Excerpt: 'Bag Lady Papers' by Alexandra Penney

I don't but I'm certainly a lot better off than many of these victims. I have a small daily-use bank account and a modest one-bedroom get-away house in Long Island that I bought ten years ago. I thought owning real estate would always be a good investment. I had a mortgage on the house and recently I took out a home equity loan on it as well, after listening to the advice of two different financial and tax planners who had been highly recommended by smart friends. Madoff was generating a steady ten percent return and the loans on the house were around six percent, so, as the planners explained, the four percent margin was meaningful.

I kept upping the home equity loan and taking out money to pay for living and for my photography studio expenses rather than depleting my Madoff money so that my savings with him would continue to grow. This morning I know that the Long Island shack, as I call it, will have to be sold ASAP. I have no money to cover the loan costs. Or even the gas and electricity bills. I've been living off the proceeds from my photographs and small withdrawals from my Madoff account every quarter since I rented my photography studio two years ago.

I also bought an inexpensive one-bedroom bungalow in Florida a couple of years ago with some of the money I'd made from writing and several photography shows. The Florida place was part of a pension plan that was set up by an accountant years ago when I first started to save money. I couldn't live or vacation in the Florida house because of my pension plan's legal restrictions but I always hoped it would be a good investment. I had painted the floors, walls, ceilings, and everything in sight in white, found some stylish white furniture at Ikea so that it would be an attractive place and I could rent it out to cover its costs. Now I'll have to sell it too. Whatever I could make on it wouldn't even come close to covering half the loans I owe for the house in Long Island—that is, if I could make anything at all. Home values in Florida have plummeted to the worst lows in the nation. And from what I've read it doesn't look as if this will change any time soon, but I have no time to wait for a real estate upswing.

And of course there's my apartment. I am hoping that if I can sell the rest I can stay in this place where I have lived for so long. If I can just remain in my home I will have some peace of mind, even if I have no more than a pittance to live on. Staying in my home would help me to get my bearings again and give me some sense of continuity. But who knows if anything will sell – or when? Every single aspect of my life is uncertain at this moment. Not knowing is hell. The worst kind of emotional hell.

Right now, standing in the expanding crowd in the MF's lobby, I will my self not to think about the apartment or I will have some sort of epic panic attack.

The group is young, old, in-between. Some look like bicycle messengers, others could be pharmacists and librarians and a good percentage look as if they go to the right barbers and have had subtle but expensive Botox jobs and mini-lifts.

Finally, a man descends from the upper reaches of the MF's establishment. He informs us that he is a lawyer and his name is Lee Richards. He is the interim 'receiver' for bankruptcy proceedings. He states coolly that it will take days or even months to establish any real facts. The crowd asks, "Is there any money there?," "Can we get insurance?"

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