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I once met Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She was a legend. She started the Special Olympics. She was the sister of President John F. Kennedy, the mother of Maria Shriver, and the grandmother of Patrick Schwarzenegger. I've always been awe struck by the Kennedys, and I was thrilled to meet her.
My grandparents loved the Kennedys too, and when I told my grandmother I met her, she immediately asked, "What was she like?" "She was so nice," was my reply. With a caveat. "Her dress was ripped and wrinkled, and it looked really old. I wonder why?"
"Truly rich people, like the Kennedys (they were back in those days), don't need to flaunt their wealth," my grandmother wisely pointed out. "People who do are usually the ones who aren't rich. She doesn't need a new pretty dress to impress you. She's already impressive and rich enough."
I admit I watch some of "The Real Housewives" series. New York, because I live here, and Beverly Hills because it's, well, Beverly Hills and they all seem truly rich! Every time I see one of those housewives flaunt their wealth, I think of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and an old pair of Adidas sneakers.
No one flaunted their wealth like Erika Girardi, aka Erika Jayne. Anyone who is reading this knows who she is, what she's done, and what's going on with her now. And how she was idolized by some of the gay community (admittedly after pandering to them with her pop persona). If you need any insight about her and her husband's latest trials and tribulations, you can go to Hulu and watch The Housewife and the Hustler.
It's criminal -- literally and metaphorically -- what her husband is alleged to have done, siphoning off millions of dollars of judgements, awarded to his clients, to himself, and possibly to his wife. His clients were victims of some of the most gruesome accidents inflicted by corporate America against unsuspecting people (think of Erin Brokovich and her work fighting for those abused by power). Girardi's friends say they were surprised to see him next to his wife parading his wealth on the reality show.
As the attorney for the little guy, Girardi, vis-a-Visa his wife, bragged about their wealth. Mr. and Mrs. Girardi had their two planes, their mansions, her glam squad, and her over-opulent wardrobe and shoe closets. It was this abuse of wealth, for lack of a better term, that Girardi was fighting against on behalf of his clients. Many of his clients, who weren't getting their cash settlements, were shocked to see how wealthy Girardi was, while they suffered and their constant entreaties to him for their money fell on deaf ears.
I have a diatribe about people who brag about how great they are or go off on being pompous and privileged. I tell people, the moment you think that you have life by the throat, life comes by, rips your hand off, stomps on it, and then hands it back to you. And if you didn't learn your lesson the first time, your poor fingers are in for another whacking.
I'm surprised that someone like Girardi, at this age, and as an attorney embroiled in so many fights, doesn't also have a pair that hangs delicately. He cannot be shocked that he was exposed for his lavish lifestyle and his accounting trickery, and neither should Erika; however, sometimes, when your gilded palace gets so high up on the mountain-top, you forget that you can do anything wrong.
Or, you try so hard to impress that you need a million-dollar dress.
Cases in point. Look at two other "Housewives," Teresa Guidice and Jen Shah. They habitually lapped up the attention about their extravagances. Where did that get them? Exposed for who they really are, and where the wealth was illegally derived from. All the shoes, the dresses, the cars, the houses, etc., etc., etc., all paid for by what appears to be fraudulent means.
Now Erika Jayne Girardi is the latest Housewife in the legal crosshairs. And while she presented herself on the show with two sides -- the dutiful wife of a much older husband and the sumptuous seductress who wowed gay parties and bars across the world with a no-holds barred display of aggressive sexuality -- in her current iteration, it appears that Erika might have a second alter-ego, Bonnie to her husband's Clyde.
It's hard to believe that the Bonnie side of Erika, who was married to her husband for over 20 years, wasn't aware of where the money was coming from. When you watch Erika, you get the sense that this woman is smart and shrewd. And if you watched the show, when she and her estranged husband were together, it sometimes seemed as though they were more business partners than a romantic couple.
This week, in a podcast interview, the lawyer suing the Girardis said that he can prove that Erika, who has not been charged with any crimes, was "incredibly involved" in fraud allegedly committed by her separated husband.
'"We believe we're going to be able to prove that Erika was incredibly involved in not just the law firm, but also, he was loaning money to her company, tens of millions of dollars to her company," the attorney, Jay Edelson said. "She was basically taking client funds and using it to fund her lifestyle. And if we're successful (in their case), that means that we're going to be able to get whatever possessions she has back in order to pay off any sort of judgment."
Further, People reported this week that Erika's business has received over $20 million in loans from Tom's Los Angeles law firm, according to a motion filed by the bankruptcy trustee investigating Tom's assets.
That's a lot of money that presumably went to a glam squad that attired Girardi in pricey garbs. What will happen to all those dazzling dress-to-impress dresses? And, does that mean that all of those wildly crazy and wildly flamboyant shoes are going up for auction?
During my first two years of high school, while my mom was a struggling widow, we shopped at Hill's department store, which was about a step below Kmart. I didn't realize my clothes were different from my classmates, but I know that others most likely judged me. Also, I wore generic sneakers, when Adidas shoes were all the rage.
One time, I passed a shoe store in the mall during a Saturday afternoon hangout, and I saw a sale of Adidas sneakers for $9.99. I went in, asked for those shoes, and was told they only had them in a size 10. Two sizes too big. I bought them anyway with my hard earned grass-cutting money, convinced I'd find a way to wear them.
I did. I taped the bottom of my pants to the mid-section of the shoe, so that it didn't look like I had clown feet. I was so proud of myself for wearing those shoes to school. I felt so cool. Like I belonged, until I sat down, and the noise from the tape ripping from the shoe shot out like a siren. Everyone laughed.
I kept those shoes for years, as a constant reminder of what life used to be like, and how grateful I was for everything I had. They helped keep me in check when there were times I felt like I had life by the balls.
Those shoes pop into my head every time I see Erika's extravagant footwear closet. If I still had them, I would probably box them up and send them to her, along with a picture of me and Eunice Kennedy Shriver in her ripped dress.
John Casey is editor-at-large for The Advocate.