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Part 4: The new Missus Trump settles in

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She became Missus Trump with a vengeance. The first thing she did was to fire staff: maids, butlers, secretaries, and other functionaries. Donald was furious.

“Why did you fire Margarita? She’s been head housekeeper at Mar-a-Lago for six years!”

“I don’t like the way” [Melania pronounced it “vay”] she look at me, Donald. It not respectful.”

Melania became the Dragon Lady of the various houses she presided over: Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago, and places elsewhere. Even Trump was afraid of her.

Melania gave birth to her only child with Trump, Barron, in 2006.  She stopped having sex with her husband shortly afterwards. “Not now, darling,” she would say whenever he approached her. “I have a headache.” Trump soon got the message. He had a very high sexual drive, and turned to other women for relief, primarily porn stars. He’d been introduced to the world of porn in the 1970s, when he’d been friends with Steve Rubell, the co-proprietor of Studio 54.

Trump liked the world of porn, with its faux glamor, danger and illicit excitement. Pecker would procure the porn stars for him; all the arrangements would be made by Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen: meeting places, payment, contractual obligations. The girl would simply show up at a pre-arranged location, spend a few hours with the client, and then unceremoniously leave. Most of them never saw Mister Trump again.

Melania, meanwhile, had her own sexual needs. She had never forgotten Hercule, the lean, wiry, dark-eyed Gypsy who’d been her pimp in Slovenia. At first, Melania trusted no one. She would wear a disguise—sunglasses, a blond wig—and cruise Times Square around midnight, a time when the streets were literally crawling with shiftless, dangerous-looking young male hustlers. Melania took a pied-a-terre of her own, on East 42nd Street, a block from the United Nations. She brought her young men there. She hired a security guard to stand watch outside the door “just in case,” but there were never any incidents. She did not know or care if her husband knew of her extra-curricular amorous activities.

Over the years this became their arrangement. Melania showed up beside Trump for necessary social engagements. She knew she looked the part of the beautiful trophy wife of the aging billionaire. Trump asked little else of her, with the one demand being: don’t ever embarrass me in public. She never did. Her affairs—and they were numerous—were models of discretion.

By 2015, Trump was obviously interested in running for president. Melania watched from the sidelines, with mounting interest. She’d never had any desire to be First Lady; indeed, she was perfectly content to live her private life on the $150,000 per month allowance Trump gave her. It kept her in fashionable style, and she was able to lunch with her girlfriends at discrete restaurants in Biarritz, Cabo, Majorca or Los Angeles. Her modeling career was long over, but Melania still kept in top physical condition, with the help of her personal trainer, Arturo, a 33-year old Italian in impeccable shape, with whom, naturally, she had an affair.

And then came the unexpected: her husband was elected President of the United States.


Part 3: Melania marries The Donald

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Melanija knew she wasn’t the only girl Mister Trump was seeing. She knew, from the newspapers, that he was married to a woman named Marla. She also found out that he was very famous—not just the owner of a modeling management company, but a bigtime real estate developer, and something of a celebrity man-about-town.

Melanija wasn’t particularly attracted to Mister Trump, physically. Her type was Hercule: young, well-built and masculine. Mister Trump, by contrast, was not young, and he was fat. Sometimes, at night, after he had finished with her, he would waddle off, naked, to the bathroom, and she would look at him dragging a large, saggy butt behind him, and gag. But she kept her mouth shut and was sweet to him. He was rich; that’s all that counted.

In 1999, when Mister Trump divorced Marla after a scandal in which he had been linked to porn stars, Melanija saw her chance. He was now single. They were together one night, in his pied-a-terre. She’d had a couple dry martinis; Mister Trump, who was a teetotaler, only sipped a diet coke. And he told her: “I’d really like to get married again. Sometimes I feel my age (he was then 53), and I think I should settle down, maybe have another kid or two, and focus on what I really like.”

Melanija and he were curled up in bed. She ran her fingers through his poufy orange hair. “What do you really like, Donald?” she purred.

“Politics.” Now, Melanija had a very jaundiced view of politics. In Slovenia, all politicians were by definition crooked. They stole money from the public purse and put it in secret bank accounts in Switzerland or the Maldives. So she was shocked to hear Mister Trump say he would like to be a politician.

“I’ve always had a thing for politics,” Mister Trump continued. “Politics is really no different than business. In business, you make deals: you figure out your opponent’s weaknesses, and exploit them. And if someone gets in your way, you crush them.”

Melanija liked Mister Trump’s ruthlessness. She was a tough bird herself, but she’d never had the power or money to enforce her will on the world. She’d had to compromise and give in at every turn, and it angered her. Here, by contrast, was a man who never gave in, never gave up, who could afford to nurse grudges and extract vengeance on his enemies. She admired that in him: it was a power she’d heard about but never experienced up-close. And Melanija realized she wanted that same power.

The only way she would ever get it, she realized, was to marry Mister Trump and become Missus Trump: chatelaine, mistress of the castle, arbiter of everything and everyone that came into her orbit. And so she gave herself a fulltime job: make herself indispensable to Mister Trump. Make him fall in love with her. Make him need her so much that he would propose marriage to her. It took her six more years—six long, tortured years, during which she sometimes wondered how much longer she could bear him. But patience was its own reward, and, in January of 2005, Melanija—now officially Melania—and Donald J. Trump were married, in a lavish affair at Mar-a-Lago whose guests included Rudy Giuliani, Barbara Walters, P. Diddy, Heidi Klum, Tony Bennett, and the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and his wife, Hillary. Later, in her suite, Melania, in a soft silk nightgown, sat at her armoire and brushed out her long hair, while through the window the palms shushed in the warm Florida night: and she thought, “I am Missus Donald J. Trump. All that I see is mine.” And she smiled before knocking on the door that separated her room from her new husband’s.


Part 2: Melania meets The Donald

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The Trump Model Management Co. had arranged for Melanija to stay at the local Young Woman’s Christian Association. They had a Yellow Cab pick her up at the airport and take her there. But Melanija didn’t know a thing about New York, so when the taxi driver took her to Manhattan via The Bronx and Hoboken, she had no idea she was being given the run-around that unscrupulous taxi drivers give to foreigners who clearly don’t have a clue.

Melanija woke up early the next morning for her 9:30 appointment. She spent two hours getting ready. The agency was on the third floor of an old brick building in the Garment District. While she waited in an outer office, she closed her eyes and tried to meditate, a technique Hercule had taught her to relax. Suddenly a secretary announced that Mister Trump would see her now.

Mister Trump was seated at a big desk, in a room filled with potted palms. The first thing that struck Melanija was his hair-do. It was the most ridiculous she had ever seen, a gigantic poufy comb-over, died an unnatural orange color. It hovered over a huge head that contained squinty, almost oriental eyes that made her uncomfortable, and a fat, recessed chin with jowls hanging down to the neck. Melanija knew such men. Mister Trump’s fat fingers—she’d had fingers like that crawl on her body. A shiver went up her spine.

“Come in, sweetheart.” Mister Trump seemed nice enough. Melanija smiled and extended her hand for a shake, but Mister Trump refused to take it. He indicated a seat and Melanija sat down. Holding her legs demurely together, hands folded in her lap, she waited.

“Well, I must say I was impressed by your portfolio. You’re a very attractive young woman, Miss”—and here, he glanced down at a dossier on his desk—“Miss Knavs.”

Melanija felt a blush spread across her cheeks. “Thank you, Mister Trump.” He examined the photos again and said, “I’d like to have my photographer take additional pictures of you. Au natural, if you know what I mean. Would you mind that?”

Melanija, at this point, was willing to do anything, if it meant being hired as a model and making money. “I will do anything you want, Mister Trump. Anything…”

And so it began. Mister Trump had a pied-a-terre in Grammercy Park. She would go there when summoned. She gradually became used to his sexual peculiarities—and they were peculiar, even for an experienced street walker like her. It was Melanija’s first encounter with golden showers, for instance. She also found it odd that he wanted her to tickle him with a tassled leather harness. But Melanija understood men and what drove them, and she understood how to play the role of the driver. This Mister Trump clearly liked her and what she did to him. It wasn’t long before Melanija envisioned being, not simply Mister Trump’s plaything, but his wife.


Melania: The unauthorized biography

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July 17, 1996, Novo Mesto, Slovenia

Melanija Knavs, as she was then known, was a pretty 26-year old girl working the streets of her native town. She’d been a “paid escort” for the past three years, determined to save up money so she could escape her drab, confining life in the provincial part of a poor country that Austrians, to the north, called “the Poland of Southeast Europe” and that Italians called “the Serbia of Eastern Europe.”

She still lived at home with her parents. Her father, Klaus, an auto mechanic, barely made enough money to keep the family alive. Her mother, Tanjia, spent most of her time drinking schnapps and resenting Klaus for not providing the first-class marriage she felt she deserved. Melanija, an only child, had spent most of her life daydreaming: she was a fairy princess in a golden coach, or a regal queen with a jeweled crown, or—her favorite fantasy—a famous runway fashionista, with her photograph of the cover of the world’s couture magazines.

But she needed money to get out of Novo Mesto and make it to the Big City: Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, headquarters of the LSN television network, the leading fashion magazine Balkan Style, and the discos and clubs where all the Beautiful People of Slovenia gathered. And, oh yes, Ljubljana also was where the rich industrialists looked for girls.

She had no doubt she’d get there, but first, there was a job to do! And so everyday, Melanija would put on her prettiest dress—the low-cut red silk one that showed off her cleavage, whose hem ended just above her hips. She’d wear her thigh-high faux-leather red lace-up boots with their five-inch heels, and rouge her cheeks and attach the false eyelashes to her lids, and then parade up and down the Glavni Trg, the fashionable avenue where the Central Hotel hosted many international businessmen looking for fun. Melanija had perfected “the walk,” the provocative sashay of street workers, a cross between her idol, Paulina Porizkova’s, sexy strut and Jessica Rabbit’s voluptuous wiggle.

Melanija’s first pimp was a young thug named Hercule, a two-bit hustler from Novo Mesto’s seamy east side, who made his tolars from petty thievery, blackmail and drug dealing, in addition to running women. Hercule was cute, with a lopsided grin and a headful of curly black hair. Melanija liked him: he’d convinced her to be an escort with promises of money and a Champagne lifestyle.

But after a few years, the promises wore thin. Melanija grew tired with entertaining fat foreign businessmen with bad breath and dirty underwear. She longed for something more. And she wasn’t getting any younger. Already, there were lines around her lips, and bags under her eyes from the late nights and drinking. Keeping her weight under control was a constant struggle.

One day she was reading Balkan Style, envying all the beautiful models on its pages and wondering what they had that she didn’t, when she came across an advertisement for something called Trump Model Management. It was a modeling agency in New York City, run by a businessman she’d never heard of, Donald Trump. The ad said that the agency was seeking Eastern European models. Melanija had a little portfolio consisting of posed photos and a short bio. She borrowed 13 tolars from Hercule for postage and sent the package to New York.

Imagine Melanija’s surprise when, a month later, she received a reply from Trump Model Management. Mr. Trump himself was interested; was there any possibility she could meet him at the agency’s headquarters on Eighth Avenue?

Melanija was thrilled, but she soon realized that she’d never be able to afford the money to fly to New York. It would cost at least 1,000 tolars, and in addition to that, she’d need a new wardrobe. She knew she couldn’t ask Hercule for the money: he’d beat her if he thought she was trying to get away. So Melanija swallowed her pride and went to her father, Klaus.

Klaus was dubious. “You want to go to New York to become a model?” he asked. “What makes you think you can succeed?”

“I know I can, Papa. I’m beautiful, and I have the body, but most of all, I have the ambition.”

Klaus gave her the money, despite his misgivings. And so, on Feb. 16, 1997, in a driving snowstorm, Melanija Knevs boarded a Slovenian Airlines flight for John F. Kennedy Airport, in New York City, for her appointment at Trump Model Management. She knew not what lay ahead, but she was sure of one thing: “I will do whatever it takes to succeed.”

Tomorrow: Melanija meets the head of Trump Model Management


Can Bloomberg do it?

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You have to perform a thought experiment with each of the Democratic candidates: Imagine them onstage, debating Trump. Trump is a good debater. Granted, he lies, a lot, and he relies on appeals to fear and resentment; but those are proven debate techniques. In the 2016 primaries, he trounced his Republican challengers. They all seemed wooden and scripted; Trump by contrast was refreshingly “real,” not in the sense of morally authentic or humanly decent, but in his insults and contempt, he at least was someone you could look at and think, “Well, he’s certainly not afraid to say what he thinks.”

He’ll be even better this time around, having had the benefit of four years of being president. He’s perfected his reality show shtick: He was already good on “The Apprentice,” but now he’s got all that extra rehearsal time to benefit from.

So back to the thought experiment: Whoever the Democratic candidate is, is going to have to be as good as Trump on that stage. Trump is a tall man. Bloomberg is a short man. That’s going to count against him, because T.V. is above all a visual medium. (Remember that in 1960, according to polls, most people who heard the JFK-Nixon debates on radio thought Nixon won, but people who watched them on T.V. gave the nod to Kennedy.)

Americans don’t like short people. The evidence for that is overwhelming: we “look up” to our leaders but we “look down on” criminals and losers. Employers hope a new man will “grow into the job”; if he doesn’t, he “didn’t measure up.” “One way in which social weight—power, authority, rank, office, reknown—is echoed…is through relative size, especially height,” a former U.C. Berkeley sociologist wrote. One of the reasons for Ronald Reagan’s political success was his height. When he stood among the leaders of the free world his manly head towered above the rest. Trump, who infamously hovered around Hillary Clinton during one of their 2016 debates, already has begun insulting Bloomberg’s height. “Mini Mike is a 5’4” mass of dead energy,” he tweeted earlier this month. We can expect a lot more of that kind of personal smear.

Bloomberg, however, is no slouch. First of all, he’s a New Yorker. New Yorkers, I can tell you from personal experience, are fighters. Trump is a New Yorker: he goes for the gut, and his instincts tell him where each person’s gut is. (Remember “Low Energy Jed Bush”? That caused real reputational harm to Bush.) So Bloomberg’s going to have to fight back. He can’t base his response purely on policy: reversing tax cuts, fighting climate change, healthcare, protecting a woman’s right and so on. That kind of stuff, while important, doesn’t appeal to voters’ emotions, which is what so often drives them. No, Bloomberg is going to have to counter: tit-for-tat.

He can’t tease Trump about his height because, as I’ve explained, Americans already like and trust tallness. What can he go after Trump on? Let’s face it, Bloomberg (or anybody else going after Trump) is going to have to be bitchy. Mayor Pete can probably draw on his inner bitch (he’s got one, I’ve seen it, although he hasn’t had to unleash it much). Klobuchar? She’s pretty nice, and may not have the huevos (so to speak) for it. Warren might have the chops. But I’m writing today about Bloomberg, so let’s examine him a little further.

The thing about Bloomberg that can be so devastating to Trump is that Bloomberg knows Trump well. He’s lived and worked beside him in New York for decades. New York’s a big city, but all the billionaires know each other pretty well—the good and the bad. Trump carries a lot of baggage: ripping off vendors, lawsuits (including from porn stars), shoddy construction, misleading promises. That’s where Trump’s vulnerable: not his physical attributes but his business practices, which are a direct reflection on his character. The electorate already knows Trump is a pig. Bloomberg may be best situated to remind them of that.

Oh, I said Trump’s physical attributes aren’t his vulnerable point, but there’s one thing about him that nobody’s really poked fun at yet: his hair. It’s ridiculous. Everybody knows it. Bloomberg doesn’t have much to speak of in the hair department, but at least he doesn’t dye it and poof it up and do comb-overs, which are the marks of an insecure, vain man: everybody can see a comb-over, everybody knows it’s obvious, so when someone does a comb-over, it’s doubly-ridiculous, because he’s trying to fool people who aren’t fooled in the least. People who do comb-overs are con men. Donald Trump does a comb-over. Bloomberg can use that—and it’ll be all the more effective because Trump is thin-skinned and can’t stand criticism.

So, yes, I can see Bloomberg onstage with Trump, giving as good as he gets. But we’ll learn more about Bloomberg’s debating skills well before the Presidential campaign gets under way: Bloomberg is going to end up on the Democratic primary stage at some point, going up against whomever’s left. His performances then will tell us a lot about how he would “stand up to” Trump in the Presidential.


Six questions about Measure Q

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Oakland’s Measure Q, on the March ballot, proposes to address park maintenance and homelessness. The questions I raise here are based on language in the ballot measure itself.

PARK MAINTENANCE

Measure Q proposes to “support the equitable distribution of maintenance services to parks…in order to decrease disparities in life outcomes of marginalized communities and to facilitate equity of opportunity throughout Oakland.”

When people—me included—think of “park maintenance,” we think of things like trimming trees, maintaining lawns and gardens, cleaning restrooms, repairing benches, collecting trash and litter, and maintaining other infrastructure. Yet Q’s language is curiously reminiscent of “social justice” movements: “marginalized” communities, “equity,” and so on.  

Question 1: What does park maintenance have to do with these things?

HOMELESSNESS

Measure Q will “provide matching funds for programs developed by nonprofit organizations.” I used to be a reporter for the Oakland Tribune. I investigated nonprofit organizations that worked in “social justice” areas, including preventing youth violence. What I found was shocking: mutual (and secret) back-scratching between grantors and grantees, a complete absence of oversight, and phony numbers.

Question 2: How will Measure Q prevent fraud?

Measure Q proposes to provide “permanent supportive housing” for the homeless.

Question 3: How long is “permanent”—for life?–and who pays the rent and utilities for this “permanent” housing?

Measure Q proposes to create “RV parking sites with health, hygiene, security, and case management services.”

Question 4: How long will these “services” be provided, and who pays the salaries and benefits of the needed employees, not to mention the health and hygiene needs (including medications) of the homeless?

Measure Q provides “quick financial assistance programs to keep people from becoming homeless.”

Question 5: Who makes sure that the right people get these “quick” cash payouts, not grifters?  

COST: Backers of Measure Q promise that the City Council will not raise the assessment rate in the future. But Measure Q’s language specifically refutes that claim. “Beginning for the fiscal year 2021-2022, and each year thereafter, the City Council may increase the tax.” That’s right in Section 4 (B).

Question 6: Is it not true that we can expect annual increases in the tax—which is already biggest parcel tax in Oakland’s history?

I hope Measure Q’s backers will answer these questions, so that we, the voters, can make informed choices. Thank you.


SF’s Castro: Then, and Now

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Old friend Andrew and his wife, Jan, are out here on the West Coast visiting from Massachusetts, so I thought I’d bring them to the Castro District, which they’d never seen. “The birthplace of the world’s gay rights movement,” I described it. I feared, briefly, Andrew wouldn’t care; as a straight man, he’s supportive of gay rights, but he was never a stalwart in the struggle, and touring the place where Harvey Milk’s camera shop was, or the bar when I went on my first date, might have bored him. Even so, the Castro, and Upper Market in general, is an fascinating neighborhood, spread up and down the scenic hills; and since Andrew is a building developer, with an interest in architecture, and Jan loves urban gardens, I thought they would like it. Anyhow, it had been years since I was last there, and I wanted to see how my old neighborhood was faring.

When I moved to San Francisco, in 1979, I was terrified to drive through the Castro. I’d take torturous detours just to avoid it. I was still deeply in the closet; my dalliances with other gay men were strictly on the DL (a term I didn’t know back then). In my private secrecy, I was completely intimidated at the thought of out gay men openly living their lives without shame or fear.

This went on for months. Eventually, I sat myself down and said, “Self, this is ridiculous. You can’t go on avoiding the Castro. You’ve got to plunge in and confront what you’re afraid of.” So I drove over (I was living in Noe Valley), found a parking spot, and walked to a coffee shop on Castro, off 17th Street. I’d brought with me a pad and pen; ordered some coffee and a pastry, found a little table by myself, and began meticulously recording my thoughts and feelings.

I’ve always used writing for the purpose of understanding myself, of objectifying and concretizing my feelings to better make sense of them, and to memorialize for re-examination at a later date. The mere act of writing soothed me. I no longer have those notes, but I’m sure they included observations of the local fauna, and my emotional reactions. This was still the era of “the Castro clone,” muscular, gym-toned young men with short-cropped hair, neatly-trimmed mustaches, ultra-tight jeans that left nothing to the imagination, and skin-tight T-shirts. I’m sure I saw men kissing and holding hands, brimming with self-confidence, with not a lick of shame. I, sadly, was still locked into self-loathing.

Yet within a year, I was living in the Castro, at the top of States Street, just off Castro Street itself. I had sunk effortlessly into San Francisco’s burgeoning gay culture: not just the bars of the Castro District, but the clubs of South of Market, the dens of the Tenderloin, the bizarre street culture of Polk Street. I met men out on Ocean Beach, along trails in Golden Gate Park, at San Francisco State University, where I was going to grad school and working fulltime. It was a heady time: I was aware of the historicity of what we gay men were doing in San Francisco, but more to the point, I was having the time of my life, making up for all the long years of being in the closet and depriving myself.

One day—it must have been sometime in 1982—I read an article in one of the free gay bar rags about a “gay pneumonia” in Los Angeles and New York City. That was the beginning. Before long, the same gay rag was running obituaries of gay men who had died of the disease: dozens each week, with heartbreaking photos. The Castro began looking like a movie set: young men limping on canes, withered away to skin and bones, faces blotched with purple. Fear swept over San Francisco like a wave: no one was free from it. We all had to adjust.

In the event, I never got AIDS. But a lot of my friends did. Many died. I volunteered for Shanti Project, to do my small part. The carefree days of the late 1970s and early 1980s ended as abruptly as if an asteroid had crashed into the city. I moved out of San Francisco, to Oakland, in 1987, for a new job and a new life. Over the last 33 years, I’ve visited the Castro probably fewer than a dozen times. There’s been no reason to go, except for nostalgia. So I was really looking forward to my visit with Andy and Jan.

We walked up and down Castro Street with all the rainbow flags, and I pointed out the historic places and the personal places that meant so much to me. We climbed steep States Street to my old home, at the top just off Roosevelt, and then further up into Ashbury Heights, where I lived in a wonderful home on Upper Terrace, with a spectacular view (on a clear day), of the Marin Headlands and Point Reyes. I paid $285 a month rent back then—now that home is probably worth $3 million. Ah, so it goes.

There are many downsides to aging, but one of its glories is the treasury of memories one accumulates. Yes, I’m sure the hard times tend to get erased, so that we remember mainly the good ones—but how wonderful it is to recall youth, and friends, and falling in love, and excitement, and adventure, and the discovery of new passions, and—not least of all—the beauty of the hills above the Castro and the extraordinary city of San Francisco.


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