Thursday, March 12, 2020

And in This Corner, Standing Six-Foot-Two-Inches and Weighing in at One-Hundred-Ninety-Four Pounds, From the Fighting City of . . . Dispatches from Days 36-39 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. Days 21/22/23Days 24-31. Day 32. Day 33Days 34-35.)

(yeah there's no set schedule anymore, stuff sometimes happens and when it does I write about it. Be safe, be well, and be happy. Thanks for reading and feel free to share.)

(Day 39)

Turns out Scrubs is a *wee bit* sensitive about his height.

In my defense, I'm in no way looking to get into a scrap (or two) this morning. Not that I would have time to even if I so desire. The sidewalk is pure bedlam, with over two dozen protesters doing their best to make things impassable while pretending that they aren't. Not sure what got added to their cornflakes this morning but from the get-go they're been aggressive, confrontational, and agitated. Not that those are new traits emerging, but the combination of vitriol and high-energy appears to be approaching fever pitch.

No doubt much of that is due to the buffer zone, which still sticks in their collective craw like a popcorn hull caught in their back teeth. Parker starts the morning off blatantly standing in the opening closest to the street, ignoring my protest. He moves over enough to allow passage when confronted by one of the clinic guards, but he's still in violation. We dutifully take pictures that will be forwarded to the city council, each one of their childish nose-thumbings serving to further bolster our case for the buffer zone to be equipped with protections that carry the legal equivalent of sharp teeth. It's doing my best to protect the sanctity of the area that leads me into having someone bellow into my face - uhm, chest.

I'm try to shoo Parker's stepson - a tall, lanky kid who drank all the kool-aid, made another pitcher, and drank that too - out of the zone. He's screaming at the door while walking through at a snail's pace, something he knows he's not allowed to do. His pace increases as I get behind him, clapping my hands and yelling at him to move it along. As we get to the edge Scrubs says something - I have no idea what - and drifts into the zone himself, getting in the way. I allow myself a half an eye roll and say, "Out! Out! You too, little guy!"

As indicated above, this off-the-cuff remark punches Scrubs' buttons and sets him off. Now he's stepped in front of me, chest all puffed up and spittle flying from his mouth, as he starts screaming about a variety of things - I don't catch most of it, but I'm pretty sure I'm threatened both physically and with eternal damnation. My response is a smile, which serves to make him ever more apoplectic. He's full on-ranting at me now, which is fine as two more sets of patients with companions slip by while the protesters focus on me. Scrubs is practically speaking in tongues by the time some of the others pull him away. Runner Lite, his wife, is staring daggers in my direction. At least the stepson is out of the buffer zone for now.

Settling back into my post, I thank my amazing team members for staying on point while things almost dissolved into a live game of Street Fighter. I'm glad it didn't descend into violence - nobody needs that - and the surge of adrenaline I hadn't realized had kicked in begins so subside. The possibility of a sidewalk brawl appears to have passed. Scrubs won't find his desired fisticuffs on this sidewalk.

Not today, anyway.

* * *

(Day 39)

Oy, here we go again. 

To the immediate south of the clinic's entrance is a fairly high-end restaurant. Over the past few years they've been expanding their presence on the sidewalk: tables; plants; valet parking kiosks, propane heating towers; and so on. All their stuff reduces the amount of open space available, which doesn't help us much. The fact they open at 11:30am is a boon, though, as the owner has zero patience for anyone bothering his customers and is no doubt partially the reason the protesters break camp before then. Still, navigating obstacles isn't much fun, especially when the sidewalk is jammed with shrieking cultists.

Coming from that direction there's a choke point right at the edge of our buffer zone, a narrow passage delineated by a large planter and one of the gas towers. While the impediments can be useful for scraping off unwanted tag-alongs like barnacles from a ship they make for very close quarters indeed. Before the return of the buffer zone it was even worse, as Parker would do his best to claim a spot on the side of the planter closest to the front doors. Given the piss and vinegar the protesters seem fueled with this morning the narrow passage has become a hotly contested sort of no-man's-land. Staying there would impede passage, something they know they aren't permitted to do, but they're not above pausing in the space while we're ushering patients through or making sure they can squeeze into a flanking position. Wary of the ever-present threat of litigation via The Runner, we do our best to avoid contact. Given how we're outnumbered and crammed into tight quarters, that's not always feasible. Arms bump into arms, hands against coats, elbows against signs. It happens. 

As evidenced by my earlier confrontation with Scrubs, hackles are already up. Each time we bring someone through the bottleneck it feels like the space is getting smaller, more constricted. As two of my team start bringing a woman and her companion our way the protesters surge in that direction like hyenas sensing an unguarded carcass. I move as well, back toward the street with left arm extended, trying to set a human barrier for those who are incoming. I'm leaning forward and a little off-balance when I'm solidly struck just inside my left shoulder blade by what I assume to be one of the protesters' signs. 

There's no thought, just reaction. I straighten up and throw my shoulder back. My intent is to get the sign off but there's much heavier contact than expected. The caravan of escorts and patients starts to stream by and - and suddenly I'm getting screamed at.


I turn around to discover Angry Grandpa in my face, livid and yelling at the top of his lungs. I've detailed his grossness before, and it's safe to say he hasn't become any more palatable as time has marched on. Evidently he was the person who'd run into me from behind and whom got knocked back when I'd reacted. Words are pouring out of him, the specifics of which are lost on me, but the gist of it is that he's quite displeased. Other protesters have crowded in behind him and joined in the cacophony, some insisting that I'd hit him on purpose.

Given the circumstances I make what could - well, should - be deemed a poor decision and state that I didn't deliberately hit him because if I had he'd be flat on his back several feet away. My intention is to clarify that any contact between us was accidental but yeah, I didn't phrase it well. There's another twenty or thirty seconds of shouting from the lot, during which I offer to get the security footage from the clinic and let us all see exactly what occurred. There are no takers for that offer - just more vitriol - and, not seeing the point in standing there any longer, I make a dismissive hand gesture and walk away.

There's more sporadic shouting but for the most part it seems over as I retake my position of standing between Parker's stepson, who is on the loudspeaker, and the clinic. He doesn't like this at all and tells me numerous times during the interminable hour-plus he spends screaming that it's illegal for me to do so (it is not). I don't think Angry Grandpa is going to try anything but from time to time I mark his location, so I'm not startled when he approaches me after the stepson takes mercy on us and shuts the hell up. I'm not sure what's going to happen but . . . an apology? That catches me off guard. .

He's contrite, ashamed for whatever it was he said to me, and now I find myself thrust into a strange position. Do I stay silent? Do I tell him to piss off? Do we hug it out? I don't like him and likely never will, but being out here on the sidewalk isn't about me or my preferences. The patients, here for what will likely be one of the most difficult, stressful, and upsetting days of their lives, need to encounter less drama, not more. Anything with even the slightest possibility of engendering a small modicum of peace out here is more important than how ruffled my feathers might be (which by this time is 'not at all,' as I can't remember much, if any, of what he said).

I accept his offered olive branch and we exchange 'shouldn't have happened, just an accident' before shaking hands. For a moment I'm almost tempted to raise my opinion of him, even just a little.

One of the protesters, a young woman who earlier was kind enough to inform me that I was going to hell unless I changed my ways, comes over to check on Angry Grandpa. His eyes light up as she asks if he's okay.

"I'm fine, honeybunny! How are you?"

Eww. Nope.

* * *

(Day 39)
"See, she's crying because she doesn't want to go in there!"

There's lacking in self-awareness, sure. But this is some next-level shit.

As a CIS white guy I will never have to know what it's like to have to run a gauntlet of people screaming at me because they think they should be the ones making decisions about what I do with my body. I'll never have to endure being shamed from all sides, having propaganda thrust in my face, being told distortions and straight-out lies by those who seek to add me to their flock. I won't suffer trying to head home, perhaps a bit woozy from the procedure, and being mocked and reviled, cajoled into regret at a vulnerable moment. To witness it shift after shift is maddening, infuriating, revolting - but it's nothing compared to what it must be like to be the focus of their toxicity.

As escorts we only spend brief moments with the patients, tossed together for a journey of a few dozen steps. It's a somewhat impersonal relationship by necessity, as expediency is often more important than familiarity. Still, there are times when a personal connection behooves the patient, a way to help us calm and prepare them for the seething mob of repulsiveness they're going to have to pass through. Every person is different, and so is what they require. Some wave us off and stride through the protesters as if they weren't even there. Others rely on earbuds, drawn-up hoods, or, most often, us.

Maya, today filling the role of an escort but also one of our best and most experienced team leaders, emerges from the clinic. Moments before she'd gone in with a young woman leaning against her as the rest of our crew, myself included, got them there with a shifting, moving caravan besieged on all sides. Angry Grandpa states the above and we marvel at the utter denial of reality it must require to believe that. Maya shakes her head and I notice a stain on her vest, a dark spot high on one side of the pink material. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it's from where the patient's face had been pressed against her on the trip in, the moisture from her tears.

It's possible, via my inadequacies as a writer, that sometimes I don't cover every aspect of what takes place on the sidewalk. By dint of the narrative the focus almost always remains on the protesters, the patients and companions, or both. Their interactions, existing on several levels, provide the conflicts that make for a compelling story. They're ones I wish didn't exist to be told, but that doesn't make them any less real. Along that same vein, escorts are real people with real emotions as well.

(::Cue sad music:: 'Tonight, on a Very Special Episode of Dispatches . . .')

Weak attempt at humor aside, it's impossible to look at a tear stain left behind on an escort's vest and not be affected. It doesn't help that the cause for them are all around us, still braying, still arrogantly refusing to accept that what they want us to believe is altruism on their part is instead bullying of the worst kind. At most I'll be at two shifts a month, and given our rotating pool of escorts it's difficult to spend enough time with any of them to feel comfortable claiming that I know them well. Will this trigger someone's PTSD? Will someone have a breakdown in front of the jackals that surround us? Do I even have time to attempt some sort of emotional triage before the next patient arrives?

It's a complicated dance but when I catch Maya's eye she understands what I'm asking without needing to speak and, with a shake of her head, waves me off. If it's gotten to her she's far too savvy to let her guard down in the midst of such antagonists and besides, another patient is already on her way in our direction. The rest of us join the duo bringing them in.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

* * *

(Day 39.1)

Above I said that Scrubs seemed to be looking for a fight. Well, the week after my shift, he got one. 

According to others (I wasn't there) Scrubs was saying some pretty awful stuff to a woman after she'd exited the clinic. Her husband took exception and, to put it in simple terms, laid him out.

That's a bad thing.

I'm not going to pretend I care about the day-to-day well-being of the protesters. I abhor the things they do and say. They represent so many of the aspects that are wrong with organized religion. They're sad, pathetic people who think they'll find happiness by controlling others and bending them to their beliefs. They repulse me on numerous levels.

That being said, violence should never be the answer.

I am, if anything, surprised it took this long for this to happen. I had a hand in preventing The Runner from getting clobbered a while back and while she's made me consider regretting it numerous times I still know it was the right thing to do. The sidewalk is already chaotic enough without mini-brawls, and having folks throwing hands at each other is not going to make getting patients in and out any easier. 

That's it. I don't have any snarky asides or snide comments to tack on. While I can understand why the husband became irate enough to attack, I hope it proves to be an isolated episode.

Stay safe out there.