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Richard Price is a novelist and screenwriter. His books explore the urban world in a gritty, realistic manner that has brought him considerable literary acclaim. Price grew up in a[…]

Richard Price writes his fears.

Question: Is the Eric Cash character based on anyone?

Richard Price: He’s sort of based on me. Eric Cash is a 35 year old maitre’d at a toine restaurant down there who is one of three people that get confronted in this mugging. The other two are young guys in their early 20s. One of them gets killed; the other one is so drunk he doesn’t remember the whole incident. The thing about Eric Cash is that he’s 35 and down on the Lower East Side, 35 looks like 65. It’s sort of like the tyranny of youth and the tyranny of “I’ll live forever and anything’s possible. Everything good will happen to me. Nothing bad has ever happened to me.” Eric went down to the Lower East Side when he was 22 just like the kids that are going down there now and he became a maitre’d but it was just a means to an end. He thought someday he was going to be a working actor, he was going to be a screenwriter or some kind of writer and maitre’d was just to pay the bills until glory happened. Well, all the hyphens have fallen off after maitre’d. Nothing’s panning out and he realizes that that’s what he is. He’s a maitre’d. There’s nothing wrong with being a maitre’d unless that’s not what you wanted to be. That was just like your starting point. The problem and the torment for him is that he’s surrounded by 22 year olds that were just like him 13 years ago and they’re a torment to him because they all think they’re going to make, they all think they’re going to live forever. When the murder goes down, Eric responds in a way he’s not proud of. He basically runs away and never calls 911. When the police get to the scene, they’re talking to Eric and they know he’s lying, that he’s covering something. Along with two bad eyewitnesses, they think they’ve got the shooter. Whatever wasn’t destroyed in him by being so close to a death, is eviscerated by the cops over the next eight hours in a closed room. And by the time the cops are done with him, you can pick him up with a Dust Buster. The problem is, once they realize they made a mistake and they locked up the wrong guy, they realize he’s their only true eye witness and he won’t cooperate with them. He’s just been wrecked.What I was writing about was what would happen to me if I were one of those kids at 22, which I was and I had an early publication. So I was like 24 when the Wanderers was published. But Eric Cash would’ve been me. Nothing ever broke for me. I don’t know if I would’ve been a maitre’d. I would probably have been one of a trillion lawyers somewhere. He’s the ghost of Christmas future, there but for the grace of God. I’ll never know that. First of all, I was an idiot. I wasn’t ambitious. I was still in school. I was just writing for my writing class. For me, when I had enough of those stories together and they went out and I heard they were going to get published, it was like the world’s best term paper ever. It didn’t even dawn on me that right now, you’re no longer a writer; you’re an author. Honestly, if I knew what the odds were, if I knew what I was intending to do a little more acutely, I probably would’ve been too psyched out to pursue it. It happened almost in spite of myself. I didn’t hustle in any way. The thing is that when I was 24, 22, 23, when I was going to Columbia, School of the Arts Writing Program, if the Lower East Side was like the way it is now back then, I probably would’ve crawled on broken glass to go down there and be in that neighborhood. I would’ve loved the playground like that. I probably also would’ve been maybe not as oblivious as a lot of kids to the other worlds down there because I come from a house project, but I would pretty much be focused on other people like me. It was like one big Little Rascals clubhouse.

Recorded On: 3/3/08