Monday, June 19, 2017

Ready For My Close Up - Snapshots from My Fourth Day as a Clinic Escort

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Day One is here. Day Two is here.  Day Three is here.)

"Yeah, that's him. I didn't recognize him without his pink hat. It's the big keyboard warrior!"

Yep, it appears the protesters read my blog. Hi, gang! It's nice to have fans, I guess?

It's an overcast, slightly muggy day and I'm about to break one of the escorting rules. It's been over three months since I've walked this section of Englewood's sidewalks, due to a combination of high demand for spots and other aspects of life butting in. I had to cancel my April spot for an MS Walk and always had something else going on when emergency fill-ins were needed. We're down one today due to a late, unannounced cancellation, but that's okay because The Runner is nowhere to be seen. I keep glancing around furtively, expecting her to pop up, but in the end we get a reprieve from her presence.

The others are out in decent numbers, though, and at the moment fixated on me. One - I think his name is Alex but honestly, who cares? He's sporting a jaunty beret so let's just go with that -  is making a production of filming me with his phone while haranguing me with a laundry list of complaints over what I've written about the lot of them. I'm not sure if being on camera is supposed to intimidate me or something, but Beret has a smirk fixed firmly in place as he starts to speak. He and Parker keep referring to me as a 'keyboard warrior' and a 'coward,' although I'm not quite sure how standing in front of them makes me afraid in any manner.

Beret is doing some sort of rambling monologue that winds up with him accusing me of using my writing to incite violence against him and his fellow protesters (It should be noted that earlier he told me I needed to 'check my effeminacy,'  possibly because I'm wearing a peach-colored shirt. Who knows?). I make my first mistake of the day by presuming logic holds any sway here and ask, "So you've been attacked? Physically assaulted?"

There's some hemming and hawing, which leads to a quick conference. It turns out someone 'punched his sign,' which I guess is his idea of assault. It's also not an accurate description of what happened, as my wife was there that day and said an escort swept his arm up and hit the sign, possibly by accident. Definitely not a punch, as Beret is claiming. Regardless, I'm in no mood for his pearl-clutching.

"Wow, are you okay? Did you require medical attention from that heinous assault?"

He ignores my sarcasm to launch into a new diatribe about how Christians are the most persecuted people in the world before accusing me of spreading - wait for it - FAKE NEWS. Yes, the ultimate cop-out is being played. "You're spreading FAKE NEWS about Robert! You assume to know what he's thinking and that's FAKE NEWS."

I shake my head. "My assumption isn't fake news. It may or may not be correct, but that doesn't make it fake news. It's not being presented as fact."

"No, it's FAKE NEWS! You're slandering him!"

I grimace. "I'm not slandering him, I'm -"

"NO!" Beret's voice gets as close to a shout as he allows it. He knows - sorry, I *assume* he know, is that better, Beret? - once he starts yelling he's conceded any point he's trying to make. "No, you're slandering him!"

I keep my voice calm and even. "I can't slander him through writing. I could libel him. Not slander. Slander is spoken."

There's a few moments of silence while he processes this before he picks up the 'inciting violence/persecution' thread again. My partner Luna, who is much wiser than I am, starts to engage me in a conversation about something else. I've gone down the wrong path here, allowing myself to try to circumvent the web of logical fallacies being spun. Beret keeps insisting that he wants to have a 'rational conversation' but defaults to 'FAKE NEWS' whenever confronted with uncomfortable truths.

And yes, he admires Donald Trump's policies.

Parker confronts me with his sign of a 'fetus,' claiming it's from 7.5 weeks. If it is it's one hell of a zoom job, as before 8 weeks 1) it's an embryo, not a fetus; 2) the embryo is maybe an inch long at most; and 3) it's 1/30th of an ounce. He's saying 'scientists know' with a very serious voice and I'm debating arguing with him as well but Beret's tirade seems more interesting. He's all worked up about the name 'Mutton Chops' I used in a previous post and sure, I could tell him that it's just a descriptor of facial hair and not an insult at all, but instead I suggest he look it up on his phone. He starts getting wound up again, but suddenly our team leader Carol is between us, looking at me.

"Don't engage with the protesters."

"He engaged with me." I feel like a total dipwad the moment the words leave my mouth, a dopey kid who ate paste because some other kid ate paste too. I'm apologizing even as she repeats herself. Beret and Parker wait until she walks away before taunting me again, mocking me for listening to my 'grandma,' but Luna and I start talking about gaming and before long they wander off.

While they were engaged with me? Two patients were dropped off by the front door and scooped up by our partners, spared the usual vitriol from these two. Didn't plan it that way, but glad it happened. Beret takes a few more shots at me before leaving early, but I don't rise to the bait. Still, I make a note to myself:

Shut up.

* * *

"I can stand wherever I want! How dare you know what's going on inside and tell me where to stand!"

The person hissing at me is in a blue dress and carrying a doll wrapped in a baby blanket. She keeps setting up camp in the buffer zones, where she knows she can't, and seems outraged when we point this out to her in polite tones. I don't recognize her, but Luna thinks she's migrated over from the praying people across the street. 

I mention again that she's can't be there and am met with more scowling. Even when I point out that she's in the actual driveway and might get hit by a car, there's nothing but venom. This is an angry, angry lady. Later she gets cheesed at Monroe, another one of the escorts.

"You're ridiculous and a . . . a . . . I-don't-know-what!"

* * *

"So you're saying that if a lesbian has a baby, God won't love it?"

Walking past, this is the only part of the conversation I catch as Beret tries to splutter out some sort of coherent answer to The Lady of the Theater. She's a local who likes to come out and engage with the protesters. I've seen her around before but as she likes to wade right into the morass by the front door I'm often out of range of their interactions. It's nice to have her around, though.

Other locals wander by as well, in addition to those who honk and wave. A woman in a nice dress stops to ask me why the protesters are allowed to use their ridiculously loud squawk boxes, something I wonder myself. 

Luna, well-versed on the town laws and regulations, fills the both of us in. The woman thanks us for what we're doing and expresses regret she can't join us, as she spends Saturday mornings in temple. I'm glad she leaves without the protesters overhearing her.

Why? Well . . .

Parker yells something at people across the street and I hear Luna growl something angry under her breath. There's a well-dressed couple on the far sidewalk, glancing over with puzzled expressions. Only when they turn back do I see the yarmulke on the top of the man's head. "What is he saying?"

Luna scowls. "More or less he's saying, in Hebrew, that 'Christ is King.'" As she finishes Parker yells the phrase again, this time with a wave of his hand. The man glances over and scowls but keeps moving, ignoring the old fellow with white hair who's been wandering around offering literature to anyone he can get near. Later Luis crosses the street and yells at a family walking along, gesturing with his arms and trying to provoke as they hustle their young girls away.

Sorry - I *assume* he's trying to provoke by chasing after them and insinuating that their belief system is a giant lie. I suppose it's possible he had other motives for yelling at people who had just come from their house of worship and had nothing to do with the clinic, but as a Son of Satan Deathscort I'm not privy to the inner workings of his mind.

* * *

"You probably wish my baby was dead too."

Proving that indeed there's someone for everyone, Parker is the father of an infant. And yes, his wife(?) shows up with the child because the best place for a baby is along a busy road next to people screaming on super-loud speakers. Is he using the child as a prop? Probably not, as despite the location it's a normal thing to walk an infant in a stroller, even if his route just happens to have a turnaround point right where Luna and I are standing.

His words take me by surprise. If I valued his opinion in any way I'd be offended, but instead I ignore his comment and say, "You have a lovely child." There's not much to see - just a little face sticking out - but my sentiment is real. Does he truly believe I would have looked at his pregnant wife and hoped for something bad to happen to their child? Why someone would think anything like that perplexes me for a moment, but then I get it: he actually believes it. 

His thinking likely stems from a logical fallacy - since I support abortions, I must hate children. That's flawed, of course. While the one thing the world doesn't have is a shortage of babies, I am not 'pro-abortion' in any way. I don't sit around rubbing my hands together and saying, "Ooo, excellent, another procedure!" If the need for abortions vanished I would not be regretful in any way. Being an escort is not about myself in any way, shape, or form. If the protesters weren't there I wouldn't be either. None of us would. Our task is to help patients get through the front door of the clinic, past the people trying to shame them, to demean them, to attack them during a moment of crisis. If someone decides to keep the baby instead and heads back out - that's fine too. I'm not going to run after them begging them to reconsider. It's their life. It's their choice. The only reason I'm there is to protect their right to make that choice. It's not about me.  

Why write this blog, then, Mr. Keyboard Warrior Coward? Well, for one thing, I like to write. The main reason, though, is to help. If one potential client reads this and understands that there will be people there to help them get past the screaming, judgmental haters outside the clinic, it's worth it. If someone gets inspired by this and volunteers as well, it's worth it. If we can keep people from being called 'murderers' or having 'Happy Father's Day' yelled at them, it's worth it.

I don't expect the protesters to agree with my sentiments, but that's okay. The people that matter to me do.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Fruit of Death! - Snapshots from My Third Day as a Clinic Escort

(escort names changed to protect their anonymity. Day One can be found here, Day Two here.)

"Oh, shit, I thought you were one of them. Yeah, you can absolutely walk me past those people."

And with that, she takes my arm.

Much like Dante from Clerks I'm not even supposed to be here today, but my wife has something she needs to do during the time I was scheduled to escort next weekend. Someone was kind enough to swap slots so it's me shivering out here on this blustery March morning instead of her. We're running both light and heavy - there's two women along as observers, but one of the escorts hasn't shown. This puts a bit more pressure on Dee Dee, the team leader, but nothing she can't handle.

It feels a bit odd to be walking along like I'm heading into Prom, but I'd give someone a piggyback ride if needed. We talk about the weather (cold), if the nearby diner is any good(don't know), who dyes her hair (she does), anything to help deflect from the vicious verbal assaults coming from the gathered throng today.





We reach the door and she disengages her arm. "Thanks," she says as she slips through, and as I walk past guys muttering 'Homo' and 'Faggot' under their breath (never straight to my face, though) I wonder a bit about her initial assessment of me. My wife had linked me to an article this week that interviewed a couple of men doing clinic escorting. It was a few years old and a couple of the guys pissed me off . One said he felt like he had to because his girlfriend did it and he felt like he needed to be there to protect her.



Another said that although he wasn't supposed to engage with the protesters he did so anyway because he liked having 'deep philosophical discussions' with them. Nice that he could make escorting about him rather than the actual goal of helping women get past frothing, rabid haters.

Anyway, there was one guy who worried about what he must look like approaching patients. He was like me, apparently - tall, medium build, knocking on the gates of fifty - and wondered if that was the last thing some women might want to see at a time like this. The hope is that the bright pink vest that identifies me as a clinic volunteer is a dead giveaway but then again, this is not exactly an easy moment in their lives. The option of hanging back and letting them approach me is not much of an option, thanks to the fucking Runner. If I can I let my partner take the lead - it's my third time doing this but I've yet to have another male out here with me, although our group has plenty - I do. Today I'm with another first-timer who is making it look like she's been doing this for years. So I'll keep doing what I can and being used to the initial mistrust.

Dee Dee comes out soon afterward, concerned about the linked arms. Once she realizes it was patient initiated and that I was fine with it, she smiles. Next time I'll bring a corsage.

* * *

"You have hate in your heart, you know. Why else would you be doing this?"

Robert is new to me and a bit unsettling. He's saying this to Winger, my partner, who is taking the news about what's clogging her aorta with a faintly amused smile. Winger spent four years as a volunteer EMT in the bowels of one of New Jersey's most dangerous cities, the sort of place where she'd have to get approval from a gang's hierarchy before being allowed to help someone bleeding out on the street. There may be a lot of things in her heart, but hate likely isn't one of them.

"You too," he says, focusing on me. "Such hate. Why so angry? Why do you want to help murderers?"

Robert's eyes glint with malevolent intelligence. He knows we're not supposed to engage and he's baiting us, trying to get a rise. Although this is my first time around him I later learn he's loathed by members of the escort family, a shifty and sneaky provocateur. 

There's a lot of things I want to say to him, believe me, but I cross my arms and settle for a grim smile. He was on speaker for a while playing fast and loose with both the Bible and actual scientific facts, rolling with some very broad interpretations as springboards for his vitriol. 

"I can see it in your eyes, the hate. You need to get it out of your heart, get away from this place."

As I have mirrored sunglasses on he can't tell what color my eyes are, much less what's supposed to be oozing out of them. I laugh for a second, our Swiss Army Knife for their taunts, and finally break my silence as I spot a car pulling up with the slow roll that signifies someone looking for the clinic.

"I'm not allowed to interact with you. So fuck off."

It's not satisfying, but I'm not here to trade one-ups with the broken. 

* * *

" . . . de muerte."

My Spanish is super rusty, but I know what that bit means. I can't make out the rest of what the guy in the hat is muttering at me as I head away from the clinic's front door. He's another regular I've somehow missed my first two times - Alex, or Hinton, or something like that, forgive my lack of journalistic attention to detail but I want to know as little about these people as possible - yet proving to be just as odious as any of them. His hat looks like something you'd see on a kid - spotted with felt ridges that make it look like a stegosaurus is perched on his head - but I'm once again clad in my giant pink pussy hat so who am I to judge?

" . . . fruita de muerte."

I report what I've heard to Winger, who is fluent in Spanish. Given the number of times I've been marked as gay or effeminate today being called 'Fruit of Death' seems eminently plausible. What's a gay death fruit, anyway? Pomegranate? Kiwi? Mango? Winger's not convinced.

"It could be 'desfruta de muerte,' which means that you enjoy death." She shrugs, smiling. Earlier we discovered that we're both former rugby players and broke out the Haka when there were no patients around. I can only imagine what Hinton and crew thought about that. 

But what do they expect from the Fruit of Death?

* * *


Despite whatever religious trappings they may drape themselves in, the majority of the protesters make no effort to hide their misogynistic and racist values. Despite people of all colors heading into the clinic this particular rant is focusing on black babies. I have no idea why.  The shouter mentions that 'they' killed Jesus, and I don't know if he means the clinic, the escorts, or the black babies. All seem implausible.

"You shouldn't kill your baby!"

A woman has come outside for a smoke and is standing in what's left of the buffer zone, doing her best to ignore the shouting. Her head cocks. Even with my limited time as an escort I know what that could mean, and Winger and I start to drift in that direction. She lets out a long plume of smoke, which is snatched away by the stiff breeze.

"I was raped," she says, turning to face him. "You want me to carry my rapist's baby?"

Hinton - I think it's Hinton - is undeterred. "You shouldn't punish the baby for what the father did."

There's a moment of stunned silence.

"You want me to pay to deliver my rapist's baby," the woman says, "and then raise the kid for 18 years? Are you going to pay for that?"

"We have our pregnancy help center here," Hinton says, and indeed the creepy windowless van is parked across the street. "I know a woman, she's a wonderful person, but she can't have children of her own. She'd love to adopt your baby. I know lots of people like her."

Of all the times I bite my tongue today, this will be the hardest. He's full of it. I want to press him for a name and number, call him on his bluff. Perhaps this guy who was just making sure that black women knew this wasn't Africa has a friend anxiously waiting for a chance to adopt a child conceived via rape from a black woman, but color me dubious. Extremely dubious. The urge to call him out on his lie is almost overwhelming.

Escorts don't interact. I stay silent.

She doesn't need me anyway. "Sure you do," she says, her skepticism as thick as the gout of smoke she sends in his direction. "Sure you do."

Then she heads back inside.

* * *

"Why don't you go fuck yourself, okay?"

The protesters like to say that they're doing God's work, spreading Jesus' word and trying to keep these women from entering the clinic and making a horrible mistake. Their true natures and angry vendettas get exposed when someone leaves the clinic. Logically, at that point the protesters have already lost the battle. It's too late to change a mind at that point. Bells can't be unrung. Yet this is when true viciousness surfaces, when their shaming is the most toxic and aggressive. Note that they have no idea why the patients are inside, and many times they're screaming at women who have just come for a pap smear or a regular checkup.

They don't care. Whatever their motivation might be, they let it all hang out. 

Sometimes they're not met with silence.

"Seriously, go fuck yourself!" I'm trying to help a woozy, disoriented young woman down the street as her mother turns to scream at one of the mob. I don't turn back to see who it is but he's following, still yelling, further escalating the situation. Not sure which verse of the Bible that's from, but certainly not one about compassion.

"Your car is just up ahead," I say, although honestly I have no idea where it is. The mother is continuing to yell but Winger is doing an excellent job of keeping her moving as well. 

"I'm sorry," says the mom, catching up to us, "but when people attack my daughter I'm going to be protective." She looks back as something else is yelled in our direction and counters, "YOU WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT A PISSED OFF GRIZZLY BEAR IS LIKE KEEP WALKING THIS WAY!"

I glance over my shoulder. Robert's there, a ways back yet close enough for me to see his smug smile. He doesn't step our way, though. Just stands there, grinning. 

The car turns out to indeed be close, keeping me from being a liar. We get the daughter into the car, wish her good health and good luck. The mom gives us a quick nod before driving off. 

In front of the clinic Robert is yelling at someone else.

* * *

"You want to hear what she said to me?"

Of course I do. I had covered the door while Dee Dee handled a situation and come back to find Winger having a conversation with The Runner. At my approach the older woman gives me a guarded look before stepping away, fiddling with her pamphlets and cards. We're not going to be buddies, she and I. Last week my wife had been blessed by The Runner's absence, but as if to make up for it she and her fancy boots had been there as soon as we started our shift. I met her ventured 'good morning' with crossed arms and stony silence. 

Winger is yet another escort who is an awesome human being, which is proving to be the norm. As mentioned before, she volunteered as an EMT for years. She also quit a potentially lucrative financial job because of disgust with the industry. Viv, the other escort here today, is an ACLU lawyer. We're booked well into July with people who want to give up their Saturday mornings to be cursed at and called 'deathscorts.' 

"She said there was no reason we couldn't be friends." Winger stops and snorts at that. "Then she suggested that we split things 50-50." 


"She said we could alternate. You know, I get the first car that comes up, then she gets the next, and so on."

My jaw dangles for a few seconds. "You're not serious."

"I am! And so was she! This seemed completely reasonable to her!" We're both laughing now. I look around for The Runner and spot her on her phone. This would be the theme of the morning, her effectiveness blunted by what seemed like an endless conversation. At first there's concern she's on the phone with her lawyer over a collision with Dee Dee near the poorly-placed valet booth of the restaurant next door, but speculation turns to the theory that she's talking to someone in the waiting room, trying to dissuade them. This is neither confirmed nor denied, but the number of times we have to dance with her is greatly reduced. Even when she's there she seems off her game, her patter breaking as Winger expertly boxes her out.

Suffice to say we do not embrace The Runner's plan.  

* * *

It's 11:15am, time to go, but a couple of the shouters are still hanging around. Dee Dee suggests we head inside as if we're leaving and see what happens. Lo and behold, the majority of the protesters pack up as soon as we're inside. Like kites, they need the wind of our opposition. We warm up for a bit while making sure they aren't returning, then shed our vests and close up shop, so to speak. The waiting room is jammed and as we head down the stairs a guy comments, "Wow, you must be well-paid since you're already leaving."

I have no idea how to respond to that, the primary reason being that it makes no sense. The fact we don't get paid enters into it as well. For a moment there's a part of me that wants to stop and quietly set the record straight, but it passes and I head downstairs without a word. There's no need to start an argument.

It's not the sort of thing a Fruit of Death would do.

Monday, February 27, 2017

We Did What? - Old Man Plays Hockey

August 16th, 2016. Over 6 months ago. 194 days, to be exact.

That's amount of time since the Scurvy Dogs last left the ice as victors. With me in goal, no less. Small miracle, indeed.

Since then we've had 11 losses and 4 ties. 15 games of not being able to head to the locker room with a cocky swagger or a big grin. It's not like we Scurvy Dogs suffer from thinking we're the '76/'77 Canadians but sometimes it's nice to finish up with the most goals. At least, I think I remember it being nice.

This past Sunday we were playing a grudge match against the hated Wolf Pack. Okay, fine, it's not a grudge match anymore and there's zero hatred involved. We used to be a little salty when we played them - a large chunk of the team consists of guys whom we suffered through our 0-17 House team season who then started their own team but didn't bring us along - but we're happy with our situation and they've proven to be good guys. A win over us would have guaranteed them a playoff spot, while all we could be was spoilers.

Turns out we were pretty good at that. It was, for the most part, a pretty evenly played game. We were sporting one of our new jerseys, which are a yellow that supposed to be Bruins Gold but, uhm, isn't. Also the Scurvy Dog is orange. And the puck in its mouth is brown. These things happen when you order jerseys from Poland. With my family in attendance I was pumped to play and with my balky shoulder rendered painless by some Theramu (what's Theramu? Gonna change your life, my friends, gonna change your life. Should have my account set up in a week or so and then you will indeed find out) I hit the ice with my usual combination of high energy and low talent.

Any Scurvy Dogs victory begins and ends with Chaz, our goalie. Ye gods, he was brilliant. We managed to keep the Wolf Pack from any breakaways but they peppered him with shots all the same. he turned them aside, all of them. Had I been in his place I'm sure there would not have been a shutout and maybe not a win.

We broke the ice 5 minutes into the 3rd, got an insurance goal with 4 minutes left, held on with white knuckles until the buzzer sounded and we has a 2-0 victory. Next week, win or lose, our season ends, and we have to wait a few weeks before starting up again. Was this win a fluke or our things starting to go our way?

Hope springs eternal.

::is beaten to death by teammates disgusted by cheesy line::

Sunday, February 26, 2017

I Can't Hear You Over The Creaking of My Joints

There. It's right there. The front hand dips, just a little. It's a tell, a hitch that precedes him firing the lead jab. It's going to come at my head, followed by some sort of kick-punch flurry. He's young, quick, strong. A third my age and already a black belt. Deserved, too. Something he throws will get through my defenses.




Not if I get to him first, though. Armed with this bit of forewarning I can launch a pre-emptive strike, get to him before he gets to me. Catch him in the act of throwing his strike, undefended, vulnerable. I take a small step forward and left, right arm rising to parry his punch if necessary. My head *should* be out of his line of fire anyway, but I've a litany of bloody and, occasionally, broken noses in my past.

His glove barely kisses my cheek, exactly what I want. My left hand is pistoning out, fingers closing so that it will be a fist at the point of impact against the side of his head. My hips twist, my foot gives a slight pivot, and my right hand is cocked and ready to provide a follow up that surely won't be needed. We're only sparring in a martial arts class so I'll pull the punch some when it hits. Don't want to knock this kid into tomorrow or anything. He probably has a trig test after study hall or something. Hopefully this won't scramble his thinking too much.

My strike doesn't land. In that fascinating way the brain processes information with unfathomable speed and accuracy, I realize that not only has he gotten his right arm back in enough time to block me but his left is already flickering in like a branch of lightning. I sidestep as I angle my right arm, hoping to be able to ward off his blow, feeling like I'm moving through mud.

Welcome to being old.

Well, not old, exactly, but at 48 I'm no spring chicken. My martial arts class is full of spring chickens, and if there's a more sobering herald of being middle aged than having a fifteen-year-old mop the floor with you I'd like to hear it. Making it even more of an ego check is that when I used to train 20-some-odd years ago, I was better. Much better. And not just at sparring, but at grappling as well. My old style focused heavily on jiu-jitsu and my groundwork was solid.

Now? I get eaten alive. Two of my fellow students are in their thirties, a good 8-10 inches shorter than me, and in various states of physical disrepair. They both have wrestling backgrounds and they flat-out destroy me when we tangle up. My long legs become ungainly, troublesome. All those locks that used to be there for me are elusive, ghosts on the wind. I no longer fight to dominate in class, but rather to learn and survive.

Comes with the territory, I guess, as the years stack up like cordwood. It's not as sharp a sting in hockey, where my limited experience is a feasible excuse for stinking up the joint. But as I gaze over at my retired rugby cleats I can't help but remember how in college we'd drink 'til 2 or 3 am the night before a match, catch a few hours sleep, and roll out for 80 minutes of running around the pitch in the morning. It wasn't only age that caused me to walk away from rugby, but even at 43 I'd felt the repercussions each Sunday after a match. I have friends my age still playing. Good for them. I don't have enough meat on my bones for that kind of beating anymore.

Instead I do my best to keep teenagers from dropping me with spinning back hook kicks that I couldn't pull off without aid from an elaborate system of weights and pulleys. I try to fight smarter, make use of the deceit that comes with being elderly. Keep moving away from their strong side. Stand as a southpaw. Use my long legs to fend, block, counter. Look much more confident than I am.

And wear a cup. Always. Slowing of reflexes may be a side effect of aging, but so is wisdom.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

It's the Hat, Right? - Snapshots from my Second Day as a Clinic Escort

(all names changed to protect the anonymity of the escorts)


Mutton Chops doesn't like my hat.

It's been almost two months since my first session (which can be found here) as an escort at a privately-run women's clinic. The gap between engagements wasn't my choice. The place being closed for Christmas and New Year's was a factor, but over thirty - THIRTY - new volunteers attended a training class in early December and as of right now all slots are filled three months out. I am sure the founders, who used to do it all themselves, find this the kind of problem that's okay to have.

With the clinic having an extremely busy schedule today the hope from our leader DeeDee is that some or all of the usual protesters went to the Anti Choice March in DC. Early on that looks to be the case. Alas, before long they start to show up. Some of the regulars are missing, including the majority of the amp-equipped ones, but we do have Mutton Chops cranking away on his speaker in their stead.

It's only my second time doing this but so many of these protesters seem like they were built from a kit with interchangeable parts - unshaven; overweight; grimy baseball cap; loose-fitting sweatpants; tattered Bible for brandishing. Mutton Chops makes the stereotype a fact. Right now he's focusing on me as I cover the front door while DeeDee and two escorts are helping a weak, disoriented woman get to her car. Evidently I'm going to burn in a LAKE OF FIRE, which sounds downright lovely given the chill breeze of the gray, overcast January morning.

He's ranting at me but I notice that he keeps looking up at my hat, which appears to be incensing him. For context:

Blame it on my slightly insane but incredibly awesome wife, who stayed up until 4am the night before knitting something large enough to fit my medicine ball of a head. I'm aware it clashes with my escort vest but sometimes fashion must be sacrificed for good causes.

I can tell Mutton Chops wants to snatch the thing right off my head and send it to eternal damnation. He's angry but staying on topic, promising me that I'm going to suffer countless agonies unless I repent and stop encouraging this wickedness.

Then I smile, and he loses it.

That's a factory-installed default, I think. Luis has it, to be sure, and by the way Mutton Chops explodes into a spittle-flecked rage all over his mike it would appear that having their sermons/diatribes/rants met with any sort of amusement is enough to set them off. My partner returns while he vents his fury and we walk off, leaving him unsure where to pursue me or to remain in his prime spot right outside the buffer zone. The opportunity to shame women proves more important as he stays put.

* * *

"I don't agree with her decision."

I'm walking an older woman back to her car to feed the meter. We're not allowed to perform that kindness. At best guess I put her in her late sixties, maybe early seventies, looking a little bit like Ruby Dee and dressed as if for Sunday Mass. Our pace is hers, slow and deliberate. My arm is out for support, just in case, but she doesn't take it.

"I don't agree with her decision," she repeats, before adding, "but I support her." Her mouth is set in a firm line as she nods. "I'm here for her, no matter what."

I'm not sure if she's saying that for my benefit or just to reassure herself, but either way I'm choked up. Daughter, granddaughter, whomever it is she's being a companion to, she loves her enough to put aside her own beliefs to be there in her time of need. I'm searching for something to say as we move along, something apt, falling short, trying again. I'm supposed to be a man of letters, a scribe, possessing a lyrical soul. Why are words failing me?

We reach her car, deposit quarters, begin to head back. About halfway there I say, "She's very lucky to have you."

My erstwhile companion nods. "She is, but I'm luckier to have her."

* * *

"Do you know what she said to me?"

I'm working the north side of the clinic with Janine, a first timer. We're about halfway through the shift and DeeDee is showing a bit of faith in me by pairing us together, as the other two escorts have worlds more experience. It's colder over here as the chill wind blows through a vacant lot, not protected by buildings like the southern approach is. Only one protester chooses to stand out on this side, a quiet woman armed with pamphlets. Her I don't mind too much: she approaches people but leaves them alone if they wave her off.

No need for me to as what 'she' Janine means. There are four or five female protesters out here today, but there's no doubt she's referring to The Runner. 

"She said that she has daughters at home around my age who think the same way I do." Janine considers for a moment. "Can you imagine that household?"

I should be ashamed at the wave of gleeful schadenfreude that splashes over me at the thought. Given her brand-new Mercedes convertible and stylish Uggs - how does she run so quickly in them? - it seems likely that The Runner comes from money and privilege. Perhaps she gets embarrassed arguing with her children in front of the maid. Who knows?

"She also told me I was breaking the law by blocking her. DeeDee said that's a lie."

It is. It's one of The Runner's latest tactics, crying foul in her reasonable, unexcited voice. She has some sort of lawsuit going against either us or the clinic. Maybe both. It's believed to be meritless but given that a Muslim Ban was put through via an executive order that was not vetted by any government agency less than a day ago, nothing can be taken for granted anymore. The more she focuses on crabbing at us means the less filth she spews at the patients, so it's a fair trade off. We move with arms out, spread with a flourish as if we're showing our remodeled kitchen to friends. She hates it.

Maybe her daughters will join us out here one day. We have plenty of vests.

* * *

"I mean, seriously, what is WRONG with you people? Why don't you go do some good instead of being assholes?"

There's a guy screaming in Mutton Chop's face and for the life of me, I have no idea what to do. 

DeeDee has pulled me back into the buffer zone by the clinic's front door. She and Frankie, another escort, are inside. There's a patient coming out who will need assistance getting across the street to her car, which makes this an all-hands-on-deck sort of thing. The Runner is circling, sensing an opportunity to pounce. I'm mirroring her movements, determined to be in her way when the patient emerges. 

The Runner doesn't like me, it seems. She chats up other escorts, or tries to. Last time my wife was leading she wished her a Happy Hanukkah, although my wife isn't Jewish. She probes, here and there, trying to find common ground, perhaps somehow believing that if they make a connection she can turn them from their wicked, misguided ways. In a way she's different than most of the other protesters, in that her prattle is that of redemption rather than damnation. It's still evil, cruel, and judgmental, no matter how pretty a ribbon you tie it up with. 

"I mean it, you fat fuck! Why don't you get lost?" The guy is someone's companion, well-built, mid-thirties, wearing a fashionable top designed to look like long johns. Mutton Chops said something to him as he came out to feed the meter and the man - let's call him Dwayne - Dwayne must have already been simmering at a low boil. He's about two inches away from Mutton Chop's face, jabbing a finger. They're of similar height but Mutton Chops is smaller now, cringing away. There's fear in his eyes, the threat of violence he hadn't anticipated this morning while selecting Bible verses to intone at women's backs. 

I'm frozen in place. While I have no objection to Dwayne tossing Mutton Chops out into the street in a moral sense, anything that would bring the police here is not beneficial for us. Plus I wonder if he can be heard upstairs. The last thing those women need is another source of disquiet.

Dwayne's on the move now, bouncing from one protester to another, screaming at them, cursing them. They want no part of this and shrink away, hiding behind their posters. He ends up back in front of Mutton Chops, who opens his mouth to speak before thinking better of it.

DeeDee bursts through the door as Dwayne begins to wind up again. She yells, only once. "Hey!" When Dwayne turns she steps forward and says in a low, urgent voice, "This. Is. Not. Helping." Dwayne starts to counter but stops as she shakes her head. "No. I have a woman in a very fragile state who needs to go home and you are not helping her by doing this. Do you understand?"

Dwayne, to his credit, flicks off his rage switch with admirable speed. Nodding, he steps aside as DeeDee radios in and our patient comes out, weak and wobbly. I run out and stop traffic as the others bring her across, The Runner nipping at their heels. As I guide them into the back seat of the vehicle my hips bounce against the quarter panel, boxing The Runner out.

"It's against the law to block me," she says.

I don't answer as I shut the door.

* * *

Number of people who honk and give us thumbs-up as they drive by today: eleven.

* * *

"Yeah, that would be great if you could."

I've just asked a couple if they want us to escort them past the protesters. Mid-to-late twenties, white, well-dressed. He's got that puffy coat that's all the rage this year, while she's in a Burberry I know isn't cheap. The rock on her engagement ring is hard to miss. They look shell-shocked as they consider the gauntlet before them. I don't have the heart to tell them that it's not as bad as it could be.

After my last post someone asked me about the racial breakdown of incoming patients. I hadn't really noticed, to be honest, but as I watch today I see all races, all colors. Mostly what I see is women being harassed at a difficult time in their lives by those who consider themselves worthy of judgment. No race or color excluded there, either. Anti-choicers are more than happy to tell you what you're supposed to think and do, crying that every birth is sacred while supporting a party taking away every social assistance program possible. It's an argument I'd like love to engage in with the protesters but I know the rules.

We get the couple through. I'm surprised Mutton Chops doesn't hit them with Matthew 19:23-26, but I guess he's very specific with his Biblical cherry-picking.

* * *

"What did you say? What the fuck did you say?"

I'm standing in the middle of Engle Street. We're escorting a mother and daughter and The Runner is doing her best to get punched in the face. When she appeared at the car and started her spiel about how Jesus needs her baby and so on the mother said, "Thanks, but we've already made our choice."

For most people that would be a sign to back off, but The Runner doesn't. She never does, as she doesn't respect anyone's wishes but her own. Even if told to go away she'll continue to keep talking, almost as if her horrible, judgmental comments are macros that can't be stopped once begun. "No, thank yous" won't keep her from thrusting forth her gewgaws, which range from bright green rosaries to keychains with little plastic representations of foetuses. Pamphlets and business cards, too. I've never read any. 

The Runner ignores the threat and starts offering help at the 'Pregnancy Crisis' center. Last time there was a creepy windowless van parked across the street that they tried to lure people into, but she's vague about where she wants them to go today. Somewhere 'over there.'

Mom isn't going to be distracted, ignoring my gentle suggestion that we keep moving. "What did you say, bitch? Did you just say it's not our choice?"

The Runner shifts gears. "I said that's it's not your choice, Mom, it's your daughter's choice, and it's a choice she needs to make without other people telling her what to do."

I shouldn't be stunned by the utter hypocrisy and lack of self -awareness - especially not while standing in the middle of a busy road - but my jaw does indeed drop. Mom's eyes narrow and for a second I half-expect to see a fist fly. The moment passes and Mom shakes her head. "You don't know my daughter and you don't know me. Get the fuck away from us."

The Runner doesn't, of course, starting up again as we get moving. The red light that's kept us from honking horns has changed and we get across before the cars arrive, shrouded by The Runner's patter.

"It's an assembly line in there, you're just going to be part of a machine and no baby should be murdered that way."

"God will love you and your baby, it's no place for you inside, no good mom would ever go in there."

"If you do this you'll be buried in guilt your entire life, it'll never stop, you'll have nightmares unless you turn to Jesus, it's not too late."

Then, as we reach the door, she unleashes one that's new to me and perhaps one of the creepiest things I've ever heard a person utter:

"You're such a pretty girl, your baby would be so beautiful, don't you want to have a beautiful baby?"

Mom looks back, face screwed up with disgust, and shakes her head. As the door closes I look down at The Runner, no doubt bearing the same expression. 

After rearranging her props she mutters at me, "You blocked me and you know that's against the law, right?" A car pulls up, slows, then pulls to the curb fifty feet up the street. She takes off.

I get there first.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Opening Lines - Snapshots From a First Day as a Clinic Escort

"You'd better man up, buddy."

I stop. My eyes flick to my right, hidden behind the type of sunglasses usually found on guys driving in their mid-life crisis mobiles. They're comfortable, they wrap around, and I don't think anyone is mistaking my F150 for a Porsche Cayenne, so I'm fine wearing them. The guy who addressed me might not be slovenly but he's well acquainted with the look, probably lives in an apartment right next door to it. He's holding some sort of protest sign - pictures, words, nothing I've paid any attention to. It didn't take long for me to start filtering things out.

There are a lot of ways I want to react to this advice offered to me during my first hour as an escort at a woman's clinic. It's not Planned Parenthood, but judging by the number of cars that pull up with out-of-state plates they're either efficient, reasonably priced, or conveniently located. In any case, the volume of patients also attracts a bevy of protesters, like my new friend here.

I could ask him what he meant by his comment, although I'm pretty sure I already know. I'm supposed to be home being waited on hand and foot by a female, not here doing Satan's work. Maybe I should yell back at him, use my size to let him be intimidated for once. Perhaps flicking his greasy ballcap off his head would serve as a warning that I'm not to be trifled with.

I do none of these things. All are verboten. As an escort the things I can't do are pretty clear-cut. Don't engage in discussion with the protesters. Don't make eye-contact. Don't initiate physical contact. And so I settle for tilting my head a bit as if to say, "Sorry, didn't catch that."

There's a moment or two of silence before I move on.

* * *

"Excuse me, you're in the buffer zone. You know you can't be here."

Our team leader today is Lexi. That's not her real name, but it'll do for now. If you tossed a green cap on her and gave her a sword she'd be able to pass as Link from Zelda for Halloween. Lexi works in a law office that specializes in immigration rights. Before that she was in Cairo working for human rights. She has about zero fucks to give about the protesters and they don't scare her a bit. It would be difficult not to be impressed by her, so why would I even try?

"I don't hear you. You don't exist to me." It's my friend from before, pushing boundaries. The buffer forms a semicircle of 8 feet by the front door of the clinic. The town thought it was a good idea after the protesters started using a huge wooden cross to physically block the door a while back. Parker, the selectively deaf protester, is pushing his luck because the new restaurant next door put in pavers and wouldn't allow the line to be repainted. He knows where the zone is and that he's in it, but he's trying to jam Lexi's buttons. 

I stand by, observing. Given rein I might make passive-aggressive remarks about how he should tie his shoelaces before he gets out of the buffer zone, but for once I'm smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Lexi politely asks him to move again and when he waves a hand at her, she steps back and takes his picture.

"Yeah, I want you to take my picture. Go ahead."

"Parker, I'm going to have to call the police if you don't respect the buffer."

"Yeah, I want you to call the police! Go ahead!"

Still operating with unflappable calm, Lexi reaches to the mic trigger on her earpiece. It provides her with a direct link to the security guard inside, a guy in a Blackwater polo sporting a large handgun. She tells him to call the cops - or does she? I can't be sure she's hit the trigger but it proves moot as Parker moves away, muttering under his breath. Later he and another large guy will walk on either side of Lexi, trying to intimidate her.

It doesn't work. Zero fucks to give.

* * *

I pause and take off my glasses. The woman sitting in the car is wide-eyed and confused, and I'm pretty sure she didn't get a word of what I'd said. She looks over my shoulder, across the street at the front of the clinic. One of the protesters is orating through a personal amplifier.

"I'm sorry. I'm with the clinic." I tap the words on my neon-green vest to hammer that point home. Would you like us to walk you through them to the door?" 

She gives me a blank look again and I'm afraid that I've somehow screwed up my first attempt at greeting arriving customers. Then her brow smooths out and she gives me an uncertain smile.  "Dios mio, yes." She nods to her companion - nobody is supposed to come alone - and as they exit the car my co-escorts and I fall into flanking position. 

The clinic is located on a one-way main street in Englewood, and there's no parking lot available. Given the modest exterior the place can be a bit difficult to spot, and I find myself leaning on the expertise of my co-escorts in spotting the likely patients. As the day goes on it gets a bit easier, but that initial look of mistrust is almost always present despite our vests. Given what these women are facing, it's hardly surprising.

"Please don't murder your baby." "You're going to burn in hell, sinner." "God will judge you." All these and more pelt them as we usher them through, and being able to offer only physical protection feels hideously inadequate. Most duck through the door quickly, eager to put a more solid barrier between themselves and those shouting at them.

Some pause and offer thanks. Each time it happens I get choked up. Luckily sunglasses are useful for more than just keeping light out.

* * *


Luis is yelling at me, as best as I can tell.

Short and stout, clad in a sweatshirt emblazoned with anti-abortion slogans, Luis has decided to focus his amplified attack on me. I'm about 20 feet away and despite his volume I can't understand much of what he's saying. My wife, who has been doing this for 2.5 years and is a team leader as well, had warned about the likelihood of me being targeted for being male. Indeed that seems to be the gist of Luis' assault, but I really can't make out any details. The overmodulation and feedback of his mini-amp have more or less rendered him unintelligible, and his increased spluttering isn't helping at all. Still, there's something familiar about it. Just can't figure it out  -

Wait. I have it. He sounds like Miss Othmar. The teacher from the Peanuts cartoons. MWAH MWAH MWAH.

I lose it and start cracking up, which turns out to get right under Luis' skin. He increases in volume and speed but not clarity. Shaking my head, I turn away. Sometimes we have weapons we're unaware of, it seems.

* * *

"I call them the Mushrooms."

I'm with Lexi at the front door, and my quizzical expression prompts a head jerk from her toward the far side of the street. Moments ago it had been empty sidewalk in front of the library, but now there's a half-dozen elderly Koreans nodding their bowed heads in unison.

"Where'd they come from?"

"Exactly!" Lexi flashes a smile. "They just pop up like mushrooms, quiet and unobtrusive. Stand there praying like that for about an hour or so, then they vanish again."

I watch them for a few moments. "That's all they do?"

"They never say anything or bother any of the patients," she says with a nod before pointing a little further down the street. "There's a group of white Catholics who sometimes gather there and do the same thing, but they never mingle. It's weird."

Parker chooses that moment to start braying again on his speaker, and I sigh. "I don't agree with their protest, but I respect the way they handle it. If God is infallible then they're trusting in their God to handle the situation Himself. Better than this lot of cherry-picking hypocrites." It's not likely I was overheard, but my comment would have fallen on deaf ears anyway.

Later I look for them but they're nowhere to be seen. 


* * *

"Why don't you let these people do what they need to do?"

The speaker is sitting in a Mustang convertible with the top down, a gutsy move considering the chill wind and sub-40 degree temperature. His healthy mane of silver hair fans out as he jabs a finger at Parker and The Preacher. 

"You're not doing God's will. You're just yelling at people making a tough decision. Does that make you feel important?"

The protesters don't like this at all, having to deal with someone who is permitted to speak to them. Luis rushes over and the three of them began to mount an attack of their own, but they're thwarted as their foe cranks his radio, drowning them out. It's the opening riff from 'Crazy Train' and for a moment I consider believing in a higher power.  

The protesters are nonplussed, uncertain what to do. He flips them off and peels out. They yell as they choke on his exhaust, then Parker turns his amp back toward the clinic, hoping his voice can be heard inside. I'm told it's more Miss Othmar inside unless the door is open.

Mr. 'Stang reappears a few minutes later and the scene replays. He points at us and shoots us a thumbs-up before roaring off. Parker glares at me as I struggle to keep a smile off my face.

* * *

"My daughter is sixteen and she just took her SATs. If you go in that door you're never going to know the joy of seeing your child take her SATs in sixteen years!"

The Preacher is much clearer and more composed over his speaker than Parker and Luis, but his selling points are pretty scattershot. He holds a sign that says INNOCENT BLOOD SPILLED HERE when he's not speaking, but given the devotion of the others he's kind of a piker. After 90 minutes he's gone, one less amped zealot to deal with. At one point there were four, taking shifts like acts in the most unappealing play ever. When Parker finally shambles off with the final speaker the silence is stunning.

* * *

"Only a mother with serious mental problems would ever come here, but Jesus loves you and only though him can you be saved."

The Runner. Ye gods, The Runner.

My wife warned me about her, Lexi warned me about her, all the other escorts warned me about her. There was early elation when she appeared to be a no-show, but then one of the escorts growled and said, "Shit. There she is."

I look up to see a tiny white woman, about my age or perhaps a little older, climbing out of a late-model Mercedes. She's dressed sensibly and sporting a floppy sunhat, rolled down Uggs. A soccer mom late for her Bikram class, maybe.

She proves to be the most repulsive person I encounter all day. She's probably got a spot in the all-time top ten as well.

They call her The Runner because she has no qualms about rushing over to arriving cars and accosting patients as they park. Her calm, quiet voice can't mask her judgmental, shaming words. 

"Only a mother with serious mental problems would ever come here, but you can find salvation through Jesus." She says this the first time she darts in front of me and attempts to press a card into a patient's hand. I learn from that mistake and do my best to anticipate her movements. Easier said than done.

"It's not too late!" She says to the women leaving the clinic, some of them woozy, bent over with discomfort, and not interested in her confusing claim. Requests that she leave them alone do nothing to interrupt her patter. She goes after their companions as well, doing her best to shame and humiliate them, following them all the way to their cars if we don't run interference.

"God loves all children, and he'll love yours." The woman she says that to is a graduate of Lexi's School of Zero Fucks, and she stops and glares at her. "Bitch, the egg is on the outside of my tube. Ain't gonna be no baby no matter what." 

No matter. "God will love him or her anyway." 

"We have an alternate solution right across the street, we can give you a sonogram and you can see your baby." I could not make this up. There is a Sprinter-type van parked across the street, emblazoned with a dove and a lot of promises that are unlikely to be kept. She implores them to go over there instead of the clinic and get in the van.

The windowless van.

Not surprisingly, nobody takes her up on her offer. This doesn't deter her in the least.

"You're blocking me."

Indeed, I am. By the end of the shift I've gotten her movement pattern down and, since we're working in a trio, am able to get in front and set a pick. She stumbles to a halt and I see the tiniest bit of vexation on her face, just for a second. I would be lying if I say it doesn't make me smile.

* * *

"Have a good weekend!"

I start as a couple of the departing protesters say this to me without a trace of sarcasm. I shoot a look at my co-escort, who shrugs. 

"Remember the Looney Tunes with Wile E Coyote and the Sheepdog? They punched time cards at a clock, spent the day trying to outwit one another, then were friends again when they punched out. That's kind of what it is here, I think."

I do remember Punching the Clock, starring Ralph E Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. And I understand exactly what she means.

I don't agree with her, though. I respect their 1st Amendment right to assemble, but I abhor their message. Maybe they're so consumed with righteous indignation that they have to use this as an outlet, but to me it seems like small, sad people trying to make themselves feel big and powerful. They've chosen targets who can't or won't fight back. They're shaming women at a horribly traumatic moment in their lives. Instead of doing something constructive - Habitat for Humanity, food pantries, etc - they choose instead to make other people's lives miserable. I don't want to have a beer with them afterwards. I'm sure they don't like me either and never want to see me again.

Too bad. See you next month. I'll be the guy in the sunglasses. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Slow Motion is a Terrible Thing - Old Man Plays Hockey

It's probably irrational, but when I start a game in goal I am a nervous wreck until the first shot comes at me. It's a matter of Imposter's Syndrome, that I'm terrible and have no right to be dragging my teammates down like an anchor with my sub-par goaltending. Once I can turn that first shot away, though, the miasma of dread evaporates. I feel validated, even if only a smidge, and my confidence increases. The world is a better place, hockey is the bestest sport ever, and I could have played in the NHL if only I'd started 20 years ago. 30 years ago. Okay, 45 years ago.

Of course, all that empowerment feels false if you give up a crappy goal.

Like I did Sunday night.

The first period of the game was a rough one for the Scurvy Dogs. We didn't have our skating legs and it's safe to say we were out shot in the vicinity of 15-2 or so. Still, I was turning aside whatever the defense let get through. I was giving my team the opportunity to win.

Until, you know, I wasn't.

I suppose I could deflect some of the blame on it being a power play goal but no, that would be disingenuous. It was a clean shot from the point, a slapper that never got off the ice. I had a clear view of it, was in good position, and dropped into my 'butterfly' (calling it butterflying implies that I can do sort of a split. I can't, but saying 'dropping into a Vee' sounds dirty). The shot hit dead center on the blade of my stick.

And therein proved the problem. In a rookie mistake, I didn't have my elbow out toward the shooter. It doesn't have to be much, but it can't be back by my shoulder. Which it was.

Which brings us to the slow motion of the title, an accurate description of how the puck looked as it flipped, end over end, in an arc over my right shoulder. It could have hit the crossbar and stayed out but what would the fun have been in that? Ugh. 1-0 on an ugly, ugly goal.

I didn't self-destruct. I made a few saves, gave up one I never saw in the 2nd period and another late in the game when a puck didn't get cleared, and we lost 3-1. I was sad that I put my team in a hole they never got out of - although they did get close - but at the same time I have to think back to last year when I was playing for the Mustangs and it was a moral victory if I kept it under double digits. I know I'm not a great goalie, or even a good one. I know I'm old and my improvement curve is a steep one, to say the least.

But ye gods, I'm having fun. If I can do so without destroying my team's chances when I'm between the pipes, I'm alright with that. Even if I'll never get my hands on a Vezina Trophy.

(look a whole post with no political ranting!)