Monday, September 25, 2017

Why? Didn't He Wash His Hands in the Bathroom? - Dispatches 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.