I never met The Donald, as was his exclusive moniker in 1986, but I came close. My boss, Hamilton, talked his way into a meeting with the underling who was screening agencies to pitch everything marketing and advertising for a condo/hotel/casino complex The Donald hoped to open on the grounds of his new acquisition, the crown jewel of Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago; or if not, in the empty office building he bought just over the bridge in downtown West Palm, just to hedge his bet.
At the appointed hour, I accompanied Hamilton and two female colleagues up the elevator in Trump’s empty tower to his temporary West Palm headquarters. The desks were metal and the chairs scuffed, but the view of the sparkling Intracoastal and the green ribbon of Palm Beach and the bright blue Atlantic beyond, anchored by the pink pimple of Mar-a-Lago – well, it was world-class. Add some marble and gold and it would be an office befitting The Donald.
Hamilton made haste to note this before launching into a breathless pitch of our boutique agency’s experience. If there was anything we understood, it was world-class. Our clients paid world-class prices. And they got world-class materials and world-class results.
Trump’s lieutenant put an immediate stop to the spiel. “We’s here to talk about what to do, and not do, when you meet,” he drew it out, “The Donald.”
And thus began the strangest pitch meeting of 1986.
”First off, don’t go offering to shake hands. The Donald don’t like to shake hands. Got a thing about germs.”
We nodded. No hand shaking. Got it.
“Next, and this is important, see? You let him talk. He want to know what you think? He’ll ask ya. Trust me. Don’t try to do the talking.” His flat eyes cut deliberately to Hamilton.
I noticed the red stating to creep above his starched Egyptian cotton collar but Hamilton was a master at keeping his face neutral. I knew him well enough to hear what was raging in his head: some guy in a navy blue polyester sports coat was calling out country club Hamilton on etiquette?
“If the Donald wants to hear your opinion, he’ll ask. Otherwise, you listen.”
In other words, a pitch meeting where we’re not allowed to talk.
The bored brown eyes over a nose that had been broken a few too many times traveled blatantly over Hamilton’s three female cohorts, one of whom was me. We were beautiful in different ways – two tall, two blonde, all sassy and intelligent and wearing high heels and tan legs without panty hose, which was daring in those days. No comment, and no questions, from the louie. “Mr. Trump’s secretary? She’ll call,” he said in dismissal.
As happens every session in Florida, the legislature did not vote to expand gambling and The Donald’s secretary never arranged that meeting. From the perspective of 2017, I am mightily glad. My partner in market research, Sheila, was the other tall one with the kind of flowing blonde hair favored by The Donald. But New Jersey born-and-bred Sheila would have scrapped back had he attempted, or even intimated the intent, to grab her by any body part whatsoever.
And we were exactly the kind of small business that might have been left with devastating unpaid invoices.
The Donald was a good client to lose.
[The genesis of this post was an outtake from my manuscript, Sex & Drugs & Real Estate: Coming of Age in the New Age. The encounter had no bearing on the narrative arc, so it languished on the computer floor. Seemed timely to let the anecdote have its day.]