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Meet my pal Joe

“Hey, it’s my pal, Joe Scheidler!” I said, happily, seeing the white-bearded man on the corner of Madison and Wacker holding a 5-foot-tall sign showing a fetus at eight weeks. I pumped his hand. Good old Joe, known him for years.

“Honey,” I said to my wife, who works downtown now and commutes with me. “This is the famous Joe Scheidler, national director of the Pro-Life Action League.”

He stuck out his gloved hand. She looked at it.

After nearly 25 years of marriage, you’d think I’d know the woman. But I forget. My wife’s a hardass. When I found myself in a booth at Gene & Georgetti, having coffee with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, I also forgot. We were getting on, bonding and, wanting to show off, I asked Blagojevich if he’d mind saying hello to my wife. I dialed the cellphone, handed it to him. “Hello!” he said in his fake butch voice. “This is Governor Rod Blagojevich!” The smile died on his face. He mechanically handed me back the phone.

“What are you doing?” my wife spat. “I didn’t even vote for him. Come home.”

But that was over the phone. Face to face with Joe, 87, father of seven, grandfather of 23, she melted — a little. After a moment that lasted an eternity, she took his hand with her left and gave it a single squeeze. We continued on our way, pushing east on Madison.

“The left hand doesn’t count,” she said.

“Why didn’t you want to shake Joe’s hand?” I wondered.

“He’s trying to take my rights away,” she said.

That’s true. And maybe I’m overly affected by my job, which involves continually talking with people of whom I disapprove. But the entire idea of shunning people is alien to me. I can’t imagine someone so loathsome that I’d completely ignore him in person. Jay Mariotti, I suppose. I wouldn’t just not shake his hand, but I’d turn and flee, fingers fluttering at my temples, shrieking like a coed in a slasher film.

I doubled back to talk to Joe. If you haven’t noticed, abortion rights are eroding all over the country. The Arizona Senate passed a bill that would require abortion doctors to provide their home addresses to the government to make it easier for fanatics to find them and harass them. A Kansas bill would bar the most common form of abortion after the first trimester. The Montana legislature is exploring requiring doctors to administer anesthesia to fetuses.

And on and on.

“You’re winning,” I said to Scheidler.

“We are,” he replied. “We’ve had a lot of good comments today. I feel a change in the atmosphere. The attitudes are really changing. We’ve been doing this for years. I don’t know how many people have come up and said thanks for what you’re doing, glad you’re out here. Things are changing.”

Less harassment from commuters?

“We get some,” he said. “But not nearly the way it used to be.”

His wife, Ann, stood a few feet away, handing out colorful brochures titled “Life before birth,” showing a close-up of a fetal face and hands, providing the straight dope on abortion: “Long-term psychological and spiritual effects include guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, sense of loss, nightmares, death scenes, deterioration of self-image, and even suicide,” it reads. Joe introduced us, and I couldn’t help but notice that she warmly shook my hand, despite my being morally opposed to just about everything she holds dear.

Maybe that’s why I like Joe. He’s battling for what he believes. The people who believe otherwise, well, they’re just sort of sitting there, letting it happen.