The two different steps being because the title refers to two unique ideas with a similar theme. Just read the fuckin’ thing.
The greatest television show ever, The Wire, always had spectacularly good cold opens (a cold open being a scene at the beginning of a television show or movie before the credit sequence), and one of my favorite of these cold opens, involves one of the show’s many tragic heroes, Major Howard ‘Bunny’ Colvin. Forgive me for describing an incredible scene when you should just watch it, but my internet search did not come across it, and to be frank, even fans of The Wire may not remember it simply because there were so many great cold opens. But I digress-
The scene opens in Bunny’s office. He poses a simple and grammatically incorrect question to them: ‘Where you at?’ A Jennifer Hudson song I’ve never heard, according to Urban Dictionary, ‘Where you at?’ is Ebonics, and the uneducated way of asking ‘Where are you?’ Both officers are confused as Major Colvin repeats himself, but one officer manages to mumble a mangling of the address of the Western District headquarters, before Bunny removes two compasses from a drawer full of them, and makes his tried and true point. When he asks where north is, one officer points west and the other up as he places the compasses in their hands. What street, what block, what building, what floor, what room. If you don’t know your own location you can’t give your own location– and when you need to give your location you are usually in trouble. Survival means knowing where you are.
This scene comes full circle, as later, either in this episode, or another from season three, Colvin runs into one of his former patrolmen, now a Detective in the Major Crimes Unit, and asks him, ‘Bushytop! Where you at?’ Jimmy McNulty answers with the street, the block, the building, the floor, and the room, without hesitation. Even if he’s a self-destructive drunkard and (NSFW) a womanizer, he’s ‘good police,’ and the important lessons are not completely lost on him.
In New York City, I always find it funny when people don’t know which direction to head when getting off of the subway. Not because I’m snobby or one of ‘those’ people from New York, but simply because it’s a very easy thing to figure out. In Manhattan, the subways almost all run uptown or downtown. If you’re headed uptown, which ordinal direction are you headed in? That’s right, North. Therefore, if you get off the subway on the left side, what ordinal direction are you now headed? Now, the stairs run parallel to the track, and you’ve got to turn right to walk up them. What direction are you headed in now? Still north. It’s not hard to figure out if you know where you are to begin with.
Once, on a road trip up the East Coast, my buddy Matt woke up from a nap in the backseat, and asked, ‘What state are we in, Kentucky?’ I laughingly told him, ‘No, Virginia.’ He replied, ‘Oh yea, I get those two mixed up all the time.’ That’s funny for a number of reasons, at the time the biggest being that our road trip took us nowhere near Kentucky.
It doesn’t take a lot to know where you are in the world.
The second point I want to make on this theme comes from my own Mother, who despite her claims to the contrary, is a very smart woman. To say that I was a bit of a wild child would be an understatement. I would act out more than a bit, had a tendancy to talk at an eleven most of the time, couldn’t sit still, and in general used to cause a ruckus. One day Grace, in her infinite wisdom, and sick of giving me time outs, took me aside while all the other kids were playing, and gave me a serious talking to, which boiled down to one major point- There is a time and place for everything. It is important to recognize when it is not the time or is not the place for certain actions or words. For years after, and occasionally still, she would, relatively quietly say to me, ‘Time and place.’ And as much as it would frustrate the good holy hell out of me, she wasn’t wrong, and I knew it.
My mom made a good point, and I find that it really is relevant in my life even today. I think what it translates to, in adulthood, is basically a situational awareness in everyday life. What you say and who you say it to, how you act around others- whether you know them or not- and when it’s the right time to say something, and the right time to shut up and let ’em talk. If this is a good place to sing lustily and be a little tipsy, or if there is a young mother with her four year old on the car and maybe you should save it for the empty platform. Time and Place.
On that same road trip mentioned earlier, we stopped at the Hooters in Fredricksburg, Virginia. There were four of us normal sized guys, and one awesome tiny Asian female, who all happened to be wearing A frame t-shirts, and also happened to be sporting black cowboy hats with flames on them, and for some reason, we thought this was a great outfit to wear into this Hooters. Of course we didn’t intend to mock anyone, but I can (in hindsight) see how four Northern boys and their Asian friend could be seen as taking a jab at all things south of the Mason-Dixon. The record didn’t scratch to a stop and cut out the music, but suddenly the five of us felt uneasy and the hair on the back of my neck stood up as I felt the eye of every guy in the place on us. Suddenly that thought did dawn on us. This wasn’t the place to be dressed like this, and it being late enough on a Sunday night for more than a few beers to have been drunk down, the time just wasn’t right either.
We left without eating and changed out at the car. Back to Major Colvin’s point- Survival means knowing where you are. It turns out to be one of the recurring themes of The Wire- characters not recognizing that where they are at the moment requires them to act differently, that times change, and you change with them, or you die, that the rules of the street don’t play quite the same when you walk into City Hall, and you can’t be a 20th century gangster in the 21st century. And you certainly can’t break the Sunday truce with a bona-fide colored lady right in the line of fire.
Know where you are. Time and Place.
Don’t get captured.