About six months ago I was in the parking garage of Hollywood and Highland with stee as we passed a woman who appeared to be pleading to a couple who were listening with empathy. A few minutes later, that same woman approached us. She was cautious, hanging back for a second, like she wanted to know if we were normal.
“Excuse me,” she said, head shaking and hands trembling. She was in a brown business suit, brown hat, and carried a purse and a plastic bag that seemed to hold a bottle of water. “I’m a nice, old black lady. I’m not crazy. But do either of you have Triple A Plus?”
We shook our heads.
“I parked over here to see the show, and my car got towed. I need $32.50 to get it. I’m just a nice lady. I’m a teacher. I am so mad at myself for not seeing I’d parked it illegally. Is there any way you could help me with $32.50 so I can go home and forget about this terrible day?”
“Sorry,” stee said. But I went for my purse. I had the money in my wallet, and I remember the times when I’ve had to ask for help, for money, for food, for medicine. I know that helpless feeling, and if I’m in the position to help someone and it won’t hurt me, then I want to be able to lend a hand.
I gave her thirty-five dollars. The woman thanked me, blessed me, and went on her way out of the mall, toward the street.
“You just got scammed,” stee said.
“No. Why would you think that?”
“Because you just got scammed.”
I watched the woman fade into the crowd, hustling down Hollywood Boulevard. “See? There she goes,” I said.
“To buy crack.”
“You really think she scammed me?”
“Aw, Pam. Yeah. Didn’t you see her hospital bracelet?”
“No. She wasn’t wearing one. I didn’t see it, if she was. Aw, man.”
“I can’t believe you gave her all of that money.”
I thought for a second about how maybe it was a scam, maybe she had hustled me for a large amount of cash, and maybe I was a sucker yet again. “Well, she needed that money right now more than I did,” I reasoned. “Maybe I did help her get home a little bit sooner. Or bought baby food. Something.”
stee just put his arm around my shoulder, and we kept walking.
Last night I was sitting outside the Arclight with Jessica when a woman in a brown business suit and hat approached the two of us. It wasn’t until she hesitated about three feet away that I saw her face and felt my body jolt.
You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.
“I’m a nice, old black lady. I’m not crazy. I just saw this show, and my car got towed. Do either of you have Triple A Plus?”
She was holding a ticket to the show that had let out at the Pantages. Same hat. Same shoes. Same bag. Same purse.
“No,” Jessica said. “Sorry.”
“I need $32.50 to get my car. Can either of you help me?”
“Sorry,” I said. I wasn’t going to call her out. I wasn’t going to say anything. I’d just let her go on her way and not let her know I knew exactly who she was.
But then Jessica went for her purse.
“Actually,” I said, putting my hand on Jessica’s wrist. “You and I have met before. Over on Hollywood and Highland? You needed $32.50 because your car had gotten towed, and I gave it to you, and I’m sorry, but I just can’t afford to give you that kind of money again.”
She started nodding, backing up. “That’s probably true,” she said. “It’s an old car, and it breaks down a lot.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll find someone who can help you. Good luck.”
She walked off, heading towards the parking lot, where she probably fares better.
I told Jessica about my last encounter with this woman. My friend immediately put her arm around me. “Oh, Pama,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m such a sucker. This area of Hollywood keeps jacking me. Remember when that homeless lady stole my Welcome Back Kotter lighter?”
“I do,” she said. “I miss the homeless people of Austin. You’d give them a cigarette, or a dollar, or whatever, and then you’d have a little conversation. Or they’d tell a joke. They were honest about needing money, that it was their job to ask for money, and we were broke college kids who’d try and give out whatever we had because we so rarely had anything.”
“One guy told me he needed 99 cents to buy a chicken sandwich because aliens told him they’d take him to their planet if he gave them a chicken sandwich. I gave him a dollar and then he started laughing. ‘You idiot!’ he said. ‘There’s no such thing as aliens! I fooled you!’ It was awesome.”
“And then they’d suddenly stop talking to you, like they’d had enough.”
“I know. They were like, ‘Damn! We’re not getting married, girl. I just needed a dollar.'”
“‘Stop being clingy. I’ve already got Hobo Dog to feed. I don’t need you, woman.'”
“Exactly. I remember Eric said that was the saddest entry he’d ever read, when I lost my lighter, because it reminded him of how different I was going to have to be to stop living in Austin and start living in Los Angeles.”
“It is different. I never had a homeless person in Austin scream at me, a finger in my face, calling me a selfish bitch. But here, it just happens and people don’t even do anything about it. They just watch.”
“Do you know that Ray tried to get that lighter back? For my birthday that year, he went down Sunset until he found her and he sat down and explained how much I loved that lighter, and she promised she’d bring it to him the next day, but she didn’t. But for two days Ray tried to get that lighter back for my birthday.”
“Aw. I love Ray.”
“He’s a good man.”
“I’m sorry that woman scammed you, Pama.”
“I hate being a sucker.”
“At least you got an entry for tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I guess.”