Read Trump and Me Online

Authors: Mark Singer

Trump and Me (2 page)

To his credit, he's correct about my anemic book sales. My Amazon ranking is already back down to 53,876.

Then one more thing happens. I get a letter from Citibank. I open it. Inside is my bank statement. My account, I see, is $37.82 lighter.

Trump has cashed the check.

*
Lacking any aptitude for irony, Trump is blithely oblivious to Queenan's.

One spring morning in 1997, Donald Trump, who under routine circumstances tolerates publicity no more grudgingly than an infant tolerates a few daily feedings, sat in his office on the twenty-sixth floor of Trump Tower, his mood rather subdued. As could be expected, given the fact that his three-and-a-half-year-old marriage to Marla Maples was ending, paparazzi were staking out the exits of Trump Tower, while all weekend helicopters had been hovering over Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach. And what would come of it? “I think the thing I'm worst at is managing the press,” he said. “The thing I'm best at is business and conceiving. The press portrays me as a wild flamethrower. In actuality, I think I'm much different from that. I think I'm totally inaccurately portrayed.”

So, though he'd agreed to a conversation at this decisive moment, it called for wariness, the usual quota of prefatory “off-the-record”s and then some. He wore a navy-blue suit, white shirt, black-onyx-and-gold links, and a crimson print necktie. Every strand of his interesting hair—its gravity-defying ducktails and dry pompadour, its telltale absence of gray—was where he wanted it to be. He was working his way through his daily gallon of Diet Coke and trying out a few diversionary maneuvers. Yes, it was true, the end of a marriage was a sad thing. Meanwhile, was I aware of what a success he'd had with the Nation's Parade, the Veterans Day celebration he'd been very supportive of back in 1995? Well, here was a little something he wanted to show me, a nice certificate signed by both Joseph Orlando, president, and Harry Feinberg, secretary-treasurer, of the New York chapter of the 4th Armored Division Association, acknowledging Trump's participation as an associate grand marshal. A million four hundred thousand people had turned out for the celebration, he said, handing me some press clippings. “O.K., I see this story says a half million spectators. But, trust me, I heard a million four.” Here was another clipping, from the
Times,
just the other day, confirming that rents on Fifth Avenue were the highest in the world. “And who owns more of Fifth Avenue than I do?” Or how about the new building across from the United Nations Secretariat, where he planned a “very luxurious hotel-condominium project, a major project.” Who would finance it? “Any one of twenty-five different groups. They all want to finance it.”

Months earlier, I'd asked Trump whom he customarily confided in during moments of tribulation. “Nobody,” he said. “It's just not my thing”—a reply that didn't surprise me a bit. Salesmen, and Trump is nothing if not a brilliant salesman, specialize in simulated intimacy rather than the real thing. His modus operandi had a sharp focus: fly the flag, never budge from the premise that the universe revolves around you, and, above all, stay in character. The Trump tour de force—his evolution from rough-edged rich kid with Brooklyn and Queens political-clubhouse connections to an international name-brand commodity—remains, unmistakably, the most rewarding accomplishment of his ingenious career. The patented Trump palaver, a gaseous blather of “fantastic”s and “amazing”s and “terrific”s and “incredible”s and various synonyms for “biggest,” is an indispensable ingredient of the name brand. In addition to connoting a certain quality of construction, service, and security—perhaps only Trump can explicate the meaningful distinctions between “super luxury” and “super super luxury”—his eponym subliminally suggests that a building
belongs
to him even after it's been sold off as condominiums.

Everywhere inside the Trump Organization headquarters, the walls were lined with framed magazine covers, each a shot of Trump or someone who looked an awful lot like him. The profusion of these images—of a man who possessed unusual skills, though not, evidently, a gene for irony—seemed the sum of his appetite for self-reflection. His unique talent—being “Trump” or, as he often referred to himself, “the Trumpster,” looming ubiquitous by reducing himself to a persona—exempted him from introspection.

If the gossips hinted that he'd been cuckolded, they had it all wrong; untying the marital knot was based upon straightforward economics. He had a prenuptial agreement, because “if you're a person of wealth you have to have one.” In the words of his attorney, Jay Goldberg, the agreement was “as solid as concrete.” It would reportedly pay Marla a million dollars, plus some form of child support and alimony, and the time to do a deal was sooner rather than later. A year from now, she would become entitled to a percentage of his net worth. And, as a source
very close
to Trump made plain, “If it goes from a fixed amount to what could be a very enormous amount—even a small percentage of two and a half billion dollars or whatever is a lot of money—we're talking about very huge things. The numbers are much bigger than people understand.”

The long-term matrimonial odds had never been terrifically auspicious. What was Marla Maples, after all, but a tabloid cartoon of the Other Woman, an alliteration you could throw the cliché manual at: a leggy, curvaceous blond-bombshell beauty-pageant-winning actress-model-whatever? After a couple of years of deftly choreographed love spats, Donald and Marla produced a love child, whom they could not resist naming Tiffany. A few months before they went legit, Marla told a television interviewer that the contemplation of marriage tended to induce in Donald the occasional “little freak-out” or visit from the “fear monster.” Her role, she explained, was “to work with him and help him get over that fear monster.” Whenever they traveled, she said, she took along her wedding dress. (“Might as well. You've got to be prepared.”) The ceremony, at the Plaza Hotel, right before Christmas 1993, drew an audience of a thousand but, judging by the heavy turnout of Atlantic City high rollers, one not deemed A-list. The Trump Taj Mahal casino commemorated the occasion by issuing a Donald-and-Marla five-dollar gambling chip.

The last time around, splitting with Ivana, he'd lost the P.R. battle from the get-go. After falling an entire news cycle behind Ivana's spinmeisters, he never managed to catch up. In one ill-advised eruption, he told Liz Smith that his wife reminded him of his bête noire Leona Helmsley, and the columnist chided, “Shame on you, Donald! How dare you say that about the mother of your children?” His only moment of unadulterated, so to speak, gratification occurred when an acquaintance of Marla's blabbed about his swordsmanship. The screamer
BEST SEX I'VE EVER HAD
—an instant classic—is widely regarded as the most libel-proof headline ever published by the
Post
. On the surface, the coincidence of his first marital breakup with the fact that he owed a few billion he couldn't exactly pay back seemed extraordinarily unpropitious. In retrospect, his timing was
excellent
. Ivana had hoped to nullify a postnuptial agreement whose provenance could be traced to Donald's late friend and preceptor the lawyer-fixer and humanitarian Roy Cohn. Though the agreement entitled her to fourteen million dollars plus a forty-six-room house in Connecticut, she and her counsel decided to ask for half of everything Trump owned; extrapolating from Donald's blustery pronouncements over the years, they pegged her share at two and a half billion. In the end, she was forced to settle for the terms stipulated in the agreement because Donald, at that juncture, conveniently appeared to be broke.

Now, of course, according to Trump, things were much different. Business was stronger than ever. And, of course, he wanted to be fair to Marla. Only a million bucks? Hey, a deal was a deal. He meant “fair” in a larger sense: “I think it's very unfair to Marla, or, for that matter, anyone—while there are many positive things, like life style, which is at the highest level—I think it's unfair to Marla always to be subjected to somebody who enjoys his business and does it at a very high level and does it on a big scale. There are lots of compensating balances. You live in the Mar-a-Lagos of the world, you live in the best apartment. But, I think you understand, I don't have very much time. I just don't have very much time. There's nothing I can do about what I do other than stopping. And I just don't want to stop.”

• • •

A securities analyst who has studied Trump's peregrinations for many years believes, “Deep down, he wants to be Madonna.” In other words, to ask how the gods could have permitted Trump's resurrection is to mistake profound superficiality for profundity, performance art for serious drama. A prime example of superficiality at its most rewarding: the Trump International Hotel & Tower, a fifty-two-story hotel-condominium conversion of the former Gulf & Western Building, on Columbus Circle, which opened last January. The Trump name on the skyscraper belies the fact that his ownership is limited to his penthouse apartment and a stake in the hotel's restaurant and garage, which he received as part of his development fee. During the grand-opening ceremonies, however, such details seemed not to matter as he gave this assessment: “One of the great buildings anywhere in New York, anywhere in the world.”

The festivities that day included a feng-shui ritual in the lobby, a gesture of respect to the building's high proportion of Asian buyers, who regard a Trump property as a good place to sink flight capital. An efficient schmoozer, Trump worked the room quickly—a backslap and a wink, a finger on the lapels, no more than a minute with anyone who wasn't a police commissioner, a district attorney, or a mayoral candidate—and then he was ready to go. His executive assistant, Norma Foerderer, and two other Trump Organization executives were waiting in a car to return to the office. Before it pulled away, he experienced a tug of noblesse oblige. “Hold on, just lemme say hello to these Kinney guys,” he said, jumping out to greet a group of parking attendants. “Good job, fellas. You're gonna be working here for years to come.” It was a quintessential Trumpian gesture, of the sort that explains his popularity among people who barely dare to dream of living in one of his creations.

Back at the office, a
Times
reporter, Michael Gordon, was on the line, calling from Moscow. Gordon had just interviewed a Russian artist named Zurab Tsereteli, a man with a sense of grandiosity familiar to Trump. Was it true, Gordon asked, that Tsereteli and Trump had discussed erecting on the Hudson River a statue of Christopher Columbus that was six feet taller than the Statue of Liberty?

“Yes, it's already been made, from what I understand,” said Trump, who had met Tsereteli a couple of months earlier, in Moscow. “It's got forty million dollars' worth of bronze in it, and Zurab would like it to be at my West Side Yards development”—a seventy-five-acre tract called Riverside South—“and we are working toward that end.”

According to Trump, the head had arrived in America, the rest of the body was still in Moscow, and the whole thing was being donated by the Russian government. “The mayor of Moscow has written a letter to Rudy Giuliani stating that they would like to make a gift of this great work by Zurab. It would be my honor if we could work it out with the City of New York. I am absolutely favorably disposed toward it. Zurab is a very unusual guy. This man is major and legit.”

Trump hung up and said to me, “See what I do? All this bullshit. Know what? After shaking five thousand hands, I think I'll go wash mine.”

Norma Foerderer, however, had some pressing business. A lecture agency in Canada was offering Trump a chance to give three speeches over three consecutive days, for seventy-five thousand dollars a pop. “Plus,” she said, “they provide a private jet, secretarial services, and a weekend at a ski resort.”

How did Trump feel about it?

“My attitude is if somebody's willing to pay me two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars to make a speech, it seems stupid not to show up. You know why I'll do it? Because I don't think anyone's ever been paid that much.”

Would it be fresh material?

“It'll be fresh to them.”

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