Sunday, January 25, 2009

Madoff: The Man, the Men, the Mench, and...

A perfect Sunday. Sleep late after enjoying a fabulous opera last night (I'm not usually an opera fan, but Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers'" final performance by the Seattle Opera Company was so lush musically, and enticing visually that I was enthralled). Make breakfast of hash browns and scrambled eggs while watching fat snowflakes tumble lazily before my window and...hooray!..melt when they hit the ground. Sit with a cup of coffee brewed from freshly-ground beans, doctored just right with blizzards of sugar, real cream and a touch of hazelnut.

And scarf up the latest article on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Business section on...Bernie Madoff. Many of the tidbits tossed into the story by Julie Creswell and Landon Thomas Jr. I'd already read in this juicy British report, in which The Mail interviewed Julia Fenwick, 38, the manager of his London office.

The British piece dug into his weirdness, like his cravings for cigars and pork sausages, and his refusal to allow any oval surfaces in his office. The photo is from The Mail, showing Bernie and Ruth at his 70th birthday party last May. Note her Marlboros pack on table, cigarette in ash tray. Nice glass of Chablis; he's got the diet coke. Compare the skin on Ruth's hand with her face: Ms. Fenwick said "I had to buy tubs and tubes of Boots No7 Protect and Perfect Beauty Serum," as part of her job. "I was buying five or six tubes at a time. We sent them over to Ruth in America." Whatta life.

Today's Times piece detailed Bernie's Laurelton, New York upbringing and later educational and employment history, providing some additional fascinating anecdotes, like the dribbling pear. Apparently (a PEAR-ently?) when obsessively-neat Bernie caught a New York employee's succulent snack dripping onto the carpet, he snapped, "What do you think you are doing?" and "ripped the soiled carpet from the floor, then rushed to a closet to retrieve a similar swatch to replace it."

The most amusing part of today's coverage plumbed his psyche, quoting experts to suggest a dual personality propelled by a "heady, intoxicating" thrill in "playing financial God, ruining these people and taking their money." Most bizarre was a comparison between serial murderer Ted Bundy and smirking Bernie: "...whereas Mr. Bundy murdered people, Mr. Madoff murdered wallets, bank accounts and people's sense of financial trust and security."

As devastating as financial ruin may be, I think I'd prefer Madoff's murder to Bundy's. I could always borrow a wallet.

The problem with Bernie was that he was such a fine actor. Or, perhaps he had a classic split personality, in which his philanthropic, family-loving side didn't really know what the evil fraudster was doing. Or, it could be that he was excellent at compartmentalizing, rationalizing while acquiring new millions from unsuspecting customers that "at least I'm loving and loyal to my family." Even as he drew Jewish charities' investments down his rabbit hole, he could have countered with "But I give back by spending my time sitting on their boards, donating to their appeals, and attending their events."

But with all this focus on Bernie the man, Bernie the men, Bernie the mench and Bernie the impossible-to-believe jerk and criminal, the media splash has yet to exploit the possibility that he probably did not act alone. Where are all the stories about accomplices? Where's the probe into whether he's taking the bullet for a web of conspirators?

Ahh, but that is all to come in subsequent installments. Meanwhile, I'm now grabbing the Business section even ahead of Sunday Styles. Because we know about failing fashions and the chi-chi faces newly frowning over their financial foibles. But there's always something new in the soap opera-turned-murder mystery of Madoff. As in "made off with the money."


  1. Bernie Madoff the opera singer?

    I love the suggestion of him as fiscal serial killer and your rapt fascination with him.

  2. Ruth Anne, I think it's the psychologist in me. I just got to read the Jan. 3 Wall Street Journal analysis by a psychologist of why people are gullible to scams, especially Bernie's. It's totally ridiculous, reminding me what a crock academia is. I say, "Duplicity and greed, go together like a horse and carriage..."

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