I had a chore I was determined to finish this weekend — purging my office, a merciless throwing-away project that left me with two full baskets of shred, a garbage bag of trash and best of all, a clean, airy room again. These projects are notoriously boring, which is why they get put off over and over, but this time I decided to try the HBO Go app on the iPad. I’d downloaded it weeks ago, but couldn’t get through an episode of “The Wire” without a freeze every 90 seconds or so.
They must have reamed out the pipe since then, because it worked like a charm and over the course of two days, I watched (in the iPad-propped-against-a-lamp-while-I-worked sense) six episodes of season two, which is in many ways my favorite of the five. The show was building its reputation but hadn’t yet become a Thing, so it was possible to enjoy it as your own secret, while still finding fellow travelers from time to time. The setting of the Baltimore waterfront provided a rich array of dramatic possibilities and big themes, along with a visual environment that looked like nothing you’d seen before. It might be that I enjoyed it more this time because I’ve been thinking, lately, of the great economic restructuring we’re undergoing now, and a question that occurs to me a lot in the course of living in what was once the great, steaming heart of the country’s manufacturing economy: What are we going to do with these people?
The central narrative of “The Wire’s” second season was this very problem, as illustrated on Baltimore’s waterfront: Technology at ports requires fewer and fewer dockworkers, but the people who have done it for multiple generations have failed to get the message, and the economy has failed to offer any alternative other than “work two jobs.” Our society has always produced people across a range of intellect and abilities, and for most of its history, the bargain we made with them was simple: If you’re willing to work, we’ll find something for you to do, and — this is key — you’ll be able to make a living at it. It might not be a lavish one, but if your dreams are modest, there’s a place for you.
I was in a dollar store in Warren a few years back, and saw a young couple there. The woman looked older than her years, but had the sort of whip-thin edge that suggests a survivor — cosmetologist, shift supervisor, maybe a waitress. Her companion, on the other hand, was dressed in the oversized clothing favored by hip-hoppers, which made him look like a toddler playing Eminem dress-up. He tagged along behind her like one, too, occasionally goosing or otherwise bugging her, and you could tell she wasn’t enjoying any part of it. For the first time, I got an idea of why women like this would rather not marry the fathers of their children. The baby has an excuse, pops. What’s yours?
The morning is moving toward maturity, and it’s Hella Monday, so here goes with the bloggage:
An electric fence at the Mexican border? Shucks, I was just pullin’ your leg! And all the people who cheered were, too.
Let’s try for better tomorrow. For now, gotta run.