Monday, December 10, 2018

Be Like Willie

(name changed to protect the identity of a minor)

You might have a difficult task before you right now, or perhaps looming in the near future. Something daunting, terrifying, seemingly impossible. Formidable. Staggering. Intimidating. A challenge you don't want but can't avoid.

I'm going to try to help.

I'm going to tell you about Willie.

7:40, Sunday morning at a rink in northern NJ. I have an 8am game and am the only person in the referee locker room, almost ready to go. The door starts to open and I catch a glimpse of a mother for a second before something pulls it shut again.

A few moments pass before there's a knock. I say to come in. The door opens again and a young girl enters, decked out in a full kit of reffing gear. She's a wee slip of a thing, tiny, with a sheet of white-blond hair hanging down one side of her face. The woman I glimpsed and assume to be her mother has followed her in and is standing quietly off to the side. I smile as benignly as possible.

The girl unshoulders her bag, plops down in a seat, and pulls out her skates. "Hi! This is my first time reffing." There's a pause. "I'm kind of nervous."

Indeed, she looks very much so. Doing my best to set her at ease, we launch into conversation. She's eleven years old but small for her age. She plays PeeWee hockey and has been skating since she could walk. She passed the online test, watched all the videos, attended the seminar. Now it's time for her first game, and she's a little scared.

The assigner has given her half-ice Mites, which is the perfect place for her to start. Technically it's the *only* place she can start, since she has to be at least two years older than the kids she's officiating for. Generally, reffing half-ice Mites is a task akin to herding rambunctious puppies. There's no offsides, no icings, no checking, no real penalties. Still, that doesn't make it any less important of a job. She's responsible for the safety of a few dozen kids while attempting to teach them the rules of the game and trying to make sure they have fun  - all at the same time.

The other two refs arrive - one to work with me and the other to work the other half of the ice with Willie ("My name's Wilhemina, but I prefer Willie, if that's okay") - and her mom senses that her daughter is going to be okay. She leaves without making a scene, letting her know she'll be there watching. Willie asks me for advice, which is a bit humorous as I've only had my crest for three months, but I give her what others were kind enough to teach me: Be decisive. Be confident. Err on the side of caution. Hustle, hustle, hustle. Keep your head on a swivel. Deescalate. Have fun.

I check my phone. It's time. She asks me which route she should take to her rink and I offer to walk her over while her partner finishes getting ready. At Rink 3 the Mites are waiting, eager, itching to get out on the ice. She's not quite ready to head out yet - she wants to wait for the other guy to arrive. The coaches look over at her and offer smiles, which she returns. She spots her mom along the boards and waves.Yeah, she's going to be fine.

This story might have a much more satisfying ending if I could hang around and watch how she does (or lie about it), but I have my own game to get to. That's not really the point, anyway. I don't know which particular dragon you have to slay and I'm not here to belittle either it or your discomfort in handling it. I'm here to say I watched an undersized eleven-year-old girl face something that frightened her in order to step into a new world that most kids her age wouldn't dream of being able to attempt.

Willie did it.

I bet you can as well.

Go do it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Summertime and the Lying is Easy - Dispatches from my Twenty-First, Twenty-Second, and Twenty-Third 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. Days 15/16. Day 17. Days 18/19/20.)

(Day 21)
"They're going after them again. Watch the door. I'll be right back."

With that, my Team Leader darts across the street, weaving through traffic.

The Mean Girls are stalking a couple and Ronnie's had enough.

It's hot and humid, the default setting for this summer, and I wipe sweat from my brow as I watch Ronnie make it to the other side. One of the usual Mean Girls - Sad Eyes - showed up this morning with a friend sporting some sort of hat - trilby, fedora, I don't know, I'm no expert - and together they've been super aggressive so far. Their ranks are further bolstered by a young couple - her with long hair in tight cornrows and a propensity to hold her protest sign upside down; him tall, awkward, and given to low-talking in my general vicinity so that I'm not sure if he's trying to engage me in conversation or chatting with himself. He moves about five feet away and begins mumbling what sounds like an inner monologue, questioning how I could do what I'm doing and so on. At times I can make out questions but he never pauses, so I don't know if I'm supposed to respond or not. He seems satisfied to ramble on uninterrupted, so at least one of us is interested in what he has to say.

The subject of Ronnie's concern is a young couple with an apparently shaky grasp of English who had the protesters set upon them like a pack of starved hyenas the first time they tried to approach the clinic. While we've been blessed with a lack of The Runner the Bread of Life gang has more than taken up the confrontational mantle in her absence. Spooked by the yelling and perhaps not comprehending that the people in the pink vests are here to help, the couple turns around and retreats, disappearing around a distant corner. After a while they try coming in from a different direction but once again flee after being spotted.

Now they're across the street, walking past the Mushrooms and the other Catholics. They keep looking in this direction, clearly wanting to come over but intimidated by the religious mob. Sad Eyes and Bad Hat peel off from the group and head over, and seeing them buttonholed is what sets Ronnie off. There's a animated conversation, words drowned out by distance, traffic, and the droning of the shouter currently on speaker. After a bit the couple crosses the street with Ronnie, but pause by the southern corner of the block. About thirty seconds later one of the security guards, an ex-cop who radiates calm and professionalism but also clearly isn't interested in taking shit from anyone, emerges from the clinic and makes his way down. Flanked by three escorts and the guard, the pair finally makes their way inside.

As I shut the door behind them Ronnie takes up the post opposite me, and for the first time in several sessions of having had her as my team leader I spot actual anger in her eyes. She shakes her head, glaring in the direction of the Mean Girls.

"They were lying! Flat out lying! They told her the procedure is very painful, and that the discomfort lasts for days! That's not true." Ronnie takes one deep breath, then another. "Sorry. I was already upset with the way they were hounding them but when I got over there and heard what they were saying, well . . ." She trails off with a wave of her hand.

Mumbles comes back over near me and starts up again, but is quickly drowned out by a produce truck that has pulled up to supply the restaurant next door.

That's okay. I'm sure I can guess what his message is.

* * *

(Day 22)
"There's murder going on behind those doors! Babies are being murdered and you Deathscorts are out here because Satan is your father! Satan was the first murderer! Oh, he's a murderer, the very worst!"

Is he, though?

Over my past few shifts I've been trying to lessen the amount of interaction I have with the protesters. Pseudo-debates littered with their logical fallacies and outright falsehoods are pointless in the first place, and aside from distraction engaging with them seems foolhardy. It can be frustrating to let their grandiose lies go unchecked or to ignore when they project and refer to *me* as 'fake news,' but that's not why I'm out here. We escorts are essentially their only audience - their sermons are unintelligible in the waiting room, a vague murmur easily drowned out by a TV. When they're bragging about someone from a year ago who changed their mind and had the baby instead, it seems clear that their shaming and harassment tactics have an extremely high failure rate on their own and don't need me shooting my mouth off.

Still . . .

For people who refer to and quote the Bible CONSTANTLY they seem to have curious gaps of knowledge, intentional or not. Despite the fact I'm certainly no scholar of the Scriptures, Parker's statement about Satan's murderous ways seems off to me. It's late in the morning on another scorcher and there's not a patient in sight, so I figure that maybe it's okay to relent just a little.

It's not, but I do it anyway.

"Who did Satan kill?"

Parker pauses in his oration, donning a smirk. "Have you never heard of Job's children?"

"Yes, but he was commanded by God to do that, no? In that insane bet where they destroy Job's life, torture him, kill his kids, and so on? Was he supposed to not obey God?" If I'd been more well-versed I would have remembered that the kids got resurrected anyway. Mea culpa.

There's a pause that draws out as Parker is clearly trying to bring up other instances of Satan murdering but perhaps finding himself unable to do so. I wait patiently. When the silence is broken it's not Parker but rather Alex, who's sidled up near my elbow.

"Satan crawled into Judas' heart and caused him to betray Jesus, which led to Christ being murdered by the Romans."

I tilt my head and give him the hairy eyeball before turning back to Parker. "So, anything else?"

He pulls his mike back in front of his mouth. "Satan is a liar, the greatest of liars, much like you and your fake news."

I lean back against the wall as he takes off on another tangent. It appears that Satan is not the serial killer they've made him out to be.

Wonder if there's any other people they falsely name 'murderers.' Hmm.

* * *

(Day 22)
"Look at this guy, out here trying to get attention. Just like when he puts all that fake news in his little blog."

The anti-choice folk are not fond of my new cape.

I must give credit where credit is due. Evan, one of my fellow escorts, showed up a few weeks ago wearing a Pride flag as a cape. The fashionable clothing he sports draws their ire in and of itself, but the flag proved an absolute lightning rod. It seemed logical to get one of my own to show support for his bravery and strength.

So I did. 

I've become aware that Pride flag capes are extremely useful in a number of ways. For instance, it hangs down far enough in the back to protect my legs from harmful UV rays. You become a better beacon for people trying to find the clinic entrance - 'Walk toward the guy with the rainbow.' Also, it turns out that if you hold the flag with the same hand of the arm you extend out, it forms a barrier that's difficult to get cult-related propaganda past. Hard to see though as well. All in all, a pretty handy bit of apparel.

"Hey. I gotta show you something."

When Alex says something like that while reaching into his backpack, there could be cause for alarm. However, it turns out he just wants to accessorize as well. 

"So, does this make you angry?" He's sporting a large grin as he pulls out a MAGA hat.

I frown. "I mean, it does in the sense that it exists at all and because of the idiot it stands for, but I'd always figured you folks as Trump voters."

He shakes his head as he zips his bag up. "I didn't vote for Trump."

That's right. He's told me that before. He's a Cruz guy, which is somehow worse. "Then why do you have the hat?"

Alex flashes a smile. "To trigger you guys," he says as he waves it in my direction. With that he heads off down the street to try to provoke the pair of escorts stationed there.

Yes, *I'm* the one looking for attention.

* * *

(Day 23)
"Take a look at all these deathscorts out here and what do you see? They're all white! They're here to help murder black babies! What does that say about them?"

87, 84, 88.

When Parker blows his racist dog whistle, he blows it with volume.

I'm not ruffled by Parker's tirade - while I haven't conducted a detailed analysis on the ethnic breakdown of today's team, he never trots out this tripe when we have obvious PoC in our ranks. The more pressing issue is the noise level, particularly for someone like me who spends most of the morning directly in front of the speakers worn by the screamers. It's amazing that such little boxes can be so effective at amplifying hate and ignorance, which just goes to prove not all technological advances are good ones.

"Any doctor will tell you that at conception all the baby's parts are there!"

88, 83, 87.

Maybe he thinks that if you tell a ridiculous and easily disproved lie loudly enough that magically makes it true?

As per this study, exposure to a decibel level over 85 is considered unhealthy. I've installed a sound meter on my phone and the results are somewhat disturbing. He's regularly spiking over 85 today and it doesn't feel like he's got his amp turned up as high as it usually is. A few shifts ago the police showed up early to tell Hinton he had to turn his speaker down, but aside from the visit by the health inspector/noise control who showed up during a convenient-and-not-at-all-suspicious lull by the screamers the protesters generally crank their speakers as high as they'll go without creating feedback. Since city ordinances allow them to begin using amps at 8 o'clock those of us stationed in front of the doors are exposed three hours of listening to the equivalent of a power drill.

Is it sad that I'd prefer the screeching of the tool?

"Adultery, fornication, blasphemy, homosexuality, you're going to have to stand before God for your sins!"

89, 86, 92.

Spreading the word of Jesus through threats and intimidation tactics brings Parker to the level of a hair dryer, which seems appropriate given the amount of hot air he's blowing around. It makes for a wonderful juxtaposition a few minutes later when he winds down and, with a fortuitous break in traffic, we're given a few moments of relative silence.

Moments later the cars are rushing by again and the moment is gone. It was nice while it lasted.

* * *

(Day 23)
"See, that sign above the entrance - 'Reproductive Rights Center' - that's a lie. There's nothing 'reproductive' going on in there, there's nothing but children being slaughtered."

The Pastor believes this, I think. Not sure if his ignorance is due to being na├»ve or harboring a willingness to remain in that state, but either way it's wrong. Indeed, they do provide abortions. Pretty damn up front about it on their website. Of course, it also lists all of the other services they offer, from birth control to checkups and so on, but that doesn't fit the Pastor's agenda and so he isn't talked about.

Instead he's on a lengthy diatribe about the Creation myth which, judging by his comments, he believes to be true. That humans came from an all-powerful being who made them to be pets and kept them ignorant. That genetic evidence be damned, we all came from the same two people. That a serpent made us be bad, although if Adam and Eve never got 'knowledge' then how would there have ever been other people?

He believes in a fairy tale - a bad one - and wants to use it and other ridiculous stories to force other people to live their lives the way he thinks they should. I cannot be the only person who finds that frightening. They way they lie and try to twist scientific fact to support their groundless positions is alarming - wrap yourself in your faith and you're justified. You're doing God's work by spreading his word. Is it still considered spreading if you're trying to ram it down someone's throat? Or using it to wrap them up in chains they want no part of?

That's a question I don't bother asking. I don't need a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge to know that answer.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

I Don't Want to Belong to Any Club That Would Accept Me as One of Their Members - Dispatches from my Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth 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. Days 15/16. Day 17.)

(Day 19)
"You know, I'm not surprised that you brought that up, probably because you found it on Google."

After a miserable Spring the weather is finally gorgeous - a perfect day to be doing something, anything, other than dealing with the crew of protesters outside the women's clinic in Englewood. For the first time in several shifts I start the morning out on the wing, but as we hit the halfway point Lexi has moved me back in by the door to give the guy who'd been there a break from the screamers. Alex is quick to renew our acquaintance, so to speak, and quick to pounce when I mention that the current screamer is violating Biblical law by wearing clothes woven with more than one fabric.

"See, you're wrong, and I'll tell you why." He's not shouting and his voice is earnest. This is clearly something he deeply believes in. "The Ten Commandments, those are God's ultimate laws, and they always apply. What you brought up was part of the laws for the Israelites, and those don't apply anymore."

I *am* wrong, at least according to the unknown (to me) tenets of his religious sect. It seems like yet another case of Biblical cherry-picking at work, wherein they adhere to what they like and ignore the rest, but getting into deep discussion of the true meaning behind Leviticus 19:19 or Deuteronomy 22:9-11 really doesn't interest me.

Later they tell Lexi that she needs to read my blog because I'm planning on usurping her position as leader. I hadn't been planning on it but she *is* wearing socks that are clearly a blend . . .

* * *

(Day 19)
"So that's Fake News. He writes in his little blog, fills it with lies."

What, no 'Keyboard Warrior' this week? I'm hurt.

Parker and Alex are standing with someone named Don as I lean against the wall of the clinic, the former pointing in my direction. I've seen this guy around before - must be someone important to the protesters, given the way they defer to him - but if I did there was nothing memorable about the experience.

I'm always a little tickled when they refer to me as 'Fake News,' since their accusations are patently untrue. Allow me to use this space to make an offer: Protesters - the ones reading this, like you do - please feel free to call me out on anything I've written about that you think I made up. I will gladly admit that while I attempt to get our exchanges down verbatim there's no way I've gotten every word exactly correct, but I haven't lied about anything. Fire away.

"Do you know who Norman Bates is?" The question comes from Don and it takes a second to realize he's addressing me. Muttonchops is taking his time getting set up for his turn on the speaker - no complaints here - and there are no patients in sight. That's when the protesters usually target the escorts for abuse and this morning is no exception.

I want to make sure I've heard him correctly because this seems pretty far out of left field. "What?"

"Do you know who Norman Bates is?" he repeats, half-smirk already in place. This is a loaded question, no doubt, but I simply have to know where he's going with it.

"The character from Psycho? Uhm, yes."

"Yeah, he was a legend in his own mind too!" The three of them break into braying laughter as I glance over at  Lexi, nonplussed. The Queen of the Sidewalk - although by morning's end they'll have demoted her to Princess, the heartless cads - has no answer for me, offering a bewildered shrug. Was it a joke? I think it was a joke. I suppose I should treat it as a joke.

I nod for a few more seconds before barking out a laugh. "Oh, I get it!" Pause. "You think you're witty!"

From his sour expression it doesn't appear he appreciates *my* sense of humor either. A little while later he sidles up next to me. "See, it's funny because -"

I start laughing again. "You're explaining why your joke is funny? Dude. If you have to explain it . . ." I trail off and shrug as he moves away, muttering. Turns out his joke was fake news.

* * *

(Day 19)
"What? You're wrong. In fact, that's why Toys R US went out of business!"

You might need to borrow a springboard if you want to join Alex on this leap.

He's chatty today, trying to make me see the error of my ways as often as possible. It's not quite as amusing as The Runner continuing to incorrectly tell the male companions she's harassing that it's Father's Day, but at times it gets close. He's been going on about how every baby is a gift from God and how important they are, and when I mention that babies are one thing in the world there's no shortage he pounces with the line above.

Lexi and I manage to both look at each other and roll our eyes simultaneously. "That's not why, Alex. They were bought up by vulture capitalists who then rolled the debt into the company as they sold off assets and bled it dry."

"Yeah, but there being less kids is a part of it. Even a small part is a part."

There are times when you're involved in an intelligent discussion that you'd like to continue. This is not one of them.

* * *

(Day 20)
"See, you keep changing your answer! You keep moving the goalposts!"

Part of the problem with the buffer zone being gone is that there's more opportunity for interaction with the protesters. Almost invariably they try to drag you into their well-rehearsed 'logic' traps, which only count as logic if you're willing to accept that at any time they'll pull out the God card and insist that means they've won. It's even more tiresome then it sounds, and the fact that it's already above ninety degrees this morning makes it even less appealing. The guy currently trying to weave his web of words is new to me, a youngish guy who earlier was desperately trying to escape Our Lady of the Theater. He's got on black jeans and a shirt under a long-sleeved shirt, which given the heat and humidity seems like a modern version of flagellating yourself with reeds.

Josh - I think his name is Josh or Joshua or Who The Fuck Cares - is coming at me on two fronts: he wants me to admit I can't have moral objectivity without God while also demonstrating how human laws are fallible. He's trying to accomplish the latter by using slavery as an example, which is going over about as well as you'd expect. The goal is to draw a parallel to how it was morally repugnant but legal then, just like - say it with me - they consider abortion to be now. It's a facile argument at best, but one he sticks doggedly to when not veering off to ask me when a fetus becomes a human. I make the mistake of changing my opinion from the end of the second trimester to when it's viable outside the womb, which leads to a whole new attack angle that eventually follows the circular argument back to where it started, yet again.

Later I'm gently admonished by my team leader for engaging too much. It's difficult to disagree with her assessment.

* * *

(Day 19)
"Ladies, before you go in there to murder your baby let me tell you about Hagar."

My eyes widen. Really? He's going with Hagar? I'm dying to hear how Don is going to spin this one.

"Pregnant, she went off into the desert to die, but there she found God, who told her that if she worshipped him her son would have twelve sons and they would all be princes! And that's what happened!"

Ah. He's going for a full-on ridiculous version. Got it.

"Hey," I ask, "what did they become princes of?"

Don stops and stares at me. "What? Have you not heard of Abram?"

"I asked what they became princes of. A prince is royalty. I can't imagine there were twelve openings lying around waiting to be snatched up, so what exactly were they princes of?"

He stares for a moment before dismissing me with a wave. "Look it up, it's in the Bible."

It's not, though. At least not in the versions I know, which has to be taken with a grain of salt because it seems like each new branch of this cult cherry-picks and sanitizes their own version. There's a good chance their holy text does indeed grant the fantasy that they all became princes, but in any case it's a very strange choice of story to use to try to dissuade women from having a child they don't want. I mean, super bizarre. 

For those not familiar with the tale, let's take a quick and magical ride through Don's choice, which (trigger warning) features slavery, abuse, and rape. FUN. Abraham (or Abram) is in his eighties and decides he needs to sire a kid. His wife, Sarai (or Sarah), has insides that are rocky and infertile, so she offers her husband her slave Hagar (or Agar) as a brood mare. Abraham gets Hagar pregnant through what is unlikely to have be consensual sex because SLAVE but hey, he's going to have a kid so it's all good. Hagar is none too pleased about this - can't imagine why - and her attitude ticks off Sarai, who starts carping at Abraham about it. The doting father-to-be is such a good and caring person that he more or less washes his hands of the situation,  telling Sarai that it's her slave and she can handle this however she wants. Sarai 'mistreats' Hagar, which can be interpreted in a number of ways but let's assume physical and emotional abuse. THESE ARE SUCH GOOD PEOPLE.

Hagar, deciding she's better off possibly dying in the desert than staying near Sarai, flees. She meets an angel, who is *surely* not a hallucination caused by dehydration, and is told she should trust in a god that is likely not one she worhips (she's Egyptian). Her son will have 'descendants without number' which serves as enticement enough for her to go back to a horribly abusive situation. She gives birth to Ishmael and everything is great until Sarai gets pregnant (!) and has a son of her own. After catching Ishmael teasing the kid she demands that Abraham throw them out and disown his firstborn, which of course he does. With God's encouragement, no less. Are you charmed by this tale yet?

So Hagar and Ishmael go wander the desert for a while. Then Ishmael has a dozen kids who all become tribal chiefs, which seems legit for the unknown son of a slave to accomplish. Chiefs, not princes. THE END of this inspiring story.

I'm less concerned about Don exaggerating about princes than that he thinks this is a good story for changing women's minds about unwanted pregnancies. Maybe it's more effective if they're slaves.

* * *

(Day 19)
"Yeah, we do stuff for foster kids. Absolutely we do. We do."

I'm a little shocked at how unconvincing Alex sounds. I can't possibly be the first person who has asked him why he and his brethren seem to care more about unwanted zygotes than actual living, breathing children, but he seems caught off guard by the question. 

"I mean, I don't understand why you wouldn't focus your efforts on helping kids that are already alive and need a home. You keep telling patients that you have couple who would love to adopt their baby. Why not have those people do something for the kids already in need?" As he starts to formulate an answer I add, "Do you care more about the embryos than actual kids?"

"They're not embryos, they're children. And yes, they're more important to us."

I do an actual double-take. "Really? You think it's better for you to be here?"

"Absolutely. There's more of a crowd for us to spread the gospel of Jesus and help save these people from going to Hell. Like you." He looks for a second like he wants to pat me on the shoulder, but wisely does not. "I pray for you all the time."

"Okay," I say with a dismissive wave. "So what you're saying is that fetuses are more important than kids in foster care, but preaching your doctrine is what matters most?"

"Yes, because we can save more souls that way. We got to many places where there's a crowd."

So. Women struggling with a difficult decision are shamed, mocked, belittled, spoken down to, and pelted with guilt in what amounts to a recruiting effort for the protesters' particular sect of the cult they follow. Would Alex's words be echoed by his cohorts, or is this just a personal tack for his own zealotry? I try to wrap my mind around the concept of thinking that I want people to join my club so very much I'm willing to say horrible things to them, to dance as close to edge of the law as I can to impede them, to make them feel like some kind of monster. 

 I can't. I lack the faith, I suppose.

Or maybe I just don't want my own Hagar.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Battle for Valedictorian Must Have Been Brutal - Dispatches 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 - Dispatches 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! - Dispatches 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 ones 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 approaches 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.