I've been watching reruns of the final episode of The Wire all week. Yeah, the show is just that hard to let go.
Fans of The Wire have been e-mailing me or talking to me for the past few months about the impending demise of what they consider the best television drama ever. Some have outdone themselves, watching the show a week in advance through an "on demand" service and then telling me the plot.
"I don't want to spoil it for you," one of the students in my writing class at Johns Hopkins University told me the week before the character of Omar Little was killed. "But Omar! It's like a Greek tragedy. The characters you like best always seem to die."
I don't know why this character thought he hadn't spoiled it for me, but I wasn't too upset. I had already figured out two episodes before Omar got it that not only was Omar going to get it, but also who was going to give it to him. The character of Omar Little was a young black man in Baltimore with a criminal record. Just how else was he going to end up? Doesn't the profile of a young black male with a criminal record fit most of this town's murder victims?
It was such authenticity that drew me to The Wire and kept me hooked. I knew producer, writer and series creator (and former reporter for The Sun) David Simon had something special during an episode from the show's first season called "One Arrest." Detective "Bunk" Moreland is questioning Omar - the "stickup boy" who robs drug dealers for a living - about a murder suspect. Omar asks Bunk if he went to Edmondson High School. Then Omar tells Bunk, "You was the first brother I ever seen play that sport with a stick. What's it called?"
"Lacrosse, man," Bunk answers. "Prep-school boys used to [wet] themselves when they'd see old Bunk coming at them."
The fictional Bunk is based on what might be scores of young black men who played lacrosse at Edmondson during the 1960s. From 1963 to 1969, the school had a spectacular three-sport run in lacrosse, football and wrestling. Several of those lacrosse players - Wayne Jackson, Stanley Cherry and Dickie Hall - went on to play for the famous "Ten Bears" lacrosse team at then-Morgan State College.
The story of the "Ten Bears" has been made into a documentary that's scheduled to air April 4 on the Public Broadcasting System. But an e-mailer assures me the better story is the one about Edmondson's 1969 lacrosse team, which played and beat several of the best private schools in the area.
There are many Baltimoreans, born and raised here, who don't have a clue about that little tidbit of Edmondson High's sports history included in The Wire. But Simon knew it; if he didn't, he made sure he got a writer who did. Former Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez wrote the episode "One Arrest."
Several former Sun reporters or editors - among them Bill Zorzi, Michael Olesker, David Ettlin and Scott Shane - appeared on The Wire this season playing themselves. While that might seem amateurish - and downright cheap - to some, for me, it simply added to the show's authenticity. Trust me, either no one but Bill Zorzi can play Bill Zorzi, or no one but Bill Zorzi should play Bill Zorzi.
Attorney Billy Murphy also played himself on the show, as did former state Sen. Larry Young, now a successful talk show host on WOLB radio. Former drug kingpin Little Melvin Williams also had a part in The Wire. Simon's decision to include Williams in the cast might be considered an inside joke. Ed Burns, the co-creator of the series, is a former Baltimore police detective who helped bring down Williams' drug operation.
My quintessential authentic Wire moment came when, in one episode, I heard a name I hadn't heard since I was growing up in West Baltimore:
I would hear that name all the time when I was a boy. I can't remember the context, nor can I remember who Eggy Mule was. I do remember I would collapse in peals of laughter whenever I heard the name. Over the years I've often wondered who Eggy Mule was or is.
So I did what any industrious, inquisitive and eager 21st-century journalist would do: I Googled the name.
According to a story in the July 24, 2002, edition of the Baltimore City Paper, Eggy Mule was an arabber, the uncle of Dorothy Mae Prestbury, this city's first woman arabber. So, after many years, the mystery is now solved. I finally know who Eggy Mule was. But one mystery remains.
How did he get that name?