‘We Never Thought Bernie Was Going to Set the World on Fire’

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Photo: Carmen Dell'Orefice

Mark Seal had big plans for his Bernie Madoff story in Vanity Fair. He was going to find out what Bernie Madoff was really like. Alas, he failed — the man is a cipher — and instead of a peek at Bernie Madoff's inner soul we get a not uninteresting but 13,000-word story complete with every detail Seal could wring out of his notebook and a glimpse at the writer's own life. (Also unsatisfying, for the following reasons: How can Seal, a magazine writer, afford to winter in Aspen and how is it possible that he himself was agitating to get into Madoff's fund up until December 11? Either he has help, in which case he should read this, or everyone has been lying to us about how much money they make in order to keep us down.) However! A few good details about Bernie emerge that everyone can now add to their files, or there own upcoming Madoff stories, such as the case may be.

Commoners, Treatment of: At Primola, the Madoffs' favorite restaurant, the couple always left a 20 percent tip. “I know him for 30 years,” said the owner, Giuliano Zuliani, who met Madoff while working as a waiter. “When I would talk to him, though, his wife would look down at the table. In all the years she knew me, she never spoke to me.”
Dietary Habits of: At the restaurant, Bernie always ordered a small salad, chicken scarpiello, and Diet Coke or red wine. Ruth ordered fish and white wine. No dessert, no coffee.
Grooming, Habits of: Madoff’s barber cut his hair and gave him manicures and pedicures at least once a month for seventeen years.
Niece, Habits, Possible Sluttishness of: “Shana had a shoe fetish — like 30, 35 pair of Manolos. She was a real fashion victim, always wanted to be on the best-dressed list. She only cared about the labels,” said a friend. “Her focus was on clothes and yoga. Private instructor — Ashtanga. She wore very skintight clothes.”
Origins, Humbleness of: "Their first apartment was in Bayside," says an acquaintance. "I know the rent was $87 a month …. We never thought Bernie was going to set the world on fire."
Sizing Up Investors, Method of : “There was never a fixed number. It was subject to a person’s individual wealth.” The day they met, Madoff was his typical “sweet, never arrogant, happy self.” As they spoke, the man realized that Madoff had already sized them up and calculated their net worth. He said, “Your minimum to me is $10 million.”
Smirk, Deal With: That's just his face, he made it even before. Model and investor Carmen Dell’Orefice recalls the first time she met him.

“There was a little man sitting behind a very big desk," she said.
"‘Are you Mr. Madoff?,’ I asked.
'Yes, and I’m expecting you,' he said, his mouth pursed in what she would soon discover was his trademark smirk. "

(We know, it would have been better if it was a congenital defect or a result of being hammered in the face, but alas, "trademark" is all we got.)
Wedding, Scale of: Bernie and Ruth had a “very nice Jewish wedding — sit-down dinner,” at the Laurelton Jewish Center in 1959. Those with judgy Jewish mothers can read into that accordingly.


Madoff's World [VF]
Related: The Monster Mensch [NYM]
The Complete Bernie Madoff, Platinum Collection [Daily Intel]