a dollar. An elderly Russian couple say together, God bless you, as they offer their money. A middle-aged man teases Petty about the patchouli oil shes wearing (Takes one to know one, she jokes back) and hands her a five. People who dont have any cash on them actually apologize; so many, in fact, are stopping to throw money Pettys way, theyre causing a jam-up, which chagrins the Salvation Army guy, whos told by a Vons manager to move to a lesser-used entryway.
The consistency of the donations seems a little bizarre. Shouldnt Petty, after all, get the occasional negative reaction, perhaps someone saying, Well, you know, these folks youre helping have sort of 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, she says. Though I do sometimes wonder if people think Im 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 were legit.
Whats El Shaddai mean? asks a man who grinds to a halt not one but two overflowing shopping carts.
Its a Hebrew word that loosely translates to God, says Petty. 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 three dollars.
As the morning wears on, I congratulate Petty on her large haul.
Oh, its not me, its God, she says, rolling singles into stacks of 10. Then again, I do have a lot of people tell me theyre happy to give me money just because I dont have those damn bells.
Blessing: A Christmas Carol
Twas a week before Christmas, and at the corner of Highland and Franklin avenues, just north of the new Hollywood and Highland mall, a young guy on crutches encountered a middle-aged man in a camouflage cap (call him the Vet) walking his dog. With little preamble, they began yelling at each other. The young guy (call him Tim) jabbed a crutch at the Vet, who seized it and repeatedly beat the differently abled wayfarer about the sides and shoulders with it, at one point knocking him sprawling into the gutter alongside traffic. The dog looked on, wagging its tail.