Monday, June 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, he admires Donald Trump's policies.

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

"Don't engage with the protesters."

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

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

Shut up.

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Why? Well . . .

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

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

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

* * *

"You probably wish my baby was dead too."

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

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

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

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

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