Neighborhood White Boy Stalks Billion-Footed Beast

021306 article book begley Neighborhood White Boy  Stalks Billion Footed BeastWho is Eddie Hayes?

If you have to ask, he hasn’t done his job.

Mouthpiece, the title of his lively, entertaining and utterly unapologetic autobiography, makes him sound like a flak, but he’s actually a lawyer—a “big-city lawyer,” he likes to say—with a colorful history of high-profile clients who come to him because, as he repeatedly insists, he gets things done: “You have a problem, you call me, I’m there.” Hotheaded, tenacious and fabulously well-connected, he’s a shameless operator whose motto is “scheme, hustle, move, and score.” His biggest case pumped up the value of Andy Warhol’s estate by some $400 million; his clients include Anna Wintour, Allen Grubman and Daniel Libeskind; his friends include Si Newhouse, Robert De Niro and George Pataki.

His best friend, Tom Wolfe (who turns somersaults in a cheerleading introduction to Mouthpiece), used him as the model for Tommy Killian, Sherman McCoy’s hotheaded, tenacious defense attorney in The Bonfire of the Vanities—and dedicated the novel to him.

But who is Eddie Hayes?

He proudly calls himself “a neighborhood white boy”—to be precise, an Irish Catholic white boy, born in 1947, who grew up in Jackson Heights and Garden Bay Manor (that’s deepest, darkest Queens, for those of you who’ve never set foot in the valley of ashes). Ethnic, racial and sexual characteristics are very important to Mr. Hayes—they are, for him, the key to identity. Which means that Mouthpiece is not a book for the politically correct—or anyone, for that matter, with tender liberal sensibilities or an aversion to strong language. Here, for example, he explains why he volunteered as a poll watcher in Mississippi in 1972: “I don’t give a fuck about Mississippi or rights, and if I had a social conscience I would sell it. But the trip might be exciting ….” Note the present tense—it’s the only one Eddie Hayes deals in.

We all have a past, though, some kind of childhood. Eddie Hayes had a rotten one: His father was stewed in alcohol, and brutal; Eddie was the punching bag. He writes, “the most important thing I learned in the world dominated by my father’s sick, drunk conduct was that I could take a beating.” Eddie’s mother, of course, was a saint. She had the weird notion that her first-born son should go to college—and not just any college. She wanted him to go to the University of Virginia. And weirder still, that’s exactly what he did.

And then on to Columbia Law School, which he didn’t much care for, but where, at the dawn of his second year, he discovered an abiding passion: “Dominican women! Jewish women! Black women! For a ready guy who was not holed up in a library all day long, New York City in the fall of 1971 was full of spectacular opportunities.” After four years in the Bronx County District Attorney’s office, he struck out on his own in 1978, “practicing a harsh, unforgiving kind of law.”

Club owners, call girls, bouncers, drug dealers, gangsters—these are the clients he starts out with. (“I wouldn’t represent child molesters or rapists,” he assures us.) Then it’s newspaper reporters and columnists, among them Mike McAlary and Richard Johnson. “There were times,” he writes, “when I represented the editors of the Post and the Daily News at the same time. Conflict of interest? Catch me if you can!”

The best part of Mouthpiece is the account of the legal wrangling over Andy Warhol’s estate, which made Mr. Hayes rich and then promptly bankrupted him, a 10-year courtroom drama set to the music of that barbaric yawp, Counselor Hayes’ Queens accent. Along the way he discovers that “the universe of New York’s cultural elite, fancy auction houses, and slick corporate lawyers who represent them is even sleazier, more scheming, more conniving, and far more treacherous than anything I’ve encountered in the crime business.”

Yes, but who is Eddie Hayes?

A “completely self-concocted guy” who’s spent 30 years in therapy trying to understand his crying jags, who finally, age fiftysomething, resorts to the miracle of psychopharmacology so that at last he can enjoy the life (the lovely wife, the two lovely kids) he’s built from scratch.

How about an outside perspective? Andy Warhol came home from a party one night in the fall of 1980 and noted in his diary “a defense lawyer named Ed Hayes who looked like he was from Laverne and Shirley, like a plant that people invite to parties to wear funny clothes and jump around and make things ‘kooky.’ Sort of forties clothes, really crewcut, about twenty-nine. He said, ‘I can get ya outta anything.’”

As you’d expect from a man enthusiastically devoted to the “muscle” of patronage, Mr. Hayes has collected a lovely bouquet of blurbs for the back cover of Mouthpiece – former Police Commissioner William Bratton, for example, assures us that “Eddie Hayes walks, talks, and acts like a character created by Damon Runyon.” In fact, he’s just like a particularly foppish Tom Wolfe character: obsessed with his Savile Row suits and his custom-made shoes, painfully attuned to status, convinced that daily life is a dirty fight to the finish, partial to exclamation points, consistently provocative and great fun on the page.

Adam Begley is books editor of The Observer.