Thursday, January 12, 2012

In the Land of the Blind...

...they say the one-eyed man is king.  Don't know the similar analogy for legs.

In a previous post, I referred to an injury that affected both legs. 

The pain increased, and after meeting with a number of top doctors, we realized the only realistic option was an amputation below-knee on both legs.  My prognosis for a normal life was much better with prostheses, and, indeed, I have never regretted the decision.  I could not have moved on in my previous condition.  I will spare my readers the entire rehab process, but will share one incident which drove me.

When I was in rehab, I saw a man with his wife and two children being helped up onto a board.  He had been sitting on his stoop one day, and was the accidental victim of a drive-by shooting involving a drug deal gone bad.  Wrong place, wrong time.  He would always be paralyzed from the neck down.   I was determined that day that I would never complain about my situation, as I was going to walk out of that place.

I was going to move on from this, but realized that by doing so, it would seem like I was avoiding the subject, so let me deal with all here, as opposed to dealing with it in every other posts.

Frankly, it’s been a source of pride over the years that while I know actors and other craftsman that were bi-lateral below-knee amputees, I don’t know anyone who worked as a First Assistant Director who worked with prostheses.

In the beginning, I wouldn’t discuss it with potential employers, though I walked with a cane.  I used to make a joke that I couldn’t catch PAs, but I could trip them.   OK, I never actually tripped a PA, but I thought about whacking one with it (and definitely a production designer or two).

That was a joke I made because I felt I had to address it during interviews.  Film is, in many ways, a bastion of stupid prejudices.  I remember having women who worked with me as 2nd ADs who couldn’t get respect from male crew because they weren’t used to taking instruction from women.  I have a friend who is a very talented AD who I know for a fact was turned down for one job because he was Black.  This was with an established television actor who was directing.  Thankfully, both of these things would be rare today, but they point to the fact that in many ways, film can still be an old-boys network.

I rarely had problems with people once on set, though.  As I got older, I would feel more comfortable taking a chair when AD on an interior.  In the early days, I would never take a chair, and if I got really tired, would pull up an apple box, which seemed more manly and acceptable.  The reality of prostheses is that they don’t hurt – I mean, they’re hard plastic and steel – and my legs got tired where the prostheses rested much the same way an AD without prostheses would have their feet get tired after being on them all day.   I once read that the Directors Guild of America had done a study that ADs had a life expectancy of something like seven years shorter than the average male (this was when most of them were male), and much of this came from time on their feet, stress, and inability to use rest rooms when needed.  None of this was different for someone with prostheses.

I was an AD on a feature once where the main character’s father had lost his leg in an accident.  This movie was shot near Walden Pond, and was especially difficult for me as it involved a good deal of going up and down hills and time on sandy shores, neither of which are particularly good for prostheses.  Still, I never failed to get anywhere on time.  In fact, I had a habit of pacing a lot, especially on this shoot, where the director and I did not get along at all.

One day we were doing a scene where the father, who was not really an amputee, had to put on an artificial leg.  He had no idea how to do it, of course, and they had chosen a very old model that no one would use anymore anyway.  I took the actor aside before the scene and showed him how to work with it.  When we did the scene where he was to walk with the prosthetic, the director made a comment how someone with an artificial leg (only one mind you) couldn’t possibly do stairs.  This amused the actor, and many of my regular crew, who had seen me go up and down stairs and hills with two artificial legs over and over.

I will share the funnier stories having to do with my situation when I can tell them in context, especially given the characters involved.  For the time being, suffice to say that I consider myself lucky to have worked in this business my entire life, and given everything and obstacles others have, I have no complaints.

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