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.

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