Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

* * *

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

I have new pals. This is one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

"Actually I already have a street name."

I have been doing Lexi a great disservice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Religion is weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

That'll liven up your Monday morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not for that person.

Not today.

Not ever.

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