The first time it happened, I was indisposed.
Co-workers ran into the restroom announcing — loudly — that Donald Trump was on the phone. “On hold!”
I took a deep breath, washed my hands and out I went. Trump was returning my first-ever call to him. Promptly. This surprised me, as most corporations go through an elaborate chain of command first. Responses and information trickle down at the end of the workday.
I was nervous. Those newsroom ears and eyes on me didn’t help, either.
Trump already had a larger-than-life personality in the 1990s. He was well-known for his Manhattan real estate, his casinos, his ego and his (first) divorce, among many other things. I forget which bankruptcy, it was hard to keep count.
I don’t recall the specifics of the conversation, and they’re not relevant here. What I do remember is my surprise at his quick call back. We introduced ourselves and he welcomed me as if I were working for him. He was smarmy, but he answered my questions professionally and thoroughly.
Soon enough, I was traveling regularly to the vaunted Trump Tower and elsewhere.
I’d written about a few of his executives, who Trump always backed up when I sought feedback, using honorific words, and not just “tremendous” and “huge.”
Trump offered lots of unsolicited advice about what to put in the stories and where to place them. “Can you see what you could do about putting this on the front page?” he asked more than once. I gave him my stock reply as delicately as I could, namely, that no one edits the paper except the editors.
He’d also show photographers how and what to shoot. He even offered his own glossies to them instead. Yeah, professional news photographers love that.
Unconventional as that was, we put up with it while still doing our jobs the right way, reporting to our editors and with an eye on our readers. We’d worked with big egos before, sure, but the business isn’t personal. And people have a right to their own personalities, they’re not there to please us. But his sheer willingness to work with us did make our jobs easier, let’s face it.
Then, it all blew up, as did Trump.
He hated an article that had my name on it. It claimed Trump did not own a certain hotel, which he did. In fairness, he was right. But so was I. An inept editor had made that change without even checking with me or the senior editor. Or any other staffer. He got no verification. This may sound like the blame game, but it’s true. Not spouting that I’ve never erred, but on this particular story, I was innocent. Stop me when I get too defensive.
Trump was furious, saying so in a nasty note he mailed to me. It was on a copy of said story, correcting the mistake in big, bold Magic Marker. “By the way,” he wrapped up, ” I think this is a terrible story!” There was that infamous signature.
He was done with me.
In September 2016, I instantly recognized that handwriting when Time magazine published and republished a Trump critique by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Same result: Trump was furious. Trump took it personally and he took no prisoners. Goodbye, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
At least I’m in good company.