Kary:

This is the crime story podcast with Kary Antholis where we have conversations about how and why narratives of crime and justice are told. Today’s podcast is a conversation with David Simon. 

This Podcast is the last of a 4 part interview. In Part 4, we discuss David’s creation of The Wire and some of the key themes explored in that series.

And so with all that said, here is my interview with David Simon.

Kary:

How did The Wire evolve?

David Simon:

Well, we tried to pitch it to you and you ended up wanting The Corner if you remember. So we were at TCA and I was preparing to publicize The Corner, which was done and we were pitching to the critics at TCA. It was my first TCA. What I thought it would be my last TCA because I thought I was going to go to the Washington Post after I delivered this miniseries. Help myself sell some books and now it’s my time to go to a newspaper then write more books.

David Simon:

And after we did the presentation, Carolyn Strauss sidled up to me and said, The Corner turned out really well, do you, do you have anything else?” I said, “Like what?” And she goes, “Well you know, like a series? Do you have anything you ever wanted to do?” And I said, “Well, you know, I actually pitched The Corner as a series to you… to you guys; not to you, but to HBO. And you know we ended up doing this. But yeah.” So she said, “Well why don’t you come in and talk about it?” So I did. That’s what happened.

David Simon:

Effectively, all the stuff about the real institutional stuff of the drug war couldn’t all be done in The Corner because that really was the story of a family in diaspora…in the diaspora of addiction. It was a much more delicate story. The most you could start saying about why the drug war wasn’t working was probably in that two minute section at the end where the beat cop, Bob Brown, the actor playing Bob Brown, talks about how… he’s asked about the numbers… “The numbers don’t make sense. You can’t arrest your way out of this problem.” And that was the beginning of our critique of the drug war. But it ends there. I mean there’s nobody who can really… nobody’s gonna walk on and be that didactic except in those interview situations. So there was a whole bunch of what The Corner was trying to say about the drug war that was still left to be done. So that was the beginning of The Wire.

Kary:

And what were you trying to achieve in the first season of The Wire?

David Simon:

We were trying to train the viewer to watch a cop show and be completely upended by the premise of what they were watching. We wanted you to begin by thinking you were watching a “catch the bad guys” adventure. And by the end you were supposed to be questioning: Who are the bad guys? What is “bad guys?” What is “good guys?”  What is the whole point of what we’re doing? You’re supposed to question the drug war by the end of it. 

David Simon:

The first season is about… It was the conclusion that Ed and I had reached in The Corner, which was: This is not a war against illegal drugs. This is a war against the poor. This is a monetization of the poor by a legalized construct. And so you’re supposed to feel like… not that the drugs are good, not that they’re not wrapped in a mantle of violence that is untenable, because the levels of prohibition and penalty have reached the point where killing people is a plausible business tactic. You were supposed to feel all that, but you were also supposed to feel that there is nothing that law enforcement can do that addresses that, that the root causes of this dynamic are not about prohibition. And you’re supposed to doubt the entire premise of the drug war, which we were by then very down on as an amoral policy, which it clearly is. And so that was the first season.

David Simon:

And then as we were building the first season, I remember saying to Bob Colesberry, I said, “What we should do if they let us have more,” I said, “This thing… If they’re ready to cancel it after one, we will have made a good statement.” I was treating it like a miniseries. I said, “But if they let us go on, what we should do is we should do a critique of the American city and where it’s at and why we can’t solve any of our problems. And we should start slicing off different pieces of the city. And the next thing we should do is The Death of Work. The idea of we don’t need as many human beings to run our economy as we once did. And that’s an existential crisis.” And that was the ….

Kary:

The ports.

David Simon:

It was the ports but it was… I had just finished reading… oh, fuck me… The Harvard guy. He wrote The Death of Work.

Kary:

William Julius Wilson?

David Simon:

Yeah, William Wilson. Yeah, he was a great guy. By the way, I’m a recipient of the William Julius Wilson Award.

Kary:

Are you really?

David Simon:

Yeah, from Washington… Washington State.

Kary:

This is crazy so, the reason I knew who you were talking about is because there’s a friend of mine, his name is Chris Foote. He’s an economist at the Boston Fed. And I asked a bunch of my friends for questions for you when I knew I was going to be doing the interview, and this was his question: “A lot of people have pointed out that the themes in The Wire are consistent with the academic work of the sociologist William Julius Wilson who has written that the most significant problem for black people in inner cities is not some impoverishment of culture, which is what the conservatives say or outright white racism, which is what some liberals say. Rather, it’s the exodus of decent paying, blue collar jobs from big industrial cities in the 1960s and 70s. That act has stranded black Americans economically and led to all sorts of social dysfunction.” It’s interesting because that’s also the premise underlying The Corner.

David Simon :

Right. There’s some of that in Gary’s backstory and in the world that he inherited from his father when it was a different Baltimore. That’s right. Listen, we don’t need as many human beings to run our economy. There should be a guaranteed income. I mean there should be at this point. Society’s affluent enough for it and the truth is it’s only going to get worse with automation and with AI, what we need people to do in order to sustain this society is much less than what we did. We have no less the number of human lives that require existential meaning. And that is… that underlies most of The Wire.

David Simon:

I remember reading Wilson’s work and thinking: “He’s dead right. He’s dead right. This is the Baltimore I know. The factories are gone. And what jobs there are in the service industry are often… We don’t even maintain the bus routes to get to them. The fucking governor of Maryland just shit-canned a subway line for Baltimore because he doesn’t need our votes. His paradigm is: ‘suburban Washington, Eastern shore, Western Maryland. Fuck Baltimore.’ That’s Larry Hogan. So I mean, public works that would actually take people from the inner city and make it so they can get to Hunt Valley, get to Owings Mills, get to Columbia. (Hogan:) ‘Why would you want that? Might as well invest in barbed wire.’ Wilson’s dead right.”

David Simon:

So I remember reading his stuff and thinking, “That’s the part we have to get across.” Originally, I was going to try and do it with a closing of an auto plant and the GM Broening Highway Plant  was still open at the time, GM plant. And they said no. And then I was going to do it with Beth Steel, which was like running one half shift or something. And Beth Steel was really interesting to me because I think as an artifact of history, you had separate black and white steel workers unions. Think about that. I mean there were still two separate numbers for the majority of black and majority white steel workers union. And I thought that’s interesting. And I wanted to do Beth Steel. Beth Steel said, “We’re not letting you; you’re not coming into our foundries.” So then we went to the port. There was a racial subtext to it… black stevedores, white stevedores. There was some tension within the union, but basically they were all being marginalized.

David Simon:

And we were playing The Death of Work. So that was season two.

Kary:

Could we talk a little bit about the exploration of youth and particularly young black boys in The Wire. Of course there’s the Wallace character in season one and the kids in season four in the schools. Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of your thinking over the course of the five seasons of the show about the experience of young black boys becoming young men on those corners?

David Simon:

A lot of that is Ed. And Ed had taught for eight years. Between the time… First we reported The Corner. But then after we were done reporting (and writing the first draft of) The Corner and I was busy (re-)writing the book and then working on the miniseries, Ed had eight years of teaching middle school and then high school in Baltimore. And he had a lot of sensibility about what he was experiencing. I had some, because… I’d reported The Corner with him and I watched the attrition that overtook DeAndre and his friends. Most of those kids are gone now. I mean, DeAndre is dead. RC has passed. I think Tae is still around. Dinky was shot to death. Boo was shot to death. One kid did good. Little Kevin who was like a stoop kid and his mother kept him close. I think he got to college. I mean like if not college, he’s got a good job. He’s got a great normative life. Everyone else, the level of attrition was exhausting and defeating and grievous.

David Simon:

But more than that, what I wanted to convey with Wallace and what Ed often came back to in theme when we were in the writer’s room was… First of all, people are people and you’re experiencing somebody, as I had often experienced DeAndre when I was getting to know him… He’s charming, he’s funny. There are moments where you almost can stand outside of what he’s experiencing and you know, because he’s got like intakes like television and stuff he can do…. He used to do a savage imitation of Kramer. He loved Seinfeld. You know, there were like moments of like the exterior world. Like I can acquire stuff when it comes in, even if it’s artifice. He had a couple of quotes of… I don’t know if he knew they were Shakespeare, but like he had… a few little Shakespearian sonnets that he could deliver at moments.

David Simon:

If you’d put a plate of the external world from West Baltimore in front of him, he could’ve lapped it up. He was no fool… On the other hand, everything he was experiencing on a daily basis was telling him to be prepared for this one world and that the rest of the world was malevolent. And it’s hard to convey that to people who don’t have any interaction with what the inner city does to kids in this sense…

David Simon:

I’ll tell you a story which is… Early on when I was reporting The Corner, DeAndre was like 15. We realized we were going to have to… If we’re going to follow a teenage drug dealer, we’re going to follow him. But he won’t be of the age of majority where you can ask him for his permission to write a book about him for another three years. I mean, I’m writing a book about what it’s like to sell drugs as a kid in Baltimore in a drug saturated neighborhood when both your parents are struggling with addiction. That’s what the story is about. It’s about… It’s about a neighborhood subsumed by addiction and by a drug economy that is the only hiring agent on these streets.

David Simon:

If I wait for a kid to be an 18 year old drug… it’s too late. Too late. I’m years late on when this becomes a rite of passage. So it’s got to be DeAndre. But I’m doing my best to bring clarity to the fact that, “Kid, I’m really a reporter. I’m really gonna write this book. Here’s a copy of my last book. You know, whether you read it or not. Here’s Homicide. When I say I’m going to write a book, I really am going write a book. It’s going to be about you. I’m going to use your name. You know, by the time it comes out, you’re going to be 18, 19. But this is going to be the world as you inhabit it. At a certain point… I’ll let you back out after we get to know each other. I’m not gonna hold you to… But there’s going to come a point where I’ll be too committed.” So I tell him all this. And at one point I’m like, “I’m not sure the kid actually believes it.” So I say, “You want to go to New York?” And he says, “New York?” I was like, “Yeah, can you go to New York this week?” He says, “What are we going to New York for?” “Because I want you to meet my editor. I’m going to meet John Sterling. I’m writing this book for Broadway Books. We’re going to go to New York.” “I’m going to go to New York with you?” “Yeah, yeah, in the Acc.” I had a Honda Accord at the time. ” Yeah, in the Acc.” “Yeah, I’ll go to New York.” All right. So like years later, DeAndre was like, he goes, “I’d seen, I’d seen you with your wife once, you know. I’d seen you with your wife once, so I knew you probably weren’t a pervert, but I was ready to kick your ass if you were. But I wanted to go to New York.”

David Simon:

So he was pretty funny about it. So I drove him to New York and he met John Sterling and John Sterling who had edited Clockers, gave him a copy of Clockers, thought he might be interested in that. And John and I knew what we were doing. We were saying, “This is the book publishing company. This is where the book that is going to be about you, The Corner… you’re the main kid in The Corner, man. It’s going to be a burden in some ways. It’s not all going to be fun. It’s going… The book’s going to exist…” Like I did my best to basically… “Shot across your bow.” You know, “Look at the shelf full of fucking books out here in the front office. The Corner‘s going to be up there years from now.” And I told him, I said, “Even the detectives when I’ve showed up in the homicide unit, they didn’t believe I was going to… like years later, they’re like, this motherfucker actually wrote a book about us.” I say, “That’s what’s going to be like, DeAndre. So I just want you to know. Now I’ve done what I needed to do. What do you want to do in New York?” “I want to go to Harlem.” “Okay, we’re going to Harlem.” Now for me, this is 1992… 93. Harlem isn’t what it is now… Bill Clinton hadn’t moved to Harlem. But it wasn’t the Harlem of rage. Again. It wasn’t 1972 either. It wasn’t. And I’m a police reporter from Baltimore. I parked the car near 125th and I’m ready to walk and we’re going to go to Sylvia’s. I’m going to take you for dinner. You wanted to go? Here we go.

David Simon:

And I get out of the car and I come around and he’s not getting out of the car. And I’m like, “Are we going?” He’s like, “I’m not getting out of this car.” DeAndre, “What the fuck?” And… “We drove all the way uptown. Let’s go to dinner. I’m hungry.” He’s like, “No, man. I don’t know if it’s Bloods, Crips, I don’t know who runs these corners.”

David Simon:

I’m like, “You know what? It’s EAB. EAB has these corners.” And he goes, “Really?” EAB was the Edmondson Avenue Boys. They were a rival from Baltimore. I go, “No!” I said, “Get out of the fucking car.” His ass was so tight, he thought he was going to get machine-gunned. We walked up to try to go to dinner and he turned around after two blocks. He was like, “It’s cool. I’m okay. I don’t want it.”

David Simon:

And I realized all the damage that gets done from the earliest age of this is what doesn’t exist and this is what is not for you. And those things are subliminal at the earliest age of childhood in places like West Baltimore. That’s the real poverty of experience.

David Simon:

Another time, we were going white water rafting in the Youghiogheny up in Western Maryland. It was a trip that, Dick Irwin, one of the police reporters, used to have for Sun employees… We did it once a year. And that’s when I said, “Do you guys want to go white water…?” “Yeah, I totally want to go white water.” But we got to the McDonald’s near Cumberland on Route 70 just off the interstate and they were like, “We’re not gonna walk in there.” I’m like, “It’s a fucking McDonald’s. It says rest stop.” He’s like, “This is where the Klan is out here.” On some level, I’m sure they’re not wrong. “Someone is in the Klan in fucking Cumberland, Maryland. But you’re going to get a fucking cheeseburger. That’s all you’re going to get here. I promise you.”

David Simon:

But the sense of what the world offers was so … And this is not because they’re foolish. This is because everything that they’re acquiring from the early stage says, “You’re on a path and the path it’s this.” And it’s really extraordinary to have faith in the unseen world that you don’t experience. And that faithlessness, that unwillingness to believe that you, yourself, are entitled to any future or any construct as anybody else in the world, or anybody else who’s an American or whatever, was really painful to witness. Especially because I thought so much of a lot of DeAndre’s heart. Dinky as well. You would just see these moments of certitude about who they were and what their destiny was. And so we wanted to get that like when Wallace goes to the eastern shore… He has an aunt out there and it’s like trying to change the vector. And he comes back. He comes back.

David Simon:

I remember driving up that first time to New York. You know that moment in The Wire where Bodie is going to mule drugs from Philly and the radio station changes? I took that word for word from DeAndre. We were driving up 95 and we lost 92 Q. We lost the hip-hop station and we started to acquire some end of the dial station. And all of a sudden, he’s listening to Garrison Keillor and Garrison Keillor’s doing his little Lake Wobegon voice and Deandre is like, “What The fuck?”

David Simon:

And I said, “Oh, yeah. We’re picking up the Philly stations.” He was like, “Philly has different stations?” It sounds like I’m making fun of him, but I’m not. He’d never been out of Baltimore. And as soon as he acquired that, he was like, “Yeah, that makes sense. Okay.” But then he said, “But why?” And I was like, “Well, frequency and the state and the FCC.” You had to explain because we take it for granted. We take it for granted. 

BREAK

Kary:

I just want to ask a couple more questions because you’ve been incredibly generous with your time and I really appreciate it. Putting together the writer’s room on The Wire, You put together a virtual murderer’s row of the great crime novelists in America. Talk to me about how you came to do that.

David Simon:

The Wire gets credited for being fresh work and changing stuff in television. Some of which I think was already changed and there’s other examples of it changing already… and other people were pursuing it.

David Simon:

But the one thing I think The Wire did better than a lot of previous shows and maybe blazed a little bit of a path was we used a season to tell one story, to tell a singular narrative. There may have been some side stories here and there and some C lines. But basically, there was a spine to the story and there were 10 or 12 hours, whatever it was, 10, 12, 13 hours and we’re going to tell one story over that many episodes. It is not going to be episodic. It’s not gonna be Dubliners. It’s gonna be Ulysses

David Simon:

It’s not a series of linked short stories like Homicide or NYPD Blue. We’re telling a novel, so let’s go hire novelists. Let’s not hire TV writers. That was my vibe. That was my vibe. Whatever else you want to think about the narrative nonfiction of Homicide and The Corner, they were singular stories. They were all a year in the life of… But the characters had to be followed for a single a year and that narrative had to be beginning, middle and end. And chapter four had the lead into chapter five and to chapter six. So I may not have been writing a novel, but I was writing a work of narrative nonfiction. It was a singular story. And people like my wife (novelist Laura Lippman) and George (Pelecanos) and Dennis Lehane and (Richard) Price, that’s what they’d been doing for years. So they were the people I wanted to make a writer’s room out of.

David Simon:

To critique that writer’s room, early on, I looked at maybe bringing in Walter Mosley because I wanted a black writer who was a novelist in the room. I thought he would be optimal. We checked and his agent basically said he’s under contract to do (film and TV adaptations of) his own novels for a year. We weren’t getting him. And we ended up with who we did. And it was weirdly white considering, David Mills came in, did some episodes and Kia Corthron did one episode. We tried to stretch ourselves. But the truth is Ed and I knew that world. Ed had policed it. I had reported on it for more than a decade.

David Simon:

And the other guys, Price had been mining the same universe for novel after novel. So had George. So we were fairly indifferent to race.

Kary:

When it came to directors, you hired fairly diversely…

David Simon:

That’s what we did. I don’t think that takes the onus off the fact that I don’t think… we didn’t make it a priority. We didn’t worry about it. In the same way that Ed and I just wanted to tell a story that we thought deserved telling. I got George because you sent me The Sweet Forever and I finally started reading him.

Kary:

Yeah, it was in a comment on your scripts…

David Simon:

My scripts being delayed. I thought it was. I thought you were being a smart ass. But my wife was saying, “You’ve got to read George Pelecanos. He’s doing the same thing with his novels in DC. He’s chasing the same stuff as you.” I was like, “Fuck DC. I’m from Baltimore.” I’m really from DC which the fucking joke there. It took me a while, but when I got into him, I realized I should be working with him. And then George said, “We should go get Price.” The Jersey novels are all right in the same pocket. And so we went and got Price. And then from there, Lehane was just somebody that… We admired the work and the way he was carving up Boston, so we did it. And we really weren’t attending to the fact that maybe we were supposed to leaven that writing room racially.

David Simon:

I don’t think the show would’ve been that much different. I really honestly don’t because we were so locked into what was going on with the drug war in Baltimore. I think it would have been the same show. But we would have brought people along and we would’ve spread some credits out. Some voices would have been heard and it would have been a good thing. And I wish I had that to do over again. I would make that more of a priority in the same way that we did make it a priority on Deuce in terms of gender.

David Simon:

We were like this will not be two white guys writing their view of gender and pornography and sexual commodification and misogyny. By the way, the story has to be as much about “the male gaze” as about what does to women. It’s also about what it does to men. So the story doesn’t work without “the male gaze” being thoroughly examined. On the other hand, I really wanted to hear from women in the room and I wanted them to be belligerent in the room about what they wanted to see in the piece.

David Simon:

And so we’ve gotten better. 

Kary:

Can you talk about some of the directors that you groomed on The Wire?

David Simon:

Oh, Anthony Hemingway went all the way from 1st AD to being a feature director. Nina and I are going to his wedding this weekend. And Seith Mann. We no way can lay claim to Ernest Dickerson. He comes fully formed from the world of Spike Lee and from his own work. But yeah, we did a much better job. Joy Lusco, we gave her our first gigs. We were diligent there and we also used a lot of women directors on The Wire as well as men. I would say Nina ran a more socially responsible shop than I did.

Kary:

OK, I’m going to ask you one last question. What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?

David Simon:

Don’t be afraid to be the fool.

Kary:

What did that mean when you got it and what has it come to mean to you?

David Simon:

I have routinely shown up in places where I was either improbable or ignorant of the environment, the vernacular, the process. And I’ve opened myself up to it. There’s no level of uncoolness or embarrassment or ridiculousness that you could foist upon me that would stop me from getting a story that I wanted to tell. And I know a lot of great reporters who’ve done the same thing. Whenever I’m with one of them and we compare notes, it’s always the same dynamic. There are reporters who want to know everything before they know it. There are writers who want to pretend that they’re smart before they’re smart, that they come smart to the story.

David Simon:

Look, I know I’m smart. I know my skillset. My skillset is I can acquire information. I have a good ear. I can listen to the way people talk and reproduce it. I can think about why people do what they do. I can write characters. I can structure a story. I know all the things I can do.

David Simon:

What I can’t do is know a story before I acquire it. For that, I need to attend to other people and their realities. And that’s a reporting set that… you’d be amazed the number of reporters and journalists who don’t have it. They want to know all the answers before they ask the first fucking question. I worked with guys like that. I remember there was a moment maybe a year after I’d gone to the homicide unit, so probably in 89 and I was drinking with Terry McLarney who is a very wise man, a sergeant in the homicide unit. Very thoughtful but funny. He presents as Falstaffian, but he’s actually a very honorable and clever man.

David Simon:

And at one point, we’d both had a lot to drink and he said, “You motherfucker. You’re going to do it.” You gotta remember the book isn’t out yet. But I’m done being in the unit. And now I’m just following cases and I’m checking in with him. So I’m drinking with Terry. He says, “You’re actually gonna write this fucking thing,” and he said, “And I know what the book’s about.” And I said, “What?” And he said, “It’s not about the cases. You will have the cases in there. You’ll have a Latonya Wallace.” But, it was just a regular year. For him, they’re all just murders. He said, “This is about us. You’re paying attention to who we are, how we deal with each other, how we deal with the job. You’ve been watching us.” And I said, “No shit.”

David Simon:

He goes, “You’re going to do it. You’re actually gonna write this.” He was the first guy to get it. He goes, “And we fucking let you do it. We let you in. We showed you our ass.” And I said, “Yeah. Well, that’s what you do.” He goes, “When we let you in, you were fucking amusing to us. We were like a bunch of cats who were bored and they’re like little this electronic mouse loose in the squad room and we were having fun batting you around.” There was a million practical jokes. It was like I’d come in, there’d be a message in my mailbox, call Mr. Suite. It was spelled S-U-I-T-E. It was Suite. And I’d call. It would be like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance. Ah, fucking Landsman. Every stupid joke that these fucking guys could deliver. I didn’t give a shit. I was in the homicide unit. Just let me alone for a fucking year. I’m going to have a great book. I knew it. Get up to the drug corner. Put me with Charles Dutton. Put me with Bob Colesberry. Colesberry, when you made that marriage, he probably thought I was an idiot. He didn’t think I was an idiot idiot.

David Simon:

But when it came to film, the camera, I was a guy who, when they first put me… The first day on set on Homicide, I had to ask, “Who’s turning the knob on the camera?” “That’s the guy pulling focus.” “You mean the guy looking through the camera doesn’t focus the camera? That’s fucked up.” I knew nothing. So nevermind Hitchcock, Truffaut and how the camera’s supposed to move. Nevermind the shit that I had to learn. But I was not afraid to be stupid because the world has mercy.

David Simon:

If you’re sincere about, “I’m trying to learn, I don’t get it.” the world’s pretty merciful if you come in open like that. It’s amazing the number of people who don’t. So you were the one who brought me Generation Kill, that work.

David Simon:

And I remember thinking it was a remarkable feat of reporting. He stayed on point. It was my kind of book. It was my kind of journalism and I loved working on that. But I remember talking to Evan Wright the first time. “The moment where I knew I was in with these guys where they were going to let me get my book…” when he fucked up. That moment … we had it on screen, with the gas mask. When he made himself into the goddamn clown of the century with the straps and the blue balls and the gas mask that didn’t fit and they’re cracking up, that’s when he was in and that’s when I was in with DeAndre. And it stood me… 

David Simon:

In reporting, I remember I was doing this one story one time, heatwave in the middle of the summer, and I went out with the truck that was supposed to go from open hydrant to open hydrant and seal them back up because the kids would open them up because you want to play in the streets. So, some poor bastards had to have the job of ruining summer. So I basically followed the truck for a day. I thought it’d be a good feature and it turned out to be a good feature. And I followed these guys. And at some point, I realized I’ve been following the guys and the kids sort of behave when the guys get out of the DPW truck with the big wrench and they shut it off. And nobody argues. Two big black guys in a neighborhood, they’re like, “Eh, you’re going to need the water pressure. Can’t, sorry. Sorry.” But then we would drive on.

David Simon:

I’d be like, “What happens now?” I’m looking back over my shoulder and I realized in order to get the rest of the story, I got to stay. I got to stay after this. I’m not worried about physical safety, but there’s 30 kids in the street and they’ve just been told, “No.” So I stay. Finally, I’ve had enough quotes from these guys. It’s like, “Okay. Now, what happens if…” So instead of following the truck, I come, I pull back around and I walked down, I think it was Monument Street or Madison. It was someplace on the east side. And here comes a kid out of his rowhouse with a bigger wrench and the kid reopens the thing.

David Simon:

And I mean you can shut it off from the street, but they usually don’t want to do that because then the fire department comes. So the kid reopens it, the water spraying out, the kids who are cheering again and they all look at me. And I’m standing there and I’m in a street full of 30 kids. The joke of it is I knew it was going to happen. It wasn’t a surprise. Once I saw the kids get it open, I realized I’m not making it back to my car dry. I came back into the newsroom. I was drenched from like a thousand buckets hitting me all the way back to my car. But it made for the best part of the story.

David Simon:

It made for the pivot of the story. If I hadn’t stayed and I had all the quotes, if I could’ve stayed in the car behind the windows, I could have seen him do it, but I wouldn’t have the quotes. I knew when I got out of the car and walked to that, I said if they turn it back on, white boy reporter is going back to his fucking Honda sopping, fucking wet. He’s going back to the newsroom that way. And he’s going to squeak when he walks in the door. And I did. Not only were the kids laughing at me out on Monument Street, but all the reporters were like, “What the fuck happened to you?” But it was a good clip.

David Simon:

You’re supposed to be the fool. And then the moment when you’re not the fool, that’s when you write it. The moment you write it, you’re the smartest fucking guy in the room, so that’s the pivot and how you appear while you’re chasing it is… It’s the same thing with reporters who are … You talk with some white supremacists. I would always hear about these reporters. They would get “caught” agreeing with somebody in the room. You said something that was agreeable to this guy? I don’t mean use the N-word or anything, but you’re empathetic?

David Simon:

Feel like, “Oh yeah, no, I see why that would upset you. Yeah, no, I had the same thing one time …” I’d be like, “That guy’s working. It doesn’t matter what he says in the room to the fucking asshole. It matters that he keeps the guy talking. And then when he sits down to write it, that he write it with all the clarity, now that he’s pulled back through the keyhole.” I did not need to assert my liberal politics to a bunch of Irish and Italian cops. I needed them to be and to explain the world to me as they saw it and to demonstrate the world to me. And then when I’m writing it, now that’s when the integrity happens.

David Simon:

And so the whole premise of reporting to me was such a denial of ego, whereas the ego’s all there in the: “Hey, look at the story I brought back.” That’s it. “I’m now back here at the campfire. I’m the village griot and I have a great fucking story. But everything I did to get it to this point is just sublimation of ego.” And I always knew that. So a reporter early on said to me, he goes, “Don’t be afraid to be the idiot.” And I didn’t know what he meant immediately, but I knew pretty quick.

Kary:

David Simon, thank you so much for your time.

David Simon:

All right, man. Let’s go see what’s happening on my film set.

End of David Simon Interview.