"People flip me off all the time," I enthusiastically respond. "So yeah, I can take it."
"OK, we meet Saturday mornings at 8:30 in front of the Temple of Moloch. Or as I like to call it, Planned Deathhood!"
"Can I bring my own protest signs?" I ask Charlie
"What kind of signs do you have?" he responds with what could be mistaken for slight giddiness.
"I made some with poster board and markers."
"Don't worry," Charlie assures. "We have plenty of signs here!"
I'm hoping to become a member of an abortion protest group. Using the All-American name of Monroe Peterson, I ingratiate myself with Charlie by telling him I was an aborted fetus, reincarnated for the purpose of spreading the word that abortion is wrong. Time to match fanaticism with fanaticism!
On Saturday morning, I venture, as directed, to a Planned Parenthood clinic in the South Bay. Situated across from a YMCA in a very quiet neighborhood, my fellow protestors are already in action. I arrive carrying a baby doll floating in a jar with the words Stop Now! written on the outside; I'm wearing an elaborate outfit with tiny baby dolls taped to my shirt.
"Charlie sent me!" I proclaim and am directed toward a short guy manning a street corner; he sports a stocking cap, a mustache, and dark sunglasses, and has a video camera around his neck.
"I think I only missed one Saturday," Charlie says. A true veteran, he's been picketing abortion clinics every Saturday morning for the last 17 years.
And Charlie was right; they do have signs, a million times more elaborate than I could have imagined. The signs are huge. Some are rigged to the back of a truck, along with large American flags. In bold, graphic colors, these signs look like a blender accident gone awry. Their bloody, mangled, twisted fetus images are far more frightening than anything in the movie Seed of Chucky. Sheepishly, I hide my homemade sign, hand-lettered with, "HEY-HEY! HO-HO! ABORTION HAS GOTTA GO!"
"We're just a fellowship of guys who feel it's the Lord's calling to do this. We do it for the Lord, and we do it for the babies," Charlie explains, seeming pleased to have me on board. I feel slightly scared. That is, I'm scared shitless.
"Let's save two lives at a time," I say, smiling weakly and letting out a nervous laugh.
"Are you Catholic or Protestant?" Charlie asks, as if these are the only two options.
"Catholic," I find myself trumpeting, in as much as my religion was not made available. Dave is in charge of showing the Catholics the ropes, while Charlie breaks the new Protestant recruits. Pro-lifers, it seems, are as segregated as a Northern Irish neighborhood.
"I met many women who have had abortions," Charlie says. "I met one woman who's had four abortions, and I told her, `When you get to heaven, you'll get to hold those babies.'"
I nod my head vigorously.
Around the corner, roughly 35 people, on their monthly excursion from a local Catholic church, are on the sidewalk, singing an intense hymn. Some have brought their small kids, making it a family outing.
"It's a bit of a slow day," Dave, a soft-spoken older man wearing glasses and a crew-neck sweater, suggests almost apologetically. "On Saturdays, we usually go to the Planned Parenthood in Santa Clara first."
"What's the deal with the dogs?" I inquire. Several stern-looking Planned Parenthood workers, adorned in Planned Parenthood smocks, are looking on suspiciously as they monitor the facility's parking lot. Several of them have what seem to be vicious German shepherds on leashes. The dogs are running and jumping around, ready for action if a protestor crosses the line.
"They're there to intimidate us," Dave explains. He points to a large Planned Parenthood employee with a gray beard. "One time Curtis let his dog jump at us. And then he said, `There's your dinner!'
"Can you imagine the mindset of that?"
I shrug my shoulders, being unable to imagine this. Meanwhile, on the sidewalk, a frowning man holds a large sign that reads, "Unborn Jesus." It displays an illustrated version of exactly what Unborn Jesus would look like. Unborn Jesus (who is not to be confused with Kung-Fu Grip Jesus or Sporty Spice Jesus) has a full beard, which seems quite a feat for One who is unborn. A Planned Parenthood worker, an older woman, comes to the edge of the parking lot and starts humming loudly, apparently hoping to disrupt the protestors' hymns.
Soft-spoken Dave shakes his head in disapproval.
"That's Lilly," Dave says and then asks why I want to become a sidewalk counselor. I feed Dave exactly the answer he wants to hear.
"I want to save two lives at a time!"
Soft-spoken Dave looks pleased.
Then I add, "Also, I think it would be a great way to meet women," suggesting, subtly, that women who have had abortions must know how to put out. Before Dave fully computes what I've said, I quickly add, "Yeah, that's it, I want to save two lives at a time."
"We can't block the driveway. When you see a car pulling into the parking lot, go up to the window and say, 'Can I give you some literature?'" Dave explains in a soft tone, motioning toward a pamphlet that reads "Simply get up and walk away." It has a God Bless America sticker on the back.
"One woman read the literature, then drove away. That's one child I've saved, and I feel pretty good about that," he says.
A beat-up late-model car driven by a scared-looking teenage guy pulls into the driveway. Soft-spoken Dave saunters over and hands him some literature through the driver's window. Minutes later, a teenage girl gets into the beat-up car. Dave comes back over to me.