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!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

So It Goes

A couple of days ago I picked up Slaughter-house Five and started reading it again. It has been way too long since I've allowed myself to get lost in Vonnegut's prose, and now, as I sit here at 5:30am after what will likely prove to be one of the most disastrous Presidential elections in US History, it seems an oddly prescient choice. Potentially horrible events loom before us. Be nice if the Tralfamadorians could show up right about now.

I'm not even sure what to say at this moment. Do I yell at the media, who are currently standing there looking at the smoking remains of our future with a burnt-out match and an empty can of gasoline in their hands and saying, "Uh, this might be our bad"? Do I rage at the people who value imposing the tenets of their religion over the rights of other people, even though their religion pretty much tells them not to do that? Do I snarl at those who made their 'protest votes' and ask them if their smug sense of superiority will endure when they're choking on the poisoned air of a renewed - I can't even believe this is going to be a thing - coal initiative?

There's no point in any of that, I suppose. But what I can do is this: worry and work.

Worries are going to be as easy to find as leaves in our yards right about now (well, in the Northeast, anyway). GOP POTUS, GOP Senate, GOP House. Last time that happened was the late 20's and it led to the Great Depression. I'm worried for my LGBTQ friends and their rights, which should be as guaranteed as anyone else's. The EPA has always been a thorn in my side with regard to my business, but a necessary one. I shudder to think of what will happen if they're gone. I have friends with pre-existing medical conditions who were essentially given a new lease on life with the ACA - what happens to them now? Hell, my parents both make use of Medicaid/Medicare. All 'entitlement' programs are in Paul Ryan's sights now. Speaking of which, Planned Parenthood - shit. Can you fathom that being gone? Maybe you're fortunate enough to never needed it. Others have and will continue to do so. Millions of others. Will it be gone in a whirlwind of religious righteousness and the need to build . . . battleships?

Frightening stuff, and only the tip of the iceberg. What to do? Right now, this morning as the dust settles? Despair, a little. Go in and hug my wife for a while. Take comfort in my friends and loved ones, who are often the same people.

And then work.

Not 'earn-a-living' work, although that's going to happen, but work at surviving the nightmare that's on the horizon. Help where I can. Be there with support for those who need it. Never, ever, EVER give up hope. Half the people who voted didn't want him. We're not going to go away, not going to go quietly. We survived eight years of W. and while it kills me to see the accomplishments of Obama likely to be eradicated in a matter of months, we can't give up. We cannot let the nation's future be dictated by racists and haters. They've made their voice heard, won this round. We are made of sterner stuff, of nobler intentions, of greater fortitude and stronger hearts. We will be there for one another, suffer the slings and arrows together, endure. Our children are depending on us.

And we will be worthy of their trust. We have to be.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . Boom?

Tonight's schedule has me attending martial arts class at 7:30pm. I'll be training with the black belt candidates, who are all teenagers prepping for their test next month. It is not uncommon for a class like this to start with three or four hundred jumping jacks, broken into groups of one hundred by delves into hideous amounts of pushups and/or sit-ups. After that, I have a hockey game scheduled for 10:30pm.

What could possibly go wrong?

One of these days something in my body is going to say 'Enough of this shit' and just stop working. A knee, maybe, or an ankle. My left shoulder feels like it's made out of hamburger and broken glass most mornings, and after a class focused on wheel kicks (the ultimate nemesis to those lacking flexibility such as myself) last night my hips feel like someone was beating them with a rubber hose for a few hours. Between whatever buzzsaw I run into in class tonight and the strain of a game of hockey, tomorrow my groin muscles will likely lodge a loud complaint.

How much longer can this go on? Look, I don't paint myself as any real kind of athlete. I know there are people my age doing triathlons and all sorts of high-impact sports. I managed to wobble through a 5k with my son last weekend, no doubt aided by the few walks he needed to take. Hey, he's 8 and it was nothing but hills and valleys. If you'd told me the kid was going to run sub-12 minute miles in a 5k a few weeks ago I would have raised an eyebrow. Proud of the Boy. He may have found his sports-related Thing. I'm still looking for mine, maybe.

And yet I keep trying, keep pushing it. Why? Part of it could be that I'm in better shape at 48 than I was at 22, as my laughably puffy-faced passport photo would attest to if I were dumb enough to post it here. Could be the joy of playing hockey with two people I consider my brothers, or the abject amazement I feel every single time I somehow manage to keep a puck from going in behind me. Maybe it's just fun.

Question is, what happens when it stops? What do I do, whom do I become after that ACL snaps, after that L3 unaligns? How do I keep the weight off? Will I be able to keep my sanity with NHL '17 as opposed to skating myself? Can dusting off an old copy of Karateka substitute for actual sparring? (No.) Will I try to force my kids to play team sports so I can coach and live through them vicariously? (Also no.) Or will it all be something I'll take in stride (figuratively)?

I'll find out at some point, no doubt of that. Staying uninjured is a rigged game - sooner or later I'm going to lose. I'll keep my foot on the throttle until then, although my acceleration is more Prius than Porsche.

edit: it's Friday morning. I survived, although there is more of me aching than not.I'm pleased with myself until I try to do something crazy like move a muscle. Ow, quit it.