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01.14.09

The Bag Lady Papers, Part IV

The news that Bernie Madoff remains free on bail is frustrating some Madoff victims—including The Daily Beast’s Alexandra Penney who is popping tranquilizers to cope.

The news that Bernie Madoff remains free on bail is frustrating some Madoff victims—including The Daily Beast’s Alexandra Penney who is popping tranquilizers to cope. Here’s the latest entry of her ongoing blog for The Daily Beast.

J'Absolutely Refuse to let this afternoon's decision faze me. I'm sitting at my computer using Photoshop to work on images for a gallery show. They’re over-the-top pictures of blow-up dolls drowning in the azure pools of Palm Beach mansions. I'm doing what I love best for a few short hours—so eff Madoff right now.

I admit that sometimes it really pisses me off that he's not in chains in solitary, a single bare low-wattage light bulb hanging from a grimy cord, with a dirty toilet as his only companion. But I know I don't have the energy or the time to waste hating him or planning revenge scenarios. Still I'm sure I'll wake up at 4:46 tomorrow morning, and have to take an elephant tranquilizer to fend off bag-lady fears and get a few hours of sleep.

Why was I at the Four Seasons, some might ask, when I should be humbly trying to earn more money by writing a blog?

Last Monday, at around eight o’clock, I was visualizing the MF (aka the motherfucker) eating his personal chef’s gourmet dinner in his dandy penthouse. I, at that very time, was at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York dining on black truffles in a tuxedo jacket (vintage Armani) and white ( of course) camisole.

Why was I at the Four Seasons, some might ask, when I should be humbly trying to earn more money by writing a blog, and madly typing out a proposal for a book deal? Well, my friend RP had emailed me, "do you want a FREE dinner that will help save the earth?" RP is a really good pal, and so, having nothing to do, and if I do nothing I get really anxious and need extra medication, I say, "Sure. It sounds like a good cause at a classy place."

During the cocktail hour, I notice, among the ladies, a conspicuous lack of large stones which glittered with such delicious abandon in those old pre-meltdown days. By the way, I got a phone message the other day from one of the big auction houses with a polished voice asking if I would like a "complimentary consultation on how to discreetly dispose of your jewels." This is the second such call. Puhleese. Excuse me, where did anyone get the idea I have such wonderful gems? EBay has always been my souk of choice, but I haven't really had time to sell stuff there. The call gives me pause however. Maybe, as one friend merrily suggested, I should try to “marry up.” Now if you think this is all narcissistic and delectably open to viciousness, please read on.

RP and I meet at the venerable Grill Room, where I'd had so many business lunches when I was a high-flying Chanel-clad editor—and where it costs nothing at all to be in awe of the superb Seagram building and the inimitable dining room with Richard Lippold's gravity-defying sculpture.

The government of Malaysia is sponsoring a dinner for the first Earth Awards and it is extraordinary to hear the finalists from all over the globe talk about how they had been working and thinking for years about helping the planet. In the good-deeds atmosphere pervading the Four Seasons, I forget about the MF and the fact that his wife is paying for his security guards. With whose money? And where does she get the dough? She worked at his office, so it seems to me that the investors are the ones who are really footing the bill. Also, I’ve been wondering: Does he have access to a computer? A cellphone? Just let your mind go and imagine what’s he’s doing if they’ve let him keep his money-moving tools.

When the magistrate ruled on Monday, it was incredibly difficult to accept that the MF was free, but I was brought up believing in the American system of law and what the judge says goes. The MF gamed the system for all it was worth and the same system is protecting him. But with the glacial pace of this situation, the MF will be preening around, his rictus smile intact, in his penthouse for years and years while my gas and electric bills roll in every month.

J'Refuse to obsess about him. I did, however, use a lot of energy and unwanted emotion for an entire day while I had to find all the papers for all the years of my intimate financial relationship with the MF. The load of pulp weighed more than a couple of gold bricks. You have until March 4 to file for SIPC government insurance money (up to $500,000). I have to hire someone to help with this. And it is possible that I may not even get any money at all. And if the government deems I am classified as the victim of a theft, and worthy of its largesse, which I legally have a right to, how long will it be? Six years? Eight years? (By then I won't need to have my hair colored; it will be a perfectly elegant shade of pure-panic-white.)

Where was the SEC when all this happened? Where are they now? The SIPC papers look deceptively simple but you need a smart lawyer, a savvy tax attorney and a singularly well-informed accountant to decode them. The back-up material they ask for is humungous... How are 90-year-old ladies supposed to track down all the MF's statements (everything on those papers is fictitious anyway) and fill out the forms? It's impossible to do. It's stuff like this and the time spent dealing with lawyers and paperwork that sap the soul when you're already down and out.

Went home from the Earth Award dinner, obviously well-fed, savoring the interesting taste of truffles, feeling optimistic about people who care about our planet, having laughed a lot with RP, a rug salesman, as well as the six others at our table. RP's business, like everyone else's, is down. We talked a lot about creative ways we could collaborate to make money. We'll get together next week to brainstorm in a less surreal environment.

The very charming man who had been seated next to me was a doctor whose specialty is integrative medicine and I'd heard of him from my magazine days. We talked for a long while about how Eastern and Western thoughts and practices have had a positive effect on the US medical community. I remarked I needed to find someone who would help me with meditation ASAP and asked if I would become addicted to the tranquilizers I take when I feel panicky. He thought I didn't appear to have a problem yet. When you become a PORC (Person of Reduced Circumstances) with major bag-lady fears, you grab any freebie advice you can get.

He suggested a book to read, Stop Depression Now by Richard Brown which includes certain arcane-sounding yogic breathing exercises. Learning how to inhale and exhale is quite far down my to-do list. But maybe I'm fooling myself about what will really help me fight the panic.

Sadly, as everywhere else, libraries in our town have been closing over the years. It's been quite a while since I locked eyes with the lions in front of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. That's a good thing about being a PORC, you get to have experiences that you forgot about when it was easy just to order a book from Amazon. So thanks again, Mr. Carnegie, and all the people who contribute to keep our library system going.

I had a great time at dinner but was wiped from the day and the MF's jail avoidance. I took a Tylenol PM and tried to fall asleep. Another Tylenol and a tranquilizer three hours later didn't do the trick and the demons attacked in full force. Visions of bare light bulbs and paint peeling walls in a claustrophobic room drown me. What is going to happen to me when I get old and sick? When I'm tired and terrified? I simply can't stop my brain from racing to the very worst scenarios, despite all the drugs.

I've been cutting back every day on big things and small things (oh heavens, I have to file my own nails). One of the issues that really undoes me is having to give up the studio, where I am every day with computers and huge printers to make art, so I'm talking with the landlord to figure out if there's a way I can stay. If you know a thing or two about New York landlords, the likelihood is very, very slim. I was keeping the studio going by selling my work. Things “slow down” at magazines, and publishers, and law firms when the economy is tanking, but the art world has stopped almost completely.

As I said, I came back from Florida with an external hard drive full of blow-up sex doll images I shot down there. They're way too bizarre and grotesque to ever sell but it's my best way of letting out the rage I feel at having been taken, and having to start all over again. So I don't think the landlord is gonna be too excited about the idea of bartering my photographs for his rent. (But the work is kinda pervy, so maybe?????)

And yes, I am damn well trying to get a book deal. As the world knows it's almost impossible to get a job in areas that I have some experience in (magazines, newspapers, fish markets) so if someone wants a book from me, I am more than thrilled!

Every morning after I rise up from the subway depths, I pass a Starbucks where I used to grab a Chai latte. I'm giving it up, and coffee too, which I should have done long ago. I always thought S'Bucks was a ripoff anyway, so that's a cutback that I really don't mind at all. I am going to try buses. I have a tricky hip from playing around with an ultra-fast motorized skateboard so the subway stairs don't help me. I like to be on top of the earth where I can see what's going on.

Related:
The Bag Lady's Papers, Part I
The Bag Lady's Papers, Part II
The Bag Lady's Papers, Part III

Alexandra Penney is an artist, best-selling author, former editor-in-chief of Self magazine, and originator, with Evelyn Lauder, of the Pink Ribbon for breast-cancer awareness. She had a one-person show at Galerie in Berlin in April and her work was shown at Miami’s Art Basel. She lives in New York, has one treasured son in Los Angeles and more amazing friends than could ever be imagined.