Thursday, February 14, 2008

My moment of revelation

Tripp is always telling me about those moments when he's watching "The Wire," when it's like lightning has hit him. It can be the way a character looks at another, it can be a one-liner, it can be Chris Partlow asking Rhonda Pearlman for directions to the clerk's office at the courthouse. He has a lot of those moments. I have only had one.

Dukie has gone to Cutty to toughen up at his gym. Cutty is one of those characters who, at first, seems to have escaped the corner. Just as he was about to be released from jail, he met Avon Barksdale, who respected his work and what he'd heard of him. Cutty returned to the streets after leaving prison, acting as muscle (and sometimes brains) for the Barksdale organization. After witnessing a brutal beating of a (very young) suspected thief, he was disenchanted and decided to get out. He began working as a day laborer for a landscaping company. At the same time, he fixed up a gym in which he aimed to teach corner boys to box. He was hoping to show those boys that there is life outside the corner, reputations, the game, and violence. He is certainly seen as a father figure for many of the boys who come to his gym.

Cutty has been one of those characters who speaks more through actions and facial expressions than with words. The look on his face when he was losing Michael said more than words could have. The way he watched Grace from afar as she went about her daily things showed his thoughts better than he could have spoken them. His intense stare has been well-utilized on the show.

For this reason, it was surprising for me to see him speak so candidly with Dukie. Maybe he sees some of himself in Dukie. Maybe he senses the potential that we saw in Dukie when he was in Prez’s class. We’ve seen that Cutty clearly knows (like Dukie) what it’s like to feel out of place (or maybe “ill at ease” is a better description) on the streets. But Cutty has seemed so driven and consumed by his gym that we haven’t wondered how he feels. We thought we knew.

When Dukie shows himself to be a poor boxer, he sits dejectedly with Cutty. Cutty, like Prez, makes general statements about there being more to life than the corner. “The world is bigger than that; at least that’s what they tell me.” For the first time we see that Cutty doesn’t consider himself part of the world, despite his departure from prison, his holding a job with a legitimate company, and his relationship with a nurse. Dukie follows up with, “how do you get from here to the rest of the world?” The conversation ends with Cutty saying, “I wish I knew.”

This knocked the wind out of me. The show quickly moved on and I missed the next few minutes, because my heart was breaking for Dukie. This exchange harkened back to one of the themes of “The Corner,” in which David Simon shows that it’s not the getting clean that’s the hard part, it’s staying clean. We act like there aren’t two worlds; one for addicts and one for the rest of “us.” We act like Dukie should just be able to go back to school, learn, go to college, get a job, and pull himself up by his bootstraps. That’s the American way, right?

The truth is that doing any one of these things is nearly impossible for Dukie, let alone all of them. And it’s not his fault, much as society acts like it is. This moment has haunted me since I first saw it. It’s an amazing bit of writing that was acted perfectly. I hope I’m not the only one who can’t stop thinking about it.

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