Thursday, February 1, 2018

Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution - Notes from my 13th Day as an Escort at a Women's Clinic

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series: Start here with Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. Day 7. Day 8. Days 9/10/11. Day 12. )

"You guys should be wearing vests or something."

I don't disagree, but without my lock picking tools there's not much I can do about it at the moment.

It's not quite hot, not quite cold in the early morning outside of the clinic. Last week had evidently been a madhouse - over 30 protesters - so the security guards requested that we get someone there a little early to occupy space by the front doors. I'm rattling around at an ungodly hour most mornings anyway and so was happy to volunteer to be that huckleberry, but when I arrive at 7:20am the doors are still locked. That's to be expected - the clinic doesn't open until 8. By 7:30 or so, however, we have company. After giving me a dubious stare a patient walks up and tries the door, only to be thwarted. After putting her at ease about who I am I'm not sure what to do with her. Neither is Connie, another escort who shows up moments later.

Nurses are arriving and being buzzed in, but a quick peek inside before the door closes confirms the guard isn't there yet. Meantime the Sienna belonging to one of the regular protesters has shown up and is idling across the street. The potential for the morning starting off in a very bad way is looming - if they figure out that the woman standing behind me is a patient there's going to be blood in the water, so to speak.

I voice my concerns to the woman, but she waves a hand and gives me a sardonic smile. "I don't know what you're talking about. I'm not a patient, I'm an escort like you."

Thank goodness people are smarter than I am.

In the end I've done a lot of fretting over nothing: the guard shows up at 7:45 or so and the protesters don't leave the warmth of their vehicles until 8am. Our erstwhile co-escort takes her leave with a nod as we don our bright green vests.

* * *

"Is he allowed to go in there?"

The person asking me is one of the protesters, but it's a good question. I'm wondering the same exact thing, especially since the guy was just across the street taking pictures.

It's about 9:20 and for the last fifteen minutes or so we've been blessed with silence. After thirty-plus protesters clogging the streets last week we've only got a dozen or so this morning and they seem a bit listless. 

Well, except for The Runner, of course.

Anyway, after running through his spiel twice Parker has turned off his amp and shambled away. The only other possible screamer I can see is Muttonchops, but he makes no move toward the coveted oration spot directly in front of the doors. This is highly irregular, as usually there's a concerted effort by the protesters to make sure someone is always blaring away. Given that they're missing several of the more toxic members of their crew today, perhaps they just lack the manpower.

Or maybe it's something else.

I glance over at Connie, who also looks concerned. A quick glance confirms there's no patients currently inbound, so with a shrug I slip inside. The guy is talking to the guard at the desk and all seems fine. I release a breath I wasn't aware I'd been holding as they finish their conversation and he exits past me with a nod. As I push the door shut behind me I cock an eyebrow at the guard.

"Health inspector," he says. At my puzzled expression he adds, "Because of the noise."

Right. Last week one of the escorts downloaded an app and clocked the decibel reading, which came in at one hundred. In case you're wondering, that's pretty high. I nod and head back outside, encouraged that the city is responding to a complaint and trying to make the entire experience a little easier for the patients. Rotten luck that he showed up when there was a lull in the screaming.

As I retake my post outside I see the health inspector having what appears to be a friendly conversation with Parker. I suppose I could be suspicious about the timing of how this has played out - they go silent, he shows up -  but really, even if there was something going on it wouldn't matter. The mere threat of being ticketed is sufficient to do the job.

Indeed, when Muttonchops fires up his speaker and begins preaching the Gospels right after the health inspector leaves, his volume is tolerable. Instead of shaming and condemning he tries to convert us instead. It's less onerous than babble of the rabid screamers, but if I have to listen to something amplified I'd rather hear The Clash.

* * *

"Oh! It's Q-Tip! We thought she was dead!"

Carol, usually a team leader but today just one of us, points to a woman in a red coat. "She used to always wear this tall, white hat along with white boots, hence the name." She gives a little laugh. "Been a long time. We were never sure she was all there."

Carol's tone isn't mean-spirited and she may have a point, as Q-Tip is currently yelling at cars as they drive by. Her well-made sign features a big picture of Jesus next to the words PRAY TO END ABORTION. How do I know this? Because she's holding her sign backwards, facing away from the vehicles she's hollering at. When she wanders behind an orating Parker I can see that the other side has a message scrawled on it in red marker but I can't make it out. She begins echoing his rhetoric, basically doing a callback to each of his lines. It's odd.

Carol recalls a time when someone young and handsome was here filming footage for a documentary of some sort. Q-Tip, in attendance, was evidently quite smitten and made a play for him. Alas, love on the streets of Englewood was not to be. As to why she's been away for so long, nobody knows. Well, nobody on our side cares. The protesters have lives beyond their Saturday mornings. Perhaps they get screamed at somewhere else. That would be appropriate.

Q-Tip lasts about ninety minutes before wandering off. Maybe next time she'll have the correct ensemble.  

* * *

"Did . . . did he just say that?"

Connie is staring at me with raised eyebrows, one hand covering her mouth.

Yes. Yes, he did. And we're not sure what to make of it.

My past two or three shifts I've been stationed by the entrance, tasked with taking up space and getting the door opened and closed as quickly as possible. Standing in front of the screamers for three or four hours isn't much fun, but I've gotten pretty good at tuning them out. Today's lower decibels help.

The screamers, for the most part, repeat well-worn scripts that feature their favorite tropes. I can understand why, as their targets are usually people who haven't heard them before. Not much repeat traffic, so why bother working up new material? Sure, the escorts are bored by the repetition (and the half-truths, generous interpretations, and outright lies) but we're not the ones they're caterwauling at.

Most of the time, anyway. When there's lulls in patient intake the screamers often shift their focus to us and I get to hear about how Satan is my daddy or that I care more about dogs than babies. I'm not the kind of person who gets bothered by stuff like that, so my reaction is more laughing than seething. The removal of the buffer zones has given us the freedom to respond if we wish, although I don't usually engage. George Carlin said it best - "Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience."

I can't help tweaking Parker when he misquotes the Bible - 'Pride goes before the fall' isn't even close. He responds with the correct verse, fixing me with a sour glare. He's given us his base rant three times already this morning and we're expecting a fourth when he veers off in a new direction.

"You know, George Washington was our first supreme commander, and he said you can't have a nation without God and the Bible."

That's true enough - I'm currently reading Cheronow's Washington right now, as a matter of fact - but that's some serious cherry-picking that I'm not willing to let slide.

"Okay, but he also had a whole bunch of slaves," I say with shrug. I plan on listing a few more of Washington's shortcomings that might help illustrate why every word he uttered shouldn't be considered as the bedrock of our nation, but Parker cuts me off.

"That's evolution."

My response dies unspoken because, well, how does one answer that? I'm uncertain if I'm silent because I'm not sure what he meant or stunned that he said it, but Connie's stunned reaction confirms the likelihood that it's the latter. We look back at him, shaking our heads, half-laughing, unable to articulate.We are, for lack of a better word, flabbergasted.

Parker moves on to Dred Scott and Hitler, trying to compare us to the latter, but it's difficult to put your true colors away once you've run them up the flagpole and let them fly. Not long after he kills his amp and wanders away, returning blessed silence to the street.

Some words still hang in their air, though.

* * *

"I don't care if she said no! I only listen to the patient!"

The shift is winding down and to be honest, it's been a pretty easy one. Large swaths of time with no screamers, the absence of certain toxic individuals, and a general lethargy among the protesters has made the morning somewhat low-stress to this point. 

That can't last, though, because The Runner is here.

She's had a bit of a tough day, dropping her propaganda and cheap blue rosaries all over the place numerous times. Her insistence at continuing to talk to a closed door with the blare of the screamers overpowering her still doesn't make any sense, but she's got to stay true to her muttering self, I suppose. She's nowhere in sight when a patient and her companion exit the clinic and ask for an escort to their car, but it doesn't take long for her to materialize like a TIE fighter behind Gold Leader when we start walking.

"So we have a number of different ways we can help you -"

"Not interested," says the companion.

"We have a website you can go to, I have some literature right -"

There's a bit of a hard edge to the companions voice as she repeats, "Not interested."

"Okay, now this tract will tell you -"

"Jeryl," says Daniel, the other escort walking with us. "She said no. Twice."

The Runner turns and comes as close to an actual snarl as I've ever seen from her. "I don't care if she said no! I only listen to the patient! She's not the patient!"

The patient, who is pretty woozy and clearly not interested in any of this, gives my arm a tug and points in front of us. "That's my car."

I nod as we keep moving, Daniel sidestepping the branches of a tree that force The Runner to change her path. I don't know if the two of us staying with the patient all the way up the street is what deters her from trying to follow and shove plastic fetuses through the window of the car, but having her peel off before we reach the vehicle is good enough. The patient and companion depart, leaving the Runner and her selective hearing behind. At least she can't blame it on overly loud speakers today.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Pragmatics is the Name of My Evangelical Rock Cover Band - Notes From my Twelfth Day as a Clinic Escort

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series: Start here with Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. Day 7. Day 8. Days 9/10/11.)

"It's going to be really cold. Maybe they won't show up."

My wife's hand emerges from under the covers and strokes my cheek. "Oh, you dear, sweet man." She burrows back under the blankets as I heave myself out of bed with a sigh.

Indeed, the protesters are outside the clinic despite the arctic chill of this late December morning. We're here too, we horrible Deathscorts, fortified with hot chocolate and homemade banana bread as the thermometer hovers near single digits. Even with seven layers on top I can feel the bite and I'm grateful for the heavy knit of my pink pussy hat to keep my head warm. As I'm guarding the door it makes me an easy beacon for my teammates to direct incoming patients at.

The guard tells us there's a busy schedule this morning and he's not lying. Intake is brisk as we deal with the hyper-aggressiveness of the Runner and a few newbies that have been dubbed the Mean Girls. One is youngish, sporting braces and an expensive-looking jacket. At one point in the morning I see her harassing a patient who is flanked by escorts, angrily gesturing as they walk up the street. It begin to look so intense that team leader Carol heads up to see what's going on, and after the patient is delivered to her car and has left she returns to tell the tale.

It turns out the woman had a host of other medical issues that made the carrying of a child to term beyond improbable. In addition, the attempt would have likely proved fatal to her as well. As Mean Girl started in on her rehearsed script the woman, heartbroken and on the verge of tears, tried to explain that she wanted to have kids but couldn't.

Mean Girl wasn't interested in listening. She kept rolling on with her spiel, yelling over and around the escorts as they tried to get the woman away. As the haranguing continued the patient continued to get more and more upset and agitated, her protests falling on deaf ears. As they neared the car she informed the escorts that she had a hammer under the front seat.

Violence was definitely not the solution anyone was looking for, and the escorts managed to convince her not to follow that path but instead get in her car and go. She did. For keeping Mean Girl from getting brained the escorts were rewarded by her lecturing them the whole way back.

If only hand warmers fit in ears.

* * *

"So, what if a lesbian is pregnant and on her way in here? Are you going to try to stop her? According to what you yell here she's an abomination."

Angry Eyes is standing at Ground Zero of Our Lady of the Theater, looking like she would rather be anywhere else. For the past five minutes she's been getting peppered with questions and evangelical conundrums like a skunked dog facing a garden hose. The few weak responses she offers are batted aside and countered with additional queries. Pleading glances to her fellow protesters have elicited zero aid. None of them want to swap places or attract attention. She's on her own.

Angry Eyes is new here, I think. Before earning the pleasure of OLotT's focus she'd been glaring in our direction with silent, seething fury. She may be spoiling for a fight but has been caught flatfooted by the relentlessness of OLotT's verbal assault. After a few more attempts to counter she tells OLotT to leave her alone. When that doesn't happen she moves about ten feet away, assuming that will give her a respite.

No such luck. OLofT follows and keeps her stream of patter going, while Angry Eyes shifts to trying to ignore. That doesn't deter OLotT in the least, and it's a good fifteen minutes later before she concludes and heads off to the library across the street. Angry Eyes looks woozy, like a boxer who took one on the chin, and she retreats to the warmth of a nearby vehicle before too long. Perhaps she was worn out by having someone continuously foisting their opinions on her even though she'd said that she didn't want to hear them. How so *very* difficult it must have been for her to endure that.

If only there were some people around here that could relate to being subjected to something like that. If only.

* * *

"We will give your baby a home. We do it all the time! Look, I have pictures!"

The woman speaking does indeed have pictures - I know this because she keeps sticking them under my nose whenever she thinks I'm paying attention to her. Two of them, in fact. And I'm absolutely willing to concede that yes, they are pictures of babies. Are they shots of 'rescued' kids living in happy new homes? Or are they pictures of her nieces that she's willing to lie about in her war against abortion?

Who knows? 

The people here make an awful lot of promises. They tell patients that they'll help them so very much, that they'll provide daycare for the kids, jobs for the moms, even a baby shower (an offer made all the time by Parker). They try to direct them to 'pregnancy centers,' which give off the air of being official government agencies but are more often than not religiously-backed organizations trying to impose anti-choice agendas on those who visit.

I'm cynical of their promises, to say the least. An escort from another clinic told me of someone she knew who'd believed them and kept the child instead. She got a couple of cans of formula, a box of diapers, and then some very heartfelt apologies when she was informed that the food pantry was empty and they had no further resources to share with her. Maybe their intentions were good, but promises that never see fruition can be devastating.

I'm also pretty sure that if I was an expectant mother the last person I'd want to be throwing me a baby shower would be Parker.

* * *

"I'm not here to be pragmatic today. I'm here to talk about the Bible!"

I know. 

And that's the problem.

When someone loudly and proudly proclaims that he's not interested in dealing with things in a sensible or realistic way but will instead base his arguments on a poorly written, poorly edited book with questionable sources, it's highly unlikely that rational discourse is on the menu. Instead Parker is more apt to serve up misinformation and outright lies delivered under the veil of faith. Aside from MuttonChops he's the only screamer today, and as the morning drags on at a glacial pace it's obvious he doesn't have enough material for an extended set. Certain themes are repeated numerous times.

"Ask any doctor and they'll tell you! At 2 weeks a baby has a heartbeat! At 4 weeks fingers are formed! At 7 weeks the baby is fully formed!"

No actual doctor would tell you those things because those things are neither accurate nor true. Real doctors wouldn't refer to an embryo or a zygote as a child because neither is a child at that point, no matter how valiantly Parker and his cohorts try to pretend the science doesn't exist. Present them with a biological fact that they can't dispute? Out comes FAKE NEWS, the clarion call of the willingly ignorant. It's not that Parker and his ilk aren't smart enough to understand scientific fact - they just refuse to because it doesn't conform with the cherry-picked world derived from their ancient text.

"Abortion is worse than rape! Why should the child suffer for the sins of the father?"

How do you react to something as insane and egregious as that statement? As an escort there's little more I can do than shake my head, but the utter callousness is astounding. The female protesters appear to be okay with this, and I have to wonder if they'd still hold that opinion if they were the victim of such a crime. I don't wish it on them or anyone else, but how they'd be okay with anyone saying it in the first place is mind boggling.

"Two weeks ago a patient came out of this place and told me she had heard my preaching and it helped her to change her mind! I was very proud to speak about it in church on Sunday! I'm sure it made the Deathscorts very sad to lose one and not be able to cash in!"

So very much to unpack here. First, the whole thing is almost undoubtedly a lie. I was on duty two weeks ago and still there long after Parker had packed up and left (because of The Runner, of course). If someone had done what he was claiming there is zero doubt in my mind we would have heard about it right there, right then. Ad nauseam.

Second, and ye gods I'm tired of saying this, but if someone changes their mind and leaves that's fine with us. We're about the women having a choice, not making it for them. We wouldn't be chasing them down the sidewalk, trying to drag them back in.

Finally, YET AGAIN, we do not get paid in any way, shape, or form. Nothing. Not a penny. We don't even get t-shirts.

Also, pride is a sin, Parker. Or so it says in your holy text.

"I was having a discussion with a woman on a college campus and she said 'fetus' so I said 'Wait, I thought we we speaking English! Now we're speaking in Latin?'"

I rub at my brow as he repeats this one, eminently pleased with his own wit. Pragmatism, indeed.

* * *
Snow has been falling for a few hours and I'm stamping my feet to get some feeling back in them. The cold has been taking a toll on the protesters, their numbers dwindling as they slip away in ones and twos. The Runner is still here and aggressive, but even she seems somewhat frustrated. Difficult to shame people with a scarf over your mouth, I guess. 

Two of the Mean Girls begin packing up their standard, which is emblazoned with Romans 10:9:

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of GOD is at hand: REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL! If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the LORD JESUS, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."

I'm not exactly sure what that has to do with abortion but nevertheless more than happy to see them go. Some head to cars, others leave. Parker regurgitates his inaccurate child development riff for the fourth or fifth time before packing it in, and we gratefully troop inside the almost unimaginably warm clinic. As we thaw there are hugs and wishes for a Happy New Year, all of us glad to have made it through another shift. I may be nothing more than the 'bag of chemicals' that Parker claims me to be, but in any case I'm going to benefit from a long, hot shower as soon as I get home.

No Mean Girls allowed.

Monday, December 18, 2017

In My Judgment, You're Being Way Too Judgmental - Notes From My Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Days as a Clinic Escort

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series: Start here with Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. Day 7. Day 8. )

(Note: This entry spans three separate escorting shifts and may jump around timewise. A couple of shifts were quiet and rather than try to stretch each one out, I put them all here.)

(Day 10, Day 11)
"I'm not going to move. This isn't your sidewalk. I can stand wherever I want."

For once, Parker is correct. Our buffer zone is no more.

We have The Runner to thank for that as a judge ruled in her favor. We assume the town attorney either didn't show up or didn't care, as the judge's comments seem to indicate that she had no idea how small an area the zones actually occupied or how The Runner's 'protected 1st Amendment rights' are more often than not targeted harassment. It was front page news in the local papers and attracted attention from some in town who had been unaware of the situation, but for now there's naught we can do but accept the ruling and adjust. The FACE Act still makes it illegal for the protesters to block access to the door but Parker is more than happy to plant his girth by one side of the entrance, accompanied by his oversized sign of a greatly magnified embryo.

To counter we've added a couple of extra escorts each shift and had one or two of us join the team leader by the entrance. I'm there with Lexi, Queen of the Streets, on this dank, chilly December morning. Sunlight makes a brief appearance before being swallowed up by the clouds and vanishing. Would that we could get the same results for Parker.

"You can't hit me. Don't hit me! You can't make me move and if you hit me I'll call the police. I have rights."

Parker is saying this to Lexi, who is well short of half his weight and guilty of nothing more than standing her ground. This will be a recurring theme for the morning as Parker keeps bumping into Lexi with his sign and blaming it on her. Somehow that doesn't happen when she and I change spots. Strange, that.

Working the door means standing in front of the screamers all morning, but for the most part that's not a problem. Parker does an hour's worth yapping armed with about twenty minutes of material and ends up repeating his shtick, lapsing into personal attacks on escorts when he runs out of steam.  For the most part the removal of the buffer zone isn't too awful.

Well, except for The Runner, of course. She's now extremely aggressive, perhaps emboldened by her legal victory. If escorts are side by side she'll thrust her arm between them or over them, hand checking them as well. As I watch she darts in front of a couple leaving the clinic and stops dead in front of the patient, forcing the woman to sidestep as The Runner offers her a brochure. The woman dismisses her with a wave but The Runner continues to pursue and harass, muttering threats of further lawsuits at the escorts who skillfully intervene, all the way to a car parked a good two hundred feet away.

But the four square feet on either side of the clinic door were impeding on her 1st Amendment rights? Okay.

* * *

(Day 10, Day 11)
"Who's a good boy? Are you a good boy? Uhm, he's a boy, right? He is? AND HE'S SUCH A GOOD ONE!"

We love it when people bring their dogs by.

It is, sadly, a bit of a rarity. It shouldn't be, as we're on a main street just a couple of blocks from the center of town, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that people avoid the area on Saturday mornings. Insanely loud speakers mixed with gruesome placards and folks trying to force their religious beliefs on you is not much of an enticement. Still, every once in a while we get lucky and right now my partner is squatting down and getting her face painted with kisses from our new friend. 

"Oh sure, you have enough love to give to a dog but not enough to stop the wholesale murder going on inside! How terrible a person you must be!"

We have a new screamer, and he's a real peach. I have no idea who he is but his spiel is sub-par, regurgitating tired tropes like the attempted correlation of what Hitler did to the Jews to abortion and also how we're playing God by the ongoing slaughter of any unborn with Down's Syndrome. On this sunny Saturday morning after Thanksgiving he's the only screamer who's showed up, and thus is all they've got to supply noise pollution. 

Oh, and he brings his family.

There's a wife and two little girls, one maybe two or so, the other around five. Mom likes to leave her stroller in inconvenient spots to hinder passage but the effectiveness is blunted by the fact that the kids are clearly bored and restless after maybe thirty minutes of listening to Daddy drone on at deafening levels. This means Mom is constantly in motion with them, walking them past the horrific posters their cohorts. As one might expect there are numerous mini-meltdowns as the morning drags along. I'd be hard-pressed to imagine a less fun way for small children to spend their Saturday mornings. 

They're clearly interested in the dog but the owner turns around and goes back the way that he came, unwilling to subject his pal to the loudspeaker. He's not the only person I've seen make this choice, and in fact during my next shift I have insist to Lexi that I've got the door covered so she'll walk down to the corner to meet the pup being adored by our south-based escorts. Parker, apropos of nothing, takes the opportunity to remind me that I'm a 'keyboard warrior.'

It's okay. I can hear the delighted peals of Lexi's laughter from where I'm standing.

* * *

(Day 11)
"That's right, you can't bully me anymore! You lost! You and all your bullies lost!"

So. Parker is the nominal leader of a gang of people who gather every Saturday outside of a women's health clinic. While there they scream at women they don't know, call them names, and attempt to heap shame on them. They do their best to impede their path to the door, try to force literature on them, and do their best to intimidate the escorts who are protecting the patients.

And yet, as Parker has just insisted, *we're* the bullies?


I'm used to stunning examples of cognitive dissonance on the sidewalk, but this one is probably going to mount the podium and be given a 'Best in Show' award. The sheer hypocrisy involved staggers the mind, but that's par for the course. Irony takes another pummeling as Parker accuses me of being judgmental. I'm not saying I'm not but you know, pot, kettle, so on.

I call him on it and he flips to some place in his Bible that says that God wants him to judge sinners, which is in direct contradiction with one of the Commandments on the painstakingly-crafted sign Luis is toting around. (It has a mistake on it and I want to ignore it but the editor part of me keeps twitching so I finally have to tell him.) When I mention that Parker goes off on another tangent and it's kind of difficult to hear him over the sonorous droning of Muttonchops reading scripture on his speaker (during which he says that the story of Jesus healing a blind man is 'generally accurate historically,' which sounds pretty dicey). I tune both of them out, watching my fellow escorts helping a woman out of her car up the street as The Runner jabs literature over their shoulders.

Yep. Bullies.

* * *

(Day 9, Day 10, Day 11)
"We encourage our male escorts to enter into friendly dialogue with the male protesters. We've found it tends to distract them from patients."

It's the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I'm paired up with a visiting escort from another clinic based in NYC. I'm not sad that we have a low turnout of protesters but it must make our beat look like a cakewalk to Amber. She laughs and acknowledges the date probably has something to do with it. 

I'm not surprised the tactic works for her escorts because as a dude myself I can admit we love to explain things to other people. I wouldn't be gung-ho to try to implement that with our group even if it were up to me. (It's not.) Given that The Runner's freedom of speech rights were upheld we're legally allowed to speak our minds as well now, but for the most part we don't bother. We're not trying to convince the patients of anything - we're just here to get them to and from the door. As I've said numerous times before we're about defending their choice, not trying to make it for them. 

As for the protesters, our policy remains to avoid engagement as much as possible. It's what we agreed to when we signed up, but also long experience has taught us the futility of trying to have an intelligent discussion with Parker and his ilk. When confronted with logic protesters usually implement some or all of the following tactics:

 - quoting Bible verses, as if a collection of poorly-written fairy tales provides pertinent facts;

 - shouting down any argument;

 - Ad hominem attacks or a Straw man;

 - dire warnings about what's going to happen when we face God and/or the Lake of Eternal Flame, which sounds nice and toasty right about now;

 - the final refuge of the intellectually devoid - screaming 'FAKE NEWS!'

Today Parker is insisting that 'ANY' doctor can tell me that the moment of conception means that there's a heart, lungs, etc. This, as even people who haven't been to medical school can tell you, is simply not true. Despite my desire to stay aloof I can't let it slide by.

"No doctor would ever say that, Parker."

"ANY doctor!"

"No, actually, none of them would. It's not true. Science supports the truth."

"Oh, science is FAKE NEWS!"

And that's what I get for engaging.

* * *

(Day 11)
"Oh, chu know what chu are, my friend?  Chu know? I gonna tell chu what chu are!"

Luis is cranking this morning. CRANKING. With Lexi and I both covering the door we've doubled his usual audience and the garbled sentences are flowing like some fine, incomprehensible wine. Here's what we are:

 - SON OF SATAN! As Lexi is a DAUGHTER OF SATAN as well, this means we're long-lost siblings! We throw up our hands at our discovery and embrace. Luis does something between a laugh and snarl as he shakes his head at us, which brings us to the next thing we are:

 - MOCKERS! That's fair. When you stand in front of a loudspeaker for three hours and get told all of the horrible things you are, at times you feel the need to question whether or not they're that bad. For instance, he also called us:

 - FORNICATORS! Guilty as charged. Not with Lexi, but certainly with my wife, who is also a fornicator. He makes it sound like such an evil thing to be that I almost feel sorry for him. If that's the viewpoint of the god he chooses to worship, no wonder he's so angry all the time. Oops. There's the mocking again. No doubt because I'm also a:

 - DEMON! Yes, we're demons. And Luis doesn't talk to demons, so he ignores us and yells at the clinic doors for a few minutes before refocusing our way.

"Wait. Luis, I'm confused. You said you won't talk to us because we're demons but now you're talking to us. Which is it?"

"Chu are a demon and I don't want to talk to you but I have to talk to you!"

"Hmm. I didn't expect it to get so existential. Can we set up a system? Maybe raise your right hand when you're talking to us and your left hand when you're not talking to us?"

At this point Luis either vapor locks or pops a circuit breaker, standing there for a few moments just grimacing and twitching. We're wondering if we've broken him when he sloughs it off and let's us know that we we're:

 - FOOLS! We're told this numerous times during our shift. We don't pray the same way we does, so we're fools. God doesn't like fools. Know what else He doesn't like? It's us and our roles as:

 - MURDERERS! ASSASSINS! DEATHSCORTS! If this is true we need to talk to our union because neither Lexi or I have seen a single paycheck for all of our contract killing. The claim that escorts get paid is one we hear all the time and untrue. We're volunteers. The security guards get paid, as they should. At one point during the morning Parker calls Cliff a 'fake security guard,' which makes no sense as Cliff is an actual security guard. When reminded of that Parker switches to attempts to belittle him instead, which ends with the two of them doing some verbal peacock strutting. It's not surprising that this sort of thing happens around me because clearly I'm:

 - CURSED!/A CURSE! Yeah. I'm confused as well and ask Luis to elaborate. Am I cursed, or am I a curse? He ignores me and since we don't have a system in place I don't know if it's because I'm currently a demon or not. Lexi is of the opinion that I'm both, because jeez, just look at me. Every time he pauses to take a breath during his amplified oration I ask him for clarification, but receive no reply. I stay true to my task and finally Luis breaks off mid-sentence and screams, "BOTH! CHU BOTH! CHU CURSED AND CHU A CURSE!"

Lexi was right. But was I supposed to take the word of a Daughter of Satan?

* * *

(Day 11)
"What's that all about?"

Lexi jerks her head to the north. We've got a three-person escort crew up that way, one of them a rookie who is doing a great job. About thirty feet away from them a car has pulled over and a woman is clambering out of the driver's side, heading in their direction. From where I'm standing I can't see anyone else in the car, so it doesn't appear to be a patient. She's got something in her hands and my first instinct is concern. Then - 

I can see what's she's carrying. It's a box of coffee and a bag emblazoned with the familiar pink and white of Dunkin' Donuts. It's too far away for me to hear but it's easy to see the words 'thank you' as they're spoken, and laughs all around. She heads back to her car and moments later one of the escorts comes our way, goodies in hand and presumably a smile on under her scarf. On a cold and miserable day it's a lovely gesture, even if we have to be worried about it being tampered with. 

It wasn't. Thank you, anonymous person. Peace and love to everyone - especially my fellow escorts - this holiday season from your favorite Satanspawn/mocker/fornicator/demon/fool/murderer/assassin/deathscort/curse/cursed.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen! - Notes from My Eight Day as a Clinic Escort

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series: Start here with Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. Day 7. )

 "You should be home with your grandkids! Don't you know the Bible says the woman is here to serve the man? You should read your Bible!"

The sidewalk is choked with protesters this morning, at least a baker's dozen. No children or strollers, which is a nice break, but the multitude of screamers are an unwelcome substitute. There's a bunch I've never seen before, but I'll get to know them soon enough.


"You gonna get older, even older than you are now, and your grandkids, they gonna say they don't want to pay to put you in a home, and you gonna get exterminated! Just like an abortion!"

My past few shifts had been Luis-free but today he's here in all his frothing, semi-coherent glory. For a while he was yapping at me - about what I have no idea as I tune him out as soon as he starts in - but now he's focused on my partner for the day, an older woman back after a lengthy hiatus. We had a steady intake of patients for the first hour or so, keeping both escorts and protesters busy, but now that things have slowed a bit we find ourselves in the cross hairs.

Working with an escort that's new to me is like starting to read an interesting book about a subject I enjoy. I discover Gretchen likes music and give her the task of creating a concert consisting of the three performers she'd most like to see. As she warms to the task I can sense her awareness of Luis's continued ranting fading away. Perhaps he notices as well, for after a few more nasty jibes and something muttered under his breath in Spanish he wanders away.

For the record she wanted two symphony orchestras and Ani DeFranco.

* * *

"Do you think you're going to yawn in front of God? No, you're not going to yawn in front of God."

I have new pals. This is one of them.

Gray is tall and lean with a shaved head. At first I don't really notice him - we're busy and his turn as a screamer is unremarkable - but as we get into the latter part of the morning he decides it's time for him to save me. At least that's what I get from the few seconds of attention I give him the first time he starts in on me while also crowding the buffer zone. They're all a little feisty about that today, trying to give Lexi headaches, but as usual the bravado vanishes as soon as we raise our cameras. Only Luis offers a demented grin; Parker pulls his sign up to cover his face so quickly I'm afraid he might pull a muscle. I smile for the rare instances of defiance, as every shot of them deliberately flaunting the rules will aid us down the road.

Gray is asking me about yawning because I am yawning, having stayed up late with visiting friends and running on about two hours sleep. He follows me as I drift toward the street. When I lean against a parking meter he's quick to inform me of my lack of knowledge concerning confrontation with dieties.

"Do you think you're going to lean on a parking meter in front of God?" 

I don't have an answer to this because I don't think I've ever contemplated meeting any sort of god before. If I have I can't imagine why it would be in a scenario that involved parking meters. So when he says, "No, you're not going to lean on a parking meter in front of God," I can't disagree with him. It's a logical assumption.

"Do you think you're going to laugh in front of God? No, you're not going to laugh in front of God." This, of course, is because I've laughing due to his whole call-and-self-answer shtick. I'm both impressed and disturbed by his implacability - he's reciting these things at me like someone reading from a dusty textbook, not at all upset by my reactions. 

I do my best not to engage these people at all but man, I have to know. Hopping away from the meter, I do a little bit of soft shoe and ask, "Will I be able to tap dance in front of God?"

With the same placid demeanor he shakes his head and intones, "No, you're not going to tap dance in front of God."

So, no yawning, leaning, laughing, or dancing. God sounds pretty boring, although I know better than to say so. I return to my meter, intent on ignoring him again. Instead I'm shocked as Gray drops to his knees next to me and says, "This is how you'll be in front of God."

If you say so. If I'm going to face a deity, I'd rather it be one who prefers laughter.

* * *

"Actually I already have a street name."

I have been doing Lexi a great disservice.

The topic of street names comes up as we're shrugging into our bright pink vests before heading outside. The nurses' room is redolent with the scents of fresh brewed coffee and the bagels Lexi's brought, but both are being ignored as we gird up to make an early appearance on the sidewalk. It's not quite 8am yet but patients are arriving and the mob of protesters are already in full shaming swing. As my proverbial cat escaped the bag via this blog a long time ago I don't bother with a pseudonym, but for the others it's a good idea.

Lexi shocks me by stating she'll go by her usual cover name - Sherlock. Given this is our third shift together I'm amazed that I've never heard this before but delighted by the very awesomeness of it. Tricia quickly seizes Watson for herself. Mrs. Hudson goes unclaimed as we head out, laughing.

Lexi - sorry, Sherlock - likes to check on us frequently. At around 9:45 or so she approaches with an odd smile on her face.

"I have been given a new title." She pauses for dramatic effect while raising her arms."You may now refer to me as Queen of the Sidewalk!"

We respond with bows and high fives. One of the screamers bestowed the name on her, no doubt intending it to be a slight. We embrace it instead and begin planning life under the reign of our new Head of the Commonwealth.

We might not be allowed to laugh when we face God, but the Queen of the Sidewalks? She's fine with it.

* * *

"Hey, it's Fake News! Mr. Rugby Guy! You're a tough one, right, Mr. Rugby Guy? How's your blog? Are you going to be on Huffington Post, Mr. Rugby Guy?"

I'm being heckled by a shouter. The weird bit is that I've never seen him before.

There's reasons we try to keep the identities of our escorts hidden, most of which should be fairly obvious. My wife, who's been at this much longer than I have, can speak of a veritable host of intimidation tactics she's seen employed by protesters. There are no limits to what the zealous are capable of in order to inflict their version of how the world should be on others.

I'm not smart enough to have avoided that from the onset, as I started blogging after day one without thought of possible consequences. I experienced something that I felt needed to be shared and have zero regrets. My info is out there and I don't have anything to hide.

"Hey, Mr. Rugby Guy! They have women's rugby too! Maybe you can play for them! You can do your Tae Kwon Do too!"

Parker and the shouter, another interchangeable white dude named Don, both laugh at their own wit. As I've long been aware of the existence of women's rugby - hell, there's gay rugby teams too, while we're at it - I don't give them they reaction they're fishing for. I note that someone's been a bit stalkery as I do occasionally talk about rugby, but over on Facebook. Also, they're not very good at the stalking because I retired from playing a good five years ago and while I do study martial arts, it's not Tae Kwon Do. I don't bother to correct them. Still, it's good to know my fans are interested in getting to know me better.

I'll send you an invite to my next rugby match, gang. Keep an eye out for it.

* * *

"So now we have to deal with these millennial snowflakes, who don't know their left from their right!"

There's a lot of shouters today and they're all over the place when it comes to content. Some start with Bible verses, but most just launch right into their meandering orations. They vary in topic - sinners, murdered babies, Lake of Fire, and so on. Today I noticed that some of them record one another during their rants, presumably to be collected in some central location for reasons unknown. It's possible they've been doing this all along and I've never ntoiced. I manage a grim smile as I wonder what groupings they'd use if they sort by subject.

"Oh, you think he's there for you, mom? He's going to leave you! As soon as you go in there and murder your baby he's going to leave you! You mean nothing to him!"

The companion this tirade is aimed at waves a dismissive hand at the speaker. The patient he's with had the foresight to come armed with earbuds, and with us flanking the pair rolls through with little difficulty. The shouter turns back to a popular trope - he too was once a sinner but found Jesus and was saved. He just wants what's best for us. We need to be cleansed before we meet his god. He's concerned about our souls.

"Hey! Hey! Is one of the deathscorts carrying your purse? Because you're not a real man!"

Maybe he's got to work on his people skills a bit first.

* * *

"You think what you're doing is helpful but I'm telling you that you're wrong! Every prayer to Mary is an abomination to God! Even if you pray seven times seventy!"

Religion is weird.

One of the shouters, perhaps bored during a lull, has turned his venom toward the protesters across the street. I'd assumed the yahoos we deal with are Catholic but this doesn't appear to be the case as he rails against the Mushrooms, who continue their quiet vigil with no outward acknowledgment of his taunts. I worry my lip, confused. Aren't these people on the same side? Maybe not:

We are outside a women's health clinic. Ostensibly the protesters are here to fight abortion via shame and intimidation. Yet this smacks of another agenda entirely, of tolerance for religion as long as it's *their* religion. Belief in God is wonderful unless it's not their version of God. Then, well, there's issues.

"Christians love their neighbors, Muslims kill their neighbors. We all know that to be truth."

My snort of surprised laughter at that earns me another round of 'Mr. Rugby Guy' and 'fake news.' The statement wasn't provoked by any particular person passing by but rather part of a screamer's spiel. Instead of in front of the doors he's under one of the windows instead, which are of course shut with blinds drawn.

"Are you a Jew? If you are a Jew you won't be saved."

Luis asks this of my partner. I would probably be a bit shocked if I hadn't witnessed him asking another partner if she were a virgin several shifts ago. There's intolerance for all religions that aren't their own little sliver but there appears to be a special sort of anger directed at Jewish people. Mostly it manifests in them yelling at folks heading to synagogue along the other side of the street, but today they get to be up close and personal.

A trio of kids ride by on our sidewalk. Two are boys on some sort of triangular scooters, maybe ten or so, both wearing yarmulkes. A little girl on a bike is between them, pedaling madly. The protesters start screaming 'Jesus is King!' at them in Hebrew as they pass, continuing to holler as they continue down the street.

I'm not a religious expert but I'm pretty sure Buddha wouldn't have done that.

* * *

"So, it's possible you're being accused of assault."

That'll liven up your Monday morning.

The Runner has been somewhat subdued today. Oh, she's still making a nuisance of herself, darting to and fro while spewing her unique version of shaming, but it's been easier to box her out and keep her away from the patients. The constant screaming from the others means that the choice bits she saves for when they enter the clinic get drowned out, not that it gives her pause.

One companion waves us off as she emerges, saying she's heading into town for a snack and will be fine. The Runner latches on and the two head off. I contemplate intervening but before I can move the woman looks back, gives her head a little shake, and offers a small hand gesture: I'm good. I shrug and lean back against the wall - if she wants to listen, that's as much her choice as entering the clinic. Perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes later I notice them again far down the street. In fact it's a good half an hour before they return, the companion wearing a small smile. As The Runner peels off to check her inventory the woman stops by me and whispers in my ear, "I thought y'all could use a break, so I just let her talk at me. Think I did a good job of pretending to pay attention."

It is indeed much appreciated, but as the morning drags on it's obvious that The Runner's aggressiveness is somewhat blunted. In all likelihood she has herself to thank for that. It might have something to do with her getting dressed down by a patient the last time I was here, but there's a good chance it has to do with the cease-and-desist letter her lawyer sent.

After learning of the assault claim I'd tried to remember some instance, any instance, of when I'd made contact of any sort with The Runner during my previous shift. I couldn't recall any incident and indeed, when the clinic forwarded the complaint letter from The Runner's lawyer along with a picture she'd taken of the 'offending party,' it turned out to be the other male escort who'd been with us that week. No doubt he claimed the same thing we all would in his place - The Runner deliberately puts herself in positions where collisions are bound to occur. Rather than meekly submit to yet another of The Runner's frivolous claims we went with a different approach - filming The Runner's antics and sending those back as a reply. Given that there hasn't been a single instance of her darting in front of us today I have to surmise she got a bit of advice from her lawyer - tone it down.

This hasn't made her any less odious, but at least she's not impeding the patients. As the shift nears end I'm standing in the buffer zone with one of the companions. Despite threats of 'Hey Mister Rugby Guy, are you ready for some overtime?' the screamers have packed up after their group prayer and selfie shot, leaving just a few of the quieter protesters and The Runner milling around. She's standing nearby, no doubt waiting to pounce on those leaving.

"Yo, man, I don't know how you don't pop one of those guys in the face, the stuff they say to you." The companion takes a drag on his cigarette as I shift upwind.

I shrug, but before I can speak The Runner pipes up. "Yes, they say absolutely horrible things."

There's a moment of stunned silence before four of us - Queen on the Sidewalks, the other two remaining escorts, and myself - burst into laughter. We manage to avoid shards from the pot as it explodes from an excess of irony. It's been a long, trying morning and the mirth feels wonderful, cathartic.

"They do. It's terrible, what they say." The Runner looks confused at our reaction, and as I wipe at a tear in the corner of my eye I have to wonder if she really doesn't get it. Is it even remotely possible that she doesn't understand how hurtful, cruel, and shaming the things she says are? Is she unaware that her harassment of others - and that's what it is, have no doubt - is stressful, painful, and makes an already horrible day even worse? Should she be viewed with even a modicum of pity as she runs alone, shunned by the screamers, alone in her own sea of issues?

The tattoo on my arm is a constant reminder to be a better person - for those who deserve it. Not for the person who refers to patients and companions as 'Mom' and Dad' in order to batter them with guilt. Not for the person who shames them at a vulnerable moment in their lives. Not for the person who tries to lure them into the so-called 'pregnancy crisis center,' an egregiously deceitful pit of lies. Not for the person who offers empty promises that they'll have all the help them need if they bring this unwanted zygote to term. Not for the person who floods a haven for women with frivolous lawsuits to help cover up the emptiness of her own existence.

Not for that person.

Not today.

Not ever.

Maybe their god will judge me for that. I'll be the one leaning against the parking meter.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Why? Didn't He Wash His Hands in the Bathroom? - Snapshots from my Seventh Day as a Clinic Escort

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series:  Start here with Day 1Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. )

"Seriously, don't say that! Knock on wood. Or something hollow."

I grin at Luna's words. It's a hazy morning outside the clinic and once again I'm stationed by the underground driveway entrance, doing my best to ignore the puddle of rancid refuse water left behind by an early-morning garbage truck. I have garage doors that I need to fabricate from scratch and a writing deadline on another project looming as well. My wife kept me up late after she got back from practice last night and I was up early to shepherd my daughter off to a Girl Scout overnight. My knee is aching and my ankle feels as if someone is jabbing little needles into it.

None of that matters. It's 8:42am and The Runner isn't here. My smile widens.

"The very Fates themselves smile upon us, Luna. They have chosen to keep her odious presence away and I defy them to bring her here."

This, of course, is the perfect time for her to appear. But she doesn't.

Not for fifteen minutes, anyway. The floppy hat has been exchanged for a nondescript baseball cap and she's wearing mom jeans instead of yoga pants, but she's here. Plus those crazy wedges that she somehow races around on.

I bow my head to Luna in shame, accepting full responsibility. The Fates are fickle indeed.

* * *

"Is that your bag? No? Okay, is it yours? No? Okay."

The protesters are numerous today despite missing luminaries such as Alex and Luis. Parker and his freshly colored hair rolled up with what I assume is his entire family, including an infant. Crazy Doll Lady is here sans doll but with all the wacko zeal we've come to associate her with. One of the other escorts reports that at 11 or so she stormed into the restaurant next door as it was setting up for lunch and yelled about the audacity they had to have flowers delivered. On the other side of the street is a dude standing with red duct tape over his mouth. It's weird and creepy but at least the spot he's standing in doesn't get seen by most, if any, of the patients. One of Fox News' target demographics sits in a chair by the entrance to the library with a handful of paper. I assume they're religious tracts but they make him look like a guy who's going to validate your parking. I ignore his attempts to engage me.

I'm not going to ignore Hitler's bag, though.

I'm sure he hasn't deliberately shaved his mustache that way and it could just be how his five o'clock shadow grows in, but even the haircut is dead-on Fuhrer. He wanders in at about 9 or so, dragging a travel bag behind him. He greets a few of the protesters and grabs a sign from the plethora Parker has brought. It has the usual misleading photo on front but on the back - truth - it has a misappropriated quote from MLK that mentions - wait for it - Hitler. It almost looks like a campaign sign. He takes it and wanders out to the curb, leaving his bag against the building.

I'm not fond of the protesters but the ones I know don't project as violent. This guy, though, is new to me. He's left a bag against the side of the clinic. In this day and age, can I ignore that?

No. Carol happens to wander over to check up on us at that moment and I voice my concerns. She assesses the situation and is gone, asking the protesters standing near the bag if it's theirs. When they say no she heads into the building and comes out with one of the guards.

We have a pair on duty today and they look like NFL linebackers, clad in tactical vests and armed as well. He wanders over Hitler, who watches his approach with widening eyes. The ensuing conversation appears to put the guard at ease, and he stops by to chat briefly with us as well. Part of me feels foolish for making an issue out of it.

Only a tiny part, though.

* * *

"I don't get it either."

The larger-than-normal number of protesters means that Parker has broken out signs that are new to me. For the most part they're just more of the usual - mislabeled photos, Bible quotes, and outright lies - but he's toting a simple one that features black letters on a while background:


I'm not questioning the source, although pulling from a chapter named Hebrews is pretty ironic given that Hinton was screaming CHRIST IS KING!! in Hebrew at some teenager across the street on his way to synagogue for no imaginable reason other than to be discriminatory. Rather, Luna and I are perplexed by what we're supposed to be taking away from this. This is not an unusual occurrence, given the cherry-picking and contradictory messages that are tossed around here. Earlier today one of them was saying that God knows when we're going to die and there's nothing we can do about it. Does that mean that a drunk driver who plows into someone isn't a bad person but just the instrument of an indifferent deity filling a quota? Or that he knows that an unfair demise waits for some of us but pffftt - whatchagonna do, am I right?

Still, the 'Living God' thing is weird. Are those who fall into his hands going to be tortured? Fondled? Peeled like a banana and consumed? Are the hands weird? Warts, unclipped nails, calluses? If I ask Parker I'll just get told I'm a keyboard warrior dealing in fake news, so it'll have to remain a mystery.

* * *

"OH MY GOD SHE'S SO ADORABLE! What's her name?"

I glance at my partner, surprised at what she's doing. It's good that the mother has brought the infant over here away from the cacophony emanating from the screamer-of-the-moment's amp, and there's more than enough wall for both protester and escort. The baby, secured in one of those hands-free front-carrying devices, grins broadly at Janine. Her mother starts with a frown that slowly softens, perhaps from seeing the absolute joy on my fellow escort's face. After a prolonged pause she offers the child's name, albeit in a grudging tone. 

Janine is delighted. "And look at those little socks! I had socks just like those! You love your socks, don't you?"

The baby seems delighted by the attention and the mother is now edging into almost having a smile. It's kind of a nice moment, maybe.

Except what kind of people bring an infant to a protest? 

Seeing a baby is probably not high on a patient's list of wants, to be sure. But does that make using a kid as a prop okay? The amplified caterwauling from the screamers is almost non-stop and offensively loud, more so for young eardrums. Their signs are more graphic than many people would care to imagine, and yet these young, impressionable eyes see them, drink them in. Will this be her life going forward? At age 5 will they give her a training sign of her very own? Will she live in a house with any freedom of choice at all, or will religion and intolerance be crammed down her throat non-stop. What will that produce?

Maybe not what you think. One of the escorts I've worked with came from a extremely religious upbringing and yet defends the clinic with us. Hell, I was raised by two hard-core conservative parents and yet here I am. Maybe it's nature versus nurture. Maybe it's getting educated or being around people who influence you in a positive way. Maybe it's outrage at seeing women shamed.

Janine is crestfallen when I inform her which one of the protesters is the father. "Really? But she's so cute!"

* * *

"Sure, that would be fine. He'd love it."

Despite the interesting discussions I get to have with my oft-fascinating teammates, for the most part this gig kinda sucks. The fact we have to be here at all just to help women get access to medical care is galling and ridiculous. Being muttered at by zealots who wallow in misogyny and anti-Semitism is not the ideal way to pass a Saturday morning, but it's a necessity. There's not much to make your heart fill with joy.

Unless a passer-by stops and lets you pet his dog.

It's a big Goldendoodle, happy to receive the attention - okay, the adoration - albeit with a very zen manner. His owner is chill as well, and for a few minutes Janine and I aren't working escorts, we're just a pair of friends showering love on a random dog. Licks are given (by the dog). It's a nice moment.

A blue Acura with New York plates drives by slowly before coming to a halt up the road. The Runner is already sprinting up from the south so with reluctance we offer our thanks and head over to the vehicle.

Fluffy and hypoallergenic AF. Super h*cking friendly. 13/10 would pet again without fear of sneezing.

* * *

"Oh, you're going to see me again soon. Bet on it."

The woman speaking is dressed in black, her hair spiking out in a punk 'do. A charm shaped like a kitchen knife hangs around her neck and dark lipstick matches her eye shadow. She stops as she reaches us, shaking her head at the central mass of protesters behind her.

"These assholes. Who do they think they are?" A crafty grin creeps onto her face. "I've got something for them. Putting it together."

She shares the details with us before heading off. In theory it's non-violent, but given how humorless the majority of the protesters are I could see how it might cause trouble. Then again, anything that distracts them allows us to help more patients get by unmolested.

It's a complicated scenario. More support on our side is a wonderful thing, but there's a reason we run with crews of five escorts as opposed to a dozen - the sidewalks here aren't very wide. The protesters here are part of a network, and if they spend a day being made to feel the fool it's likely they'll call in reinforcements. They've got hardcore froth-at-the-mouth types who would make this crew seem like sleepy kittens. Added chaos means more potential stress for the patients to navigate as well. It's a tough call.

Still, I grin a bit as I imagine what would happen if these folks actually follow through. We all float down here.

* * *

"Look, I've told you once so don't make me tell you again. We don't want what you're selling. Go away!"

The Runner is about to create an incident.

Since her late arrival The Runner has buzzing around as if making up for lost time. When she's not scanning the street for slowing cars to race to she watches us for cues that someone's arriving. If she latches onto an incoming patient she will roll out her spiel in its entirety, no matter whether the person is listening or not. By the time we get near the door there's zero chance she can be heard anyway due to the screamers, but that doesn't deter her in the least. I'm not sure exactly whom her diatribes are for, given the lack of acknowledgment she receives. That doesn't slow her vicious, judgmental jabs in any manner. I guess, for her, the thought that her toxic message might get listened to is enough to keep her going.

Today she gets listened to. Too bad for her.

Stop and think about what she's doing: she's approaching people she doesn't know on a street and telling them how to live their lives through a combination of insults, insinuation, and shaming. When asked to stop she ignores the request and continues, pursuing the uninterested party and invading their personal space. It's clear-cut harassment and she does it every week, playing the victim and using her impending lawsuit as a shield. Substitute her for a frat boy and make the scenario at a bar and you'd have to call the bouncers over. Maybe the cops. It's stalking, yet somehow she's convinced herself that she's in the right. Be prepared for a wave of indignation if you dare question her in any way. 

Is it any wonder I ignore her attempts to make nice with me when patients aren't around? Not to me. Your mileage may vary.

If the mother telling The Runner to leave her and her daughter alone has any effect on her at all, it doesn't show. She slips around the back of the little pocket Janine and I have made as we lead them up the street. When she starts talking to the young woman Mom explodes.

"I asked you to leave us alone!" she says, jabbing a finger at the Runner's chest as she squares off and advances on her. "WHY CAN'T YOU LEAVE US ALONE? NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR YOUR BULLSHIT!"

The Runner is backpedaling with wide eyes, but it doesn't take long for her to run out of room and be trapped against a wall. "You can't touch me," she says in her same calm, insidious voice. "I'll sue you if you touch me. You hit me, you can't hit me. I'll sue you."

Mom? Does. Not. Care. She's right up in the Runner's face, still jabbing with her finger but not making contact. "I ASKED YOU TO GO AWAY BUT INSTEAD YOU START TALKING ABOUT WHAT KINDA MOM I SHOULD BE? DON'T TELL ME HOW TO BE A PARENT!"

The Runner's is stammering now, her facade beginning to slip. She looks scared, plain and simple. If it sounds like Janine and I are enabling by letting this happen, understand that possibly five seconds have passed since shit went sideways. As much as I might enjoy seeing The Runner get a well-deserved dressing down, this isn't good for anyone involved.

I manage to interpose myself without so much as brushing against The Runner, no doubt sparing being named as a co-defendant at some point. Mom's angry eyes shift to me. Hoo boy..

"This is what she wants. Any sort of contact and she'll sue. Don't give her the satisfaction."

"OH I'LL GIVE HER SATISFACTION," she says, but at the same time allows me to start shepherding her away. "GONNA TELL ME WHAT TO DO? SHIT, WE'LL GET STARTED ON HER RIGHT NOW!"

We've fallen back in step with her daughter and Janine, moving north. She's still yelling over her shoulder, but The Runner hasn't moved from where we left her. Instead she's got her phone out and is texting furiously, no doubt an update to her lawyer. I'm trying to talk Mom down but she's about eighteen kinds of fired up.

Moments later we draw close to Parker and Hinton, who have been sitting on a section of wall not particularly close to the clinic's entrance. It still allows them to yell at people coming into range, and Parker wastes no time injecting himself into the situation.

"Maybe if you were a better parent-"

Mom abruptly switches from yelling over her shoulder at The Runner to addressing her new would-be antagonist without missing a beat. "BITCH, AREN'T YOU ALREADY BUSY ENOUGH SEARCHING THROUGH ALL YOUR FAT TO FIND YOUR TINY DICK?"

Janine proves to be a professional by keeping a straight face. I do not, bursting into laughter. Parker splutters for a second or two and tries again, but Mom is still rolling.


Mom's still seething when we get to their car a few moments later, but her daughter bears a weary smile. "That's my Mom," she says, with a trace of pride. They thanks us for being out here and drive off.

I'm walking back with Janine and Parker starts to say something as we pass by. I burst into laughter again at once, shaking my head. He scowls and says something else, but I don't catch any of it. Carol meets us to find out what happened and soon she's laughing too.

Parker attempts to mock our mirth with a sour impression, but that only makes us laugh harder. We manage to stop as a car pulls up to the curb.

Back to work.

Friday, August 18, 2017

I'm Not Like the Others - Snapshots from my Sixth Day as a Clinic Escort

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Links to previous entries in this series: Day One. Day Two. Day Three. Day Four. Day Five. )

"You said that most lesbians are too ugly to rape. You know you did. Why are you trying to say you didn't?"

Our Lady of the Theater is on fire this morning.

The weather forecast was for gloom and rain but at the moment it's sunny and beautiful, a gorgeous day. The stench of putrid water left behind from early morning garbage pickup isn't wonderful but things could be worse for my partner Rachel and myself.

At least we don't have Our Lady of the Theater tearing us a new one.

Not too much is known about her. It's believed she used to be a costume designer or something along those lines, perhaps on Broadway. She's dressed in comfortable clothes, long hair tumbling down from under a hat. For lack of a better term she functions as an anti-protester, usually stopping by for a half-hour or so to delve into discussions with our sidewalk pals. Today she's been here for an hour and a half and she's driving Parker up the wall.

"I never said that," Parker retorts. He fiddles with his hair, which features light-colored tips. Bleached or natural? Only his hairdresser knows for sure. "You just come out with the same argument over and over."

OLofT isn't going to let him off that easily. "A pregnancy created from rape or incest is an uninvited parasite that's using a woman's body without her permission. Doesn't she have the right to expel it?"

Parker's response is the lamentably predictable 'baby shouldn't pay for the sins of the father' bit of horror, which doesn't deter her in the least. She's got two other protesters roped in via proximity - one is an angry-looking woman that may be Parker's step-daughter, while the other is Mutton Chops. MC appears as if he'd like to be anywhere that isn't within the sound of OLotT's voice and indeed moves about 15 feet away at one point, only to have her follow him to re-engage. She's adept at catching them in logical fallacies about their Bible-backed stances, and it's obvious that they loathe her.

We, of course, love her. She's soft-spoken yet forceful, a sharp mind at work. After chatting with us a bit she says her goodbyes, heading off to the library across the street.

Exit, stage left (not pursued by a bear).

* * * 

"God has shown favor to your womb!"

Has he, now?

The protesters are a little undermanned today, with some of the regulars missing (but not The Runner, dammit). Luis shows up for a few minutes before leaving in an Accord held together by prayer. There's always screamers, though, even if Mutton Chops doesn't take a turn today. Instead Hinton and Parker carry the entire performance, which proves to be a bit taxing on their material. Parker seems to feel it a requirement to have the words 'babies' and 'murder' in every almost every sentence and continues to play fast and loose with scientific facts about development in the womb. He's also thoughtful enough to throw in thinly veiled comments about me when I'm covering the door during his diatribes, slights I assume are designed to get me to react.

Today features the Hinton Show as he sandwiches his turns on the mic around Parker's oratory ramblings. He's letting his flag fly, so to speak. Gays are the target for a while, which is a curious topic to preach about outside of a women's clinic. They're bad, in case you weren't sure. So are liberals, who are responsible for this 'sick liberal world' we're forced to live in (those responsible, take a bow. You know who you are). Women are weaker than men, as per the Bible, and so men have to tell them what to do - I'm paraphrasing here as Hinton's diatribes often wander in and out of comprehensibility. He's all hopped up about Jesus not being second to Mary. I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about and again, an odd subject to be ranting about outside of a clinic.

Hinton also spends time insisting that religion is not a mental illness and it's becoming clear that somebody put a bee in his bonnet, perhaps via a couple of choice comments. Our Lady of the Theater?  Like Parker, Hinton is not afraid to point out my personal shortcomings whenever I cover the door. I'm a horrible writer, it seems, filling this blog with lies and fake news. That's patently false - well, the accusations about deceit, anyway. The quality level is for each person to decide. He also accuses me of writing for glory.

I dismiss that with a smile at first, but as I walk back to my post I mull it over a bit more. Every writer wants what they've written to be read. To say otherwise would be disingenuous, or so I feel. At the same time it has to be said that for most writers I know, it's not an option. The need to put words to paper (or screen) is a sort of obsession. I can't speak for others but I know that once an idea gets in my head it refuses to stay quiet or be ignored. It demands attention. It demands to be told. That's part of the reason I get up every morning at 5am to write - because I both want to and have to.

There's more to this, though. Another aspect of what keeps me chronicling these shifts has been the reaction. I have lost count of how many times I've been asked if what I write is what it's really like, if the protesters truly do behave in such a manner. Always the questions come with an air of shocked disbelief, deepening as I confirm the veracity. It gives people something to talk about and the stories get shared.

Therein lies the reason why I continue trying to articulate my experiences. It's not for notoriety, not for fame and/or fortune. If just one person reads this and decides to become an escort, that's fantastic. If a woman who needs to go to a clinic reads what I've written and understands there are people who don't know her but are there willing to fight to allow her to be able to act on whatever choice she makes with her body, it's all good. I don't know if either of those things have happened, but I don't need to. Escorting is not about me and it never will be. To be honest, before I started this shift I hadn't planned on writing it up, but somehow there's always a wealth of new experiences that start rattling around inside my head, urging me toward the keyboard. And here we are.

Hinton wants me to know that he doesn't hate me and is praying that I repent, although he isn't so overwhelmed with good cheer for my soul's disposition that he stops muttering 'desfruita de muerte' whenever I go by.

I don't have a womb, though, so God can't show me favor there. Bummer.

* * *

"I'm not like the others. I'm a sidewalk counselor."

Okay. Sure.

My partner Denise has gone inside to retrieve the rest of her breakfast - bagels provided by Lexi - and the moment she leaves someone I haven't seen before this morning sidles over. This is usually The Runner's shtick, zeroing in on solo escorts and attempting to form some kind of bond. He's an older guy, grandfatherly, dressed in a blue button-down shirt and khakis. His smile is friendly and his tone jocular. Later I find out he's a regular protester during the week. He opens with a comment or two about the weather, and when I don't respond he drops the line from above in a conspiratorial whisper. 

I greet him with stony silence, eyes watching the street from behind my sunglasses.

"C'mon, I'd like to engage. Really, I'm one of the good guys. My name's Pete. What's yours?"

"Escorts are not permitted to engage with protesters." I don't speak with heat or rancor, my tone disinterested.

"Really? No free speech?" His face holds an exaggerated expression of disbelief, a subtle note of condescension accompanying his words. "That's some organization you have there."

"Escorts are not permitted to engage with protesters."

"I heard that, but really, we can't just talk on this sunny morning? Maybe I could help you see a different way of thinking." He's still sneering as he gestures toward The Runner. "She and I aren't like those people, shouting all the time. We just want to help."

Siding with The Runner is an interesting way to try to win my trust, to be certain. I'm about to repeat my mantra again when Lexi shows up with a big smile.

"Hey! What's going on?" She addresses me directly, ignoring the fact that Pete even exists via words and body language.

I shrug. "I think Fox News took on human form. It doesn't seem to understand that organizations have rules that its members choose to follow."

Pete's face darkens a bit. We're not going to be buddies, it seems. "I don't understand why your people aren't allowed to speak. That doesn't seem right."

To Pete, it probably doesn't. I'm just doing some (ahem) sidewalk analysis here, but I'm going to guess that he doesn't get the point of why we're out here - it's not for us. It's not about us and it never was, never will be. It's about getting people past the bile, hatred, and misogyny, about letting them have the opportunity to make a choice and have access to a medical facility. It's not about being able to one-up a protester in an argument, not about getting the last word in, not about landing a good zinger. I forgot that a few months ago, but I'm doing my best not to let it happen again. It's not about me.

I'm pretty sure that for Pete, it's about Pete. His true colors start to show a little bit later when Lexi ducks inside the clinic.

"Hey, I take my coffee black. Bring me a danish, too."

He finds this to be such a killer joke that he repeats it every time one of the escorts heads for the door - as long as they're female. Charming.

Later he makes another attempt at being chummy with me. "C'mon, man, I'm not like those guys. I'm one of the good ones. Surely you can see that."

"Escorts are not permitted to engage with protesters."

* * *

"Mom, it's not too late to do the right thing."

That's one of The Runner's go-to tactics, working "Mom" into her passive-aggressive verbal assaults on patients and their companions. It takes a special mindset to mix together guilt and shame to be flung at fellow women, but The Runner is more than up to the task. She's the reason Lexi and I are still out here at 11:30am, a good half-hour after Parker and Hinton called it quits. Most of the day's patients are already inside, so she sets her sights on those departing. Sometimes they emerge in command of their movements, other times they're woozy and disoriented. No matter what their condition, The Runner is poised and willing to strike.

"Mom, why don't you be more like your own mother, who loved you enough to give you life?"

That she's saying things like this at all is reprehensible. That she's saying them to people who are leaving the clinic is unfathomable. Can there be any motivation other than to be hurtful? She's just as aggressive and slippery now as she was first thing in the morning, despite being clad in four-inch-thick wedge-heeled shoes. How is it possible for her to not have rolled an ankle by now?

"Mom, if you turn to Jesus you'll be forgiven."

The woman we're escorting out stops abruptly and glares at The Runner. "I'm Jewish," she says.

The Runner doesn't miss a beat. "Here's some literature about where you can get some help, and I have a keychain for you that you might like."

The woman stares at her, probably wondering the same thing we are: did The Runner not hear what she said, or does she simply not care? With an incredulous shake of her head she climbs into a car, shutting the door as Lexi and I box The Runner out. 

As the car pulls away The Runner surveys the empty sidewalk and gives a little shrug. "Well, have a nice weekend," she says to us. "I'm going."

We watch her walk to her newish Mercedes, not budging until she drives away. Even then we wait for a few minutes longer after that, as she's pretended to leave before only to pop back after driving around the block.. She appears to be gone for real, so we head for the door. A patient emerges as we draw near, her head swiveling as she walks out.

"That crazy bitch gone?" At our nods she adds, "How the hell she run in those shoes?"