Bubs on the Subway

In New York, you’re not supposed to notice the celebrities in your midst.  You nod and you keep your distance, and you tell your friends the story of the close sidewalk encounter later, in passing, no big deal, otherwise you sound like a tourist.

Yeah, well, in this place, we’re all tourists—we all come from somewhere else, no matter how long we’ve been here.  That’s why New York is so weird and inspiring.

So I don’t feel so bad about approaching Andre Royo, the guy who played Bubbles in “The Wire,” on the platform at 42nd Street, where we were both waiting for an uptown C train.  I couldn’t help myself, maybe because it was late afternoon and I was coming from the Film Center Café on 9th Avenue, where I’d just had lunch with a playwright who teaches creative writing at the American University in Beirut—it’s true, I was feeling more literary than usual—or maybe because, unlike most of you, I finished watching all five seasons of the HBO series just last Sunday.  I was still breathing Baltimore.

I walked over to him after dropping a dollar into the guitar case of a skinny white guy who accompanied a tall black man singing Broadway show tunes in a quavering baritone with his hands jammed deeply into his pants.  “An Impossible Dream” indeed.

Bubs/Royo was reading a play, probably memorizing lines, but I didn’t care, I said, Are you the guy from “The Wire”? and he smiled, he nodded, we shook hands, and I said, Thanks.

“It’s funny,” he said, “a lot of people say that, they say, ‘Thanks.’”  I said, Well it’s a gift, that show is, well, it’s just a gift.  I was being so earnest that he laughed.  We got on the train and continued our conversation.  I say, my girlfriend and I, we’ve been watching it two and three episodes at a time for months now, we’ve been using Netflix no matter where we are, Chicago, Florida, wherever, I feel like I live there, Baltimore I mean, it’s incredible!  “Yeah,” he says, “I know what you mean,” and he smiles some more.

I ask him about getting work as an actor, and he’s pretty happy, he’s doing better than OK, we talk a little about living uptown—always taking this strange, decrepit C train—and then I say, You know, my girlfriend and I, we’ve been debating the moral center of “The Wire,” she says you, I mean Bubbles, but I say Omar, and without missing a beat he says “Michael,” and so I start thinking, Well then I’m right, because in the last episode it’s Michael—the kid who’s recruited by Chris and Snoop, Marlo Stanfield’s muscle—it’s Michael who takes up Omar’s role as the conscience of The Game, the man who comes after any player, no matter how powerful, no matter how many corners he controls.  Deus intra machina, once Omar, then Michael: delenda sunt.

For the second or third time in my adult life, I’ve been silenced by a remark that makes so much sense that it’s worth savoring.  I’m on the C train between 59th and 72nd.

And then Bubs/Royo tells the story that makes both of us right—me and my girlfriend, I mean, but feel free to identify: “David sits the three of us down before we start filming that fifth season, he says, ‘One of you has got to go, you’re gonna die, but I don’t know which one.’  So we were like, what the fuck, but man it kept us in character.  We were paying attention, I can tell you that.”

I ask him about two moments of the ending—I hated the last episode, everybody’s homeward bound, including Jimmy McNulty, fuck that—and Bubs/Royo says interesting things.  I ask, How did it feel, doing that AA routine, being all clean and noble, I liked the part about holding on to grief and also allowing room for other feelings, but c’mon, and how did it feel walking up those stairs into your “sister’s” house, sitting down to dinner with her, didn’t that feel a little forced?

“It wasn’t bad, it felt like completion or something,” he says, “like we were trying to end these stories that just, I don’t know, they just keep going, they won’t stop.  It’s like you need that ending.”

Yeah, we do.  Still, as he got off the train at 81st, I wished there were more episodes in the Netflix queue.  I was up against the door of the subway car, leaning forward, smiling and shaking my head, and suddenly, even standing, I was at eye level with my fellow passengers, and the largest one of them, sitting just to my right, said, “That was him, that was Bubbles, right?”

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Bubs on the Subway

  1. Jim,

    Good stuff. Talk about a story for home, especially since you two just finished the series. My wife and I finished the series last year, and my desire for smart entertainment has been unsatisfied since. Thank God *Mad Men* on dvd starts up again soon.

    I still think Omar is a strong moral center, even if Michael Lee displaces him. But moral considerations are all over the series, so maybe it’s subjective in relation to what moral considerations one feels are higher in the chain.

    But this is the kind of a star encounter I’d take any day: an entertaining but non-star character from a smart production, and intelligent conversation with a limit.

    – TL

  2. paul chepolis

    After “Mad Men” (slick, compelling, and contrived — like a glossy ad) and before “Breaking Bad” (gritty violence prurience with at least one “Whoa… that was cool!” moment per episode) I, too, recently completed an aggregate viewing of “The Wire.” I agree with Lorrie Moore (“In the Life of the Wire,” New York Review of Books, 14oct10) about its being perhaps the most important series to ever be produced for tv.

    I see Omar as a righteous and vindictive christ-figure overturning the tables of the money-changers in the temple, shot down by naked ambition, and Michael as a resurrected christ-force of justice.

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