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.

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