Monday, August 31, 2009

And Did Anybody Catch Munch In The Last Episode Of The Wire?

In my previous post, I forgot to mention a classic inside joke that aired on Homicide. An episode opens with Bayliss and Pembleton out on the streets in a Cavalier. Pembleton is driving, while Bayliss reads a book in the passenger seat. Pembleton asks Bayliss what he's reading, Bayliss tells him The Corner and that the authors spent a year in a known drug neighborhood. Pembleton wonders aloud if a writer would ever want to spend a year with homicide detectives and write a book about it. Bayliss replies sarcastically: "Yeah, right."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Beyond The Wire

Four years ago or so my friend Ben told me about The Wire, which was airing on HBO. I caught up with the show on DVD and became one of the many dedicated fans of the show, declaring it my favorite TV series ever. You're either all-in with The Wire or you're not. There aren't casual fans of the show, the complexities of it guarantee that. Since watching the end of the final season in early 2008 (I don't have HBO so I caught that season in a weird mix of late-night post-babysitting viewings on demand at my sister's and on some sketchy probably-illegal Asian websites), I have been exploring books and TV shows that have ties to The Wire. Below is what I've been into so far.

Homicide Detectives

In 1988, The Wire co-creator David Simon - then a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, spent a year with a Baltimore homicide unit and wrote the brilliant and insightful book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.

A few years later, Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana created the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street based on Simon's book. While the show was fictional, it was shot on site in Baltimore and early episodes used cases straight from the book. Simon himself would write some episodes and in later seasons would become a producer of the show. Actors from Homicide would later show up The Wire: notably Peter Gerety, Callie Thorne and Clark Johnson. Though many other The Wire veterans showed up in minor roles (Bodie! Prop Joe!), my fave being Clayton LeBouef being stick-in-the-mud Colonel Barnfather in Homicide and overambitious strip club operator Orlando in The Wire.

Many parts of Homicide will be immediately familiar to The Wire lovers: Baltimore as another character, the white board in the homicide squad room, hard-drinking detectives, the concept of legalizing drugs (okay technically, that was in Homicide: The Movie), and questionable polygraph machines. (Here's The Wire's take.)

Oh, and Homicide was the best cop show on TV before The Wire came along. You will not be disappointed watching this show.

The Boys on the Corner

The Wire co-creators Simon and Ed Burns wrote The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, a bleak-but-great book that should be required reading for all of those who think The War on Drugs is winnable. This was the basis for the Emmy-winnng miniseries The Corner, which I haven't seen. It predates The Wire but features some of the same actors. I have been told that casting tends to go against that in The Wire (a google search shows that Clarke Peters - Lester Freamon in The Wire - is a drug addict in The Corner.) Plus it has Khandi Alexander - no complaints here.

Crime Writers Who Wrote For The Show

George Pelecanos: His novels take place in Washington, D.C. They usually involve Greek-Americans, diners, and enough great music references that you have to keep a pen handy to write stuff down to check out later. (I was told in one book two characters discuss the Replacements, but haven't come across that one yet.) Pete Scholtes grades Pelecanos's books (Hard Revolution was probably my fave), plus interviews him about The Wire and other subjects here and here.

Dennis Lehane: His novels take place in Boston. Two - Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone - have been made into award-winning pictures, with Gone, Baby, Gone featuring The Wire alums Michael K. Williams in a small role and Amy Ryan in an Oscar-nominated best supporting actress role. This summer I was so captivated by Darkness, Take My Hand that I read it over a weekend.

Richard Price: Writer of novels and screenplays. I am currently reading Clockers (haven't seen the movie.) Published in 1993 and taking place in Newark, it covers familiar ground for fans of The Wire: A teenage corner dealer and a middle-aged homicide detective are dealt with in alternating chapters. I am blown away by this novel, the craft of it moves beyond the crime novel genre and makes it great fiction period.

On A Lighter Note

You can take a "Which The Wire character are you?" quiz. I'm Bunk, which thrilled me to no end.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Robert Mitchum's The Better Tough Guy Anyway

In an earlier post I mentioned reading William Manchester's memior Goodbye, Darkness. In the book, he referenced John Wayne being booed by World War II vets in Hawaii. This intrigued me, so I googled it and found out that Manchester himself had witnessed this:

Once we polled a rifle company, asking each man why he had joined the Marines. A majority cited ''To the Shores of Tripoli,'' a marshmallow of a movie starring John Payne, Randolph Scott and Maureen O'Hara. Throughout the film the uniform of the day was dress blues; requests for liberty were always granted. The implication was that combat would be a lark, and when you returned, spangled with decorations, a Navy nurse like Maureen O'Hara would be waiting in your sack. It was peacetime again when John Wayne appeared on the silver screen as Sergeant Stryker in ''Sands of Iwo Jima,'' but that film underscores the point; I went to see it with another ex-Marine, and we were asked to leave the theater because we couldn't stop laughing.

After my evacuation from Okinawa, I had the enormous pleasure of seeing Wayne humiliated in person at Aiea Heights Naval Hospital in Hawaii. Only the most gravely wounded, the litter cases, were sent there. The hospital was packed, the halls lined with beds. Between Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the Marine Corps was being bled white.

Each evening, Navy corpsmen would carry litters down to the hospital theater so the men could watch a movie. One night they had a surprise for us. Before the film the curtains parted and out stepped John Wayne, wearing a cowboy outfit - 10-gallon hat, bandanna, checkered shirt, two pistols, chaps, boots and spurs. He grinned his aw-shucks grin, passed a hand over his face and said, ''Hi ya, guys!'' He was greeted by a stony silence. Then somebody booed. Suddenly everyone was booing.

This man was a symbol of the fake machismo we had come to hate, and we weren't going to listen to him. He tried and tried to make himself heard, but we drowned him out, and eventually he quit and left. If you liked ''Sands of Iwo Jima,'' I suggest you be careful. Don't tell it to the Marines.
Touchy Touchy

I got a way-cool iPod Touch on Monday and having been spending the week playing around with its features. It's scary that it was able to identify my location on a map without me entering any info and I still don't know what all that stock stuff means (it says Dow at 9,500 ... good, bad, ugly?), but overall it's been a blast to explore. A friend wondered why I didn't man up and go all-in for an iPhone. For those of you who didn't make this leap of logic ... I'm no expert, but I believe the two are considered sister devices, the interfaces are similar and the same apps can generally be used on both. Actually it was an easy decision. My reasons to go with an iPod Touch rather than an iPhone:

1) I still have ten months left on my contract with T-Mobile and didn't want to pay the early termination fee.

2) The iPhone is exclusive to AT&T and they helped the government spy on US citizens. I'd rather not do business with them.

3) Even if I did go iPhone/AT&T, I'm not in the mood to pay $30 more a month for a 3G data plan. I can use the iPod Touch's Internet features anywhere I have access to wi-fi; not at 3G speeds but good enough for me to use the iPod's apps to check email and listen to Sirius, KFAN, and MPR.

4) Most importantly: I plan on using my iPod Touch's music-playing feature a lot when I'm at coffee shops working on writing and do not want to be bothered by some phone call coming in. That's what my cell phone - whether it be in my front pocket, in my book bag, forgotten at home or in the glove compartment - is for: To direct incoming phone calls into voicemail so that I can check it at my convenience. (And if the iPhone has some sort of direct-to-voicemail feature, I still go with #1 through #3 above ...)

As for that last one, yes lost in the mix at times when playing with my new gadget - I can stream past episodes of the Common Man Progrum! - is that the iPod Touch can play my mp3s. Later tonight, after continually staring at the Joan Didion quote Apple engraved (for free!) on the back of my iPod, I just hope I remember that the thing plays music and does it quite well.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Goodbye, Darkness

Recently I finished reading Goodbye, Darkness by William Manchester. It's his memoir of being a Marine sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Alternately gripping, gory, sad, and darkly funny - this book was one great read. Manchester sees things in the biggest and smallest pictures, by this I mean he knew the importance of defeating the Axis but ultimately fought for the men who served with him. The book also serves as a primer on the US efforts in the Pacific, to be honest a campaign I didn't know as well as the European campaign. Manchester writes early that this is the case for many Americans: Due to both the sheer hugeness of the Pacific and because Europe is more well-known to most Americans. Hopefully HBO's upcoming The Pacific will help rectify this.

If you are at all interested in American history read this book.