Simon intends to leave a deeper legacy, unlike H. L. Mencken, that journalistic anti-hero of Baltimore, whose cynical insights stud Simon’s creations. For all his wit, Simon writes to me, Mencken couldn’t “travel through time,” because he believed in so little. In contrast, Theodore Dreiser “can’t write for shit,” and yet he speaks to “fundamental human truths. You still need to read Dreiser to understand our world.”
A month later, we met in New York, where David Mills, a week before his death, was cutting episode seven. Mills, a light-skinned black guy with a baby face, worked with a TV veteran’s laid-back precision, trimming a slack joke, cutting a “moist” performance. When Simon returned from a phone call, Mills told him he’d cut one of Simon’s pet lines.
“Those guys who wrote Deuteronomy, you think they had to deal with this,” Simon joked. “ ‘Ooh, there’s not enough parchment.’ ”
The two old friends were, in many ways, opposites: Mills wasn’t much of a reader, but was a tremendous TV buff from early on, a fan of The White Shadow and Hill Street Blues. He loved blogs (and had one himself) and was comparably conservative, having shifted right due to concerns about “individual responsibility, cultural pathology. It was a big issue we discussed during The Wire.” And yet there was an easy, teasing rapport between the pair, who had been hashing out such questions since they met in college. The next week, when Mills died suddenly on the set of Treme, Simon memorialized him with this statement: “He loved words and he loved an argument—but not in any angry or mean-spirited way. He loved to argue ideas. He delighted in it, and he was confident that something smarter and deeper always came from a good argument.”
As they negotiated cuts, Simon typed on his computer. It was the day after health-care reform had passed, and he was surfing the news. “’Baby-killer?’” he said, amazed. “They called the guy ‘baby-killer’?” He mused about whether the administration agreed to let those 34 Democrats vote “no,” to help them get reelected. “That’s the Lyndon Johnson way: You make deals until there are no more deals, then you threaten. It’s the way it’s always been done. I worried they wouldn’t know how to do it.”
I asked how he found out about Obama calling The Wire his favorite show. “The same way you did,” he said. That must’ve felt like a big deal—exciting, right?
He shrugged it off, grimacing slightly. “No, no, no, it wasn’t. Hey, you know—we’re just happy when anyone watches the show.”