On February 26th, the New York Times published an article: "For the Madoffs Not Related to Bernie, Life Suddenly Got More Complicated".
My "suddenly" happened over a year ago when Bernard "Bernie" Madoff took an Acapulco cliff dive off the high peak of fame and riches to the depths of infamy and prison. To many, he took the name "Madoff" with him. Some Madoffs decided to change their name rather than put up with the constant questions and accusations that have become a regular feature of having it. I was not going to let Bernard steal my name along with everything else he stole.
One year ago I wrote an article, "I'm Not That Madoff", for The Huffington Post. It was the first effort to rescue my family's name from the dark shadow Bernard cast over all Madoffs. A few weeks later; I agreed to be interviewed by Clyde Haberman of The New York Times for his article, "B. Madoff and Proud of It".
A CNN producer who saw the article in The Times asked me to be a guest on their program, "Newsroom".
"Bernard Madoff is going on trial and we'd like to have you on that day to talk about what it's been like to have the name Madoff." he said.
"Thank you, but I'm not interested."
"May I ask why?"
"I don't want to have my face with my name on television associated with Bernard as you show him going to trial. I wouldn't expose my family or myself to that. What would be the point?"
"National television exposure for you." he countered.
"I'm not interested in that kind of exposure. "
"Ben Madoff?" a female voice asked. "I'm from "Inside Edition. We'd love to do a story about you for our television show this evening. We'd also feature you on our website."
I told her I'd call her back. I wasn't familiar with "Inside Edition". I went to their website. That evening they were featuring a story about a minister who shot his wife in church and a video of "Bizkit the sleepwalking dog: You won't believe your eyes!"
"Thank you for calling, but I won't be doing your show." I told her.
"May I ask why?"
"I have higher goals than being sandwiched between a gun toting minister and a sleepwalking dog."
At 5:30 the next morning the phone rang waking my wife and me. I didn't recognize the caller ID so I let the answering machine pick up: "Hello Ben, I'm calling from Fox News, "Fox and Friends". We saw the article about you and would love to have you as a guest on our show today. I know it's early but we'd like to send a crew over this morning to interview you. Bernard Madoff is going on trial so we'd love to have you on. If you can call me back, I'll arrange for a crew."
I'm not Fox's or anyone else's friend at 5:30 a.m. I assumed they weren't calling me for my legal insight into the case. I didn't call them back.
I then got a call from one of David Letterman's staff.
"Dave would like you to read our Top Ten List."
"What's the topic?"
"Are you familiar with our Top Ten?"
"Of course, what's the topic?"
"We saw your article in the Times and we'd like to meet with you."
"What's the topic?"
"Top Ten Reasons It's Good to Have the Name Madoff".
"Thanks, but I'm not interested."
"May I ask why?"
"I find no novelty in being a novelty."
They convinced me to meet with them at Letterman's studio.
"Dave is very excited about this. We liked your sense of humor in the article and think this could be a great segment." he said.
I told them I did not want to make light of the tremendous pain and loss so many people suffered. They told me they would be sensitive to that.
"Great," I said. "I want to see the script before I agree to do it."
"You'll have to trust us."
"I don't. No offense, but I understand your job is entertain your audience five nights a week. I don't want to make fun of Madoff's victims or be the butt of jokes about him."
"We understand, but there is no way for you to see the script in advance, Dave always changes them right before we shoot anyway so it's just not going to be possible."
"I understand," I said, "I wouldn't put up with me if I was you, but I'm not willing to take the chance."
"Late Night is watched by millions of people every night," he said. "Think about what that exposure could do for you-"
"Or to me."
"You seem like a bright guy, I think you would do a great job."
"Thanks, you seem like a bright guy too. I appreciate you trying to get me to say "yes" because I'm sure David is very difficult to say "no" to."
"I can't promise, but what if I could get script approval for you?"
"Then I'd consider it."
"Good, let's just do a rough take on camera for our writers and Dave to approve. I'll read the intro, ready? "Top Ten reasons it's good to have the last name Made-off. To read our Top Ten list tonight is B. Made-off-"
"My name is pronounced Mad-off, not Made-off."
"We know but Dave thinks it would be a lot funnier if we introduced you as Made-off, it's spelled the same way."
"I'm not willing to do that." I thanked them for their time and left.
I continued to get calls seeking out Bernard; people from India, Michigan, Florida, Germany and other locations around the United States and the globe. Some of them were polite, bewildered and hurt. I felt bad for their loss. Many hung from the lunatic fringe, often belligerent, sometimes drunk and most likely not even people who actually invested with Bernard - just nuts with a new target for their anger at the world. The calls finally tapered off, but the questions haven't.
My mother died two weeks ago. I was in Akron, Ohio making the funeral arrangements. The "Family Service Specialist", the guy who makes sure the body is being buried is in the right plot, leaned across the table where the map of the cemetery was. "I'm sorry for your loss. You have my condolences." He looked at me with an earnest expression and said, "I hope this isn't inappropriate, but I recognized the last name and was wondering if you were related."
"Yes. She was my mother."
"No, I mean to Bernard, that Wall Street guy."
"What difference does it make?"
He shrugged. "I don't know, nothing, I'm just curious."
I still have my name. I'm proud of it and my family's history. Bernard was not a part of that. I'm still not that Madoff.