Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, Superman, Christos, and Return to Pennsic

"You are wearing a Superman shirt. You've gotta be strong, OK?"

That little statement by an on-site journalist made me cry.

The "biggest storm ever to hit New York" has devastated the region. Millions of people are without power in NY, NJ, and Connecticut. Over a hundred homes have burned down in Breezy Point, Queens, more elsewhere. Floodwaters have washed houses completely away. Piles of boats are resting in parking lots and front lawns. Lower Manhattan, with its residents, businesses, subways, etc, is completely shut down. Coney Island rides have been drowned. The Atlantic City Boardwalk is in pieces. Thousands and thousands of planes, trains, and busses have been cancelled and re-routed. Subway and commuter tunnels have been flooded. Scores of people have died. People are angrily crying for help in devastated neighborhoods. Lines of cars are waiting for gas like the 1970's.

And in other news, a friend of mine, who had become an exceptionally good friend of my girlfriend (in a good way) passed away this morning, a victim of lung cancer.

I got lucky several ways over. I was supposed to be coming home from Springfield, Illinois when the storm hit. After several means of coming home got cancelled, the kindness and generosity of my friends got me home about the same time I would have gotten home anyway. Neither my house nor my girlfriend's house were in any danger. Any trees that fell or flooding that occurred or power outages avoided us. My job is shut down, presumably until power comes back on, but I am OK. NYC is big enough that apart from the lack of gasoline, there are very large areas almost completely untouched by the storm, and I am currently in one of them.

So I have been sitting here, walking the dog, working on my "Return to Pennsic" video project, as the nonstop coverage of the catastrophe continues to play on almost every TV channel (we don't have cable; by choice, not by the storm).

Much like 9-11 and Katrina, I have been watching the damage with a detached fascination, wondering if it shows character failing. Don't bother helping me analyze this, there are people in much greater need of help than I. I suppose I could take the bus or walk home, grab my bicycle and pedal to a devastated neighborhood and start helping fetch and cary, dig people out and give moral support. But of course I would just get in the way, hurt myself, become another victim, or simply be prevented from getting to the affected area by police roadblocks and such. And I have a paycheck theoretically sitting in my mailbox waiting to be picked up and deposited so I can pay my rent and certain bills and debts.

But then I see the clip from CBS Morning News of an on-the-scene reporter talking to a small boy with a mother holding the ready-to-eat meal.

"Are you cold?"


"Are you tired?"


(awkward silence)

"You are wearing a Superman shirt, so you've gotta be strong, OK?"

The boy, in tears, nods silently.

That hits me. As a life-long fan and student of comic books and superheroes, Superman is more than a colorful figure on a page, he is a symbol. He represents the will to do what is right and the strength to back it up. To call forth this icon is a powerful mojo to me.

Then I change the channel and see Aerosmith perfuming in Rockefeller Center on the Today Show.

I know Steve Tyler and Steve Perry were on Letterman last night promoting their new album (Letterman is looking old these days, BTW), so they might just be doing this as a publicity stunt, but somehow it means more than that. Aerosmith is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band. They can fill a football stadium with fans, even if they only limit ticket sales to women. So being on the Today Show to perform in front of a few hundred people in Rockefeller Center, even with the national TV audience, is more than just an act of publicity for them, especially today.

Entertainments have long been used to raise morale and lift spirits after catastrophes. For a big name entertainer to perform today, in the middle of Manhattan, on national TV, is a big deal. Entertainers are not rescuers, first responders, firefighters, doctors. What they do is create and perform in order to affect people's moods and feelings. To do so now shows that they care about this city.

To see them on TV, singing and playing their hearts out, right after that touchingly tragic scene with the boy, got to me.

So now what do I do?

I am an artist, an entertainer, but I have let that work slip for a while. Last year I shot a documentary at the Pennsic War, and intended to have it done by Christmas. Technical issues, money issues, a SOB who still owes me about $1500 for work I did for him, another SOB who won't send me back my cell phone after I accidentally left it in his home after entertaining his son on his birthday, jobs that I have taken to pay bills, training and competing for the Battle of the Nations, all this have I let get in the way of finishing the project. And now there are other things I want to do that I have said I won't do until I finish this project. Yet the project is still undone.

There are people who have contributed money to the project. There are people whose time I have taken working on the project. My girlfriend helped me tremendously, both practically and financially because she believed in me and the project. "Simply the Best" G.A. West came to Pennsic, something he never throughout he would do in his life, so that he could be involved in this project.

There are people who have dedicated their lives to helping people, protecting them, serving them, saving them. They do a good job at it.

There are also people who have died whose lives we are no longer able to touch. After writing this essay I read the posts on my friend's FaceBook wall from his friends saying goodbye and have been crying my eyes out.

The best we can do to honor their duty and sacrifice and loss is to be the best people we can be and accomplish things that only humans can do, and for me that is to create things that lift people's feelings and help them grow in a positive way. I believe that this video project is one of these things.

This video project is a year overdue and I finally have the time to finish this thing, which I have been working on for so long and have promised so many people, and the best thing I think I can do is finish this and get on with my life.

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