Monday, September 22, 2008

Hollywood, always up to no good

location ghent, virginia
statistics
25 (friends)
1 (not-necessarily-welcome baseball hats)
1 (and only, Hollywood)

"MAYOR OF GHENT" CELEBRATES BIRTHDAY, HOLLYWOOD STYLE


Linder Lue Lawrence has been blessed with many inter-personal gifts, but reacting with equal enthusiasm to all presents at her birthday party is not one of them.

Upon receiving a baseball hat, she looked at it quizzically and put it back down without so much as a grin. But the next present, a Dale Earnhardt Jr. t-shirt, that she liked.

"Dale Junior, Dale Junior!" she screamed, turning every head (and smile) in the room. "I love NASCAR. I'm gonna be famous."

But then again, what would Lawrence, better known as Hollywood, do with a baseball hat? She already has one with her name written in all capital letters on the inside of the up-turned bill, and when she's not wearing that there's always the wig of long, flowing blond hair to fall back on.

Hollywood, 52, has a cognitive disability, but this party was not held at a group home or organized by social workers. Like many Norfolk residents, she gathered with friends at a local restaurant. She ordered cold beer. She danced and, oh man, did she sing.

"Hollywood is my best friend," said Diana Ray, organizer of the party and a barista at Elliot's Fairgrounds in Ghent, Hollywood's favorite hang-out. "She's the most emotionally salient of all my friends. My mom invited me to Thanksgiving in Louisiana this year but I told her no, I have plans with Hollywood."

Hollywood lives on her own in an apartment on Spotswood Avenue, near Elliott's. She is looked after by Hope House, an organization that provides supported living services for about 125 adults with developmental disabilities in the Hampton Roads area. Hope House's goal is to assist cognitively disabled people become integrated in their community and to make real, natural connections. Hollywood has been involved with Hope House for 30 years.

"Hollywood spearheads making connections and initiating relationships. She is our poster child," said Debbie Knowles, a team leader at Hope House who works closely with Hollywood. "She's the mayor of Ghent."

Hollywood's birthday party, which has been an annual tradition for years, is a symbol of Hollywood's success. One friend drove her, while another organized a red carpet from the street to the doors of Tortilla West. No less than a dozen digital flashbulbs popped as Hollywood made her spinning, hip-shaking entrance, in front of some twenty-five of her friends. At one point she fell from all the hair flips and Marilyn Monroe poses she was doing for the cameras.

On the ground, she just laughed and shouted her own personal catch phrase. "To the moon!"

"Put this on youtube!" she said. "Put me in the New York Times. I'm gonna be on Entertainment Tonight."

One place where Hollywood is undeniably famous is Fairgrounds, where she spends many of her days.

"She's sort of the social centrifuge of Fairgrounds," said Brian Parris, 28, a research scientist and regular at the coffee shop. "She's so likable and approachable that if you meet her and you're not somewhat charmed, it's like 'What's wrong with you?'"

Hollywood greets everyone she knows with a hello and a broad smile. She always orders the same thing- cold tea with liquor- before busting out with a laugh and saying, "Just kidding. That's crazy." Hollywood loves NASCAR, painting, and has a hot and cold relationship with Maury Povich. If she thinks a man is handsome, she tells him he looks like a race car driver. To Hollywood a beautiful woman is- what else could they be?- a movie star.

"Hollywood is always happy," said Corey Castelow, 17, who Hollywood calls Big Bird. "After you see her your tummy hurts from laughing so hard. She's my legal drug."

For Ray, who considers herself a certified member of Hollywood's entourage, their relationship is deeply meaningful.

"She has made me a lot less shy, a lot more open to meeting people," Ray said. "Hollywood can't read or write, so television and movies are something she can understand. I think she wants to be famous so that more people can know someone like her."

Hollywood, who was born in Virginia Beach and suffered a childhood of abuse and group homes, is no longer in communication with any of her blood relatives. But she does have her "soul sisters," as she calls them, her friends from the coffee shop. Her date to the party was her friend Rosa, a cognitively disabled friend from Hope House.

Someone asked Hollywood what she would do with all that money if she ever did become rich and famous, like she wishes.

"I'm gonna buy Rosa things," Hollywood said without hesitation, grabbing her soul sister's hand. "I'm gonna take her to Hollywood."

For more information on Hope House visit www.hope-house.org. Hollywood's art work will be on display at Hope House's Stockley Gardens Arts Festival held on Oct 18 and 19.

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