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?