Follow the Money: The Addict Rate of Exchange

I wanted Bubbles to stay clean really badly, for personal reasons. Because I have too many friends who fight this disease on a daily basis. I know people who didn’t make it through Mardi Gras this year, who threw away months of hard-earned, clear-eyed sobriety, because during parade season they couldn’t see the harm in “just one beer after being good for so long” and by Mardi Gras day they were back to straight vodka in the morning, or smoking crack in a boarded up vacant in the flood zone, or methed to the tits and sucking cock for strangers in a gay bathhouse. I have a good friend, an alcoholic, who took his own life last month because he just couldn’t grasp how to live. It’s heartbreaking.

I’ve been saying all season, “Bubbles stays clean!”, like a prayer, like a mantra, because I knew it was possible even in Simon’s world, but I knew it could go either way.

But episode 57 is when I knew for sure. Bubbles stays clean. I’m not saying he lives…anybody can catch a stray bullet or get dropped for snitching, but if Bubbles dies next week, I know he dies clean. All you have to do, like Freamon says, is follow the money. Watch how an addict handles money, talks about money, reacts to money, and you will know if they are using, or jonesing, or on the edge, or strongly sober.

Throughout the show, Bubbles has been a valuable confidential informant, mostly for Kima and McNulty, and his reward has always been doled out in tens and twenties. If you’re thinking like an addict, though, he wasn’t getting paid money. He was getting paid in drugs. Because a twenty dollar bill, if you’re an addict, is not cash; it’s enough drugs to make you right for the rest of the day. If you’re an addict, you automatically do the rate of exchange in your head. You don’t think “I’ve got twenty dollars”, you think “I’ve got two solid blasts and a little to wake me up in the morning, now who’s got that Pandemic?”

When Bubbles was the comfortable happy-go-lucky fiend, he accepted the twenties with gratitude and aplomb, maybe even a bow and a jig.

When he was a desperate and needy fiend, then twenty wasn’t enough. In Season 2, he risks his life tracking down Omar for McNulty, and when McNulty gives him the standard twenty, he’s practically bleeding self-pity from every pore while he wheedles another bill for his pain and suffering.

And when he was trying to go clean, when he was trying to live on the straight and narrow, he’d look at that twenty and be filled with fear. Season 1, when he tries sobriety for a while, he gets Kima to agree to fix him up with a couple hundred, enough money to set him up with a place and some clothes so he could go to meetings and work on getting his life back together. But before Kima comes through, she gets shot, and the next time Bubbles hears from the police, it’s McNulty. Oblivious to Bubbles’s attempt at a new life, McNulty casually offers him the standard twenty, and you can see the horror in his eyes when he reluctantly takes it. He knows twenty dollars can’t do anything to get him back on his feet. There’s only entry for twenty dollars in the currency exchange, and it’s “two good blasts and a little left over for morning”. McNulty might as well have just paid him in blue caps. McNulty doesn’t know this, but Bubbles does, and he walks around with that twenty in his hand for a couple more episodes, but you know it’s whispering to him the way the Ring of Power whispers to Gollum. By the end of season 1, he’s using again.

We saw him struggle over and over throughout the show, and really really trying since hitting bottom in Season 4.

So I’m not real big on the AA cliches and slogans, but this is relevant. There’s a bit of 12 Step stuff you hear read at most meetings, from a page called “The Promises”:

We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

This played out with Bubbles before our eyes, quite literally, almost like a 12 Step commercial (if there was such a thing). By episode 57, he was clearly enjoying being of service in the soup kitchen, and jumped at the chance to tell the people’s stories to the Sun reporter. He had a purpose, a righteous purpose. And in the homeless camp under the bridge, when the reporter whips out the obligatory twenty, Bubbles looks at it and smiles, and says “Nah, man, it ain’t like that.”

Right then, I knew.

We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

The addict rate of exchange is still in force, but Bubbles could look at it and laugh and say, “no thanks”.

I’ve cried over seeing real people get their 1 year chip, but Bubbles is the first fictional character to make me want to cry over it. And I got on the phone with another Wire fiend and recovering booze and pills fiend, and we were both giddy. Bubbles is gonna make it.



  1. Wow, incredible post. And I agree that Bubbles’ story is one of the most powerful in the show.

  2. One need not be a recovering addict for those words to ring true and helpful.


  3. Having my heart broken by the real world Gary McCullough led me to believe that Bubbles, no matter how much I wanted him to do it, wouldn’t make it.

    Now, I believe he will, and I believe that I’ll be happy paying you that twenty bucks.

    But man, did you see the previews of Dukie? He’s just gonna chase a blast because he doesn’t have anything better to do. He doesn’t have the shoe gig with Poot, he can’t get another gig, and he is getting tossed to the curb from his babysitting gig by Michael.

    He’s gone. He doesn’t want to be gone, but he doesn’t think there’s another way out. And, unfortunately, in this particular case, he’s right. He’s not an addict by addiction, he’s an addict because there are no other doors open to him.

  4. I want to know the time span between 59 and 60, because I just don’t get that Dukie would pick up overnight.

    I guess I’m in denial.

    Ray, another beautiful post. The point about money is totally valid, too.

  5. Ray: That was a terrific post.

  6. Ashley, Virgo:

    Thinking about Duquan’s tragectory, I feel like there was a scene missing from a couple of episodes back. When he went to Cutty, asking for help, Cutty made it clear he didn’t know “how to get there from here” or words to that effect. Shouldn’t that have been the cue for Cutty to try to turn Dukie over to the Deacon? That’s who he relied on before to work with the system, and certainly the church is enormously important as an alternative structure for “at-risk” kids like Duquan. Maybe they’ll do it in Ep60, but I doubt it. That preview scene with Prezbo looks to me like a last chance.

    That’s not to say that within the world of the story (or in real life) it would’ve worked. It’s not hard to visualize a scene where Cutty tries to get the Deacon to help the boy, but the Deacon’s too overwhelmed dealing with a conflict on the church board and a shortfall in the building fund. He’s middle management too, and isn’t immune to the same problems that bedevil ever other manager in the story. Dukie, discouraged, would probably just slip away.

  7. Dukie, through no fault of his own, lacks self-confidence and direction, a sense of himself. He just follows the path of least resistance. He reacts instead of acting. For example, he didn’t go to Cutty’s of his own volition. Michael took him to Cutty’s. Maybe the point of showing the Deacon at the oratory contest was to highlight that gap, periscope, to show that even well meaning and kind people let kids slip through the cracks?

  8. Virgotex:

    “Periscope Studio” is me (when I forget to log out of wordpress.) That sounds like a really solid analysis of Dukie’s character to me. The horrible irony is that he might not have much direction or motivation now, but addiction will give it to him soon enough. And your point about showing the Deacon at Nay’s debate makes sense, too.

  9. I thought it was you, Steve, but I was too lazy to go look it up in the past comments. I’m hung over from caucusing last night.

    (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it)

    A persistent emphasis throughout the Wire, even when it isn’t out front (like last season) is that kids need parents and/or mentors, a sense of family or community. Many of the characters we think of as being more “decent” have made reference to (or we have seen) their family ties.

    It’s so sad that Dukie wasn’t allowed to stay with Bug.

  10. Yes, terrific post Ray – and all the best.

    Agree fully about Dukie as a reacter. His survival so far has been based on blending in and not causing problems or being a burden. Contrast that with Namond who ended up getting the help he got by acting out.
    If Mrs. Donelly had not discouraged Prez from helping Dukie, maybe things would have been a little different.
    Tragically, he seems to be on the same path as Bubs was once on. Even with the lack of being called by his “Christian name: – almost no one ever called him Duquan.
    From what I could hear on the preview with Prez, I think he says something like, so will this be the last time I see you? Definitely not a good sign.
    One point about Cutty and the Deacon – although Cutty is working at prevention with training the boys in the gym – both of their mentality’s are more centered on recovery than prevention, which is why I think in some ways Cutty didn’t even think to send him to the Deacon. Basically almost no one knows what to do with a kid like Dukie in Baltimore. He sort of doesn’t fit anywhere.
    Finally, my co-worker who watches is furious at Michael for not giving Dukie any money. I’m not sure why I am not as bothered by it, but it certainly would have been nice if Michael could have done something for him.

  11. I’m thinking that Michael may have given Dukie a little money. That big blunt box full of money was for Michael’s aunt, but I think that Dukie probably got a little bit.

    However, considering where Michael let Dukie off, we come back to Ray’s post. He might as well have given him blue tops.

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