Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Gifts

Last evening at Christmas Eve dinner my two brothers and I tried to get our ninety-one-year old mother to reminisce about our childhood Christmases. She has a sound memory but she did not have much to say largely, I think, because she spent that time trying to make sure that her three boys had wonderful Christmases. My father had a modest salary but when we came down the stairs Santa Claus had always left an overwhelming array of gifts under the tree.

Later in the dinner, Ed and I started talking about the emotional side of our family. We were brought up rarely showing feelings. We are a classic WASP family and I've struggled all my life to overcome the emotional distance that is part of that heritage. It troubles me still and I asked Mother why she never hugged us or told us she loved us. She said she didn’t think that’s what being a good mother was about. It was showing your children you loved them by the way she brought us up. It was giving your children good values and staking them to whatever education they could attain.

Today we just got through opening our gifts and from her three sons, Mother received three gifts. I gave my mother one of the first copies of my new book, Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Beneath the Gates of Palm Beach. When my parents visited the island, I could tell my mother couldn’t stand it. She found it false and glittery, obsessed with money and status, and she was always glad to leave.

My brother Bob placed a big box in front of my mother containing the 2009 edition of Who’s Who in America. For the first time, it contains the names of all three of her sons, none of whom are there because they inherited position or wealth, and have achieved success in three different fields. I don’t know how unusual this is, but I suspect it is quite unusual.

Then my brother Ed gave my mother the best gift of all, a HP Digital Picture Frame which he had loaded with hundreds of carefully selected images of our family life. The technology has advanced amazingly and these are brilliant images flashing on the eight-inch screen one after another. Here were photos of our little white house in Vestal, New York, one of our bedrooms, my daughter’s wedding in Marin County, family reunions, outings, Ed’s daughters getting married, image after image, memory after memory.

When we were looking through our gifts, I noticed my mother had moved to the end of the sofa and was staring at the picture frame not a foot from the screen. Picture after picture went by, much of her life passing before her.

As I watched her, I thought, “Mother never has to tell me she loves me.”

A Wealthy Man--An expanded version also posted on Huffingtonpost

This is a Christmas and Hanukah season like no other. Many people have lost money. Millions are out of work, and those who still have jobs fear for their own future. That was a full plate of despair already and then Bernard Madoff appeared to savage whatever joy was left, and to tear into shards the trust that is fundamental to a democratic society.

It is a bad time but it is a good time too, because most of us are reflecting on what matters and in the end we may deepen the faith that sustain. I have a dear friend whose Jewish father after flying planes in World War II built a great fortune. He was intending to donate most of it to charity including building a wing on a hospital on Long Island for children with special needs. Now most of that money is gone and he feels he has betrayed so many people when he has betrayed no one at all.

His daughter wrote this letter to her father and shared it with me:

"There are no words to describe how sad and rage-filled I have become. I don't even want to write what I have been fighting in my heart. This season perhaps more than in any other years, we have decided to give whatever we can (and of course it is much, much less than other years) to help others who have so much less than we. I have heard from my kids who are doing the same. Dad, if you ever wanted to know what your legacy to us really is, it is this. That in bad times for our country and our people, we give what we can to others rather than in giving unnecessary trinkets to each other. We stick together as a family in unity and love. This is our strength. This is what we teach our children. Happiness is not an entity to be pursued, but a feeling that overcomes you when you have lived a meaningful life."

I've been having some bad times too that have made me reflect in ways I have not for years. In recent days both my mother and my mother-in-law have been in the hospital. My mother-in-law is still there and my wife is with her in Washington, D.C. I decided that I'll fly up from my Florida home and spend Christmas with my mother and brothers in New Jersey and then take to train to Washington to be with my mother-in-law.

My mother came from a poor family in Westport, Connecticut. Her father worked in a lumber yard and as a chauffeur for the owner. She was the only one of seven children to go to college. She was very smart and she received a tuition scholarship to the University of Chicago in the Thirties, probably the most exciting college in America. She didn't have enough money even to sit up all night on the train to Chicago. She took a bus. The driver worried about this innocent young woman finding her way in a difficult part of Chicago and he drove the bus out his way to deposit her in an on-campus building. She was too afraid to go out and she sat her room eating a Hershey bar for dinner.

My mother needed to earn room and board. First thing in the morning, she went into the office that handled these things. They told her that she should go to see Mrs. Hays because if Mrs. Hayes liked you she would hire you right away. So my mother walked over to this great house, and Mrs. Hayes, whose husband was the grandson of President Rutherford B. Hayes, hired my mother to work twenty hours a week taking care of her young children and doing other duties.

The first evening Mrs. Hayes asked my mother to set the table. She went into the dining room and carefully set the elegant table. When she finished Mrs. Hayes came over to my mother and said, "Helen, you've made a mistake." My mother was mortified to have made an error on her very first day, and she went back into the dining room to check everything again. But as hard as she looked, she could not see what was wrong. So she came back to Mrs. Hayes and said she didn't understand. And Mrs. Hayes said, "Helen, you didn't set a place for yourself."

And so for four years my mother sat at that table. In class she met my father who was a graduate student and became a professor at the university. I remember growing up Mrs. Hayes visiting us. She was just another friend. My father has left this earth and my mother lives in a continuing care community in New Jersey and has what she unfailingly tells me is a wonderful life. And a few months ago two of the Hayes my mother watched over, now old and retired, came to visit my mother and pay their respects.

And so I'm flying up to New Jersey for Christmas to be with my Mom and my two brothers and their wives. I'm sorry my wife and my mother-in-law won't be there for family and friends are all that matters. I don't care how much money you have, how much money you have lost, if you have family and friends you are wealthy. And I am a wealthy man.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in New Jersey

I am in the frozen north now picking my way carefully through the frozen tundra of New Jersey. Ever the Florida patriot, I proved my bonafides once again last evening when I fell asleep during The Winter’s Tale at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. I should have known something was wrong by the way they spelled "theater."

Napping is the Florida tribute to culture. There is always someone sleeping. When I give speeches, I judge my success by how many are dozing. Two I consider a triumph, more than six and I seriously consider shortening my talk.

Last evening even the frolicking Bohemian peasants on stage could not prevent me from nodding off. If my brother Ed had not nudged me brutally in the ribs when I started to snore, I would have been beaten to death by outraged theater goers. I have my excuses. I had awakened at six that morning to catch the 6:45 train to New York City. My other brother Bob, who is a saint in lawyer’s clothing (if that’s possible), got up to drive me to the train station in Chatham.

I was wide awake since I was heading into Manhattan for an important meeting with the two top executives at Hyperion concerned with my forthcoming book, Madness Under the Royal Palms. Will Balliett, the editor-in-chief, and Kristin Kiser, vice president and associate publisher. I had asked Hyperion to do a few modest things to promote my book including pithy thirty-second ads during NFL games, sky writing over major cities, handbills on commuter trains, and an advertising insert in the New York Times, and Hyperion was balking. As the sad eyed commuters perused their newspapers, I came up with the perfect zinger that would open up the long closed vaults of ABC, the parent company. “You people aren’t publishers,” I intended to say. “You’re printers.”

Alas, the meeting went exceedingly well. I was meeting Kristin for the first time, and she was professional, charming, and astute, an ideal person at the helm of a publisher in difficult times. “The least you can do is after the first of the year announce a second printing three weeks before pub,” I said, drawing from my massive publishing acumen. “That sends a signal out." Kristin said they had already pulled the trigger on a second printing almost four times the number I had suggested. That angered me. It was getting harder and harder for me to see how I could use my immortal zinger, but when an author has a phrase he loves, which usually means it’s garishly overwritten, he’s going to use it. So at a momentary lull in the conversation, I said it: “You people aren’t publishers, you’re printers.” That said, we moved on with the conversation.

After my triumph at breakfast, I moved onto Carnegie Hall rehearsal studios to prepare for my debut as a violinist that evening. Actually, I was there at a studio to be on On Point the NPR radio program hosted by Tom Ashbrook. The subject was Caroline Kennedy seeking the Senate seat soon to be vacated by Hillary Clinton. My three books on the family have made me what is called an expert. That is an unenviable position to be in these days. It means when I talk about the Kennedys, I have the misfortune of being grounded in fact, when so many others on the air are not limited by that disability. Katha Pollitt of the Nation attacked Caroline as if she were only slightly better than a serial killer. I had a massive mike and a competent technician on the other side of the glass booth, and she had what sounded like a cheap cell phone talking from the bathroom of a garret in Soho. I’m sure she considered that another sign of the massive, brutally unfair inequalities of American life.

After that melancholy hour, I plunged out into the frigid, icy Decmber morn and searched for a nonexistent cab. On 57th Street, I ducked into a bank to look for phone numbers on my computer. When I jumped out into winter again, I spotted a cab and as we headed north, I realized I had lost my cell phone. The driver, the first decent human being I had met in a while, gave me his cell phone to call my number. The man who answered shamelessly squandering my minutes was the bank guard. Outraged at this abuse of my property, we drove back to the bank where I wrestled the device out of the man’s hands, and headed out into the blizzard again.

When the driver left me off in front of ABC at Columbus Avenue and 66th, I gave the man a big enough tip to allow him to move back to China. And then after moving through security worthy of the White House, I made it up to Brian Ross’s investigatory unit.

The week before Brian had interviewed me for ABC World News and Nightline. He was in New York and the producer, cameraman, and soundman were on the roof of my condominium in Palm Beach. I said, “Brian, I’m delighted to do this but when we finish I’d like two minutes of your time.” He agreed and when we finished I pitched him 20/20 doing my book. My publicist, SallyAnne McCartin, one of the best in the business,had already pitched the program and been turned down but I believed that it was a great idea and such perfect timing that I had a shot at convincing the top investigative reporter in journalism. I don’t think I even used my two minutes when Brian said, "It’s a must.”

We all know that’s not the way things work in the world, but it worked that way this time. Brian was off in Italy skiing. That’s why I was sitting in hisoffice with Anna Schecter, a young producer who will be working on the piece. She is made for the Palm Beach world and when she gets down to the island, she will have almost everyone wanting to be interviewed. And when Brian gets back to the States and flies down, the two of them will put together by far the best thing ever done on Palm Beach. Remember, you read that first here.

So after that I took the train back to Chatham where Mary Frances, my sister-in-law, picked me up. She is an unbelievable cook, but alas this evening we went out to one of my brother Bob’s discoveries, a tiny restaurant in a strip mall. New Jersey’s greatest contributions to civilization are a law that an attendant must pump your gas at service stations and a progressive policy so that few restaurants are allowed to serve wine or liquor. Customers bring their own bottles and drink them dry. The result is that by nine o’clock half the people on the roads are drunk, and it’s a good thing that there is someone to pour gas because the customers can’t see to put the fuel in their cars.

This was a tapa restaurant. “Tapa” is a Spanish word for “overpriced appetizers.” There was only the chef and one waiter and most of the waiting was being done by the customers. My ninety-one-year old mother travels on her stomach. She must be fed or she grows unbelievably grouchy and starts throwing glasses and plates. So we gave her every bit of food that arrived at the table, all of which she devoured shamelessly. All I did was drink. Most of the food arrived just as we were leaving. I ate a few quick bites burning my mouth in the process, deadening the pain with another glass of a decent Pinor Noir. I should know. I bought it.

So that’s why I fell asleep. Today I have to go Christmas shopping, so in this moment let me wish Merry Christmas to the two people, one of them a lifer in San Quentin, who are reading my blog.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Wealthy Man

In recent days both my mother and my mother-in-law have been in the hospital. My mother-in-law is still there and my wife is with her in Washington, D.C. I decided that I’ll fly up from my Florida home and spend Christmas with my mother and brothers in New Jersey and then take to train to Washington to be with my mother-in-law.

I was talking to the manager in my building the other day, and I told her the story I am about to tell you. I don’t cry but as I started telling it to her, I started to cry and as I write this I am crying too, and I can’t stop crying.

My mother came from a poor family in Westport, Connecticut. Her father worked in a lumber yard and as a chauffeur for the owner. She was the only one of six children to go to college. She was very smart and she received a tuition scholarship to the University of Chicago, in the Thirties probably the most exciting college in America. She didn’t have enough money even to sit up all night on the train to Chicago. She took a bus. The driver worried about this innocent young woman finding her way in a difficult part of Chicago and he drove the bus out his way to deposit her in an on-campus building. She was too afraid to go out and she sat her room eating a Hershey bar for dinner.

My mother needed to earn room and board. First thing in the morning, she went into the office that handled these things. They told her that she should go to see Mrs. Hays because if Mrs. Hays liked you she would hire you right away. So my mother walked over to this great house, and Mrs. Hays, who was the great granddaughter of President Rutherford B. Hays, hired my mother to work twenty hours a week taking care of her four and five year old sons and doing other duties.

The first evening Mrs. Hays asked my mother to set the table. She went into the dining room and carefully set the elegant table. When she finished Mrs. Hays came over to my mother and said, “Helen, you’ve made a mistake.” My mother was mortified to have make an error on her very first day, and she went back into the dining room to check everything again. But as hard as she looked, she could not see what was wrong. So she came back to Mrs. Hays and said she didn’t understand. And Mrs. Hays said, “Helen, you didn’t set a place for yourself.”

And so for four years my mother sat at that table. In class she met my father who was a graduate student and became a professor at the university. I remember growing up Mrs. Hays visiting us. She was just another friend. My father has left this earth and my mother lives in a continuing care community in New Jersey and has what she unfailingly tells me is a wonderful life. And a few months ago the two Hays men, now old and retired, came to visit my mother and pay there respects.

And so I’m flying up to New Jersey for Christmas to be with my Mom and my two brothers and their wives. I’m sorry my wife and my mother-in-law won’t be there for family and friends are all that matters. I don’t care how much money you have, how much money you lost, if you have family and friends you are wealthy. And I am a wealthy man.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It Could Happen Here

Last week I published a post titled “Bernard Madoff and the Jews of Palm Beach.” I wrote about a Palm Beach devastated by the potentially 50 billion dollar scam. I described the world at the Jewish Palm Beach Country Club where Madoff was an esteemed member managing the fortunes of many members.

The piece had hardly been posted when the New York Post emailed asking to reprint it. Since then the Jewish Voice has asked to reprint it, and I felt that I had written something worthwhile and true.

But when I posted the piece on my own blog, there was an anonymous comment that startled me. “I don't know much about the author or about Palm Beach, but what struck me about the post was the title,” Anonymous wrote. “It’s a sophisticated author's way of expressing anti-Semitism in a way that toes the line between what will be considered acceptable to the most liberal and despicable to those who (sic) no better. ..a sick way to rub it into the face of the victims and espouse what to many will be considered an anti-Semitic title is going too far.”

To me there’s nothing worse than being called Anti-Semitic. There were plenty of positive comments including one from someone who appeared to use his real name. “All Larry is doing is stating the facts, no bias or prejudice,” Neil Rogers wrote. “Don’t let your insecurities, shame, embarrassment and guilt surface by playing the anti-Semitic card. Shalom.”

Even though to my mind I was simply reporting the facts in the context of Palm Beach, I still felt badly about this. My ex-wife and the mother of my daughter is Jewish, and thus by Jewish tradition my daughter and my grandchildren are Jewish. But I am not Jewish and I’ve come to realize that only someone born Jewish can understand at the most profound level what it means to be Jewish, and the inchoate fears that are an integral part of that heritage.

This got me to thinking about the whole issue and I talked to a friend of mine in Boston, David Goldberg. He has been following the Madoff news in among other places the Palm Beach Daily News where he said there were any number of truly anti-Semitic comments that should have been removed. I went to the website and it was as ugly and vicious, worthy of Hitler.

There was one comment posted criticizing these evil rants but for days they sat there. Editor Pat Thomas says that “it became apparent that there were — along with a number of well-reasoned and interesting comments — a number of comments that were clearly anti-Semitic and/or obscene.” Pleading that she did not have big enough a staff to cull out the obscene and foul, Thomas closed down the comments.

But a bubbling up of anti-Semitism does exist and the more I talk to people about this situation, the more I am convinced that we must deal with it not by giving into fear by shutting down the comments of everyone but by vigorously standing up against such ideas.

The fear is simply this. The Madoff story is being played rightfully and painfully as an overwhelmingly Jewish story, and it may spill onto the whole coverage of the economic debacle and that too would become seen as a Jewish story. Of course, it’s ridiculous but I remember when I was doing my last book on Arnold Schwarzenegger and how on my trip to Austria several Austrians told me that the Jews controlled the media and banks of their country, though there are only a few thousand Jews left. It can happen here. As things get worse and people look for scapegoats, the Jews once again can become the targets.

I don’t know how we fight the growing anger and hate in America. We fight it in part by being up front. We must stand up to those reeking of prejudice but we almost must stand up to those who find prejudice when there is only legitimate commentary and criticism. As journalists we fight it in part by trying to get the context right. And maybe we fight it a little with a sense of humor too, the true Jewish penicillin. But whatever we do we must never forget and never forgive those who seek to exploit our divisions and fears.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Game is Up

The Bernard Madoff scandal has swept over Palm Beach like a monumental hurricane, leaving wreckage on every street and byway. Last Thursday evening started like every other night at Amici, a popular Italian restaurant just down the street from my ocean-front condo. At about 7:30 one dinner guest got a phone call and jumped up screaming and within minutes there was turmoil in the sedate restaurant.

Everyone knows someone who has been destroyed or hurt. A friend called me yesterday and said he was “nicked.” He and his wife had invested $2 million with Madoff years ago. He wouldn’t tell me how much it had grown to but it must have been at least $5 million and perhaps twice that. In Palm Beach that’s a nicking.

I don’t know what to say anymore. Palm Beach is not the same. The fantasy is dead. The game is up. And sooner or later everyone is going to realize it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bernard Madoff and the Jews of Palm Beach

Below is a piece that I posted on yesterday. About ten minutes after it went on line, the metropolitan editor of the New York Post emailed me about running it and it's on page four in Saturday's paper. The piece has reacted in a full range of opinion, from overwhelmingly positive to outrage. I'm trying to understand why some people are so upset. And as soon as I have a full grasp on this I'm going to publish again at and put it in my personal blog as well. I've got wonderful friends and I've had some extraordinary discussions that I think will result in a worthwhile piece about the piece.

Bernard Madoff is a member in good standing of the Palm Beach Country Club, the exclusive Jewish club on the North End of the island. When I would talk to friends and acquaintances who were members, they often chatted about good old Bernie. The 70-year-old Madoff had been the chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange. He was a brilliantly successful money manager who may well have handled the assets of a majority of the 300 members as well as that of those of a largely Jewish clientele across the eastern United States and a number of wealthy WASPS.

Bernard and Ruth Madoff bought their home on North Lake Way in 1967, and are among the most long standing members of the club. The Palm Beach Country Club is the ultimate symbol of the Jewish ascendency. Unlike the WASP clubs, to join you have to have made major charitable contributions. You also have to have made your fortune in clean ways. There are no garbage magnates, no slum lords. You have to be a person of character. And there was no one more revered and honored than Bernard Madoff.

Earlier this year I gave a talk at the club about my forthcoming book, Madness Under the Royal Palms. There were people in the room who are in my book and I avoided talking about them or anything that I thought might irritate or offend. I've been doing this sort of thing for years and I can take a few amusing anecdotes and strung them together into something that's not too painful and generally brings smiles if not laughter. But this afternoon there was dead silence. Nobody found anything I said amusing. In retrospect, I realize that these people had come to a bastion of anti-Semitism where Jews could not even enter the Breakers Hotel until 1965, and they had made the island theirs. And here I was to their minds mocking this world they had made their own. They found it profoundly unsettling.People in Palm Beach sort themselves out into the group in which they belong based largely on how much money they have. Even the poorest of the islanders seem to have everything yet joy proves elusive, even for the country club members, because there is always someone richer or better socially connected. Joy is driving out of your 35,000-square-foot mansion in your Bentley and tooling up to the entrance of Mar-a-Lago for your fifteenth ball of the season, the valet parkers salivating at the chance to take your car and the prospect of a twenty-dollar tip. Joy is having a wife younger and thinner than any of the other wives at your table. Joy is subtly announced during dinner that your hedge fund scored 33 percent last year, while that of the arrogant son of a bitch across the table with the fat wife scored only 17 percent.

Those with the biggest financial gains generally had their money managed by Madoff. It was an honor having him handle your fortune. He didn't take just anybody. He turned down all kinds of people, and that made you want to give the man even more of your money. When he took your fortune, he told you that he would tell you nothing about how he achieved his returns. He was a god. He had the Midas touch.Yesterday Madoff was arrested and accused of running what probably will prove the greatest Ponzi scheme in the history of the world. He may have dissipated as much as fifty billion dollars into nothing. For the elite Jewish world, it is a curse of almost biblical proportion. I was at a dinner party last night and one of the guests called on his cell phone a man whose money Madoff had managed. I know the man and he is a generous, kind person who recently gave away over a hundred million dollars. He said that both his company's retirement plan and his charitable foundation had been handled by Madoff. He was preparing to fly back to his Boston home to walk among the ruins. It's a story told scores of times yesterday. Bankruptcy. Despair.

There was one largely Jewish charity event last evening. "It was like the Titanic," one attendee said. "The ship was sinking, and people were crying, 'I lost this and that.' And everybody was drunk. The Titanic was going down and we might as well carry on."

There is a feeling of incredible shame, embarrassment, of exposure, as if their whole world has been exposed as jerry built. This evening the synagogues in Palm Beach will be full. And there will be men and women listening to the truths of a great and ancient faith as they have never listened before.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's not easy even in Palm Beach

In my new book, Madness Under the Royal Palms, I am critical of the fantasy that is Palm Beach, but I’m realizing that I imbibed and enjoyed that fantasy too. There is a relentlessly upbeat feel to the place that is infectious and I’ve felt better here than in my home in Washington, D.C. where life is drearily serious. But this year everything has changed. Wherever I go people are depressed and angry and there is scary emotionality. It’s an inchoate anger because no one knows whom to blame. But the overwhelming feeling is of having been cheated by a secret enemy who has stealthily stolen one’s life in the darkness of night.

Failure is infinitely more interesting than success, and it’s perversely fascinating to watch what’s going on. But I’ve come to have profound empathy and feeling toward some of these people and their losses. It’s tough when you’ve given your kids thousands of dollars each year so they can have a lifestyle that they could not possibly enjoy on their salaries and you have to call and tell them the check won’t be coming. It’s tough when you’ve promised a major hospital on Long Island that you will build a special children’s wing and you no longer have the money so you can do it. It’s tough when you’ve been making a ten percent commission in the perfume department at Neiman Marcus on Worth Avenue and you’re suddenly make ten percent of nothing. It’s tough when you’ve got to walk away from membership at Mar-a-Lago and the $200,000 you paid to join the club two years ago.

No it’s not like people in West Palm Beach losing their homes and their cars, but it’s not easy these days even on the most privileged island in America.

A Perverse Justice

When the parents of a young teenager went in to see Police Chief Michael Reiter and told him how Jeffrey Epstein had sexually abused their daughter, Reiter could have politely listened to the couple and backed away from a serious investigation of one of Palm Beach’s wealthiest resident. Instead, the chief instituted a serious undercover investigation that led to Epstein’s arrest. Reiter did not let matters rest there, but pushed to have the New York businessman indicted on charges that would have put him away for years. Instead, Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to relatively minor offenses for which he was sentenced to a year and a half in jail. That was bad enough but it is disgraceful beyond imagination that Epstein is now out six days a week on a work-release program. The Palm Beach Police Department did not make their extraordinary efforts to have a perversion of justice that equals the perversion of Epstein himself.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The end of Fred Keller

One of the major characters in Madness Under the Royal Palms is Fred Keller, who murdered his ex-wife when she was awarded half his wealth. I spent about thirty hours talking to Keller in prison, and it was one of the most disappointing experiences of my career. My technique basically is to empathize with the person I’m interviewing, finding some authentic commonality with the subject. I tried it with Fred but in retrospect, it was a disaster. He was a sociopath and there was nothing to which I could truly relate. Basically, he used me. I was his free shrink and his ersatz friend for a number of weeks.

Yesterday I attended an auction of the last of Keller’s belongings. It was a perfect metaphor for Keller. Money was all that mattered to Fred and this was how it all ended. The only thing that would have made it better was if they had auctioned off his ashes. It took place in a crude industrial park in Rivera Beach, a downscale rude little town where Fred had had his office and was his natural habitat. The room was full of about a hundred bottom feeders, many of them pathetic voyeurs clutching a few dollars that they hoped to parlay into something. The first item sold was a lot that consisted of two brand new cheap sofas, a cheap matching coffee table, a ping pong table, and a kind of card table. It went for one dollar.

Fred had no taste and he bought things that he thought marked him as classy but almost always came up short. There were quasi antiques, Oriental pieces, crystal, some fine tables, a couple of decent paintings but most of it was upscale junk. I was thinking of buying a couple of things but I didn’t. I’m not superstitious but I didn’t want anything of this man in my house. Whatever he touched he destroyed.

Keller's former brother-in-law, Wolfgang Keil, was there wandering among the merchandise, buying a few things. Fred shot him and destroyed his life, and Wolfgang told me that his whole family has been destroyed. The Keils are feuding over money. The only ones truly to benefit are the largely despicable group of lawyers who will walk away with about twenty million dollars.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


If you're trying to reach my website,, it is so new that it's not listed on any of the search engines. You've got to type in in the address bar.

Donald Trump and the nudists

Donald Trump and nudists have a great deal in common. They both think it’s impossible to be overexposed. When I was pitching Madness Under the Royal Palms to the editor in chief and president of Hyperion, they wanted nothing of the Donald. They said he was overexposed. I said you couldn’t write a book about Palm Beach without talking about Donald Trump. But they wanted nothing of the man.

A few days later on Christmas Eve, I was having dinner at Donald’s club in Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, when the great man and his daughter walked into the ballroom levitating about two inches off the floor. I went up to Donald and told him what my publisher had said. “But I think they’re wrong Donald,” I told him. “And I’d like to get together with you and work it out so in some unique way so you can be a major character in my book.” Donald looked at me as if I had just told him that I was calling all of his loans. By calling him overexposed, I had insulted him in a manner beyond belief. I tried for months to get him to talk but he wasn’t about to do it.

I don’t know what to do. Maybe I should put a scarlet band on the cover with the words: EXCLUSIVE: THIS BOOK HAS NO INTERVIEW WITH DONALD TRUMP.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Is he a guest of the hotel?"

Last evening I attended a memorial for James Sheeran, the late publisher of the Palm Beach Society Magazine. Jim was a charming, rakish ex-Marine who understood the island as well as anyone and made his living publishing a splendid fantasy. I would have lunch with him once a week and he told me all kinds of things that never made it into his glossy pages. When he told me he had only a few weeks to live, I thought what I could do to ease his last weeks a little. I told him that I planned to dedicate Madness Under the Royal Palms to him. He was deeply touched by my gesture, and I hope my book merits his name.

Jim had a great sense of humor and he would have appreciated what happened to me the afternoon of the memorial. I didn’t know the time of the event, and since the magazine was already shut for the day, I called the Colony Hotel where the early evening cocktail was taking place. “What time is the memorial for James Sheeran,” I asked. “Is he a guest of the hotel,” the receptionist asked.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An Aristocrat at the Luncheon Table

I had lunch yesterday with a third generation Palm Beacher, a man who travels in the highest circles of American social life. He spent most of the time lecturing me on how misguided I am. His assertion is that the aristocratic world of Palm Beach is not only still vital but larger and more active than ever. He divides the island between the aristocrats and the pathetic wannabes whose presence he pointed out in the restaurant, especially one table of loud and garrulous men. I pointed out that his beloved Everglades and B&T have any number of members who scarcely qualify as aristocrats, a term that he speaks with delicious pleasure.

I told him how in my book I conclude that it’s his WASP associates who live in a ghetto in Palm Beach now, residing primarily in the estate section, traveling between the B&T and the Everglades, and attending parties which include almost all of their diminishing set. He would have none of that. I don’t agree with him but he was persuasive and devastating describing the new, vulgar world of the wannabes. If the men at the next table could have heard him, they would have cringed.

My friend talked a good deal about Shannon Donnelly, the society editor of the Palm Beach Daily News, who sees herself as writing about the most generous, charitable Palm Beachers in her column. This selfstyled aristocrat views her as the queen of the nouveau, promoting wannabes whose only virtue is their money. He is irritated that the paper almost never writes about the old world of Palm Beach, but that is largely by the choice of people such as my luncheon companion.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Fall of Abe Gosman

Lin Gosman is in jail over the weekend until her bond hearing. She is being charged with hiding millions of dollars in bankruptcy proceedings involving Lin and her husband, Abe Gosman. I had a strange experience with Abe. He used to own the most expensive home in Palm Beach that Donald Trump sold recently to a Russian billionaire for $95 million. Abe was the king of nouveau Palm Beach one day and the next he was a broken, bankrupt man whose wife was apparently living elsewhere. I would see him occasionally having dinner at Trevini alone with his dog.

Of course, I wanted to interview Abe for my book, and he said yes. But every time I went to see him, he had an excuse. Once at ten in the morning, he was downstairs waiting, and I thought he was waiting for me. But he said a friend from Boca was coming and they were going out for ice cream cones.

This went on for perhaps a year and a half. I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t irritated. I found it perversely fascinating. Just how many times would he have me come over and make excuses? In the end, I think the way I deal with it in my book is as revealing of Abe Gosman as any interview.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Happy Thanksgiving!!! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I like it because it’s Christmas without the gifts. But you go nowhere in Palm Beach without a gift. We were invited by dear friends for their family Thanksgiving. My wife baked a wonderful cake and I brought a decent bottle of wine. I usually carry a trinket gift everywhere but the bathroom, and maybe that would be a good idea too. You never know whom you'll meet. My wife came home a couple days ago with a bag full of wrapped gifts. I asked her what they were for. She said it was to be ready for the season.

Some of these gifts are pretty amazing. Wine is a big favorite. Last season I noticed a special bottle of wine in my modest cellar. Someone had left it at one of our dinner parties. Something told me that it might be quite valuable. I checked it out on Google and it’s worth about $500. Now what do I do? I don’t remember who gave it to me and I probably didn’t even thank them in a note afterwards. I could drink it but it seems a pity to waste it on me. I could give it as a gift to somebody special but what if that’s the person who gave it to me. So it just sits on my shelf getting more and more valuable by the minute.

There’s a woman I know down here who got a birthday gift from a cheap friend of hers. She knew it was something like an electric can opener or doilies and she didn’t bother opening it. She was invited to another birthday party of someone she barely knew and couldn’t stand. And leaving the house she picked up the gift, put a new card on it, and headed out to the party. When the hostess opened up her birthday gifts, she was ecstatic at the incredible generosity of her new friend. It was a silver chalice worth well over a thousand dollars.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Biggest Turkeys

This Thanksgiving everything is on sale in Palm Beach including the turkeys. The Shiny Sheet did a story on holiday dinners at all the island restaurants and they're I Hop cheap. The only exception is the Breakers where they're charging $125 and the biggest turkeys will be seated at the tables.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Fatal Fire

The Palm Beach Daily News—aka The Shiny Sheet—had a front-page story yesterday about eighty-year-old Jimmy Barker whose house burned in May and whose friend James Heyman died in the blaze. And now the town is on Jimmy’s back to get him to repair it. I think they should cut the guy a break. Jimmy had no insurance but he’s got ten acres of land in Nantucket worth over $20 million and once he sells some of that he can easily rebuild. He’s been trying to get a reverse mortgage to repair the house but no luck.

When the house caught on fire James Heyman was taking a nap in the upstairs west bedroom. That’s what he did almost every morning at that time and onlookers, Barker, and even the police told the fire fighters where he might well be. In retrospect--and that's the most dangerous phrase in the English language--all they would have had to have done was to have placed a ladder against the wall, broken through the wooden shutters with their axes, and they would have found Heyman in his bed. Maybe he already would have died of smoke inhalation but maybe he would have been alive. Now the Fire Department disputes this and say that they acted professionally and they are not shy in presenting their version.

What troubles me is that in a typical Palm Beach manner, this whole issue was swept aside. Why wasn’t this matter looked into publicly by the Town Council? And why when at least one resident—Gunilla von Post—says that she wrote letters to the editor at the Shiny Sheet criticizing the Fire Department didn’t the paper publish them? And why according to my sources has the Police Department even purchased or plans to purchase special equipment so police officers can enter burning buildings—a matter left exclusively to firefighters in most places.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Another Perfect Day in Paradise

I got a call from a friend chairing one of the major charity balls. It’s a thousand dollars a ticket, and she’s in trouble. She projects this cavalier what-will-be-will-be nonchalance but I know how worried she is. People aren’t going to come. This is one of the big three and she probably will have enough tables so she can justify the evening but there will be all sorts of events this season that should be cancelled. But they won’t be cancelled. The egos are too big. So they’ll paper the house and cut down what the charity gets and people will eat their fancy meals and drink their fancy wine and pretend it’s all the same. But it’s not. In this economic climate, it’s simply inappropriate to show off in such flamboyant fashion unless there is an extraordinary payoff to the charity.

My wife dragged me to Saks this afternoon. Nobody was there. Nobody. The prices were criminally low and I bought a suit for my book tour and two pairs of shoes. I felt guilty and wouldn’t have done it except that the salesman, William Quinn, was so incredibly well read and so incredibly charming and so incredibly well dressed that I had no choice. But the point is that despite unprecedented sales nobody is shopping. We were the only people there. It was astounding. We were in Jimmy Choo and the salesman there was outraged that his best customers were coming in and proudly telling him they weren’t buying. That’s just the kind of thing to make a guy feel great. Imagine what it’s like working for commission on Worth Avenue and the only place where people are buying anything is at Starbuck’s. Nothing like a nonfat latte grande as the world falls apart.

Let’s talk about money. Somebody was telling me about their friend who was worth $600 million six months ago. Now the poor bastard is worth $500 million. I know it’s tragic and I’m sorry even to mention such devastating news. Anyway, the half billionaire takes his friends out to dinner. They think they’re going to Café L’Europe or some fancy place. They go to a cheap pizza joint in West Palm and Mr. Half Billionaire is ecstatic. Everybody down here is cutting down even people who have immense fortunes. There’s a sense of fear. That’s the overwhelming emotion. Nobody ever says it. But it’s there.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Charity Begins at Home

Cathleen McFarlane Ross is one of my favorite people and she comes off well in my book. I was with her three days in a row this week. First night was a dinner at the Lord’s Place, the extraordinary institution for the homeless in West Palm. I’m a volunteer there. I work one day a week at Café Joshua serving meals and talking to clients. There are about a hundred volunteers and only one other volunteer from Palm Beach. Cathleen founded the Lord’s Place Auxiliary and for years was hands on for the homeless and hungry. Diana Stanley, the Lord’s Place director, is not happy at the direction the auxiliary has taken, and there is a devastating account of it in Madness Under the Royal Palms. This evening was a dinner party in which the new chef and his staff at Joshua's Cafe, most of them formerly homeless, tried out their culinary thing on potential donors. It was a wonderful evening. The next evening Cathleen was honored at an event at St. Anne’s Catholic Church where the nuns have their own program for the homeless. Cathleen was with them from the beginning and the room was full of charitable Catholics.

And then today there was a luncheon at Club Colette for another of Cathleen’s major charities, for feral cats. It was interminable, tedious speech after tedious speech. I’m thinking there are 4,000 homeless across the waterway and we’re wringing our hands about feral cats. It costs about $65 apparently to neuter a feral cat. Food on the island for these cats runs around $2,000 a month. The budget to take care of these cats is several hundred thousand dollars a year.

One woman got up and said that she owns 18,000 acres in the Adirondacks and she would be glad to fly some of the cats up to her land in her jet. I just don’t think these people get where we’re heading in America and how they’ve got to make some tough choices. Cathleen is one of the few socially prominent people on the island who cares about issues of poverty and homelessness. The Lord's Place is very outré but with new efforts and the devastating increase of homelessness in the county perhaps that will change.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Season in Palm Beach

I'm going to keep a running chronicle of life in Palm Beach for the season. Something tells me it's going to be like no winter in the island's history. These first days since the election everything is the same and nothing is the same. Among some Republicans there is a fury about the election results, something I’ve never seen in my life. And among the workers in our building there’s a quiet joy and the feeling that this is their country now. It’s very European, reminds me of Paris in the Sixties. It’s that polarized. Wednesday, I had lunch with one of the ladies in my book. She said, “That black tar baby won and the only problem about him being killed is that the one who would take over would be just as bad.” Friday I attended a party at the home of Cynthia Friedman, a prominent Democratic fundraiser. All the Democratic heavy hitters on the island were there. There were some mixed couples, one spouse for Obama, the other for McCain. One pro- McCain man came up to me and talked about lunch that day at the Everglades Club. “We kept the Jews out and now we’ve got a n_____ in the White House.” I didn’t say anything but afterwards I wondered why did he think he could say such a thing to me?