Posts Tagged ‘RIP’

The Body of an American

June 1, 2011

The FICTIONAL Jay Landsman, played by Delaney Williams

The wake for detective Ray Cole in season 3 of The Wire is rightly celebrated as one of the high watermarks of the series. It’s one of the most moving moments in the run of the show, and also one of the most meta.

Ray Cole was played by Robert F. Colesberry, a producer who had worked with David Simon on The Corner and was an executive producer on The Wire until he died in February, 2004, after suffering complications following cardiac surgery. His last act for the show was his directorial debut, for “Port in a Storm,” the finale of season two.

Colesberry, in the form of the character he sometimes played, Ray Cole, is eulogized eloquently (and profanely) by Jay Landsman (Delaney Williams). Not to be confused with the real Jay Landsman, a retired homicide detective featured in David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. (I told you this scene was meta.) Landsman gives his speech in the old policemans’ tavern. Cole’s body is laid out on the pool table. This is a policeman’s wake. The hearse waits outside, presumably to rush the body off to Cole’s actual wake. But first, the eulogy.

To an outsider, Landsman’s speech might come off as cloying, or hokum. Landsman speaks mock-profoundly, but the writing is clearly intended to be actual-profound. And it is. In addition, there is the inherent joke that Landsman, the most comically boorish and profane character in the Baltimore Homicide squad, is the one delivering this poetic monologue.

The specifics of the eulogy – detective accolades, pissing off a wife, or three – don’t necessarily apply to where I’m about to take this blog post. But Landsman has a perfect way of summing up the things we accomplish in our lives, good and the bad:

“The motherfucker had his moments. Yes he fucking did.”

Landsman closes by saying, despite his ups and downs, Cole was first and foremost one of us: “Sharing a dark corner of the American experiment,” which might as well be the unofficial log line of the series.

My high-school bowling coach, Fritz Jonach, passed away last week at the age of 43. He died suddenly in his sleep – a congenital disease that apparently claimed his father the same way. I was on the bowling team for four years, captain in my senior year, and Mr. Jonach even taught the first film class I ever took. (I went on to major in Cinema & Photography in college, and I’m a graduate student at NYU right now, going for a Masters in Cinema Studies.) I remember a couple of the films he showed us. Peter Weir’s Witness with Harrison Ford, a section of the class on the origins of summer blockbusters where we watched The Towering Inferno. Probably Citizen Kane at some point. Look, every high school kid wants to take the class where all you do is watch movies. I took it as a sophomore but most save it for their second semester of senior year. But even if it’s a blow-off class, every year a few kids get something out of it, and I’d like to think I was one of them.

I don’t think I ever saw Mr. Jonach actually swing a bowling ball in my four years on the team. I can’t recall any specific advice he gave me that improved my game. We used to talk about The Simpsons more often than how the season was going. (I remember being impressed that he had a couple of “World of Springfield” Simpsons figurines on his office desk.) One of his children was born while I was on the team, and I remember his family showing up to the matches.

In my senior year, after the bowling team’s roster had grown stagnant for a couple of years, all of a sudden we had a big influx of recruits. We went from 7 or 8 guys to getting like 11 freshmen joining the team all at once. And since no one gets cut from the bowling team, they all had a vote in picking the team captain for the year. These new freshman recruits clearly outnumbered us old-timers, which was fine until they all wanted to vote for one of their dumb friends to be the captain. A freshman? As captain?! Heresy. Mr. Jonach counteracted this, and did the right thing by appointing my and my friend David, who had also been on the team for four years, as co-captains. (This despite the fact that neither of us were the best bowler on the team, even after four years of practice.)

Mr. Jonach was the quintessential stand-up guy. He was a Millburn high school alum himself, class of ’86 (the year after I was born). He took his good experiences and put them back into the system, becoming a teacher, coach, head of various clubs and committees, and in my memory he was just one of those teachers that every student liked.

If he wasn’t up for Educator of the Year, he was certainly on track for a pretty substantial lifetime achievement award. He had his moments. Yes he did.

Below, Landsman’s eulogy, followed by a drunken policemens’ choir rendition of The Pogues’ “The Body of an American.” (The greatest funeral dirge ever written.)

Rest in peace, coach.