Why I Really Don’t Want To See The Best Man Holiday (…Even Though I Probably Will)

Really?

Every several months or so for the past few years, a rumor will circulate about The Wire returning to the screen. Sometimes the rumor is about a possible 6th season. Sometimes it’s about a three or four episode mini-series coming to HBO. Sometimes it’s even about a possible major motion picture adaptation.

Usually, these rumors will have no basis in reality. Someone read something where someone said that they overheard David Simon say something about a grown-up Namond,” and after a couple rounds of the telephone game that turns into “The Wire is coming back!!!”

Naturally, since everyone who’s ever been within 125 yards of me knows my feelings about The Wire, whenever one of these rumors pops up, I’ll get a couple excited emails or texts from someone who thinks they’re about to tell me the best news I’ve ever heard. I mean, I am the person who once said…

“If I were single and season 4 of The Wire were a woman, I would literally drink her bathwater…after she just ran a marathon…while on her period. (I know)”

…so of course I’d be giddy about reuniting with Michael, Marlo, McNulty and the rest of my Baltimore-based buddies.

Except, no.

As much as I loved The Wire, there are no parts of me that wants to see a remake, rehash, or reunion. It had its five season run, it ended, and, well, it ended. I spent enough time with those characters and that cityI already drank my The Wire cup of tea. It was great. So great that I’m content to let it sit in my stomach instead of attempting to regurgitate it and drink it again. 

And, if I’m thirsty again, I’ll just get a different drink.

This feeling isn’t unique to The Wire. I don’t mind sequels, repeats, and retreads when it comes to action movies that are more about the franchise than the character (The Dark Knight, The Bourne Identity, etc), fantasies (Star Trek, The Matrix, etc), or sprawling stories that need multiple installments to be told (The Hunger Games, The Godfather, etc), but when it comes to character-driven stories, once the story is done, I’m done with them.

And yes, although The Best Man Holiday may actually be a great movie, that story and those characters were done 14 years ago (Yes. 14 years ago. You are officially old as the fuck.), and I don’t want to drink no 14 year old cup of tea.

But some of you do. And, I don’t understand this.

And, please don’t give me any shit about “I’m just happy to see Black faces on screen” and “I gotta support our people” and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The buzz over this movie has nothing to do with that and everything to do with our depressing tendency to wallow in nostalgia. You don’t want to see this movie to see Taye Diggs or Sanaa Lathan or Wet Wipes Howard. You’d just rather hold on to 14 year old characters and stories instead of inventing and investing in new ones.

But while you might reunite with these characters, you won’t reunite with the person you were in 1999—which is what you’re really trying to do. We don’t want throwbacks. We want to be thrownback. And we need to stop doing that. You’re not the same person, this isn’t the same world, and…there’s nothing wrong with that. Shit happens. More shit happens. People grow. You grew too. The world is not stopping for any of us. 1999 will never happen again. Fortunately, as much as some of us want to vice grip the past, 2014 hasn’t happened yet. It (probably) will. And you might even like it if you give it a chance. But you need to give it a chance. Try something new.

That said, I’ll probably end up seeing the movie eventually. For no other reason than when The Best Man Retirement Community comes out in 2027, I’ll need some points of reference if I decide to write about it.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Beauty Of Breaking Up

"Wait, you're finally breaking up with me??? Great!!!"

“Wait, you’re finally breaking up with me??? Great!!!”

There’s a scene in season one (I think?) of The Wire where the scene opens with one of the cops (“Herc”) trying to move a pretty large desk that’s stuck in a doorway. He’s not making much headway, and his struggle is so obvious that a couple more cops stop what they’re doing and help. One even gets into the room by crawling underneath the desk so he can help on the other side. Still, no progress. After a few more futile moments, every cop present stops what they’re doing to help, half on one side of the desk, half on the other. This doesn’t help at all. The desk doesn’t budge.

At this point, the cops—exhausted by the struggle—all stop for a second to catch their breath and think of a better way to move the desk. While they’re all standing there, wiping the sweat out of their eyes, Herc says (paraphrasing) “Damn. At this rate, we’ll never get it out.” As soon as he says this, another one of the cops (I think it was “Carver”) looks at him incredulously and says “Out?” Herc replies “Yeah, we’ll never get it out.”

As soon as he says this, the other cops roll their eyes, shake their heads, and mumble different variants of “motherf*cker” in his direction before going back to their desks, all coming to the same realization: The desk wasn’t moving was because while everyone else was trying to get it in the office, his dumb ass was trying to get it out. 

This scene was meant to be a metaphor for the futility of the drug war, and how much time and effort is wasted on it doing things that ultimately counteract each other. But, while thinking about it the other day (I have random moments of Wire-based nostalgia. Don’t you?), I couldn’t help but think that scene also could have been a metaphor for how we (generally) view dating and relationships.

All of the blogs, books, podcasts, Nightline specials, panels, interviews, features, shows, oral histories, news stories, and web series devoted to this topic have the same underlying theme: Helping people get into and stay in relationships. 

This is understandable. Being in a healthy and happy romantic relationship is something desired by most people—mankind’s existence is somewhat dependent on it and shit—so it makes sense that we’d devote a ton of resources to help make that happen.

But, maybe we’re going at it backwards. Maybe all this talk about relationships has helped to cultivate a condition where people eschew all common sense to achieve this elusive goal. Maybe instead of putting the focus on getting people into relationships, we should be more concerned with getting people out of them. Maybe instead of thinking of a break up as the worst thing that can happen to a person, we should start to recognize the beauty in them.

Yes, the beauty. The beauty in recognizing that certain fundamental incompatibilities are never going to change. The beauty in being willing to free yourself from some contrived commitment to get a return on an investment that you know will never be recovered. The beauty in not having to make excuses to yourself and everyone else when asked why you stay if you’re so unhappy. The beauty in enjoying singledom and not allowing external factors to pressure you into doing something you’re just not ready to do yet. The beauty in the hundreds of thousands of people back on the open market after freeing themselves from non-starter relationships; people who may actually be perfectly compatible with someone who’s currently single, but will never know as long as they stay in shitty situations. The beauty of taking time “off” to legitimately work on yourself. The beauty in saying “No” and continuing to say “No” until you’re completely ready to say “Yes.” The beauty in shifting our focus from getting people into relationships to convincing them to leave and stay out of shitty ones.

***BTW, today is the 2nd anniversary of Liz’s twenty-somethingth birthday, so if you see her, please wish her a happy one and buy her a shot. If you don’t see her and can’t buy the shot, just read a random Bible verse to yourself on an Apple product in her honor instead. If, while you’re reading the verse, you happen to come across Liz, continue reading and give her a lapdance***

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

My Five Favorite Characters From “The Wire”

Hello, everyone. My name is Damon Young (aka “The Champ”), and I am the biggest fan of “The Wire” you’ll ever meet. Actually, let me rephrase that. Because “The Wire” is the best thing that’s ever happened, well, on Earth — yes, it’s better than bacon, democracy, sunsets, kittens, women who squirt, Mike Tomlin’s shape-ups, Mary Magdalene’s hugs, Aretha’s voice, NBA basketball, unlimited mimosas, the entire Renaissance, the moon, The Bluest Eye, snow days in school, the entire internet, bacon wrapped bacon, bougie Black girls, and everyone who’s ever been named “Michael” — it is likely that there are other people whose love for “The Wire” matches mine. Not surpasses, but matches.

Anyway, I’m bringing this up because today is going to be devoted to all things “The Wire,” and if you’re a person who hasn’t seen it, plans to see it but doesn’t want to get spoiled, saw it and didn’t care for it, couldn’t really care any less about it, or enjoyed “The Wire” but don’t see the need in spending an entire day discussing a f*cking TV show that ended four years ago, today is not the day for you at VSB, and I will not feel bad if you decide to u-turn when you see this paragraph. Happy motherf*cking trails.

For those of you who remain, today I’m going to attempt to do perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted to do. Narrow down and list my five favorite characters from “The Wire.” To understand how difficult this is, I’d probably have an easier time listing the top five most arrogant things God has ever done. I’m literally sweating right now, drinking a half gallon bottle of All Sport (yes, they still do make that), and I think I just stopped a nosebleed.

So, before my body breaks completely down, I should just go ahead with the list.

(In reverse order)

5. Francis “Frank” Sobotka

Like most other fans of “The Wire,” season two’s shift in focus from the streets to the ports initially caused a prevailing sense of “Wait. What the f*ck is this?”-ness that was more due to my own expectations than the quality of the season itself. When I watched it for the second time, I began to appreciate how this season turned “The Wire” from a show about cops and robbers to a sobering, deconstructionist take on the drug war and the city of Baltimore. Basically, in season two, the “The Wire” got real.

At the heart of all of this was Frank Sobotka, a man who just wanted to provide for his family and stand for his occupation and co-workers and just got waaaaay over his head. Also, like Wallace in season one, his death further pushed one of the prevailing themes of “The Wire” — that there was really no place in the game — and, well, America, really — for good-hearted people.

4. Lester Freamon

Makes the cut because, as a person who always thinks they’re the smartest person in the room (and is usually correct), I appreciate others who also always think they’re the smartest people in the room (and are also usually correct).

Also, more superficially, Lester’s awesomeness is at least partially due to the fact that he bagged the best-looking woman to appear on any of the seasons, and he kind of reminds me of my dad.

3. Howard “Bunny” Colvin

In lieu of explaining why he’s so high on my list, I’m going to ask you all a question that Bunny Colvin would probably ask you all if he were a blogger. Let’s say drugs — all drugs — were legalized next week. Do you think more people would use them?

(My answer? No, because I don’t think the criminality of drugs is really what makes people not use them. I’d bet a week’s pay that people who’ve never done crack, smack, or meth have never done it because of the effect it would have of their bodies, not because it was illegal.)

2. Michael Lee

I’ve already spoken extensively about my love for season four of “The Wire,” so there’s no need to revisit that now. What I haven’t spoken about before, though, is the fact that the two minute long scene where Michael first meets Marlo gives me chills every time I watch it. It’s that good. In that one short clip, you see everything you need to see about Michael —  his lack of fear, his single-mindedness, his contempt for authority, the deadness in his eyes — and you’re forced to wonder what a 13 year had to have gone through to make him that hard that young.

1. Preston “Bodie” Broadus

More than any other character, Bodie represented the heart of the show — the common man who’s too powerless, too engulfed by bureaucracy and station to do anything besides maintain a small portion of the universe, a portion of the universe that he doesn’t even own. I know it seems counterintuitive to refer to a murderous drug dealer a “common man,” but Bodie was Baltimore, and his life (and eventual death) showed the futility of being principled in an environment where principles are a valueless currency.

(Honorable mentions: D’Angelo Barksdale, “Cutty” Wise, Weebay Brice, Avon Barksdale, Prop Joe, Bunk Moreland, Randy Wagstaff, Vondus, and Bill Rawls)

Anyway, people of VSB, that’s it for me today. I’m curious, though. Who were your five favorite characters from “The Wire”?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

How Idris Elba Proves That “Cool’ Is More Important Than “Swag”

If you were to ask 1000 random Black women to name the single sexiest and most attractive man in American pop culture today, I’d bet a month’s pay that Idris Elba would come out on top. In fact, considering the sheer obsession some women seem to have for him — at a house party I attended a couple weeks ago, I heard a woman call him “the epitome of sexy” — I wouldn’t be surprised if he got 20 to 30 percent of the votes.

This in itself isn’t surprising. Elba is an “understandably attractive” man (“understandably attractive” = “other guys get why woman are into him and even expect them to be”), and he’s the best current candidate to fill the “Black hearthrob with a first name no other American has ever had” quota previously manned by Denzel Washington.

What is surprising, though, is that if you asked the same 1000 women to name the one celebrity whose sexual appeal is completely overrated, Idris Elba might get first place on that list too. There seems to be just as many women who don’t see what the big deal about him is as there are who are infatuated with him.

On face value, this doesn’t make much sense. Actually, lemme rephrase that. It doesn’t make much sense…until you remember how he first entered our collective consciousness: As Stringer Bell on HBO’s “The Wire”

Cool, calculating, manipulative, imposing, and always the “smartest man in the room” — well, at least he thought he was always the smartest man in the roomfew characters in television history had as much of a cultural impact as Bell did, and the previously unknown Elba was the perfect person for that star-making role.

Why does this matter? Well, it seems like Black women’s feelings about Elba are directly correlated to when they first saw him. Basically, my completely unscientific opinion tells me that the majority of the women who are gaga over him first saw him as Stringer Bell, while the majority of the women who don’t see what the big deal is first saw him in “Obsessed” or “Sometimes in April” or “Daddy’s Little Girls” roles where he’s nowhere near as cool as he was on “The Wire.”

Now, if you were to ask those same Idris-obsessed women what exactly it is about him that saturates their panties, most would probably cite something having to do with his unmistakable and indescribable swagger. While I won’t say they’re incorrect, I think it goes a bit deeper than that.

As stated earlier, women who first saw Elba on “The Wire” seem to be the ones most enthralled with his “swag.” This is no accident. The character was intentionally written to be a person practically dripping in brooding confidence, and Idris Elba was placed in a perfect position to show off his attributes. His swag was able to resonate so deeply because of the manufactured coolness of the character he portrayed. In this sense, David Simon was the best wingman ever.

While thinking about how Elba’s hold over Black women’s ovaries is directly connected to him being placed in a position that enabled him to be cool, I couldn’t help but also think about how it applies to our dating and relationships lives. More specifically, how we put a premium on a man’s swagger and the effect it has on women even though his “coolness” actually matters much more than that.

The swagger/emotive confidence thing is something that many men just aren’t ever going to be able to possess. But, while many assume that this is a death knell to a man’s dating life (especially a Black man’s), any man can be cool if they can find a way to replicate the type of environment that made Idris the “epitome of sexy.” It probably won’t happen on the same scale (and by “probably” I mean “definitely”), but it can happen.

The problem with nerdy/socially awkward/introverted guys who claim to have difficulties meeting and attracting women isn’t their lack “swag” or that all women want bad boys or whatever self-depreciating excuse of the month happens to be popular. No, they’re  struggling because many of them are desperately trying to be something they’re not, and they haven’t found a way to manufacture their cool yet, leaving them stuck competing in places where they have no chance to succeed.

Let me put it this way: If you’re a shy and somewhat socially awkward engineer who has to labor to approach and talk to women, nightclubs, bars, and lounges probably aren’t the best places for you to meet them. You know what would be though? A NSBE conference. You know what would be even better? A NSBE conference where you’re a speaker on a panel about some super smart shit only 17 other people in the world understand. You know what would be even better than that? A panel you organized to gather people interested in some super smart engineer shit.

Basically, if you’re not “cool” in a traditional sense, put yourself in a position that enables you to be cool. And, if those positions don’t currently exist, invent them!

If you’re good at what you do and you’re able to put yourself in a position where your talents are recognized, trust me when I say that regardless of how weird, unusual, or “uncool” your specific skill is, there will be people out there who appreciate you for it. (and by “people” I mean “women”) Shit, if you’re a cat who happens to be an expert crocheter and a comic book maven, start a professional network for crocheting-ass n*ggas who like to read comic books, and watch how much more popular and “cool” you’ll get in if actually takes off.

Maybe you’ll never be the swagged out cat who attracts all the eyes at the club like Stringer Bell. But, if you’re a friendless recluse who has more experience with computer codes than coochie, invent something that brings people into your environment, on your playing field — something that makes people acknowledge whatever unique skill you bring to the table. If it worked for Mark Zuckerberg, it can also work for you.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***If you haven’t noticed, we also posted our first “Very Smart Single” today as well. Check out R.G.’s profile and hit us up at contact@verysmartbrothas.com if interested in her***

On Saturday, June 2, 2012, we’ve got another edition of REMINSCE at Liv Nightclub coming up! Except this time, we’re gonna be celebrating Panama’s birthday! Please come out and hang the VSB team. Plus, it’s free before 11pm w/RSVP (reminiscedc.eventbrite.com) and $10 after. AND there’s an open bar from 930-10:30 WITH NO DRESS CODE. You can come in shorts because it gets HOT in there.

My Pittsburgh Problem

From young Wallace’s bewilderment when venturing outside of the city and hearing crickets for the first time to Chris informing Snoop that people from outside of the Baltimore/D.C. area probably wouldn’t be very familiar with go-go music, a constant theme from the HBO series The Wire was how isolated inner city Baltimore’s inhabitants were from the rest of the world. Although — if the atlas application on my phone is correct — they’re neighbors with Towson, Essex, Silver Spring, and others, they might as well have been stuck on the island from Lost, aware of their star-crossed fate but completely unequipped, unable, and ultimately unwilling to change it.

No character embodied this mindset more than Old Face Andre — a mid-level dealer who happened to fall out of favor with the ruthless and reptilian drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield. In a subplot so sad and predictable that it’s actually funny, instead of just packing up and leaving town, Andre thinks that moving from West Baltimore to East Baltimore will save him from Marlo’s wrath.

He was wrong.

I’ve watched the full series (at least) three times. (I watched it “live,” and I’ve also re-watched the entire series with each of my last two girlfriends; at times even delaying sex to continue debates about Bodie Broadus’ motivations and Bill Rawls closet homosexuality.) I also developed an appetite for any and all things The Wire, engulfing and devouring every message board post, interview, article, profile, and conversation I could. At this point, I’d confidently bet a day’s pay that unless David Simon happens to be your cousin, you don’t know anyone who knows more about The Wire than I do.

I always assumed that my infatuation with The Wire was somewhat due to my unique personal background. While the show may have been a bit too real for some who grew up in similar circumstances and too foreign for those who lived galaxies away from that world, I grew up in a gang-infested East Liberty but was shielded from most real adversity by my (married) parents, my private school education, and my basketball. This combination of familiarity and distance allowed me to recognize some of the characters and themes while staying (relatively) emotionally detached from it. I had friends who grew up in households as toxic as the teenage characters on the show, but the fact that none of that stuff went on in my house made it easier for me to adopt a bit of a sober, deconstructionist view when watching and speaking about it.

But, as I’ve come to learn, this was all bullshit. It’s definitely still true that my upbringing protected me from harm and implanted a certain appreciation for many of the themes present in the series, but the connection I had with the show had nothing to do that. It came down to one hard to swallow fact: I am Old Face Andre.

While every single one of my closest childhood friends have left Pittsburgh for “greener” pastures, I’m still here; leaving only for college and returning as soon as my degree and my basketball eligibility had been completed. I wish I could say that I made the decision to come back because I had a plan, a promising job opportunity, or even a girl I was smitten with, but I’d be lying. In reality, I always considered it to be an inevitability; a concretized step on a pre-destined path. I came back because I just couldn’t fathom being anywhere else.

I imagine you think I’m being hyperbolic, that comparing myself to a drug dealer so short-sighted and ignorant that he basically chose certain death over leaving Baltimore is a stretch, and you’re probably be right. With a limited education and an extensive rap sheet, Old Face Andre’s options were limited by a series of decisions — decisions either made by him or completely out of his control. Maybe he wasn’t actually in prison, but he was far from free, and considering his circumstances, moving to East Baltimore may have actually been his most feasible choice.

But while my situation is far from as dire as Andre’s, I can’t help but note the similarities between us. My choice to blog/write/edit full-time gives me real incentive to leave Pittsburgh, as most of the career-making new media opportunities that would best suit the type of work I do are found in New York City and Washington, D.C. Yes, it’s true that I don’t necessarily have to leave the Burgh to build the career I want to build, but staying would be like to deciding to walk to Cincinnati the next time I visit my family there. Sure, it can be done, but driving or flying (or, well, not going to Cincinnati at all) would probably be a better plan.

Mind you, this is no anti-Pittsburgh rant. While the tone of the last couple paragraphs may have implied that I think I’m somehow “better” than the Burgh, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the city is undoubtedly better than me — talented, unpretentious, unflappable, and blessed with understated beauty. If the Burgh was a random babe at The Shadow Lounge or Savoy, she’d be out of my league, and I’d probably have a better chance with one of her less attractive cousins (Cleveland) or her extremely glamorous and extremely self-esteem deficient co-worker (Atlanta).

It’s just that…I don’t know. I don’t know what’s keeping me here. I don’t know why I didn’t even consider staying in Buffalo when done with school. I don’t know why I feel like I need to somehow be validated by Pittsburgh, like being successful somewhere else just wouldn’t matter the same way. I don’t know why this city means so gotdamn much to me, and I don’t even know if I want this feeling to change.

Despite my love for “The Wire,” I’ve always been ambivalent about Old Face Andre’s last appearance on screen. Captured by Marlo’s henchman and destined for certain death, he asks his soon to be murderers not to shoot him in the face so that he can have an open casket funeral. The request itself isn’t what stirs the ambivalence, though, as much as the tone he used when asking. He pleas the same merry familiarity that a person would adopt when asking the kid working the register at Giant Eagle to double bag his groceries. Not only is he completely resigned to his fate, it seems like he’s almost welcoming it; like he knows he doesn’t matter enough to even attempt to fight for his life.

I never quite felt that this particular scene worked as well as the rest of the show. I just couldn’t buy that a man in that situation would still be so casual, so jocular. But, perhaps he was just tired. Tired of living in fear. Tired of being haunted by Baltimore. Tired of the pathos. Tired of the self-imposed shackles. Tired of allowing himself to be manipulated by nostalgia. And perhaps his subconscious recognized that he was just ready for a change; something…anything not Baltimore.

If this is true, I understand.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)