Friday, February 19, 2010

No snow, no rain, just clouds

Looking north along Broadway from Murray Sreet. 5:55 PM. Photo: JH.
February 19, 2010. No snow, no rain, just clouds and the temp in the upper 30s. The most interesting thing I noticed yesterday afternoon about quarter to six: it wasn’t dark yet. Just at that moment where we’re getting sick of winter. Then I noticed in my calendar that we turn the clock ahead in three weeks.

Last night I went to a book party for Alexandra Penney and her new book The Bag Lady Papers. You may have heard about Alexandra, the artist/photographer, former Conde Nast editor, and author of How to Make Love to a Man and Why Men Stray and Why Men Stay: How to Keep Your Man Monogamous.

Me and Alexandra in palmier days.
In recent years, she had been living off her accumulated assets made in those days when How To/Men Straying and Staying books sold in the millions and SELF magazine was under her editorship. And women wanted to know.

When she left all that (some call it retirement although she’s not the retiring type), she turned over her accumulated assets to a guy named Bernard Madoff and went home and left the worrying to him.

As we now know, old Bernie had a lot to worry about although his “clients” like Alexandra Penney didn’t have a clue. There were others – many others – incidentally, who DID have a clue but were considered only nay-sayers at the time. However, before Madoff’s reversal of fortune, Alexandra doubted the nay-sayers. She wasn’t alone, that’s for sure.

I haven’t read the book yet although when I first heard that Alexandra had lost her life savings with Madoff, I knew immediately that she’d find a way to monetize this drastic experience. It occurred to me that she would write a book. She’s just one of those women who takes action. This is not an uncommon trait in a lot of women although they are often slow to acknowledge it publicly.
Alexandra addressing the guests (you can't see her -- she's at the other end of the room by the fireplace).
The key word/term, however, is “bag lady.” The fear of being a “bag lady” is widespread among American women of a certain age and marital status. It may be less so with younger generations who have an inbred sense of entitlement that their elders do not possess. I know several women – all very successful in their ability to support themselves (and often others) – who have that lingering fear. It’s ironic but very real.

In general, men don’t entertain that fear in quite the same way. They may fear losing their job, or going broke, but it is usually based on some misfortune or bad business move that is about to, or has already occurred. In extreme situations men tend to lash out at others, or do themselves in. Or others, or, as happened yesterday in Texas, both.
Alexandra Penney with The Bag Lady Papers: The Priceless Experience of Losing It All.
Cick to order.
Nessia Pope, Priscilla Rattazzi and Donna Wick.
I had lunch with Alexandra Penney not long after the boom was lowered on her. She was still in her outraged, angry mode. Devastated was the word she might have used and meant. And she looked like she’d been hit by a ten ton truck. I mean she looked worn down by it. Although -- she’d already begun writing a series of pieces on the matter for the Daily Beast. There was the clue to her recovery.

Her early pieces on the Bag Lady Papers was an eye-opener for her because a lot of readers didn’t have sympathy for her losses, because she’d previously been living rich. Or “rich” for most of us.

Alexandra was puzzled by that because she’d worked hard all her life for what she’d achieved and accumulated. Losing it all in a phone call later in life is a horrible experience, no matter who you are. Period. And for her there was the incipient apparition of the Bag Lady in the mirror.
Toni Goodale and Sarah Simms Rosenthal
Although I haven’t read the book yet, I have a feeling I know what’s in store. Alexandra Penney is a teacher. Teaching is her métier. That’s also her ace. If she’d been living at the beginning of the 20th century she’d probably have made her life’s work in a classroom sending thousands of imaginative and optimistic children off into making good lives for themselves and others. That’s basically how she’s earned a living for herself all her life. It’s what her books were all about and what her magazine was all about.

This lesson is the big one, however; the Bag Lady syndrome. And how to avoid it, or disappear it. I’ve no doubt there is something for all of us to learn here. Just what she has learned about handling the situation is something for all of us to consider. Bernie, as we have since learned, was only the tip of the iceberg.
Micky Ateyeh and Joe Armstrong. Stefano Tonchi of the New York Times with Richard David Story, editor of Departures.
Priscilla Rattazzi with Jeffrey Leeds and Donna Wick.
Last night’s reception, hosted by Patty Newburger and Brad Wechsler drew a good number of the New York cogniscenti including Marie Brenner and Ernie Pomerantz, Paul Goldberger, James and Toni Goodale, Priscilla Ratazzi Whittle, Jeffrey Leeds, Betsy Gotbaum, Patti Harris, Jane Hoffman, Michael Hoffman, Anne Keating, Nancy Novogrod, Bob Pittman Liz Robbins, Jane Rosenthal, Alice Tisch, Laurie Tisch, Joe Armstrong, Amy Fine Collins, Michael Fuchs, Brooke Neidich, Sarah Simms Rosenthal.
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