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.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution - Dispatches from my Thirteenth Day as an Escort at a Women's Clinic

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series: Start here with Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. Day 7. Day 8. Days 9/10/11. Day 12. )

"You guys should be wearing vests or something."

I don't disagree, but without my lock picking tools there's not much I can do about it at the moment.

It's not quite hot, not quite cold in the early morning outside of the clinic. Last week had evidently been a madhouse - over 30 protesters - so the security guards requested that we get someone there a little early to occupy space by the front doors. I'm rattling around at an ungodly hour most mornings anyway and so was happy to volunteer to be that huckleberry, but when I arrive at 7:20am the doors are still locked. That's to be expected - the clinic doesn't open until 8. By 7:30 or so, however, we have company. After giving me a dubious stare a patient walks up and tries the door, only to be thwarted. After putting her at ease about who I am I'm not sure what to do with her. Neither is Connie, another escort who shows up moments later.

Nurses are arriving and being buzzed in, but a quick peek inside before the door closes confirms the guard isn't there yet. Meantime the Sienna belonging to one of the regular protesters has shown up and is idling across the street. The potential for the morning starting off in a very bad way is looming - if they figure out that the woman standing behind me is a patient there's going to be blood in the water, so to speak.

I voice my concerns to the woman, but she waves a hand and gives me a sardonic smile. "I don't know what you're talking about. I'm not a patient, I'm an escort like you."

Thank goodness people are smarter than I am.

In the end I've done a lot of fretting over nothing: the guard shows up at 7:45 or so and the protesters don't leave the warmth of their vehicles until 8am. Our erstwhile co-escort takes her leave with a nod as we don our bright green vests.

* * *

"Is he allowed to go in there?"

The person asking me is one of the protesters, but it's a good question. I'm wondering the same exact thing, especially since the guy was just across the street taking pictures.

It's about 9:20 and for the last fifteen minutes or so we've been blessed with silence. After thirty-plus protesters clogging the streets last week we've only got a dozen or so this morning and they seem a bit listless. 

Well, except for The Runner, of course.

Anyway, after running through his spiel twice Parker has turned off his amp and shambled away. The only other possible screamer I can see is Muttonchops, but he makes no move toward the coveted oration spot directly in front of the doors. This is highly irregular, as usually there's a concerted effort by the protesters to make sure someone is always blaring away. Given that they're missing several of the more toxic members of their crew today, perhaps they just lack the manpower.

Or maybe it's something else.

I glance over at Connie, who also looks concerned. A quick glance confirms there's no patients currently inbound, so with a shrug I slip inside. The guy is talking to the guard at the desk and all seems fine. I release a breath I wasn't aware I'd been holding as they finish their conversation and he exits past me with a nod. As I push the door shut behind me I cock an eyebrow at the guard.

"Health inspector," he says. At my puzzled expression he adds, "Because of the noise."

Right. Last week one of the escorts downloaded an app and clocked the decibel reading, which came in at one hundred. In case you're wondering, that's pretty high. I nod and head back outside, encouraged that the city is responding to a complaint and trying to make the entire experience a little easier for the patients. Rotten luck that he showed up when there was a lull in the screaming.

As I retake my post outside I see the health inspector having what appears to be a friendly conversation with Parker. I suppose I could be suspicious about the timing of how this has played out - they go silent, he shows up -  but really, even if there was something going on it wouldn't matter. The mere threat of being ticketed is sufficient to do the job.

Indeed, when Muttonchops fires up his speaker and begins preaching the Gospels right after the health inspector leaves, his volume is tolerable. Instead of shaming and condemning he tries to convert us instead. It's less onerous than babble of the rabid screamers, but if I have to listen to something amplified I'd rather hear The Clash.

* * *

"Oh! It's Q-Tip! We thought she was dead!"

Carol, usually a team leader but today just one of us, points to a woman in a red coat. "She used to always wear this tall, white hat along with white boots, hence the name." She gives a little laugh. "Been a long time. We were never sure she was all there."

Carol's tone isn't mean-spirited and she may have a point, as Q-Tip is currently yelling at cars as they drive by. Her well-made sign features a big picture of Jesus next to the words PRAY TO END ABORTION. How do I know this? Because she's holding her sign backwards, facing away from the vehicles she's hollering at. When she wanders behind an orating Parker I can see that the other side has a message scrawled on it in red marker but I can't make it out. She begins echoing his rhetoric, basically doing a callback to each of his lines. It's odd.

Carol recalls a time when someone young and handsome was here filming footage for a documentary of some sort. Q-Tip, in attendance, was evidently quite smitten and made a play for him. Alas, love on the streets of Englewood was not to be. As to why she's been away for so long, nobody knows. Well, nobody on our side cares. The protesters have lives beyond their Saturday mornings. Perhaps they get screamed at somewhere else. That would be appropriate.

Q-Tip lasts about ninety minutes before wandering off. Maybe next time she'll have the correct ensemble.  

* * *

"Did . . . did he just say that?"

Connie is staring at me with raised eyebrows, one hand covering her mouth.

Yes. Yes, he did. And we're not sure what to make of it.

My past two or three shifts I've been stationed by the entrance, tasked with taking up space and getting the door opened and closed as quickly as possible. Standing in front of the screamers for three or four hours isn't much fun, but I've gotten pretty good at tuning them out. Today's lower decibels help.

The screamers, for the most part, repeat well-worn scripts that feature their favorite tropes. I can understand why, as their targets are usually people who haven't heard them before. Not much repeat traffic, so why bother working up new material? Sure, the escorts are bored by the repetition (and the half-truths, generous interpretations, and outright lies) but we're not the ones they're caterwauling at.

Most of the time, anyway. When there's lulls in patient intake the screamers often shift their focus to us and I get to hear about how Satan is my daddy or that I care more about dogs than babies. I'm not the kind of person who gets bothered by stuff like that, so my reaction is more laughing than seething. The removal of the buffer zones has given us the freedom to respond if we wish, although I don't usually engage. George Carlin said it best - "Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience."

I can't help tweaking Parker when he misquotes the Bible - 'Pride goes before the fall' isn't even close. He responds with the correct verse, fixing me with a sour glare. He's given us his base rant three times already this morning and we're expecting a fourth when he veers off in a new direction.

"You know, George Washington was our first supreme commander, and he said you can't have a nation without God and the Bible."

That's true enough - I'm currently reading Cheronow's Washington right now, as a matter of fact - but that's some serious cherry-picking that I'm not willing to let slide.

"Okay, but he also had a whole bunch of slaves," I say with shrug. I plan on listing a few more of Washington's shortcomings that might help illustrate why every word he uttered shouldn't be considered as the bedrock of our nation, but Parker cuts me off.

"That's evolution."

My response dies unspoken because, well, how does one answer that? I'm uncertain if I'm silent because I'm not sure what he meant or stunned that he said it, but Connie's stunned reaction confirms the likelihood that it's the latter. We look back at him, shaking our heads, half-laughing, unable to articulate.We are, for lack of a better word, flabbergasted.

Parker moves on to Dred Scott and Hitler, trying to compare us to the latter, but it's difficult to put your true colors away once you've run them up the flagpole and let them fly. Not long after he kills his amp and wanders away, returning blessed silence to the street.

Some words still hang in their air, though.

* * *

"I don't care if she said no! I only listen to the patient!"

The shift is winding down and to be honest, it's been a pretty easy one. Large swaths of time with no screamers, the absence of certain toxic individuals, and a general lethargy among the protesters has made the morning somewhat low-stress to this point. 

That can't last, though, because The Runner is here.

She's had a bit of a tough day, dropping her propaganda and cheap blue rosaries all over the place numerous times. Her insistence at continuing to talk to a closed door with the blare of the screamers overpowering her still doesn't make any sense, but she's got to stay true to her muttering self, I suppose. She's nowhere in sight when a patient and her companion exit the clinic and ask for an escort to their car, but it doesn't take long for her to materialize like a TIE fighter behind Gold Leader when we start walking.

"So we have a number of different ways we can help you -"

"Not interested," says the companion.

"We have a website you can go to, I have some literature right -"

There's a bit of a hard edge to the companions voice as she repeats, "Not interested."

"Okay, now this tract will tell you -"

"Jeryl," says Daniel, the other escort walking with us. "She said no. Twice."

The Runner turns and comes as close to an actual snarl as I've ever seen from her. "I don't care if she said no! I only listen to the patient! She's not the patient!"

The patient, who is pretty woozy and clearly not interested in any of this, gives my arm a tug and points in front of us. "That's my car."

I nod as we keep moving, Daniel sidestepping the branches of a tree that force The Runner to change her path. I don't know if the two of us staying with the patient all the way up the street is what deters her from trying to follow and shove plastic fetuses through the window of the car, but having her peel off before we reach the vehicle is good enough. The patient and companion depart, leaving the Runner and her selective hearing behind. At least she can't blame it on overly loud speakers today.