For Crime Novelist Richard Price, Life Is 'Lush' Crime novelist Richard Price explores the fragile and often fractious relationship between Manhattan's Lower East Side denizens in his most recent book, Lush Life.
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For Crime Novelist Richard Price, Life Is 'Lush'

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For Crime Novelist Richard Price, Life Is 'Lush'

For Crime Novelist Richard Price, Life Is 'Lush'

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This is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, filling in for Terry Gross. No one writes better dialogue than Richard Price - not Elmore Leonard, not David Mamet, not even David Chase. That's how Michiko Kakutani began her review of Price's novel "Lush Life." Price has written several books that have been adapted into movies, including "The Wanderers," "Clockers" and "Freedomland." He wrote the screenplays for "Sea of Love," "Mad Dog and Glory" and "The Color of Money." And he wrote several episodes of the HBO series "The Wire." His novel, "Lush Life," is set on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where several different worlds collide - aspiring artists working in restaurants, kids in the projects selling drugs and carrying guns, new immigrants and the cops who investigate the murder of one of those aspiring artists. Terry spoke to Richard Price last March, right after his novel was published. It comes out next week in paperback.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, March 5, 2008)


Richard Price, welcome back to Fresh Air. I want you to read from the beginning of the book. Would you just set it up for us briefly?

Mr. RICHARD PRICE (Author, "Lush Life"): OK, this is the beginning of the day of Eric Cash, who's one of the main characters who is a kid - well, he's not a kid, he's 35 - but he's been living on the Lower East Side, working in a restaurant, holding on to this dream of being some kind of artist, and it's kind of slipping away.

(Reading) At 10 in the morning, Eric Cash, 35, stepped out of his Stanton Street walk-up, lit a cigarette and headed off to work. When he had first moved down here eight years ago, he was seized with the notion of the Lower East Side as haunted. And on rare days like today, a simple walk like this could still bring back his fascination - traces of the 19th-century Yiddish boomtown everywhere - in the claustrophobic age of the canyon-like streets with their hanging garden of ancient fire escapes, in the eroded stone seder heads leering down between pitted window frames above the erotic boutique, in the faded Hebrew lettering above the old socialist cafeteria, turned Asian massage parlor, turned kiddie club hotspot - all of it and more lying along Eric's daily four-block commute.

But after nearly a decade in the neighborhood, even on a sun-splashed October morning like this, all of this ethno-historical mix and match was, much like himself, getting old. He was an upstate Jew five generations removed from here, but he knew where he was. He got the joke: the laboratorio di gelato, the Tibetan hat boutique, 88 Forsythe house with its historically restored cold water flats not all that much different from the un-restored tenements that surrounded it.

And in his capacity as manager of Café Berkman(ph), the flagship of come on down, on the rare days when the beast would take one of its catnaps, he enjoyed being a part of the punch line. But what we really drew him to the area wasn't its full-circle irony, but its nowness - it's right here and nowness - which spoke to the true engine of his being, a craving for making it made many times worse by a complete ignorance as to how this "it" would manifest itself.

GROSS: That's Richard Price reading from his new novel, "Lush Life." The story brings together characters in the same neighborhood but who are from different worlds. Would you describe the collisions of reality that you've set up here?

Mr. PRICE: Well, the Lower East Side - I went down there. I've always been haunted by the Lower East Side, but in my mind, there was the historical Jewish immigrant Lower East Side and this new sort of hipperati, you know, Eden for, you know, kids in their 20s - you know, the sort of laptoppers with the sort of the same amount of hair on the top of their head as on their chin.

But I didn't know what I was getting into it. It's like Byzantium. I mean, I found out - I mean, there's the immortal world of the housing projects on the East River. There's the world of the Orthodox Jews. There's this very huge and hidden world of the Fujian Chinese that are living there as sort of half-undocumented, overcrowded - they're living there like Jacob Riis-era Jews.

And you got all five worlds - you know, you've got - I don't know you call them yuppies anymore, but you know, you got the ghetto kids, the Chinese, the Orthodox, the privileged kids - and they're all walking around sort of oblivious to each other. And it's like they see - they don't see each other until it's about four in the morning and some kids from the projects decide to mug, you know, two kids from the mid-West who are bar-hopping. And everybody says the wrong thing, a shot goes off and you have headlines for five days.

GROSS: What's the wrong thing that the guy who gets shot says?

Mr. PRICE: Well, in my book, what the guy says when he has a gun his face is, not tonight, my man. I mean, he thinks he's in a movie.

GROSS: Yes, exactly. And you call it death by suicide, because he says something that's, like, really stupid and he gets shot. But, you know, for somebody who's written those movies…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And who knows the difference between life and a movie, I find it really interesting that you've put those kinds of movie words in his mouth. And instead of making him a hero, it makes some dad.

Mr. PRICE: Well, what happens is that you got a lot of people down there now. Like I say, you know, they kind of live in their own world, and they're kind of blind to these other worlds that they're around. And this goes both ways, because the kids in the projects really don't understand, you know, this wave of MFAs that are living down there. And, you know, you go bar-hopping. You know, you get all beered up. It's three in the morning. Somebody puts a gun in your face - you've never had a gun on your face before in Indiana or wherever you come from. And you think you're John Wayne, and you say the worst possible thing you can say. But all of a sudden, you know, the movie's over.

GROSS: Why is that - why is not tonight my man, the worst thing you that you could say to a kid from the projects who has a gun on you?

Mr. PRICE: Well, you're forcing - well, what happens is somebody puts a gun in your face like that - I mean, if they have an audience behind them, you know, it's like you're challenging their manhood. You know, it's would your rather go to jail for the rest of your life or are you going to look like a punk in front of your friends? You know, and 99 percent of the time when a crime like that happens, it's unintentional or it wasn't, I'm going to out and shoot somebody. It's like, I'm going to go out, scare somebody with this gun, and get enough money to buy some Chinese take-out.

GROSS: Well, you know, it's not just like the kids from the projects and these, you know, would-be actors and screenwriters working at restaurants who don't understand each other. The cops, when they arrive on the scene, don't really get the, you know, would-be screenwriter who has survived. It's his friend who's been killed. So, the guy who survived is being questioned, and they don't get each other either. What don't they understand each other - about each other - the cops and this would-be screenwriter?

Mr. PRICE: Well, the cops are a sixth world down there - down in the Lower East Byzantium in which - these are outer-borough guys. And basically, they deal with the worst - they deal with the stuff down there and the people down there who need to be policed. And more often than not, the victims are either Chinese, because they're seen as police-phobic, they never go to the cops, so they're easy marks. The Chinese are terrified of cops. So, they either with the Chinese, who don't want to deal with them, or, you know, they deal with these kids who just got mugged.

And oftentimes, the kids who are getting mugged looked at - look at the cops as sort of - not exactly as servants or lower class, but you know, they see them as there to, you know, to serve them. You know, it's not like you going to a police officer, you know, because, you know, you grew up in area, you know, where cops were important or something. It's like there's this guy now who's interrogating me, and you know, this guy has nowhere near the education I have, you know, nowhere near the smarts I have. And you know, the cop winds up feeling like a domestic.

GROSS: And then the cops misinterpret things about this, you know, educated would-be screenwriter who works at a restaurant.

Mr. PRICE: Yeah, well, what happens is, you know, the kid is so shattered by what happened to his friend. I mean, he just sort of faced death, and he's doubly shattered by his reaction to it, which is basically to run away. And you know, he's mortified and the cops are picking up the signal that this kid is lying. And to a cop, a lie is just this side of an admission of guilt. And what they do - they see it as a wound, and they just - and for eight hours with this kid, they just push at that wound, push at that wound, push at it, you know, open it wider and wider.

So, whatever shred of self the kid had at the end of that traumatic experience of the shooting, the cops eviscerate it in the next eight hours in the interrogation room, thinking he did it, and just going after him and just trying to reduce him to a puddle. But in fact, you know, the kid didn't do it. And the thing is, in that world of the Lower East Side, you know, with these young white kids, it's - I say, like, 30 is the new 50. I mean, there's such pressure to shine and to be something special, either some kind of maverick entrepreneur or a great artiste, that the character is 35 now, which is really old.

And just like every other person in the restaurant industry, he's a hyphen - you know, a bartender-slash-performance artist or maitre de-slash-actor or a manager-slash-novelist. And this is when you're 22 or 23. Now, you're 35, and all of a sudden, that hyphen starts fading, and what used to be a bartender-slash-actor is now just a bartender. And everybody around him is 10 years younger, still has dew in the eyes, and he's just hanging on by his fingernails. And this incident and the way the cops top off the trauma of the shooting just guts him.

GROSS: You know, your novel isn't exactly a celebration of multiculturalism. It's more like the Tower of Babel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRICE: Yeah, well, it's just, you know, bearing witness, you know. Yeah, it's not like look at all the pretty flowers in the garden. That's for sure.

DAVIES: Richard Price speaking with Terry Gross. Price's novel "Lush Life" will be published in paperback next week. Price also wrote several episodes of the HBO series "The Wire." More after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Richard Price. His novel, "Lush Life," comes out next week in paperback. It's about the cultural collisions on the Lower East Side of Manhattan between young professionals, kids in the housing projects, new immigrants and cops who work the neighborhood.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, March 5, 2008)

GROSS: Richard, I'm going to ask you to read another short passage from "Lush Life," and this is the passage about a couple of kids in the projects. I'm going to ask you to introduce the passage for us.

Mr. PRICE: OK. Well, the two kids - one boy's name is Tristan, the other kid's name is Little Dap, and they're getting stoned on the roof of a building that they live in in the housing projects. And Little Dap is warming Tristan up to - you know, let's go into the main part of the Lower East Side in the middle of the night, and we'll, you know, we'll jack a couple of kids - a couple of white kids that are bar-hopping. And it'll be an easy way to get money, so then we can go up to Washington Heights, score a bunch of dope, come down, sell it back to the very white kids that we just mugged, more or less. So, this is the conversation between Tristan and Little Dap.

(Reading) "So, what do you say?" passing Tristan the roach, "You going to be my dolgier out there or what? I need to hear you say it." Tristan took a last hit. "Yeah, OK." The words coming out like smoke signals. "Alright then," Little Dap offering his fist for a pound. Tristan fighting off another out-of-control smile. It felt so good. Something did, at any rate. "Man, you are one grinny son of a gun," Little Dap said, popping the nub of the joint in his mouth, taking a gun out of his sweatshirt muff and attempting to hand it over. Tristan reared back and laughed, if you could call it that. "What?" Little Dap blinked. "Nah." "Nah? What? You think you go out there and what? Yell at somebody?" He took Tristan by the wrist. "It ain't like you use it, man," slapping it into his palm. "You just flash it." At first, Tristan tried to pass it back to him, but then got caught up with the feel of it in his hand, the giddy heft. "Nah, man, this'll be good for you," Little Dap said. "Get you blooded, you know what I'm saying? First time's like first time sex - you just do it to get it done with, then you can start concentrating on getting better at it, having fun with it." "All right." Tristan staring and staring at the thing in his hand. "Can I ask you something?" Little Dap waited and waited. "What is a dolgier?" "A dolgier?" Tristan said. "A do-anything soldier." "OK." "OK?" "OK." Tristan grinning, grinning. "You're in the game now, son." Little Dap studied him studying the gun. "Time to show and prove."

GROSS: That's Richard Price reading from his new novel, "Lush Life." In the course of your writing "Clockers," "The Wire," this book, you have kids kind of entering the life, often reluctantly, but they get into it in part because it's like the world around them. So, I guess - not sure what my question is but, do you feel like you've witnessed that a lot, too?

Mr. PRICE: I have. You know, - well, I grew up in the projects, and it was a different time and a different place. I mean, it was a more functional world, but I spent a lot of time in the '80s and - you know, teaching in rehab centers in the Bronx and just being around the old places where I grew up and to see how they change. And I think, you know, what you're dealing with is two things - you're dealing with kids who have no sense of a future, act on spur of the moment and never think of consequences. And you know, they just - it's like you're in a jungle, you don't think about the clearing, you know, a mile away, you just want to get the blades of grass directly in front of you out of the way, so you just move, move, move, move, you know. And it's like act first, think later.

GROSS: What about the language that the kids use, like the street language that you use, the drug language that you're using now, compared to, say, in "Clockers"?

Mr. PRICE: Well, the thing is like, you know, in terms of the argot or - you know, I feel like Margaret Mead with a pith helmet on…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRICE: When I talk about this stuff. But you know, basically, I don't try to capture anybody's glossary. I pretty much make it all up. I mean, the fact of the matter is, I mean, language morphs so quickly that if you were to try to like - well, this kid just used this phrase I never heard before. By the time that phrase hits a bookstore, it's like Run-D.M.C.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRICE: You know, it's a losing proposition. So, you might as well make up your own stuff. Nobody's going to know the difference.

GROSS: And do you ever start actually using those words yourself, realizing that they'd be really out of context?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRICE: Well, you know…

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. PRICE: If you use them, you know, you kind of use them ironically or use them to curry favor with your kids just so they don't think, you know, you're pathetic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRICE: You should see the clothes I have to wear.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. PRICE: You know, your blue Timberland boots, you know. I have to wear that cap with the bill over the ear.

GROSS: Oh, good. You mentioned the cap. This is a line I assume you wrote, because it's from of the episodes of "The Wire" that you wrote. One of the cops is ribbing one of the kids in the neighborhood, one of the corner boys who - and this one of the kids who's not particularly bright. (Laughing) And the kid has the brim of his hat angled to the side. And the cop says to him, where did you get those hats? I've only seen the ones where the brim's in front.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRICE: Right, and the kid looks at him straight ahead and says, nah, nah, they're all like that. You know, and the cop just realized the joke fell flat, and he feels bad. The kid's half-retarded, and they just - you know, OK, never mind.

GROSS: Did you write that?

Mr. PRICE: Yeah. But you know what? It had that in "Clockers," because David Simon told me that "The Wire" was sort of inspired by "Clockers." And every time it was my turn to write, he says, do that scene in "Clockers" again. So, you know, I was basically, you know, plagiarizing my own stuff on "The Wire" from "Clockers."

GROSS: Did it make you uncomfortable to do that?

Mr. PRICE: No, I didn't really care. I mean, you know, it was the biggest complement in the world that - I mean, "The Wire" is so amazing that "Clockers," you know, had a part in getting it going, you know, was very flattering. And you know, hey, I eat cannibals, you know. What can I say? I mean it was fine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, were you surprised when David Simon told you that "The Wire" was based on your novel?

Mr. PRICE: Not really. I mean, I was flattered and you know, I was all for it. And I think what he did in "The Wire" was to take the world of "Clockers," you know, much higher, you know, into the infrastructure of the country. I mean, "Clockers" was about trench warfare; it was about cops and the kids. But he went right up to the city hall; he went right up to the state assembly of Maryland. He just kept going up and up and up, and you know, he just brought the entire world into that in such a nuanced and complex way that in fact, I was a little bit intimidated when he asked me to come on as a writer because I thought he assumed that I knew an awful lot more about the world than I really did. I mean, I put everything I had into "Clockers."

GROSS: So, it must have been interesting when you were asked to write for a series that was already underway, knowing that your novel, "Clockers," had helped inspire the series, and yet, you came in as a newcomer to the series and had to pick up on the language of the series, the style of the series and everything. So, what were some of the things that you were told before you actually started writing?

Mr. PRICE: That I shouldn't be worried, just do it. You know, I mean, the way it works on "The Wire" is that you sit down for a three-day story meeting because it's so complex and there were six character trajectories per episode and there were 12 episodes. And so, you had to sit down, and your episode - you know, very specific things have to happen to these six - this is what goes down in city hall. This is what goes down with Omar, the shooter. This is what goes down with the drug crews. This is what goes down with the police department.

And you leave after two days with a stack of index cards, which are all your scenes, because what you do in episode three has to perfectly match up with episodes one and two and perfectly set up episode four. So, you're a little bit like you're writing in a phone booth - you know, that your only opportunity, you know, to make your mark on it is, you know, what kind of spins and what kind of humor and style you can put on the scenes that you're obliged to write.

GROSS: But that's a kind of interesting discipline, isn't it?

Mr. PRICE: I liked it because it involved having a real social life, you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRICE: Writing is so isolating. I mean basically, you know, you sit there for 30 years rearranging 26 letters of the alphabet by yourself. You know, you get cobwebs going from your forehead to the pen, the phone never rings, you know. Now, all of a sudden you got, you know, you've got six other idiots there, you know, and you're actually doing this thing called having a conversation. You know, it's revolutionary.

DAVIES: Richard Price speaking with Terry Gross. His novel "Lush Life" will be out next week in paperback. Coming up in the second half of the show, Price talks about writing for the HBO series "The Wire." I'm Dave Davies, and this is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of ad)

(Soundbite of Fresh Air preview)

DAVIES: This is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross. We're listening to Terry's interview with screenwriter and novelist Richard Price. His latest novel, "Lush Life," comes out in paperback next week. Several of his earlier novels were adapted into films, including "The Wanderers," "Freedomland," and "Clockers." "Clockers," a story of kids who sell drugs on inner city street corners and the cops who work those streets, helped inspire David Simon to create the HBO series "The Wire." At Simon's invitation, Price wrote several episodes.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, March 5, 2008)

TERRY GROSS: You wrote what may be my favorite episode, though it's really hard to choose from so many great ones. But this is an episode - it's like episode three of season four. And this is an episode in which a former cop, named Pryzbylewski, after kind of mistakenly, accidentally shooting another cop, leaves the force and decides to become a teacher at a middle school in the same neighborhood that his precinct is in. So, these are the same kids who've been on the corner where he's worked. So, this is like his first day in school as a teacher. The kids have just gotten into his first homeroom class of the semester, and he's trying to settle them down and introduce himself. His name is Pryzbylewski. I just want to play this really short clip.

(Soundbite of TV series "The Wire")

(Soundbite of noisy classroom)

Mr. JIM TRUE-FROST (Actor): (As Mr. Roland Pryzbylewski) OK, good morning. OK, good morning. Yo, shut up! Good morning. I'm your homeroom teacher, obviously. My name is Mr. Pryzbylewski, but you can call me Mr. Pryzbylewski. OK, let's find out who you are.

GROSS: Richard Price, what I love about that scene is that that joke falls with such a thud. And it's in part because it's kind of lame, but also it's because the kids just don't get it. I mean, like, their - his sense of humor is not on their wavelength at all. And I was wondering if you experienced that kind of thing when you were teaching, like at rehab centers in the Bronx, that there was a certain kind of irony that you traded in that just was not going to make it with them, wasn't going to resonate with them.

Mr. PRICE: Well, what - and I personally, you know, didn't experience that because I was so charismatic, personally, you know, the kids were just stunned by my presence.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRICE: But what - I think what happens is that when these kids, when they see somebody that's an authority figure and that authority figure tries to be - curry favor with them or be warm to them, oftentimes, that's misinterpreted as a sign of weakness, you know, because you're used to authority figures being oppressive. And your whole point is, how do I survive this person? And when the person comes at you with their own throat bared, you know, it's like, OK, I'm the top wolf. I get it, you know. And the teacher who's trying with lame jokes is not getting the subtext there - that they're looking at this guy saying, how much trouble is this guy going to be in my life?

GROSS: You know, I taught ever so briefly and - in junior high, and I realized pretty quickly that my idea of funny, self-deprecating humor was going to get me into so much trouble. It was going to be seen as a sign of lacking in self-respect, like if you said anything that mocked yourself, it meant you didn't respect yourself.

Mr. PRICE: Right. I mean there's no - because, you know, there's no - there's very little wiggle room for self-confidence, you know, in like the poorer, rougher areas. It's not a soft world, you know. And self-deprecation is not a common currency. And when somebody puts themself down, there's no sense of irony. You know, it's taken at face value oftentimes, especially with the younger kids.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Richard Price, and his new novel is called "Lush Life." He is also known for his novel "Clockers," he's one of the writers for "The Wire" and has written many other novels.

You've spoken to a lot of cops over the years as research for, you know, for your books, for your screenplay, "Sea of Love." And, you know, when you started talking to cops, they probably didn't know who you were from a hole in the wall, but now, if you talk to cops, whether its for research or any other reason, they're probably going to know "Clockers." They're probably going to know "The Wire." And - I mean…

Mr. PRICE: Right.

GROSS: They're going to know your work, and you might be, like, a real hero to them in that respect. So, has it changed the relationship that you have with cops now?

Mr. PRICE: No - I just want to say this one thing about myself and cops. I mean, I'm not, like, into cops, you know. It's like - I'm not a buff, I'm not - you know, my politics are certainly not law and order. I'll hang out with anybody who'll have me. What I find when I'm with cops is you just see the world in a way that you would never see on your own. You can - you walk around the Lower East Side, you see what you see, you see what makes it into Time Out magazine. You see this and that.

And then you go around in the back of a police car, and you deal with people whose behavior is in such extremes that a police presence is required, and you're there. And the difference is like staring at the ocean from above the water and putting on a snorkel mask and ducking your head and seeing coral for the first time. You have no idea what's down there until you put that mask on. And what I saw of that world with the police - and it was something I never would've seen. I never would've had that snorkel mask.

GROSS: So, you did travel with the police through the Lower East Side before writing the book?

Mr. PRICE: Oh, I - you know, I went with the cops, but I also hung out, you know, at these sort of like nouveau restaurants down there - you know, the come on down, it's safe restaurants - hung out in the projects, you know. I went to some synagogues down there that are so old and on their last legs that - I mean, there's one tiny synagogue I went to down there that their last circumcision was 65 years ago.


Mr. PRICE: But because of this new wave of kids, the irony is that a lot of it - and the thing that got me writing "Lush Life" was the fact that when I brought my kids down there - you know, they were relatively young - and all of a sudden I realized, I'm buying them a gelati. And a hundred yards from where I bought them that gelati, their great-grandfather was fighting for his life in 1915 and probably could've live for a month on what the gelati cost, you know.

And then, when they got a little older and a little more independently mobile on their own, when they hit their teens, you know, all of a sudden, they know the Lower East Side better than I do. But what they know is, you know, what bars to go to where you won't get carded, you know, the most adorable hole-in-the-wall boutiques. You know, they know the Knitting Factory, all the music - where the best music down there and where the best arts is. But they were kind of not really aware that this is - they are making a five-generation full circle. And this is exactly where their family started out. And that's one of the things that made me crazy about wanting to write this, is I just wanted to make that five-generation circle visible.

GROSS: Did your grandparents ever tell you stories about the Lower East Side…

Mr. PRICE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Of the days they lived there?

Mr. PRICE: Oh, absolutely.

GROSS: What are some of the things they told you?

Mr. PRICE: Well, you know, I mean, you know, I remember - well, my grandmother told me that the way she learned about sex is in the summer, nobody could sleep in their apartments because they were all ovens. So, everybody wound up sleeping on the roof. And you have entire families - you have an entire tenement building sleeping on the roof, and, you know, people are going to have sex up there. And she says, that's how she learned about sex because it was too hot to sleep in your apartment, you know, and just people acted as if they were in their bedrooms.

My grandfather, you know, had been locked up a number of times, you know, for violent crimes. You know, it was a violent, nasty place. The whole point of the Lower East Side, and I think the whole point still - except for this new, you know, this new wave going in there - the whole point of, you know, the Chinese being - the whole point of getting in there is start so you - just to get out of there, you know. I - but the dichotomy of this place - everybody thinks it's done, like between Giuliani time, you know, like really aggressive policing and real estate needing a place to go - real estate is the greatest crime fighter in the world. You know, we need this place, you know. And here come the cops, and the place that used to be a heroin apartment is now going for a million dollars.

People know - they're aware, you know, of the Jacob Riis era. It was - had the highest population density in the world in 1900 - not India, not China, but the Lower East Side. I mean, you had more people per square inch living down there. But I remember going with police, and there had been a Chinese suicide, and they had to follow up on it. And they go to two buildings on Orchard Street. And these buildings were obviously built by the same contractor in about 1880. They had identical facades, except one building had been rehabbed and one building hadn't.

And the one that - and they went into the wrong building, and they wound up pushing all the buzzers. And they get in, and somebody's got a floor-through apartment. It's, you know, two young people. And, you know, it's a nice loft. And they say, oops, wrong building. They ring the buzzers - the other building, the door is not locked. There's gaffers tape on the lock because too many people have to come and go and not enough keys. They go up to an apartment where you have, like, 30 Chinese guys who are living there.

And the apartment, you know, hasn't been touched since the 1970s - actually it has, because particle board has been put up, shelves have been put on the walls - like library shelves - except they're beds, they're just planks.

And these buildings have identical facades. And they're by cheek and jowl with each other. And one - and the guy who lived there committed suicide, and what they found out was, you know the guy has been - had been living on 10 percent of what he'd been earning, sending everything back either to the snakehead that got him smuggled into the country or to his family back in the Fujian province. And, you know, you got to live on a dime, and if you develop a gambling habit, you're dead. If you get sick, you're dead. And you know, guy killed himself. Something, you know, something went amiss, and he couldn't maintain that survival margin. You know, but he's living next to, you know, "One Tree Hill."

DAVIES: Richard Price speaking with Terry Gross. More after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with screenwriter and novelist Richard Price.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, March 5, 2008)

GROSS: There's another paragraph I want you to read from your new novel, "Lush Life." And for people just tuning in, this is about several groups of people on the Lower East Side. There's two guys - one older, one younger - who work at a restaurant, both have aspirations to either, you know, write screenplays or be an actor. One of them is killed, mugged by a couple of kids from the project. And this is a paragraph from the point of view of the father of the boy who's killed. Would you read it for us? And set it up in any other way you want to.

Mr. PRICE: OK. Well, I mean, this is a father who, ironically, lives in Riverdale and is one of these people that are like, four steps - four generations out of the Lower East Side. And his son, who just got an MFA from Columbia, is now back obliviously in this playground of - this Montparnasse playground of Ludlow Street, and he's the kid that gets shot because he doesn't know how to respond appropriately to a gun in his face.

And so now, his father is down there and, you know, every thought - I mean, I use the expression, you know, if a child is murdered or somebody's murdered, I mean, you become tortured. Everything you think of - it's like your mind becomes like this vicious warehouse. And he's just making a statement to the cop. I mean, the cop has to be basically a sympathetic listener. This guy is no help whatsoever to him. He's just - he's insane with grief, but this is just, you know, one of the things he thinks about with his dead son.

(Reading) "You know," Billy said, addressing the middle distance, "when they're little, you love them, take pride in them. And when they grow up, you still do, but it's bizarre when other people - new people - see him and think, well, here's this young man, here's this young adult who does such and such very well, and you're witnessing this acceptance from others, this respect and seriousness and you - I can't help laughing, thinking, that's -well, what young man? That's Ikey. You wouldn't believe the dopey crap he did as a kid. But there he is getting respect. And it's not like I don't have it for him, me of all people, but I always feel like laughing, not putting him in his place laughing, just, aw, come on. That's Ike."

GROSS: I love that paragraph, and I figure that must really describe how so many parents feel when their kids reach their teens and start to become adults. And the parent still sees them as a kid, and the world sees them as a young adult.

Mr. PRICE: You know, which is fine. I mean, you can screw up every step of the way, and then you can still evolve into a better relationship with them. But all of a sudden, their life is cut short, and all you can think of is that, you know, that you can never fix this, like you probably naturally would. You never would have thought of this as being contemptuous of your own child, but you're afraid the dead child would think that you were contemptuous. You weren't giving him enough credit. I mean, it's a no issue unless there's no way to, you know, rectify the situation by just the relationship having years and years to evolve.

GROSS: Was this a hard place to put yourself in, you know, as the father of two teenage girls?

Mr. PRICE: Oh, boy. I mean, you know, in the last two books - I think, you know, the biggest thing in my life, you know, between "Samaritan" and this book, was, you know, the experience of having children, you know. I mean, that's the - I mean, that was the headline news of my life for the last 20 years. And yes - I mean, I can't - I mean, there are huge parts of this book that didn't make it into the final cut because there was too much stuff like what I just read, where - because I so got into the father's, you know, that - you know, this grief-stricken babelogue(ph). And my editor convinced me, and rightly so, that a little bit goes a long way. We got it. You know, I mean, that's the big thing he had to say to me is that we got the father so quickly that, you know, the rest of the stuff is not necessary. It's just - we're not moving forward. So, a lot of that, you know, hit the wayside.

GROSS: One of the episodes that you end "The Wire" with involves children. And Kima, who's one of the detectives on "The Wire," she's a woman who's a lesbian. And she and her partner have split up. Like, once her partner has a baby, her partner becomes - her partner's really - life really changes, and Kima just doesn't felt comfortable in that kind of domestic life. So, she's kind of basically left, but she wants to reconnect with her son. And so, she's basically babysitting her son one night. And her son can't sleep…

Mr. PRICE: Couldn't - yeah.

GROSS: And so, the episode ends with Kima taking her little boy who can't sleep to the window, and she looks down at the dark street with the boy and plays this little game with him of saying goodnight to everybody. Let me just play that.

(Soundbite of TV series "The Wire")

Ms. SONJA SOHN (Actress): (As Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs) Goodnight moon. You say it.

Mr. ELIJAH GRANT JOHNSON (Actor): (As Elijah) Goodnight moon.

Ms. SOHN: (As Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs) There you go. Goodnight stars.

Mr. JOHNSON: (As Elijah) Goodnight stars.

(Soundbite of siren)

Ms. SOHN: (As Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs) Goodnight po-po.

Mr. JOHNSON: (As Elijah) Goodnight po-po.

Ms. SOHN: (As Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs) Goodnight things.

Mr. JOHNSON: (As Elijah) Goodnight things.

Ms. SOHN: (As Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs) Goodnight hoppers.

Mr. JOHNSON: (As Elijah) Goodnight hoppers.

Ms. SOHN: (As Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs) Goodnight hustlers.

Mr. JOHNSON: (As Elijah) Goodnight hustlers.

Ms. SOHN: (As Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs) Goodnight scammers.

Mr. JOHNSON: (As Elijah) Goodnight scammers.

Ms. SOHN: (As Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs) Goodnight to everybody.

Mr. JOHNSON: (As Elijah) Goodnight to everybody.

Ms. SOHN: (As Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs) Goodnight to one and all.

Mr. JOHNSON: (As Elijah) Goodnight to one and all.

GROSS: Richard Price, when I saw that scene, I kept thinking, god, I bet you play that with your girls. I bet you looked out the window and said goodnight to everybody.

Mr. PRICE: Well, not only did I say, you know, goodnight moon, goodnight crack heads…

GROSS: Yeah (Laughing).

Mr. PRICE: You know, with my kids - goodnight werewolves, you know, good night muggers, you know, goodnight yuppies. Not only did I do that, but that scene in "The Wire" was a word-for-word rip-off of "Clockers." David said, do that thing you did in "Clockers" where Rocco takes his kid to the window and say, goodnight moon. So, I mean, I love doing it. It was A-OK with me. I mean, it just gives my book a second life.

But I mean, that's what David would do - do that thing, do that thing when the cop comes out of the movie theater and he's surrounded by all the kids that are in the other movie theaters who went to see the horror movies, and he thinks that they're going to jump him and all of a sudden, they're just delighted to see him. It's like seeing your - you know, your teacher at a urinal or something. Oh, my god you're human! You know, but, you know, David kept saying to me, put that thing in from "Clockers," and that was one of them. But you know, it was this - I thought a very sweet summing up, you know…

GROSS: So, when she says goodnight scammers, goodnight hustlers, you'd say goodnight crack heads (Laughing) to your girls?

Mr. PRICE: Yeah, I had to update the goodnights from "Clockers" in 1992 to "The Wire" in 2007, but I had to put in hoppers which is the, you know, word for young drug dealers. I think - but I mean, there were couple of updated goodnights in there, but it was basically the same scene.

GROSS: You had told me before that you just started using a computer - like in the past year or two. Has it changed your writing?

Mr. PRICE: Well, yes and no. My handwriting's neater on a computer. That's good. But it's too easy to fool around and like - so, I'm going to put this stuff here. It's too easy to fiddle, and you're under the illusion you're working, when basically you're vamping because you can, you know, do all of this stuff. I think I'm going to do this in, you know, Swedish Helvetica, you know, and, you know, maybe this would look good in Diablo or whatever the hell that is.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

Mr. PRICE: You know, and so you spend like two hours, and you haven't done anything on the book, when before this, I was always handwriting on a legal pad. And you couldn't fool around when you're doing handwriting like, you know, go back and change this and that. It was just too labor intensive, and it sort of forced you to go forward, you know. And the other thing about handwriting - it's was close as I'll ever be to being a visual artist. I mean, you know, these pages after, you know, the cross-outs and the white-outs - it looked like Cy Twombly wrote it, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Richard Price, it's great to talk with you. Thank you so much for coming back to Fresh Air.

Mr. PRICE: You're welcome.

DAVIES: Richard Price speaking with Terry Gross last March. Price's latest novel, "Lush Life," comes out in paperback next week. Coming up - Kevin Whitehead on the new jazz CD featuring drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. This is Fresh Air.

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