On The Avenue

Avenue Moment: Jay McInerney on the Billionaire and the Homeless Man

Monday, November 29, 2010
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Jay McInerney, novelist


1985


“I’d already been living in New York for six or seven years, long enough to consider myself pretty savvy and even jaded, when I chanced upon a tableau that caught me by surprise and came to seem emblematic for me. I was on Fifth Avenue in midtown, God knows why, waiting for the light at 51st Street. Across the street, framed between St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saks Fifth Avenue, I spotted a billionaire standing next to a homeless man. I happened to recognize the billionaire because he’d recently bought Revlon and was much in the news. The homeless man was wearing several ragged coats and carrying a variety of shopping bags stuffed with God knows what. On the other side of the billionaire was a well-dressed hulk, presumably a bodyguard. But for at least 30 seconds, the billionaire and the bum stood there side by side, waiting for the light. Before the light turned, I said to myself, “I’m going to write a novel big enough to encompass a billionaire and a homeless man as characters.” (It would be my fourth, Brightness Falls.) And that’s about as representative a Manhattan tableau as I can remember.”



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