Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Night At The Opera and Green Stamps

Some jokes lose all value when the reference becomes archaic.

As indie producers follow the spiral downward in terms of pay for crew, I have already had some DP friends  joke ,"Will shoot for food," and, sadly, they often are not far off, given some of the rates.

I'm old enough to remember people joking that someone wanted to "pay them with Green Stamps," and recently, this thought came to me when I accepted barter in exchange for some work I was doing.

First, an explanation about Green Stamps.

The reference is to S&H Green Stamps. The way it worked was a number of supermarkets, department stores and other retailers would give you these Stamps along with your purchase. The stamps would go into books, and the books could be traded in for items.

As with most "rewards" programs such as this, the work was hardly ever worth the effort. To get anything of real value - you know, more than a new toaster, for example - you needed to amass an amazing number of books, not to mention the embarrassing process of having to put them into the books. Like postage stamps, they had to be moistened on the back.

I can still remember Mom, with the sponge on one side, the books on the other, and stamps in the middle. She created a small assembly line. Remember, our parents were from what Tom Brokaw calls "The Greatest Generation," that had grown up during at least part of the Great Depression. Getting value from everything was important. If some company was going to give something away, they were going to be there to take it.

Even then, however, some people saw how the process outweighed the rewards, and the joke about allowing others to pay you in "Green Stamps" arose from people offering something of little value for barter.

Usually, this is the reference that comes to my mind when I see these "job" notices that offer "meals, IMDB credit, copy of the film and a chance to work with other filmmakers." Nice, except all of those things should go without saying, and in no way change the idea that many of us do this for a living. These are not really forms of compensation - and I already have a toaster.

Now, my case was slightly different, and, to my mind, worked out not so bad at all.

There is a filmmaker who has had a number of projects over the years that required a budget to raise funds, and he has repeatedly come back to me. These were good projects; there is no reason they should not have been funded. One, a feature, had gone up and down the budget ladder in what would look like a Marx Brothers movie if it weren't so sad. The script, based in part on his life, was a good tale of a young man who marries an older woman, who expects them both to live a high life, and keeps them both living lavishly.

The townhouses and rich lifestyle they chase made it impossible to do this in the very low indie mode, say, below $1 million. We budgeted it for the least we could imagine. Then, a big name producer and director wanted to get involved, but, of course, that that upped the budget, so we revised it upward. The result? It's too big a budget- can you cut it?

I've been on this roller coaster before, and while it is frustrating for me, it is more frustrating for the filmmaker. Reasonable changes I do for free - I can't justify making someone pay every time someone wants to tweak something in one direction or the other. In this case, each of the changes was so drastic and so much work that while I charged a good deal less for the revisions, I did require an additional fee.

There were also two other projects, one a documentary, as yet unfunded. Each time he paid me.

This time, he needed something simpler, and asked if I could do it for a little below my regular rate. I really felt bad for the guy - these were all worthy projects, and all he saw was money going out.

"Just give me a number," I told him. I knew he would be fair, and while it was way below what I would have charged someone else, it was more than reasonable.

He works at the Metropolitan Opera, and asked if, in exchange for accepting the lower end of the range we discussed, he could throw in a pair of tickets to the opera.

It was a new production of a contemporary piece, and while I don't ever get to go to the opera any more, I lived with an opera singer, was married to a musician and once directed for a young opera workshop. Sure, I would take the tickets.

Accepting the tickets also allowed me to do something nice for the camera person who is one of my favorite crew people who let me crash at her place when Hurricane Sandy left me with no power for a while.

She had never been, but asked "Can we get dressed up?" Sure, I told her. "Don't let me down," she said, and on the day of, when I reminded her of the time, she reminded me of the promise. There was a little history.

She has her own camera, and a few years back. I line produced a Live from the Artists' Den show for PBS.. I hired her, but told her that the producer wanted all the camera operators to dress in formal wear. She was the only female, and was glad to do so. "Are you going to dress up."

I didn't have the time to change, but joked that one day I would dress in my teen 70s attire - full bell-bottoms, dickey, etc.  Now, most of you may have seen pictures of your folks in bell-bottoms, but dickeys, in their late-60s and early 70s incarnation, were not false tuxedo tops, but rather false turtlenecks. No, I cannot describe why this ever became a fad, and, to borrow from that current fashion reality show, few of us made it work.

Well, even at my Mom's place, most of those clothes are gone, and, sad to say, what may remains no longer would fit. I've gained more than wisdom over the years.

My friend was worried that I would renege again, but, as the picture below can attest, I did not.

Of course, when my loving ex saw the picture, she couldn't resist. "Aw, father and daughter. How cute."

When one of your friends and crew people is also a lovely opera and dinner companion for the evening, let them joke. It's certainly rare that I get to dress up, and there's joy enough in the charm of good company.

The opera that evening. The Tempest, by Englishman Thomas Ades, was written only a few years ago, and this was the first time I got to see a composer conduct his own work (in no small part because most of them are dead).

The opera was wonderful, the coloratura who sang the spirit Ariel being among my favorites.

The next week, my producer friend had another spare pair of tickets, this time to Verdi's Un Ballo en Maschera.  This was a more old-school production, but again, marvelous voices.

Two wonderful evenings of entertainment in return for a small discount. Not bad at all.

Of course, I hope that the general work environment does not become one in this digital age where barter becomes the norm, but heck, I can't complain. I didn't even have to lick any stamps.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When Production People are Extras

How Far Will This Mom Go To Protect Her Turf?: Watch this video of a mother in her natural habitat trying to save a seat on nickmom.

Sometimes, they rope you in to being in the shot. I was line producer on a series of pilots for Nick Moms.

In this episode, myself and my long time First AD Brian Bentham are the two "Dads." Much like on set, Brian is the real star and I'm just a supporting player - the guy in the mustache and beard trying to act in the last row.

To paraphrase My Cousin Vinny - yeah, we blend.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Producers Can Bake - To Help Others

Back in March, I told about an old boss of mine, Dave Tuttle. Dave had a long and successful career as a line producer before becoming a key figure at Gun For Hire, the production arm of Shooting Gallery, and a big part of that company's success (and no part in the part company's subsequent failure).  Dave will be featured in a documentary about Shooting Gallery's meteoric time, titled Misfire: The Rise and Fall of Shooting Gallery.

I said in that original post:

" Dave Tuttle was a former producer and line producer who conceived and led  Gun For Hire, and there wasn't a person who worked for him who didn't rave about the experience.  He disproved the idea that good guys finish last, or that you could either be good and efficient or a nice guy.  Dave was both, and in late 2000, he hired a guy who had been through the indie line producing wars and was ready for a "real" job - me.

I was almost 43 then, and probably older that what the position suggested.  Dave didn't care; he saw what I would bring to the job.  Ageism - and every other ism - is alive and well in the film business, but Dave looked past it."

I also said that Dave was the best damn boss a person could have.

This post adds little to the film part of the story - my apologies to those who only come here for indie film stuff, which I usually try to provide. It does talk to that great boss - and person.

As that article and a CNN report told, Dave now makes a living selling pies. It does well for him because he makes great pies with a lot of love, but certainly has not made him rich.

Thanksgiving is without a doubt the biggest time of year for pie makers, the time when their steady flow of income becomes a flood of income that will cover the slow times for a small business owner.

At a time when others would be cleaning up - and who can blame them - Dave decided to give back. While this should not surprise anyone who knows him, it is more than a token gesture. It gets to the heart of giving.

Dave posted this recently on his Facebook page:

"After speaking with friends who brought meals to those so severely affected by Hurricane Sandy and her aftermath, I decided that I too must reach out to those who lost so much and still lack the basic necessities including daily hot meals and comfort food. I have decided not to bake pies for sale this Thanksgiving, instead my family and I will bake as many pies as we and deliver and serve them on Thanksgiving Day to our neighbors in need. I know many of you may be disappointed that you will not have your pies on your Thanksgiving table however I feel this is something I must do. I am thankful for your continued support and thankful that I can help those in need of comfort."

Dave lives in Upstate New York, and had friends and neighbors who were hard hit.

On Thursday, though, Dave will be venturing from home to donate some of those pies he is donating to a warming tent in Far Rockaway.

I was displaced for two weeks by Hurricane Sandy. A writer/director friend of mine was out of his home, with his family, for the same amount of time. I know many across the film community in New York who were put out, including a location manager and college buddy who had severe damage to his longtime home. Some are still without power.

Hurricane Sandy was no small inconvenience. Although some would like to act as if it is over, it is not for many of my colleagues, not to mention so many others.

As heat and hot water have not returned to my place, I'm writing this from the home of a long-cherished colleague and crew member, who has generously opened up her home with no reservations for me. For all the pain this storm has brought, it has also brought out the good in people. I have seen so much unselfishness, and it's truly heart-warming to know that those you work with are truly friends.

Here is a chance for you to do something good as well.

Besides  those pies Dave is donating, someone suggested that people could "sponsor" pies, so as to help even more people.

Dave posted how to do so below. If you can find it in your wallet and in your heart, I hope you do so. It's called comfort food, and many people can use a little comfort this year.

I will try to spend part of my time as a volunteer for those displaced.

May all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Hello Friends, What a great idea, "sponsoring pies" -great way to pay forward - over 20 pies sponsored and counting. Many of you have asked where you can send a check for your sponsorship here's the info:make checks payable to Dave Tuttle, 94 Grand Street #5AA, Croton on Hudson, NY 10520 . We are all in this together!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Opposites Oppose - Part 3 - The Actress Sabbatical

"I used to be Snow White...but I drifted"

There is no actress in the history of cinema who is more quoted on the subject of sex than Mae West, who spent a career dodging and finding ways around censors.

After years in vaudeville and on stage, her first film role came in the 1932 gangster film Night After Night, at the urging of her friend, George Raft. According to her bio, she had a good deal to do with how her role was re-written and directed, including one of her more memorable lines, in response to "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds."

"Goodness had nothing to do with it," she famously replied.

Few remember that when she made that notable film debut, she was 39 years old. That's right, 39 years old. In film after film for a decade or more afterwards, she continued to play a sexual object of desire.

Marlene Dietrich made her film debut in Germany at the age of 21, but her Hollywood debut at the age of 29 (Morocco), and was noticed for her roles as prostitutes in Dishonored, Shanghai Express and Blonde Venus. She, too, continued to play sexual creatures well into her late thirties and early forties.

Yes, the role of ingenues have always gone to women in the early twenties, sometimes a little younger, as with Lauren Bacall's sexy 19-year old performance  in To Have and Have Not. However, Hollywood in the early studio days assumed that their male audience would be attracted to women, and didn't think it odd to cast women in their thirties or even older as sexy leading ladies.

Today, there are better roles for women once they get past their early twenties, but still not near as many as there are for men. They hit what I call "The Actress Sabbatical."

You know it when you think about the careers of the current "hottie" actresses. Some young actress will seem to be the hot love interest in almost every film for a certain period - Salma Hayek, Jessica Alba, Halle Berre; before them Charlize Theron, Uma Thurman, Cameron Diaz. Then, suddenly, without notice, their appearances become a little scarce, until the point at which they play - sigh - the "other woman", or worse, the "friend."

I call this transitional period from ingenue to character actress "the actress sabbatical," as if there were some lush island nation where they are allowed to tan and wait for more mature roles to arrive.

These are for the stars. For everyday working actresses, and especially indies, they go from playing the girl in the nude scene to the "young mother." As someone who has many actress friends, that first offer of a "young mother" can be chilling. It means that casting directors no longer keep your photo in that pile of "hot," sexy actresses.

This is not to say their are no roles for women being love interests into their thirties and beyond; certainly there are. Today, though, we have actually developed new terms for them, "MILFs" or "cougars."

Reviewers seem genuinely surprised when someone like Diane Lane can actually be seen as sexy and a little older, sometimes - heaven forbid - being attractive to younger men.

Meanwhile, as actress Greta Scacchi (The Player) once said, "Hollywood will accept actresses playing ten years older, but actors can play ten years younger."

The double standard hardly needs much explanation, and is hardly new. Indeed, one of the more famous screen romances, Bogart (44) and Bacall (19), would not have happened if not for the constant pairing of older men as appropriate suitors for younger women. While I would never suggest that Cary Grant or Clark Gable or any of those folk were not dashing into their older years, it's not like female stars of the same stature were always afforded the same luxury.

If some were to suggest that younger women are naturally attracted to older men, let me share this story. I loved the movie Atlantic City. For those who may not remember the 1980 Louis Malle film, Burt Lancaster plays an old, ex-gangster named Lou who helps a young croupier, played by a (then) young Susan Sarandon. Well, Lou wasn't quite the big shot gangster he imagines he was; not really a hit man but a marginal numbers guy. Still, he offers his protection, and even at 67 years old, Lancaster was still charming.

I was in college at the time, and mentioned to my date that it was absolutely believable that Lancaster and Sarandon (then 34) would have a brief sexual encounter. Her response can basically be boiled down to one word: "Eew!" further dispelling the notion we males like to foster as we get older that women find age attractive.

All of this is by way of talking about one of the more interesting aspects of my return to SOC.

One aspect of the movie features the lead character, a young woman bored with her life and trying to find something new, in a relationship with a nihilist older theater director, played by one of New York's wonderful character actors. In one scene, she finds herself in a threesome with another woman and this man. We will call the actress playing the other character Eve.

When I looked it up recently, I was surprised to find that when SOC was shot, Eve was in her early forties. Fit and attractive, she could easily have passed for mid-thirties. In her younger days, her good looks and figure had led her to roles as dizzy blondes, even though she was quite the opposite. In addition to one noted film appearance, she had established herself in many Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals as a fine singer.

Z hired her for her talent, not just her looks, and since there was nudity involved in the scene, he offered her early on the option of having a body double as the type of courtesy he might offer a star of any age.

She would hear nothing of it, insisting on the integrity of the role, and maybe just a bit because she rightfully was still very proud of her fit body.

So it was that I arrived on the day of shooting that scene to find the crew standing around in the hallway. It seemed that Eve was complaining about the work of the make-up artist and the body make-up involved.

The old stage manager in me quickly figured out that the problem was not with the make-up artist, nor necessarily with Eve doing a scene with partial nudity, but doing the scene where the other woman was somewhat younger.

This might seem vain to some, which is why I opened this article with an explanation of what it can be like for actresses getting even slightly older (I refuse to call anyone of any gender in their mid-forties "old"). Because of my experience in the area, I spent about twenty minutes talking with Eve, after which everything went fine, and she is wonderful in the final scene.

Veterans will tell you that nude scenes are far from titillating on a film set; they are cause for problems. To properly protect the actors privacy, they are closed sets, meaning only essential personnel can be in the room. This means that anytime you need someone else in the room - a grip or electric to make an adjustment, a prop person, etc - time is taken to get everyone covered up, then the person, who would normally be right by, is summoned, they come in, everything resets. There is little sexy about taking more time than usual to get a scene done.

Additionally, the First AD has to take time to think about when to schedule it. After meals is always a bad idea, for some reasons the reader can imagine. Late in the day, the actors may be tired. First scene of the day, which is my preference (so it can't wind up getting pushed back to past lunch) means a slow start to the day.

I should again note that the problem was not one of Eve being concerned about showing skin, but rather the specific situation. The problems I've had with nude scenes have almost always been with actors, who are asked to show much less, rather than actresses. We men often talk about women's vanity, but from my experience, male vanity is a much bigger problem.

It is also a comment on our business that women feel routinely required to disrobe at some point in their career, where men consider it a special occasion. Think about it. How many times have you watched a "morning after" scene where the woman steps out of bed topless or completely naked, only to have the man remain safely under the cover.

In other areas, Eve was not shy about her body. We were filming at night in the Meatpacking area of Manhattan at a time when it was not a place for chic restaurants and clubs, but rather for cheap (and often tranny) hookers and crime.

Our set was a few blocks from holding, and Eve was hanging in holding a scene or two before she was required on set. She was dressed in very short cut-offs, a tight, skimpy blouse and high heels. This was her own wardrobe, not wardrobe for the set.

"I need to talk to Z," she said, as she headed for the door. "Eve," I said, "wait a second. I'll have the PA drive you over."

"JB, it's only two blocks. I can walk it."

I knew she was perfectly physically capable of doing the walk, but was concerned that her attire might attract unwanted attention. Certainly, Eve was not naive, but seemed not to be worried.

Watching out for my actors is always part of my responsibility, and although I was not acting as one of the producers, I knew what P, our AD who had asked me back, would think of me letting Eve walk to set under those circumstances.

I found a way to politely suggest that I never let talent "walk" without escort (a 1st team PA should always accompany talent in any situation when heading to set, so there is no confusion as to their whereabouts). As that PA was currently on set, I walked her over.

Eve has since crossed to other side of that "actress sabbatical," though more in television than film. Ironically, one of the places where an actress can transcend the bias against older women as sexual creatures is soap operas - ask Susan Lucci - and Eve started a recurring role on a soap in 2011.

Dealing with these situations with Eve was my only "producer-related" work on SOC after my return, the rest of my time dealing with the more mundane concerns of locations management, the details of which have faded from my memory. My time spent with the lovely and talented Eve remains one of my fonder memories of that period.

As I write this in 2012, I am encouraged that while we still have a double-standard regarding age and sexual attraction between the genders, that gap is closing, maybe even to the point where we get back, one day, to a time when a 40-year old Mae West could tell a 29-year old Cary Grant, "Come up sometime, and see me." (Yes, that is the correct line) and not be called a "cougar" or "MILF", but simply, an attractive woman.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Opposites Oppose - Part 2 - They Pull Me Back In

I know how Michael felt.

After I spoke to Z, I finished up some things I was working on, gave Matt the information he needed, shook hands, and agreed to follow up on some things at home. I expected I would visit the set at some point to say hello and see how things were going. After all, besides Z, there were people I knew or had helped bring on working on set, and I did want the project to do well.

There was a huge weight lifted from me. There are enough difficulties wo\rking on any project that personality and philosophical differences are not needed. I did not expect to be on set again until things were smoothly underway and I would not be a distraction.

Matt brought on a strong woman named P to AD. P - and she was actually known as that due to her long first and last name - was a perfect choice. She had been UPM and/or AD on some of the more important indies of the period. Soon, she had eclipsed Matt and was also a producer on the film.

She and Matt got along fine, as long as Matt did what she said. Not long into production, though, Matt's inclination to go for the cheapest option meant that P had little production support on set, and that was not going to work.

The call from "P" went something like this.

"JB, Z and I have been talking, and we think you could help us on set. Let me be clear about something; I don't need another producer. We have enough cooks. I need someone to basically location and unit manage, to make sure the day-to-day stuff gets done. If you don't mind getting your hands dirty, we could use you."

"Is Matt okay with it?" I asked.

There was a deep sigh, and then, "Matt has nothing to say about it."

It was clear who was in charge, and as we talked, Matt and I would have little to do with each other. I would be on set, and he would be in the office, which he preferred to set, anyway.

There are DPs who come up through the camera department, and DPs who come up through grip and electric. Similarly, there are line producers who come up through the office - office PA, APOC,  Coordinator, UPM, then line producer; and then there are those that come up through set - PA, 2nd AD, First AD. Matt was the former; P and I were the latter.

It worked for everyone. I had a lot of respect for P, and over the years, I've learned how to work with other ADs and UPMs, respecting them and letting them do to do their jobs and me to do mine. P and I would have no ego or overlap problems.

Two of the people I had recommended to the shoot were Joe and Jenny.

Now, Joe and Jenny were the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern* of many of my projects.  I had met them both on a previous nightmare project previously discussed, where Jenny was the perky new production assistant who drove me on a very, very bad day.

The two of them were cute, all-American kids, always chipper and smiling, the PAs who would always volunteer first when any task was at hand and then thank you for letting them do it.

Stacey had recommended Jenny in the first place, and Stacey and I often joked that we wished Joe and Jenny would just hook up already. They would smile and coo at each other, but we figured, to put it in teenage terms, that they had never gotten much past first base. They were actually stuck in an elevator once together for almost two hours, and emerged with not a smudge.

How they maintained their innocence working on film sets eluded Stacey and I. Then again, maybe we were wrong; maybe the two were insanely passionate lovers who hid it well on set.

Sometimes there is too much free time, and these are the things that come to mind.

I took a cab to set, and the first person I saw was Joe. He was standing tall on lock-up, alert as ever. He perked up as I got closer.

"JB, what are you doing here?"

That was the first time I used the line from Godfather III.

"Just when I thought I was out, Joe, they pull me back in."

"Cool, JB, Cool."

As soon as cut was called, I walked past, and I heard him announce enthusiastically on Channel 1, "JB is on set!"

I retained the associate producer title. but P and I were very clear on my duties. I immediately started getting crafty in order, seeing that trash was properly disposed of, sets were restored, and company moves went smoothly.

Yep, my hands were back in the dirt. I remember the first time I asked Jenny if she was ready to whisk first team to the next location on a company move, she replied, "Super copy that, JB!"

Ugh, still perky.

Then again, part of me hopes she has not grown into an old cynic like me.

There was something cathartic about getting back to my roots, handling the nit-picky little messy stuff, not worrying about big-picture issues like were we going to run out of money or make the day. P had those well under control.

Unlike Michael Corleone, there would be no pressure on my chest, no shortness of breath, no calling out to my brother. C'mon, I could never improve on Pacino's emoting, anyway.

In Part 3, some fun stories from the personalities of SOC (as I am referring to this film) now that I was back on set.

*While the reference to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern literally refers to the two messengers sent from the king to spy on Hamlet in Shakespeare's play of the same name, I have used this reference for years not as duplicitous fools but rather observers who watch without comment on the lunacy around them. I probably need to find a better literary reference, but it works for me, and I'm not ready to change yet. Suggestions welcome.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Karma

I was working on Opposites Oppose (for those who missed Part 1) but thought it important to post this timely blog on the devastation that is Hurricane Sandy, as it affects me and my fellow New Yorkers.

I live in an Evacuation Zone A, which means I should have gotten the Hell out when they said to do so on Sunday. Like many others, I thought, sure, it will be a little rough, but I'll gut it out.

My only personal experience of living through a hurricane in the eye of a storm was in Miami in 1999. I can't say what hurricane it was, but know it was a doozy.

I was staying in South Beach shooting an insane movie with Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew. the details will come later.

On the night of the Hurricane, my hotel in South Beach lost cable - yeah, not the worst thing in the world, but my NY Mets were in the playoffs, and fellow Mets' fans will tell you that it hasn't happened often enough for us to miss. Myself and two other NYers on staff convinced a cab driver who was as crazy as we were to drive us across the bridge into Miami to watch the game at a pub.

We had to hold onto each other to get to the cab, then do the same at the bar. We found an equally common-sense-challenged driver to take us home. The worst of it was going - as the wind pushed us around as we crossed the bridge, and the rain was so hard we couldn't see out the windows. All that saved us is that no one else was stupid enough to be coming the other way.

Earlier that day, the office staff had asked to go home to the other side of the bridge for a day or so during the storm. The line producer, and not the human being, kicked in, and I told them we had so much to do before shooting began later that week that I really needed them to stay.

When the production coordinator pointed out that it was unsafe, I told them I would make arrangements to put them up at the hotel. the APOC (Assistant Production Office Coordinator) said, "JB, we would rather be at home, with our partners and family (I'm paraphrasing)."

"Dorothy wanted to go home, too," I said, "but she took care of what she had to do first."

I thought it very clever at the time; the office staff was less impressed with my wit. After realizing that we were going to not get much done as we were discussing this rather than working, I let them go home early, with all the "kindness" of Scrooge.

CUT TO: Me in my apartment this past Monday night. I had bought all the provisions I would need in case I could not get out a few days, and was prepared. Power was shut earlier in the afternoon, but I was ready with battery-operated lights and more than enough food and wine.

I took it lightly until the wind and the storm surge came. The building literally shook, at first from the wind, I thought, but that was not the case. I looked out the window and saw what literally (yes, it's Joe Biden time) looked like a river rushing down my street. The tree in front of my house split and fell into the middle of the street, thankfully not into my apartment.

Over the next few hours, I watched as the water got higher and higher, rising to at least five feet and just about reaching the first floor landing.

I was seriously rethinking my decision to stay, but at this point, even if I got through to 911, they weren't going to send that needed boat to rescue the idiot who failed to heed the warnings. I was reminded of this wonderful episode of West Wing, and the master actor, Karl Malden.

(Youtube does not allow embedding of this clip - if you cannot see it from the link above, just go to Youtube and search "West Wing Karl Malden". If you haven't seen it, it's both a great message and a great performance.)

I had heard all the reports, and prepared a go-bag in case the worst happened. Still not too sharp, my biggest concerns were a) I can't swim, b) I'm afraid of heights, if they were to do a helicopter rescue (yeah, THAT was gonna happen) and c) how do I keep my laptop from getting wet if I am saved. It has all of my budgets and work on it (though some is backed up to cloud).

My concerns were not necessarily in that order.

As I am writing this, I made it through. I was amazed at how calm everything was in the morning; just a slight breeze and clearing skies. Could this really be that much different than just twelve hours earlier? I looked out my window, and the water had completely receded. I had made it through, but would be lying if I said I wasn't scared.

My power has been out all week, and getting around is insane. Still, I have nothing but thanks, as so many others have lost so much in this storm. I broke my heart to see all or people's lives on the sidewalk as I walked to the nearest bus on Wednesday. Although there were things of greater value out, it was the toys that made me the saddest.

Sad children have always been the thing that literally brings me to tears. Maybe as an adult, I figure we get what we deserve, for better or worse. How do you tell a kid he can't play with his beloved toys anymore? After all, the kid must think, I've done nothing wrong. Why am I being punished?

If that seems trivial, it's still what my thoughts were.

During the worst of the storm that night, I thought about my thoughtless response to my office staff so many years ago. Maybe this wasn't Hurricane Sandy, but Hurricane Karma.

As a practicing Zen Buddhist for many years, I don't see karma as some sort of tit-for-tat, some scorecard where good and bad deeds are tallied, and something is sent out to you for each.

It stems from the Buddhist belief that makes the most sense to me, that I think of with every breath as I mediate, as I follow that breath in and out.

Separation is an illusion.

There is no "us" and "them," no "me" and "thee." That breath I take in is part of all of existence, and when I let that breath go, I share it. We are a part of everything, and everything is a part of us. With that being the case, how could our actions not affect us? We are contributing - or taking - from the same well.

Hey, I'm no monk. I can only express it as I see it. Every time I talk about my relation to Zen, I feel there is Buddhist scholar somewhere cringing because I got it wrong. Sorry, but that's all I got.

Next time, I'm sure my answer to the office staff would be different. Without a doubt, the image of that rushing water outside my building will come rushing back. Age takes away many things, but it should at least leave us with perspective.

I thought it more important to get this message out, so deep are my feelings for all those affected right now. I write this from the apartment of a dear friend and excellent camera woman, who has generously offered her place while she is away. Her flatmate kindly had sheets and even DVDs to watch as I arrived, this woman who does not even know me extending what comfort she could.

I know back by my apartment, and throughout the city and beyond, many others are not as fortunate. If this reaches one single-minded person somewhere, who thinks that whatever their occupation may be is more important than people's lives, and makes them think again, then I am happy that I wrote it.

As my email signature says, from dharma combat*, May Your Life Go well.

*For the sake of simplicity, I have chosen to link the Wiki explanation of Dharma Combat. Another example is linked here. I took part in this at my Zendo more than once, and it's a truly charged experience. Basically, it's an exchange between student and master, between masters, or, as my Zendo practiced it, also between students. At the end, we use the phrase "May your life go well." I always loved that as a way of ending any communication - so simple and yet says so much.