September 5, 2013

50 Great Quotes From The Wire, Applied To Being A 20-Something

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1. “A man must have a code.”


If you somehow managed to pay attention during that 8:50 am freshman philosophy lecture, you’ll realize that Omar Little is channeling Imannuel Kant. The 2013 version of this means that maintaining a strong, built-in compass–be it pledging to never get as drunk as that time you nearly pushed your friend off a bridge, or manning up enough to put work on the back-burner so that you can focus on more important things. Don’t talk yourself into making compromises.

2. “World goin one way, people another yo.”


As we continue to move further and further down our life and career paths, we’re inevitably going to lose some people along the way.

3. “I guess what I’m tryin’ to say is…not everything comes down to how you carry it in the street. I mean, it do come down to that if you gonna be in the street. But that ain’t the only way to be.”

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To quote the great Stacie Orrico, “there’s gotta be more to life than chasing down every temporary high.” Being the big shot in a cubicle of five or the assistant manager at an Applebees may give you satisfaction for now. But there’s always something greater to strive for.

4. “You can’t even call this shit a war…wars end.”


How I generally feel about landlords in New York City.

5. “We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy’s pocket.”

Do you have a blue collar job? Probably not. In 2013, our best bet for financial comfort and “success” is to show up at an office and do a task you pretend to like so people don’t look at you weird when at a cocktail party.

6. “This sentimental motherfucker just cost us money.”


Caring about people, especially in business, is dangerous. Us millennials are big-time commodities. Don’t need to do the whole “there’s dozens of people that would do your job for less in a second,” but I guess I just did.

7. “Ain’t nobody got nuttin to say about a 40-degree day. Fifty? Bring a smile to your face. Sixty? Sh*t, n****s are damn near barbecuing that motherf**ka. Go down to 20? N****s get they bitch on. Get they blood complainin’ … but 40? Nobody give a f**k about 40. Nobody remember 40, and y’all n****s is giving me way too many 40-degree days.”


Being average is never good enough. Being above average is barely good enough. In this economy, the only thing that’ll really get the job done is consistent 60 degree days. Proper heat cooks the sausage.

8. “Man, money ain’t got no owners. Only spenders.”

Justification to buy that cool rug you’ve been eyeing for months.

9. I ain’t no suit wearing businessman like you. I’m just a gangsta, I suppose. And I want my corners.”

Sometimes our successes and our ambitions change us. Oftentimes this a good thing. But sometimes, a sweet new promotion–10K more for a life of compromise–is what ultimately breaks us.

10. “Lack of pussy will change even a good mans demeanor.”

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The morning your roommate finally breaks his/her dry spell, the dishwasher will magically be emptied. Young people need this stuff.

11. “They want me to stand with them, right? But where the fuck they at when they supposed to be standing by us? I mean, when shit goes bad and there’s hell to pay, where they at? This game is rigged, man. We like the little bitches on a chessboard.”

Have you ever had an entry level job?

12. “I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game though, right?”

Judgements are often passed based on what we do to make our livings. But ironically, its those society deems more prestigious that cause the real harm. Fresh out of college, realizing this–and what we want to do with our lives–is liberating.

13. “Nah, yo, it ain’t like that. Look, the pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick. They be out the game early.”

“Unless they some smart ass pawns.”

Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin. John Rockafeller grew up poor. Drake #started. All of them, at one point, were smart-ass pawns.

14. “Before you wanted to know nothing. Now you ask. Guns, OK? Drugs, whore, vodka, BMWs. Beluga caviar, or bombs, maybe? Bad terrorists with big nuclear bombs. I’m kidding you, Frank, it’s a joke. But you don’t ask … because you don’t wanna know.”


As we’ll learn from those who hurt us–be it through personal/intimate relationships or career oriented dealings–the real truth can sometimes make us never want to bring a child into this world.

15. “How come they know you’re police when they hook up with you. And they know you’re police when they move in. And they know you’re police when they decide to start a family with you. And all that shit is just fine until one day it ain’t no more. One day, it’s ‘You should have a regular job.’ and ‘You need to be home at five o’clock’.”


There’s this scene in Friday Night Lights where Matt Saracen asks the artist dude he’s interning for “what’s the most important thing about being an artist?” He proceeds to tell young Matty that the most important thing is to not give a shit about anyone else, so that his primary focus will always be his art. While certainly extreme, this is a wisdom nugget brimming with truth. Caring about people can ruin careers. This is America.

16. “You think I have time to ask a man why he giving me money? Or where he gets his money from? I’ll take any motherfucker’s money if he givin’ it away!”

The wondrous emo band Brand New once said “we’re the coolest kids, and we take what we can get.” A decade later and nothing’s changed–except that first part of the lyric has completely disappeared.

17. “How you expect to run with the wolves come night, when you spend all day sporting wit’ the puppies?”

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Famous comedians often say it takes 10 years to be any good. As with many things in life, you’ve gotta pay your dues. Too many times people show up and think they can just get on that wolf status. Wolf status is earned.

18. “We see one we like, we take care of his situation. Take him in, school him, make him family.”


You may see an attractive girl or boy on the other side of the bar. Blink once, and it’s 2 years later and she’s at your house for Thanksgiving. This is a good feeling.

19. “Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels. I’ve been here before.”

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Money has a funny way of turning every fucking institution into a completely soulless one.

20. “Come on with it, motherfuckers! I don’t give a FUCK! I’m right here!”


This actually doesn’t apply to us at all. We don’t know what a face to face confrontation is anymore.

21. “You put a textbook in front of these kids, put a problem on the blackboard, teach them every problem in some statewide test, it won’t matter. None of it. ‘Cause they’re not learning for our world; they’re learning for theirs.”

The real meaning of this quote is pretty heartbreaking–but everyone can learn at least one lesson. Just because things are being “taught” by some sort of higher force doesn’t mean you’ve gotta force that on your unique situation.

22. “I had such fuckin’ hopes for us.”

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Breakups are never the initial intention.

23. “If the Gods are fucking you, you find a way to fuck them back. It’s Baltimore, gentlemen; the Gods will not save you.”

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Your daily reminder that if you don’t like where you currently are, prove to everyone else that they were wrong in putting you there. Never wallow.

24. “A parade? A gold watch? A shining Jimmy-McNulty-day moment, when you bring in a case sooooo sweet everybody gets together and says, “Aw, shit! He was right all along. Should’ve listened to the man.” The job will not save you, Jimmy. It won’t make you whole, it won’t fill your ass up.”

We were told to “follow our dreams,” make a living through pursuing our passions. We now realize this is a rather sick joke. 99% of us must choose between one or the other–financial security or pursuing a passion–and some of use don’t even have the luxury of choice. Basing your happiness around attaining the position of Senior Vice President in a horrendously ugly looking building that juts up from a desert of concrete is pretty dangerous.

25. “What makes you think they’ll promote the wrong man?”

“We do it all the time.”


You may get promoted up to being full-time. What you need to do to get that promotion? Ummm…

26. “The past is always with us. Where we come from, what we go through, how we go through it; all this shit matters. Like at the end of the book, ya’ know, boats and tides and all. It’s like you can change up, right, you can say you’re somebody new, you can give yourself a whole new story. But, what came first is who you really are and what happened before is what really happened. It don’t matter that some fool say he different ’cause the things that make you different is what you really do, what you really go through.”

It’s not so much that you can’t escape your past; it’s that your past is what got you here. That means something. It means a lot more than something.

27. “Hell, if you can’t win the war on drugs in a prison, where the hell you gonna win it?”

It’s easy to force the issue. But if you’re having trouble making rent where you currently are, is moving on to more ambitious pastures really the smartest move?

28. “What you need to be concerned about is what’s seated in the chamber now: a copper-jacketed, hollow point 120-grain hot street load of my own creation. So you need to think for just a moment and ask yourself: what do I have to do before this man raise up his gun again?”


There’s a good chance you’ll fuck up at work. Once you’re in that doghouse, it’s a good idea not to stay in there permanently. (Basically, if you get nothing done on a Tuesday because you’re noticeably hungover, just make sure you drink enough coffee early on next time.)

29. “Fuck it, they chew you up, they gotta spit you back out.”


If you keep not responding to your former roommate’s texts, you’ll eventually have to explain yourself. Don’t dig yourself too deep a hole.

30. “Now, if this no-count nigga got two cell phones, how the fuck you gonna sell any more of them motherfuckers? That’s market saturation.”

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Here, Stringer Bell took an economic principle and applied it to a situation where economic principles, when it came to the people he was talking to, didn’t totally resonate. This sort of cross-referencing is HUGE nowadays. Because if you want any sort of cultural cred in 2013, its very important to take the most arbitrary of notions and strategically apply them to The Wire.

31. “You know, Avon, you gotta think about what we got in this game for, man. Huh? Was it the rep? Was it so our names could ring out on some fucking ghetto streetcorner, man? Naw, man. There’s games beyond the fucking game.”


Early on in college, I cared a lot about being in a fraternity that threw great parties. As I grew older, I couldn’t give less of a shit about the parties, and realized the more valuable long-game was the people, and what I had learned from the experience in general. If something pulls you in, be aware enough to realize there could be a bigger, bolder picture.

32. “You know something, Lester? I do believe there aren’t five swinging dicks in the entire department who can do what we do.”


A reminder to be fiercely proud of what you do. Even if its being listlessly unemployed on the couch. You own that shit.

33. “I mean, shit, it’s what war is, you know? Once you in it, you in it. If it’s a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight.”


Be it through a job, loyalty to a person or cause, or third item that you need in order to make these types of arguments strong enough, you might find yourself in a situation where you’re advocating things you don’t necessarily believe in. In some ways, this is inevitable; in our idea-based, discourse-happy information age economy, being heard requires having a unique and/or inflammatory slant. The internet, for example, can easily be boiled down to a bunch of people and groups saying the same stuff from different angles. And if that’s getting you paid, you’ve got no choice but to keep fighting.

34. “I look at you these days, you know what I see? I see a man without a country. You’re not hard enough for this right here and maybe, just maybe, not smart enough for them out there.”

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This is what happens around 25-27, when you’re too old to be raging incredibly hard, but too young to really settle down into married life and adulthood. This is clearly terrifying.

35. “There ain’t no special dead. There’s just … dead.”


The more years pass, the more people we know pass on. Sometimes, sudden and senselessly. And sometimes the whole thing feels like a sick joke–or something that clearly could be fixed when the apartment super gets around to it. But eventually you realize that your tragic situation is no exception. This is life.

36. “The king stay the king”

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Counter-culture is only counter-culture for so long. Then it gets bought, makes money, and it censors itself due to interests from big-time investors. You can’t speak out because people’s jobs are on the line, and these people have children. The King has the stranglehold. The Whopper Jr. used to stand for something.

37. “Game’s the Same. Just Got More Fierce.”

The cover letter game hasn’t changed at all. Except now, one fuck up and you’re probably done.

38. “Now you think Ronald McDonald gonna go down to the basement and say, “Hey Mr. Nugget – you the bomb. We sellin’ chicken faster than you can tear the bone out. So I’m gonna write my clowney ass name on this fat-ass check for you.” Shit. Man, the nigga who invented them things? Still working in the basement for regular wage, thinking of some shit to make the fries taste better or some shit like that. Believe.”

As an entry-level, there’s this notion that you haven’t necessarily “earned” anything yet. This is why assistants at talent agencies get shit on for years, and its why if you have an idea that’s “too good,” it’ll probably find itself in the hands of someone with a big wallet. For reference, see Hollywood.

39. “The thing is, you only got to fuck up once. Be a little slow, be a little late, just once. And how you ain’t never gonna be slow, never be late? You can’t plan for no shit like this, man. It’s life.”

Those texting and driving PSAs are no joke.

40. “A life, Jimmy. It’s the shit that happens while you wait for moments that never come.”


Late nights at the office are sometimes necessary. But sometimes there’s an open bar over in Santa Monica, and sometimes you’ll meet some dude there that can make your dream of opening up a surfing school a reality. You’ll hate yourself if you miss that.

41. “Now, this is before my time but somewhere back in the 50’s or the 60’s, there was a moment of goddamn genius by some nameless smokehound who comes out the Cut-Rate one day and on his way to the corner he slips that just bought pint of elderberry into a paper bag. A great moment of civic compromise. That small wrinkled ass paper bag allowed the corner boys to have their drink in peace and gave us permission to go and do police work. The kind of police work that’s actually worth the effort, that’s actually worth taking a bullet for. Dozerman got shot last night buying three vials. Three. There has never been a paper bag for drugs. Until now.”

This is part of a great, season-long plot that bends the rules in terms of long-term societal bettering. Very much along the same lines of colleges knowing that being too ruthless in terms of stopping alcohol use could lead to exacerbating the problem. Rules are meant to prevent collective harm, but sometimes rules just end up being incredibly harmful. Always consider this, and realize how to apply current dilemmas to said circumstance.

42. “The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you don’t play.”

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You can’t get a shitty job if you don’t apply to one. Is this brilliant? I can’t tell.

43. “There ain’t no back in the day…Ain’t no nostalgia to this shit here. There’s just the street & the game & what happen here today.”


Sometimes we can’t consult the past, or use it to influence actions in which former ideals might’ve been applicable. See: Print Journalism.

44. “It’s play or get played. That simple.”


Rule number one of the working world is that nobody is gonna give a shit about you unless you give them a reason to give a shit about you.

45. “My word is still my word. In here, in Baltimore in any place you can think of calling home, it’ll be my word that finds you.”

Wherever you may go, way up high or down low, one of the few things that’ll help you stay true is the promises you strive to keep. As we age, we realize this is much easier said than done. But we must give this our all.

46. “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

If you sue Mark Zuckerberg, make sure he stole your idea.

47. “The Thing About The Old Days, They The Old Days”

The thing about graduating college is that the real world doesn’t believe in afternoons. You are not allowed to have afternoons anymore. I’m not really over it.

48. “Play in dirt, you get dirty.”

If you mess up colossally–be it committing some sort of friendship-ending action, being unfaithful, or immersing yourself in the dangerous world of cocaine-fueled money laundering–the stain will somehow stick. You’ll either get caught, or what you’ve done will eat at you with the ferocity of 100 mosquitos on a sticky August night.

49. “There you go. Giving a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.”


Sometimes we try to fix things that we have no business fixing. This can range from a significant other whose ship has long since sailed, to the way Wall Street currently operates. The older we get, the more we learn that certain things are well beyond our control. Singlehandedly, none of us are gonna change the world. Trying to can destroy us.

Giving a fuck is important, but you can’t be a ball hog. There are things you can fix, but wait for when your number is called.

50. “My Name Is My Name!”

This will probably always be my favorite quote. It sums up one of the more chilling yet wonderful human truths that arguably resonates now more than ever. Especially in the age of personal branding, when every external action (or lack thereof) intrinsically becomes a part of you. Maybe not to your innate self, but to how you’re defined relative to your peers. How your legacies is formed. How it’s built, and how it’s destroyed.

It’s an ideal that’s at once terrifying; when you fuck up and people draw upon that isolated incident to determine who you are, everything you’ve built and worked is at risk of being decimated. But when done right–when you accomplish something you’re proud of, or become recognized for something you’ve been striving to be recognized for all along–there are few things more satisfying. And in some ways, oddly liberating.

As the great prophet Ke$ha once said, “We R Who We R.” TC mark

When it comes to matters of opinion, discover some of the most intriguing, informed points of view you’ll find anywhere — at The Opinionator, from The New York Times

Images: The Wire


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