The next day, while plugging in rich, famous New Yorkers’ names into the magical website (http://www.osc.state.ny.us/ouf/index.htm), and noticing that almost every other one had some lost money, a bright idea occurred: Hey, maybe I could shake ’em all down for 5 to 10 percent? I would donate a portion of the commissions to KittyKind rescue and adoption, and the rest would go to resuscitating Manhattan nightlife. Tracy Westmoreland (who has an unclaimed fund) would receive a stipend for his bar, Siberia. So would Mars Bar’s owner Hank Penza, Bungalow 8’s Amy Sacco (who has an unclaimed fund) and the Beatrice Inn’s Paul Sevigny (whose sister Chloë has an unclaimed fund). Then I’d help reopen Ruby Fruit and the Village Idiot, my fiancée would get her two-bedroom, two-bath apartment and perhaps we’d have a lavish wedding reception on Liberty Island, with Van Halen and Luna playing.
I called Ms. Lockel at the comptroller’s office, who told me it was perfectly legal to ask for a finder’s fee of 15 percent. Among those with unclaimed funds I planned to contact were Jay McInerney, James Gandolfini, Alec Baldwin, Sean Combs, Rudolph Giuliani, Rupert Murdoch, Denise Rich, Gordon Sumner, Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton, Tina Brown, Charlie Rose, Amanda Burden, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Lorne Michaels, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Conan O’Brien, Denis Leary, Marisa Tomei, David Dinkins, Liv Tyler, Larry Gagosian, Aby Rosen, Larry King, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Lou Reed, John McEnroe, Russell Simmons, Diane von Furstenberg, Richard Fuld, George Soros, Alfred Taubman, Tiffany Dubin, Roger Ailes, Dick Gilder, Billy Joel, Barbara Walters, Rosie Perez, Al Pacino, Lauren Bacall, Bianca Jagger, Isaac Mizrahi, Julianne Moore, Matt Lauer, Bernadette Peters, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell—along with Hearst, Dow Jones, NBC, CBS, ABC, and the Rockefellers, who must have at least a billion missing.
Then my better instincts returned. It was time to give something back and pay it forward.
I plugged in more names: family, friends, colleagues, subjects of flattering articles. Many did not respond to emails saying they hit the jackpot. Maybe they were in Venice or St. Tropez or just creeped out. Others pegged me for an identity thief or “spam.” One former mentor simply wrote “scam” and later, “Why are you trying to scam me and Jim?”
An old drinking buddy got testy. “No offense and very sweet of u, but don’t love a reporter knowing my biz, real or not, dear friend. Drop it?” he fired back after a second notification.
“I’m sure this IS a scam and you didn’t write this,” a gorgeous socialite author informed me. “No one replies to a directive requiring a ss #. Hope you’re aware of this e-mail use.” I tried to win her over. No dice. “Don’t believe any of it!” she snapped.
The next day she sort of apologized: “Thanks, George. Now I see it wasn’t a hacker using your name. Big hoo-ha on Channel 7 [about unclaimed funds] last night. XXX….My potential windfall is probably a $2.50 refund or gift from Saks. We’ll see.”
“Shut up! Like money that is owed to me?” asked a fetching young woman friend. “What inspired you to email me about this? How did you find that old address of mine?”
Gradually her emails become friendlier: “Is there a check waiting for me?…WOW you may turn out to be my hero!” Then she had second thoughts. “Is this your new e-mail? Aren’t you on Gmail?…I am cynical and suspicious but it isn’t April 1st, so I have decided to trust you…We shall see! Thanks George! I believe in you now. XX…This is totally awesome! I found all these friends of mine who are owed money. YOU RULE GG!”
Then she started looking up friends. Then she started contacting those friends about their sudden money: “My mother is the only person so far who believes me. My other e-mails have been met with silence. Hmmm.” (A week later she received a check for 67 bucks).
“Georgie! Did you send this?” a superrich goddess wrote back after being made aware of some abandoned assets that belonged to her. She forwarded a bogus email she’d received from an offshore bank in the Caribbean saying she was owed “millions of pounds,” which she equated with my missive. After some back and forth over the next week, and a chat with the comptroller’s office that confirmed that her claim was for real, she finally believed me. Now she was certain she really did have “millions” coming to her and offered me a “present.”
“Aww, that’s all right,” I told her. “You know, for the first time in my career I feel like I’m doing some good. But you can take me out to dinner.”