In an article about how Bernard Madoff beat the pants off the big spenders in Palm Beach, the story of an actual pair of pants that Madoff purchased but never picked up: that's what we in the media biz call good metaphor.
Madoff placed the order with a shop called "Trillion" (How perfect is that?) on Worth Avenue. Owner David Neff explained to the New York Times that the name ensured that no shop could move nearby and lay claim to being more expensive.
It appealed to Madoff, and the article recounts a final visit by the notorious fraudster:
The last time he was here, he fell for a $2,000 pair of worsted spun cashmere pants, which Trillion didn't have in his size, and had to be ordered from Italy.
After the slacks arrived but before Madoff could come by for a fitting, he was arrested.
"I remember I heard about the arrest and I went directly to the store to charge those pants on his credit card," recalls Neff, a fit, gray-haired man in perpetual motion. "But the card had already been canceled."
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SHOW ME HOW
I reached that fit, gray-haired man in perpetual motion this morning. For while the article both begins and ends with Bernie's pants, we never learn what will come of them. I wanted to ask Neff whether he was going to auction them off or display them as a conversation piece. Or give them to the Smithsonian. But he was not in the mood for chit-chat.
"The article was misleading," said Neff, in response to my question about the pants' future. "They were part of an inventory that was sold."
Before I could ask whether that meant the pants never existed, whether Neff was egregiously misquoted, he said, "The story yesterday pretty much taught me that I shouldn't be talking to you right now. Goodbye."
So the mystery remains: Between Neff and the New York Times, whose pants are on fire? Whose nose is as long as a telephone wire?