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06.28.09

The Bag Lady Papers, Part VIII

Madoff victim Alexandra Penney on Bernie’s sentencing, Ruthie’s cruel fate—left with just $2.5 million!—and the finer things in her frugal new life: a classic piece from an Upper East Side thrift shop.

This morning Bernie Madoff, aka the MF, finds out how long he’ll be in the slammer. I have not a scintilla of interest in being at court when the judge sentences him. I’ve disciplined myself not to look back or think about him—it’s toxic and a waste of time, and I need every productive minute to get my life on track. But when I read about his lawyer’s plea for a 12 year-sentence, I almost gagged. The gall appalls.

So far the MF and his two-bit accountant are the only ones in lockup as a result of his crimes. I lost every cent of my hard earned savings, but I'm lucky: I have my health [so far] and have been able to write about what happened to me. But thousands of other victims are serving cruel and inhuman life sentences in personal prisons because of him. It’s the old people who have to leave their homes and have nothing to survive on, cops and firemen—whose pension plans vanished into the rarefied air of the MF’s glam penthouse, his many mansions, yachts, cars, and the smoke of his pricey cigars—who are being made to suffer in horrible ways. So where’s the justice in that?

Then there’s the MF’s bride, innocent little Ruthie, who’s been allowed to hang on to $2.5 million of her $65 million stash. I read that she’s the loneliest person in the world and I feel so sorry for her!

Allow me, s’il vous plaît—I know you all delight in my use of Français—to continue this rant for two or three more sentences. (No pun intended.) As the MF awaits fate this morning, there are many others who should be standing alongside him. Although I’m happy that the Securities and Exchange Commission is finally suing Cohmad—owned by the MF and his partner, Maurice Cohn—plus Stanley Chais and three others who benefited stupendously from Madoff, who from the heretofore silent SEC is being punished for lack of oversight? Not one person.

And then there’s the MF’s bride, innocent little Ruthie, who’s been allowed to hang on to $2.5 million of her $65 million stash. I read that she’s the loneliest person in the world and I feel so sorry for her! Brother Peter was an accomplice for sure—he owns 9 percent of Cohmad. And what about the sons? They protest they don't have an inkling of what their father was up to. They could be a bit 'slow', but i pretty much doubt that. And there's Frank DiPascali, another creep in the posse and the MF’s right-hand man, he certainly hasn't been seen in the bracelets I think he richly deserves.

And then there’s the MF’s bride, innocent little Ruthie, who’s been allowed to hang on to $2.5 million of her $65 million stash. I read that she’s the loneliest person in the world and I feel so sorry for her! Brother Peter was an accomplice for sure—he owns 9 percent of Cohmad. And what about the sons? They knew, too, I’m certain of it. So did Frank DiPascali, another creep in the posse, the MF’s right-hand man.

II thought all of them were part of the “ongoing investigation.” And exactly where is this “ongoing investigation”? Not one syllable about that! So where the hell is justice? Or am I being incredibly naïve about that concept?

Life just goes on, and obviously, there ain’t one effing thing I can do about hallowed institutions like the SEC and the justice meted out in the MF’s sentencing or the 'ongoing investigation'. My usual response to intense frustration is to take a cooling-off walk around the block—which I am about to do right now.

In the past I’d idly look into windows and sometimes step into stores. That kind of browsing was a purely visual experience that usually cleared my mind, allowing it to regenerate. I now go downstairs and head in no particular direction. I pass the Italian café where the croissants are better than any I’ve ever had, including the ones at the Ritz in Paris. But a cup of expensive java is not in my new budget. Nor do I expect to see the Ritz again.

Next to the café is a charity thrift shop, one I visited in pre-MF times when I was on the lookout for fun bargains. Now it will be my new Bergdorf Goodman. I feel no urge to peruse the beckoning offerings.

Because I can’t face the computer so soon, I end up walking into the shop, which is jammed with very costly stuff cast off by carefree consumers [like me], only to buy more gross and wasteful new objects. But the treasure here is in the back: stacks of clothes that range from Gap workout gear to Valentino couture.

By the ingrained shopping habits of decades, I sort haphazardly through the stained old chrome racks. Nothing much of interest here today. The place is pretty well picked over. And on a scale of one to 10, my desire level is less than zero. However...

There is an item that catches my squinty editorial eye. A classically tailored Bill Blass gray sharkskin pleated, silk-lined, hand-finished skirt that looks as if it will be a perfect fit. There are no dressing rooms, so I pull the skirt over my head and locate a small mirror. This piece of expensive cloth has my name on it.

Thirty bucks! Too much! Way too much! But the white-haired Park Avenue-born and -bored charity volunteer at the cash register is a cement wall in a pink smock who will not budge on the price.

“It’s designer,” she tells me haughtily. “They don’t go on sale.”

“I’ll have to think about it. That seems like quite a high number,” I tell her. The original ticket was easily about a thousand bucks and in the old days I probably would have snapped it up on the spot.

I owned a lot of Blass suits and other designer stuff when I had my one and only clothing allowance as the editor of Self magazine. I adored having a clothing allowance. Who wouldn’t? It’s the ultimate luxury. I was very, very careful about how I spent my allowance dollars. I limited my purchases strictly to top-quality name-brand stuff, because, very consciously, I thought, If I ever need the money, these babies may be worth something. And man, oh man, was I right!

I leave the charity shop and am back to walking around thinking about the MF and his impending sentence and I feel the frustration rise again. I apply my new hard-earned mental discipline to think about something positive, and instead of my usual image—a brilliantly sunny summer day at the beach—the classic Blass skirt suddenly appears in my mind’s eye.

I am hoping to receive the insurance money owed me by SIPC the Securities Investor Protection Corporation. If it comes in, it will go toward day-to-day living expenses, but can I spare $30 (which could go toward the electricity bill) on something I do not at all need but which is a bargain and will give me pleasure for a long while, reminding me that I walk free on the streets as the MF shuffles around his cell in a bright orange jail suit.

I defiantly march back to the thrift shop. I take my sweet time counting out the $30 and nab the skirt. It’s haphazardly folded by the perfectly coiffed volunteer and stashed into a used shopping bag like the kind bag ladies stuff in their rusty shopping carts. I'm sure I’ll feel guilt tomorrow.

My little excursion has cleared my gridlocked brain and I’m heading right back to my computer. The MF will be sentenced this morning but I don’t give a hoot about that loathsome crook, I’ve got to get back to work while I still can. I need the money.

Alexandra Penney is an artist, bestselling 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.

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