Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Battle for Valedictorian Must Have Been Brutal - Snapshots from my 17th 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. Day 13.  Day 14. Days 15/16. )


"All you Deathscorts have Ph.Ds from the Academy of Satan!"

DeeDee claps her hands. "Great! I was looking to add some stuff to my CV!"

I'm excited about it too, but a tad concerned about that Mammon dude who set up my student loans.

It's early for the protesters to be targeting us but they've got pretty good numbers out here today, faces both old and new. Right now I'm feeling pretty smart about having chosen to wear insulating gear under my clothes, a decision I'll be decidedly less smug about by 10am when the chill breeze has departed and the sun is blazing down through cloudless skies. Given the weather-related misery of the past few months it's a welcome change, but also one that makes me wish I were elsewhere taking advantage of it. Such is life.

The morning is rife with challenging situations. A family has shown up, Mom and Dad with two small children in tow, which is an issue because kids aren't allowed in the waiting room. This is not to be confused with the infant that one of the protesters has brought - yes, an infant - who is repeatedly walked in front of the blaring loudspeakers. The family's shaky command of English doesn't help and Mom's choli/pavada combination incites the protesters to zero in on her for worshipping a 'false god.' After he drops his wife off I direct the father to the diner down the street and, when he returns an hour or so later, to the library across the street. Given our language difficulties and the incessant blare of the protesters' amps we have to rely on pantomime, but it's good enough.

We also have a companion who is Very Angry about the shame-bombs being hurled around and wants to have some intense theological debates with the protesters. That's fine - anything that distracts them from incoming patients is a boon - but her temper is simmering at a low boil and the last thing we want is for someone to lose it. Compounding matters is her chain smoking, which directs plumes into my face no matter where she's standing. It's a reminder of how ubiquitous smoking used to be, and how a night out in a bar would leave you and your clothes smelling like an overflowing ashtray the next morning. The unwanted trip down Memory Lane intensifies as she's joined by another companion who bums a cigarette and fire up. This one is uninterested in chatter but her presence acts as a calming influence. Instead of arguing with the protesters they chat with one another. More smoke is UGH, but it's better than someone taking a swing at one of them.

Our new academic achievement - GO FIGHTING BRIMSTONERS! -  turns out to be one of many connections we have to Satan. During the course of the morning it's also revealed that we're:

a) Satan's puppets;
b) Satan's messengers;
c) Satan's disciples; 
d) Satan's children.

The latter is an extremely tough thing for me to hear, as it means I'm going to have to buy a whole bunch more presents for all my new siblings at Christmas. Perhaps I'll be able to find a better paying job with my shiny new doctorate.

* * *

"So, what do you think about the country of Saudi Arabia?"

Oh, joy. Alex is back in town.

It's been the better part of a year since we've crossed paths and on my end he hasn't been missed. Taking full advantage of our vanquished buffer zone he's set up shop a few feet away, allowing himself access to both patients heading in and myself. Again, oh joy.

I know I'm being led by his line of questioning but we're in a bit of an intake lull and I'm happy for the distraction from the twinge that's developed in my lower back. "It's a place with a lot of issues, to say the least."

He nods. "Okay, and how do you feel about the way they treat women?"

I can see the glint off the hook, but bite anyway. "It's shameful. Awful."

He dons a savage grin. "Then what do you think about Hillary Clinton taking millions in donations from Saudi Arabia?"

Ye gods, Hillary Clinton. Of all the things I might have imagined I'd be discussing outside the clinic this morning - her? I briefly consider calling his bullshit - the donations were to her A+ rated charitable foundation and not her campaign - but facts are a devalued currency around these parts.

"I think if you're looking for perfection in any political candidate you're going to end up disappointed. How can you question her character when compared to Trump's lack thereof?"

He shakes his head. "I didn't vote for Trump."

Well, knock me over with a protester's sign containing grammatical errors (like Luis'). "You didn't vote?"

"I voted for Cruz."

They'v finally managed to leave me speechless. I mean, I understand his platform, such as it was, pandered to the hard-core Talibangelicals, but the dude got clobbered in the primaries. Ted Cruz. Hoo.

I get to return the favor in short order. We've been bouncing around on different subjects for a while before veering into theological debate centering on my objection to his brethren trying to force their religion views on others. There's no way to win this debate but again, anything that distracts them from patients until the last second is a worthy endeavor.

He shifts to a new line of questioning but doesn't bother to hide the verbal bear trap lurking ahead. "So you're an atheist, right?"

I shrug. "I guess, if you need to hang a label on it."

"Well, don't you tell others they shouldn't worship God? Try to get them to stop?"

"No." When he gives me an odd look I raise my palms skyward. "I don't care who or what you worship, as long as you don't try to impose your ideals and rules on others." Since my hands are already up, I wave my fingers around. "You know, like this."

Alex seems a bit nonplussed. "Most of the atheists I meet are much more militant."

Am I supposed to apologize for that? Be meaner? Mock his deity of choice? His issue to deal with, not mine. My immediate concern is the couple being escorted past the raucously cawing Mean Girls and for being in place so Janine and I can form a Runner-proof wall. Judging by her muttered complaints, we do okay.

* * *

"We didn't do it, okay? Leave us alone!"

Somehow, in the midst of all their yelling, the protesters missed this. 

In general we don't encounter too many traffic jams at the front door. On Saturday mornings we mostly handle input, getting patients and companions inside. We escort a decent number back out after they've finished their visit, but often the majority are still in the clinic by the time the circus outside packs up for the day. 

This time, though, things are a little wonky. We've got a goodly amount of protesters - somewhere north of a dozen - and in addition to escorts bringing in patients from the south and a car idling in the no-park zone in front of the entrance, a couple is coming back out of the clinic under a full head of steam. The woman - young, eyes red, biting her lower lip - has a two-step lead on a guy who is either her boyfriend or sibling. They came in with an older woman, no doubt somebody's mother, and all three had choice words for the protesters on the way past. In fact the guy stopped to do some finger-pointing, with the tension level escalating enough that DeeDee intervened to gently but firmly urge him to go inside.

Now, though, they don't want any part of them. I have to believe his blurted words went unheard because otherwise they would have pounced like sharks on a wounded fish instead of letting them head north up the sidewalk, unmolested. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop but the protesters are still focused on patients heading in, and I don't have time to keep watching as I usher the new arrivals through the door amid a cacophony of screaming, both amplified and not.

We're often accused of being out here to collect a paycheck, of getting more money based on how many people we escort in. There's not a shred of truth in that, and we're not going to chase someone down the sidewalk and try to convince them to go back in. If they choose to go through with the procedure, that's fine. If they decide that they'd rather have the baby instead, that's fine too. All that matters to us is that they get to make that choice.

About twenty minutes later the couple returns. Whether they're just back to pick up the mother or to stay for whatever brought her here, we don't know. It's just our job to get them through the front door.

* * *

"Because you deathscorts are disciples of Satan, and Satan is a murderer!"

Is he?

There's a guy I've never seen before on the amp, starting his spiel at around 10:30am. This is where they usually slot those new to preaching, and their skill level is a mixed bag at best. This kid still has acne on the side of his face and we've already managed to derail him from lecturing us about knowing how difficult it is to be a father, given that his ringless fingers indicate that he's likely childless. Gamely soldiering on, he shifts to this new angle.  

After about fifteen seconds I have to interrupt him. "Who did Satan kill?"

He pauses and looks at me, blinking rapidly. "What?"

"I asked who Satan killed. I get it, he's the Father of Lies, in charge of Hell, all that. But who did he actually murder?"

Silence draws out as he struggles to answer. After a good fifteen seconds or so Alex leaps in with a rescue attempt. "Judas. He murdered with Judas."

I'm not a Bible scholar, but that doesn't sound right. "I'm pretty sure that isn't true. Judas didn't kill anyone I'm aware of. Just took his money for info, right?"

Alex combines an exasperated sigh with a shake of his head. "No, Satan entered Judas and that led to Jesus' murder."

DeeDee, who works with lawyers, lets out a healthy snort. "That's a bit of a stretch," I say. "You can do better than that. Who has Satan murdered?"

There's a good deal of muttering, but no answers. Not even Job's family, which I figured was a gimmie. I get why they might be having issues, since it's much easier to find examples of God engaging in wholesale murder and genocide than it is to pin something on his former right-hand man.. More awkward silence ensues until a couple emerges from the clinic and the protesters launch into their vitriol with what feels like a sense of relief.

Good to know my daddy/professor/dispatcher/puppetmaster might not be so bad after all.

* * *

"Why are they like this? Why are they saying these things to me?"

Jesus would probably like to hear some answers about that as well, methinks.

The woman asking these questions is not a patient, companion, or escort. Well-dressed and coiffed, she's made the mistake of passing near the clinic on her way to Saturday morning services at the synagogue up the street. The protesters, bored and restless during one of the intake lulls that sometimes mark the late morning, seize on the opportunity to tell her how wrong her choice of worship is. 

Loudly. Vehemently. Derisively.

She's flanked by two of our escorts, who were wise and experienced enough to know exactly what she was going to face. With any luck she'll make a complaint to the town at some point, but for now she spares the shouters a single, incredulous backwards glance after running their gauntlet. There's laughter and smiles among the protesters. The joy of weaponizing the word of Jesus, perhaps.

Not long after that a young man in a yarmulke hurries along on the other side of the street. The mushrooms and the red-tape folks - three young people in hoodies with duct tape over their mouths - don't bother him, but Parker spies him and starts shouting at him in Hebrew. The guy keeps moving as a smirking Parker turns back to find me watching.

"What?" he says, all innocence. "I said 'Jesus is Lord.'"

"Yeah. I know what anti-Semitism is."

His eyes narrow as he smiles and I get the sense he knew this was coming. "What's wrong with that? Jesus was a Jew."

I drop an eye-roll that would make my twelve-year-old daughter proud. "That's true, but he's not the god they worship, which you're well aware of. You're taunting him. Don't be disingenuous and pretend it's otherwise."

That earns me a sour twist of the lips, a dismissing wave, and the ever-popular "You're fake news." Taunting appears to be high up on their agenda today, with anyone who isn't one of them a target of Alex's instead.

"You run around here handing out cheap rosaries of blue plastic made in Taiwan and you think you're properly spreading the word of Jesus? You stand across the street with your picture of Jesus, oh you love him so much, you keep it covered with plastic so it won't get wet in the rain, but do you come over here and use your voice? No! And you people, you put tape over your mouths. How can you spread the word of Jesus with tape over your mouths? If someone got raped would you just stand there in silence? Maybe you would, because you don't really know and love Jesus!"

It's a hell of a rant. I have no idea if the barbs find a home - the Mushrooms stay silent, the red-tape people stick with their creepy staring thing, and The Runner is always muttering under her breath anyway. The protesters' attitude that their choice of worship is vastly superior to all other forms seems to be embracing the sin of pride with both arms and some leg action as well, but they've always been remarkably skilled at ignoring things that don't fit their stance.

Later Luis crosses the street with his giant sign featuring the ten commandments (one side in Spanish, the other in English complete with grammatical errors) and stands in front of the red-tape kids. He's joined by Alex and after a one-sided conversation the others remove their tape and appear to open a dialogue. It goes on for a while, which makes escorting patients out that much easier, thank you very much. If they wanted to do this for the whole shift every Saturday we'd be fine with it.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. It's time for Luis' to take another loud and unhinged turn on the mike (number two of the day! Uncool!). As he's getting into place Alex sidles up next to me, mentions that he's praying for my soul.

I nod. "Good luck with that. How's things go with your new friends? Seemed like a civil discussion."

He lets out a long sigh. "They're good people with good intentions, but they don't know how to properly follow Jesus Christ." Whatever else he tries to say is lost as Luis begins screaming on his speaker at a truly ear-splitting level, standing as close to the doors as he can while calling those inside murderers.

* * *

Silence has been a rare commodity this morning and I'm basking in a moment of quiet as Mutton Chops gets ready to take the mike. The day has begun to warm up - I performed an act of contortion in order to strip my sweatshirt off without removing my vest that was worthy of stage and screen - yet he's still bundled up in a winter parka and fur-lined hat. Parker is behind him, standing in the street like the protesters do. A Corvette pulls even with him and stops, giving the engine a little rev. It would be fun to take poetic license and say the driver was the absolute personification of a mid-life crisis, but the truth is I can't really see him. With a throaty growl the car leaps away, tires chirping against the asphalt. Parker turns in my general direction, a big smile on his face.

"A thumbs-up, that's nice. So far today that's five middle fingers and one thumbs-up, but at least we're on the board." He seems pleased.

I'm pleased as well. May that approval ratio hold true. I crack my own smile as Mutton Chops starts to drone.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Just Wait Until He Finds Out About the Initiation Branding - Snapshots from my Fifteenth and Sixteenth Days 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. Day 13.  Day 14. )


(Day 15)
"Yeah. But we have to wonder why."

It's quiet outside the clinic this morning, startlingly so. None of the screamers are here - not a single one - and even The Runner is a no-show. Aside from a few of the quiet ones who hand out pamphlets and the somewhat loopy Q-Tip, the protesters are largely absent.

And that has the security team on edge.

The above response came after I noted the light turnout to Jesse, the retired cop who often stands at the doorway with us. At first glance it seems a blessing, although Jenner, the first-timer working the door with me who signed up because he's heard how hellish it is out here, seems mildly disappointed. The two guards take turns circling the building, looking for suspicious packages or bags. It may sound a little paranoid, but we're less than a month past someone driving a truck into the entrance of a Planned Parenthood a few dozen miles away. There's a long and shameful national history of clinics being bombed and doctors murdered, so the concern is warranted.

Jesse glances around as he talks about some of his experiences on the police force, probably spotting things I wouldn't even know to look for. There are other countermeasures in effect as well, ones that surprise me. For obvious reasons I won't reveal them, but knowing they're being employed helps to put us at ease. I wonder if I'm actually seeing more Englewood PD cars than I usually do or if it's just easier to spot them with the mass of protesters between myself and the street..

I swap stories with Jenner, getting to know him as we kill time. My team leader Fiona looks just as mystified as I do, having never had a day like this in her years of escorting. As we easily walk patients past the skeleton crew of protesters not one of us finds cause to complain.

* * *

(Day 16)
"We will help you. We have the resources and we will be there for you. You will have support and money for your baby."

After having my last shift devoid of any and all screamers - it was so blissfully quiet - it appears I will not be as fortunate this time. Parker started with his predictable, "The Bible says" right at 8am and it's been non-stop preaching, promising, and shaming since then. By coincidence I'm at the door with Jenner again, who is having a much different experience than he did during his maiden voyage. The sidewalk on this brisk morning isn't swarming but it's crowded with faces new and old. Given we expected Easter-related shenanigans - the protesters had evidently showed up the day before, which was Good Friday - we've got an extra pair of escorts as part of the team. A couple are rookies, but with our numbers we're able to get them paired with experienced hands.

Conspicuously absent among the protesters are the Mean Girls, not that they're missed. In fact it's a mostly male crew, aside from the mother that always shows up with one of her sons. Which one she brings varies but it doesn't matter as they all stand near the door wearing a sign, remaining silent while using a clicker to count the number of patients that enter. Not creepy at all, that.

The Runner is here, of course, in all of her odious glory, and soon Q-Tip appears as well, wearing a pin emblazoned with Trump's face and doing her "Yay Jesus!" cheers. Still, that's only three out of well over a dozen protesters, whereas a couple of months ago we were seeing 50/50 splits. I could probably coax a vague answer out of Parker if I cared enough to ask, something along the lines of 'God keeps his house in order.' Maybe they're preparing for Easter dinner. Any excuse that keeps them away is fine by me.

Hinton's still cranking along on his speaker, promising the sun and moon to patients who change their minds at a decibel level well above legal limits. His dinosaur winter hat is gone, replaced by a tan baseball cap. Ah, the joys Spring brings.

"Your baby is a gift from God. We will help you with food, and diapers, and many things. We'll make sure you and your baby have everything you need . . . "

Wait for it.

". . . for about a year or so."

Ay, there's the rub.

I've heard from other sources that the support from the anti-choice groups and the so-called 'Crisis Pregnancy Centers' tends to be much less substantial than promised (as shown in this excellent segment on Last Week Tonight, which includes research done by one of our own) but this is the first time one of the screamers has admitted that if these women believe what they're being told and completely alter their lives to keep a child that they don't want things aren't going to be all sunshine and pixie dust. For a moment I feel as if I should commend Hinton for showing some moral character but then I glance over and notice the kid he brought with him, maybe ten or eleven years old, standing by the street and holding an anti-choice sign.

Never mind.

* * *

(Day 16)
"Deuteronomy 22:5 clearly states that a woman must not put on man's clothing, and a man must not wear women's clothing!"

It seems that our Evangelical buddies don't care for new escort Evan's scarf. 

Thank goodness for escorting. How else would I have learned that the Bible is not just a book of worship but also a fashion guide? The more sonorous of the Creepy Twins is currently droning along on the speaker, but he's being superseded by Parker and Luis collectively losing their shit over Evan. He's mirroring Fiona's floater position, halfway between the clinic entrance and the outlier escorts, which makes him close enough to draw the wrath of the screamers.

Why? Well, he has the audacity to be stylishly dressed. He looks - 'dapper' comes to mind, but that's kind of a fusty old word, so let's go with 'chic' - chic, well-appointed, from his debonair haircut to his natty shoes. The scarf in question is red, white, and, if the protesters are taken at face value, standard field gear for gays in the service of Satan.

They've decided that Evan must be a homosexual, something they often accuse me of being as well. If you think the enjoyment they derive from wallowing in their misogyny is repugnant you'll be even more disgusted by their overzealous intolerance for gays. When they project their bile at the women entering the clinic it's always with the caveat that they're only doing so because they want to save both the baby and the mother. In the case of the latter that means converting her to their theology. There's hope for her. Maybe one day she too could stand on this sidewalk and shame other women - not with a loudspeaker, of course. Still, she can be redeemed.

There's none of that for Evan. It's clear that he makes them extremely uncomfortable and they're content to interpret Bible passages in a way that allows them to condemn him. There aren't any *actual* passages in which their Lord and Savior Jesus condemns homosexuality, but they seem to share the mindset of the late Billy Graham, who had this to say about the subject: "Sometimes it is said that the Bible does not contain any words of Jesus about homosexuality, and therefore it must be acceptable to God. However, the Bible does not record sayings of Jesus about a number of other sins either." No, Billy. Absence of evidence and all that. Logic dictates that they should accept that Jesus has no issues with homosexuality, but they are more than willing to ignore truth if it doesn't fit their rhetoric. Instead they embrace the contradiction of preaching Jesus' love while spewing fear and hatred at the same time.

The interesting aspect is that they clearly think men should feel shame if they identify as anything but hetero. It explains why they've used gay slurs on me in the past and why they're targeting Evan today. They're assuming, based on his appearance, that he's gay. Whether he is or not, I have no idea. We haven't had the opportunity to get to know one another yet and it's not something that just pops up during the couple of minutes we're gathered inside before starting the shift (which I haven't done for the last four shifts or so, instead staying at my post on the door and just having them bring a vest out for me instead). In any case, his orientation can't be wrong. He is who he is and that's okay. The problem is theirs.

Evan seems to take their attempted mockery in stride, unruffled as he flanks a patient who has emerged from a car that's pulled in front of the restaurant. She's joined by an older woman, presumably her mother, who came armed with a glare that could melt steel. As we reach the door her gaze falls on Evan and she gives a small nod.

"I like your scarf."

* * *

(Day 16)
"You're going to die someday! It's true! You're not going to stay young! Look at the wrinkles you have already!"

Jenner turns to me, an expression of mock horror on his face. "He's right. I'm decrepit. Do we have any walkers inside?"

The rookie is getting a baptism by fire that he didn't experience last time, the swirling chaos and non-stop noise fest provided by the protesters. At the moment Creepy Twin #1 is on the squawk box, telling deathscorts how horrible we are. He accuses me of being particularly wicked because there's too much fornication in my life but leaves me hanging when I yell "DAMN STRAIGHT" and hold up a hand for a high five. As he rattles on about how terrible a thing premarital sex is I notice that he's lacking a ring on his left hand.

Ye gods, it explains so much.

Later in the morning he buttonholes Jenner for a long and passionate personal sermon about how Jesus is the only answer. For everything. Both Fiona and I are prepared to tag in if he gives us a distress signal, but he waves us off. When CT#1 finally moves on Jenner looks over at me with raised eyebrows. Welcome to the party, pal.

The Runner greets him as well, pulling her usual act of trying to befriend the newbie. That doesn't last long as she, in the midst of shaming a mother and daughter heading into the clinic, completely blocks the doorway for the grandmother who has also emerged from the car. Jenner spots this and boxes the Runner out. There's contact, mostly due to The Runner being oblivious to the fact that someone's behind her and trying to get past, and the self-proclaimed 'absolute feminist' starts muttering at him as soon as she tells the grandmother that she needs to be a better woman. She doesn't notice that the grandmother looks to be considering introducing The Runner's head to the pavement, and I do my best to gently but firmly cajole the matriarch to be with those who need her most right now. With an angry shake of her head she does, and yet again an escort has attained the dubious success of keeping The Runner from getting her ass kicked.

She finishes berating Jenner and turns back toward the clinic, talking to the closed door about assembly lines, being a good mom, and why it's even worse to be here with tomorrow being Easter. Jenner and I asking why she's excited about a day about the German Goddess of Spring clearly annoys her, compounded when we insist the day is all about candy and start discussing our favorite kinds.

She does not attempt to bond with Jenner again.

* * *

(Day 15)
"Why don't we ever escort the same shift together?"

It's early on a Saturday morning, way too early to be up, yet we are and I've just posed that question to my wife. I'm procrastinating about getting up, as a warm bed filled with spouse is much more alluring than the frigid sidewalk festooned with protesters that awaits me. Our kids are autonomous enough to survive a few hours without us around and while it's not the ideal marital activity to engage in I'm somewhat curious to see her in action. 

She cuts to the heart of the matter, the way she often does. "Because I'm not willing to take a chance on our kids becoming orphans."

My initial instinct is to scoff and dismiss her caution, but for once I keep my mouth shut and think before speaking. As noted earlier in this entry clinics do get attacked. The protesters I've encountered don't appear to be violent but there's no way to be sure about that. Religious zealotry and misogyny combine to make a passionate brew, one fraught with potential difficulties. My wife, a veteran of several years on the sidewalk, can recount tales of escorts being followed back to their cars, of protesters standing behind vehicles so they couldn't back out, and so on. Parker keeps trying to get a rise out of me by saying that he's been talking to my wife and that she seems much smarter and more highly educated than me (When Fiona overhears this at a later date she laughs and says that she's never heard my wife say anything to him beyond 'fuck off'). They'll get personal with us, throw verbal darts, try to get us upset and off-balance.

Violence might not have reared its ugly head for us so far but we're not going to tempt fate. With a single sigh and a string of muttered curses I leave the embrace of both blankets and wife to paw around in the dark for the clothes I set out before I went to bed. Date Night won't be strolling on the streets of Englewood, it seems.




Monday, February 26, 2018

Come for the Misogyny, Stay for the Religious Intolerance! - Snapshots from my Fourteenth 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. Day 13.)

"The Deathscorts are really aggressive today. She ran into me!"

One of the Mean Girls is upset.

Turns out that sometimes when you deliberately block a sidewalk while trying to pretend that you're not deliberately blocking a sidewalk there will be contact. The odds of this go up when your cohort Parker turns his sign sideways to further shrink the choke point you've created.

"Yeah, they're bullies," says Parker. "Don't let them get away with it or they'll keep doing it."

Bullies. Indeed. We're not the one screaming at teenage girls and calling them murderers, but we're the bullies.

The morning can't decide what it wants to be yet - it starts off feeling as if it might warm up, but before long a chill breeze presents itself and hats and gloves stay in place. I'm at what's become my usual post, by the clinic's front door. It leaves me in front of the screamers for a whole shift but they haven't been that bad lately, so I figure I'll be fine. Famous last words.

There's between twelve to fifteen protesters today and, as one of the other escorts notes, the removal of the buffer zones has led to them congregating closer to the doors than they used to. This is both good and bad - while it means the patients don't have to listen to vitriol on every step of the sidewalk (aside from The Runner, of course, who is an entity in and of herself), the last ten yards or so have become a vicious, claustrophobic gauntlet of shrieking malevolence. One young girl ends up tears by the time she gets through as she's informed of her eternal damnation and of how horrible a person they consider her to be. The mother has blood in her eyes and is about to turn back to wade in when the daughter catches her arm and gives her a small tug. It's not much, but it's enough. The glare she gives them as I close the door behind her goes ignored, the protesters busy muttering at my back as I box them out.

Bullies. Right.

* * *

"So this morning as I was brushing my teeth, I had an elfanism."

Yeah, I don't know either.

I turn my head toward Ronnie, today's team leader. Her puzzled expression matches mine as she asks, "Did he just say 'elfanism'?"

The screamers are out in force today, with the regulars showing a healthy disregard for the decibel limit. Parker takes his usual opening slot. Luis does an extended set, finishing by working himself into a frothing rage and directing his ire into the brick wall next to the entrance. Little Hitler - so dubbed due to the resemblance combined with an unfortunate mustache choice - even takes a turn, which is new to me. Later we'll have three newbies break their cherries, so to speak, but for now it's Hinton busy confusing the hell out of Ronnie and me.

We try Google, but aside from a few 'don't you mean this instead' results we've got nothing. I do my best not to interact most of the time but not knowing is tearing at the tatters of my English major soul.

"Hinton," I say as he draws a breath, "what's elfanism?"

He ignores me, launches into a new volley. I patiently wait for another opportunity. Not like I have anything else to do.

"C'mon. I'm not asking to be a smartass, we just want to know what it is. Help us."

After a few seconds he mutters, "I'll tell you later," and goes back on the attack. We get pretty busy with intake for a while and I more or less forget about his mystery word. After a while he cedes the shouter role to Luis, who embarks on his spittle-flecked aural adventure. Moments after that he approached me, phone held at arms length. I have to crane my head back to see because I'm not wearing my glasses, but between that and squinting I can make out 'euphemism' on his screen.

I tell Ronnie and we're both vaguely disappointed, having been hoping for a strange and exciting new addition to our lexicon. Hinton shakes his head and says, "What, you don't like my accent? That's racist, man."

Always the victims, these guys. Possibly a side effect while suffering from acute elfanism.

* * *

"Here we are, at Planned Parenthood."

It's evidently preliminary auditions time at the Anti-Choice version of American Idol.

First up is this guy, who hasn't earned a name yet. We are not, in fact, at Planned Parenthood, and when I tell our contestant that he becomes flustered and starts again.

"Here we are, at the Englewood Clinic."

I point to the sign over the door. "That's still not the name, dude. Details matter."

He looks at me, where I'm pointing, back at me, and tries again. He gets it wrong for a third time but manages to get it together enough to call a young woman a murderer as she gets escorted in. As the door closes behind her he gives it another go.

"Here we are, at Planned Parenthood."

Ye gods.

He proves to have the judging and condemning parts down pretty well but lacks the passion of Hinton or the eye-rolling madness of Luis. He's more like a newborn fawn, awkward and stumbling as he tries to take his first steps toward publicly shaming women seeking legal medical procedures. At least his volume is lower than the others, which is nice.

The guy that follows him has his hat on inside out. The tag that juts out from the side is distracting, to say the least. I try to point it out to him as he fiddles with his amp but he steadfastly ignores me before launching into his big moment in the spotlight.

"You should feel privileged that I'm speaking to you today and sharing with you the words of Jesus."

Privileged indeed. I try to share his munificence by again pointing out that his hat is on inside out and he goes silent for a bit, losing place in his mental script. Too proud to use written notes?

I look over at Parker. "C'mon, man. These guys aren't ripe yet."

He gives me an impassive look, which I get. Kids gotta learn how to swim sooner or later, can't keep depending on the veterans to supply all of the slut-shaming. Manny, Moe,and Jack here are going to have to emerge from the nest and hit us with their best material.

"Life begins at conception, which any doctor will tell you." That's recycled Parker BS, but I don't call him on it.. "You probably missed that because you skipped science class to fornicate."

I double over with laughter, which knocks him off his game again. After a few moments he manages, "It's true," but I'm busy wiping tears from my eyes. This kid might be a keeper.

He's all over the place after that. God is going to punish everyone for every sin ever. This is a place of death. Jesus died for our sins and don't I understand how that shows Gods loves us. Only through Jesus can we be forgiven for our sins and have them washed away. There's no hope -

"Wait." I hold up a hand and, bless his heart, he stops. They're so cute when they're young. "Before you said that God is going to punish everyone for all the sins. Now you say the sins go away. Which is it?"

He goes silent again, long enough that I think maybe something broke inside. I give Parker another admonishing look for putting this under-baked loaf of babble-bread out here but it just rolls off him. After another awkwardly long pause the guy lumbers to life yet again.

"When God comes to punish these sins he will address the abominations, such as adulterers, homosexuals, the wicked, and the non-believers."

Ah. Perhaps we won't keep him after all. His decent into the cesspit of hatred and intolerance marks his final act as he gives way to the third newbie, a chip off of Mutton Chop's block. Nothing new or interesting here. At most, we appreciate the decreased decibel level of the three contestants.

Silence would be better, though.

* * *

"I just wanted to thank you for what you're doing."

I appreciate the gentleman stopping by to say this and shake my hand, but at the same time I don't envy what I figure he's going to have to endure next.

Unfortunately, my prediction proves correct.

I've mentioned before about how the protesters go out of their way to harass, mock, and demean the Jewish people they see heading to the nearby synagogue. Most have become wise enough to walk on the other side of the street or simply avoid the area altogether, but this fellow either isn't intimidated or felt the need to thank us outweighed the repercussions.

Given the way the protesters have started clustering close to the entrance his exit route is reminiscent to one of the trenches on the outside of the Death Star. With the same level of vitriol they usually spew at the patients the mob sets on him as he passes through, yelling 'Christ is King!' in Hebrew and besmirching the tenets of his religion. They continue hollaring as he heads up the sidewalk before sharing in group smiles and happy camaraderie, proud of what they've done.

Matthew 7:1-3 seems to slip their minds when they hit the sidewalk.

* * *

"J! E! S! U! S! Jesus is number one! Yay Jesus!"

Q-Tip is kind of fascinating. 

To be sure, she marches to the beat of a different drummer. All morning she's been doing Jesus chants by herself, waving her index finger over her head and exhorting the others to join in (they don't). She likes to echo some of the things the screamers say, filling in blank spaces when they pause to take a breath. I can't help but notice the wistful gazes she gives to the amplifier as the last newbie drones on. Hmmm.

"Hey," I say to Parker. "Why don't you give her an amp? She's got to be better than this guy."

Parker just shakes his head and smirks, and I feel as if I'm missing something. As I stop and think about today's lineup I have my blind squirrel/nut moment.

"Why is it I've never seen any women on the mike here?" I gesture over at the Mean Girls. "Why not one of them? I'm sure they've got plenty to say." Their immediate responses move my comment from theory to fact.

Parker waves a hand in my direction. "It's all fine."

It's not, though. I have zero doubts that any of these people would be more articulate than the rookies we've been subjected to today. "Seriously. Why are there no women being screamers?"

I'm favored with smug, condescending smile. "God's house is in order."

I blink a few times, soaking in the blatant misogyny. If the Mean Girls object to being classified as lesser beings they don't feel the need to vocalize their dissatisfaction, and I turn away with a low whistle. It makes their willingness to lambaste other women a little easier to comprehend, I suppose. How can you offer respect to others when you don't have any for yourself?

* * *

"I don't hate you, man. I love you. I'm praying for you because I love you and want you to repent and be saved."

Hinton's declaration has come three days too late for me to get him a Valentine's Day card, although I suppose there's still time to pick up discounted candy. But I'm not interested in his brand of love, the kind that only manifests itself if I become the person he wants me to be. I'm worthy if I abandon who I am and embrace his way of thinking. It's not the language of love.

It's the language of abusers. "Do what I say or bad things are going to happen to you."

It's the language of manipulators. "Do what I say or I won't love you."

It's the language of misogyny.  "We're all equal, except for those things I don't let you do because you don't have a penis."

It's the language of hatred and shame. "Only a woman with several mental issues would do what you're doing. You're a murderer."

It's not my language.



Thursday, February 1, 2018

Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution - Snapshots from my Thirteenth 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 - Snapshots 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 - Snapshots 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?

Right.

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.