In the penthouse of his 58-story tower (he claims 68), far above the urban hurly-burly and up near soaring falcons and God, the future lord of these United States has hunkered down with family, friends, and advisers, reading the Times and the Post each morning, tweeting, and deciding staff and cabinet appointments that will shake the nation and the world. (Please note: he never watches television.) Down below in the realm of ordinary mortals, the Fifth Avenue entrance, topped by the letters TRUMP TOWER in gold, is defended by legions of Secret Service agents, teamed up with New York’s Finest and their bomb-sniffing dogs, against hordes of gawking tourists, casual passersby, visiting high school students who spit at the edifice and with their fingers flash obscene gestures at it, sullen Democrats, dismayed feminists, and other presumed terrorists. Buses creep by in a jam of traffic, and shoppers eager to access the Gucci and Nike flagship stores in the innards of the tower complain of being scrutinized unduly by the vigilant minions of order. So it goes now on Fifth Avenue between East 56th and 57th Streets in the heart of Midtown (and very Democratic) Manhattan.
I confess that I have never seen, much less set foot in, Trump Tower, know it only from photographs. Viewed from the west from across Fifth Avenue, its mass of black glass, steel, and concrete soars majestically above the main entrance, but if viewed from the southwest, one might think a great chunk of it had been ripped off, leaving a jagged surface (sometimes termed “sawtooth faceting”), a design permitting more corner windows and therefore, I assume, higher rents. At least it’s not just another big glass-and-steel box, like so many other Manhattan high-rises. Inside there are public spaces in pink marble, gold-painted elevators, a slew of shops and cafés, and a five-level atrium topped by a massive slanting skylight, with a plummeting 60-foot waterfall and a footbridge spanning the waterfall’s pool. For me, it all registers as supermodern and glitzy to excess – dazzling to the point of satiety.
The tower’s upper floors house 256 residential condominia owned by moneyed foreigners, corporations, pop stars, and Hollywood celebrities, as well as Trump’s office on the 26th floor and, crowning it all, the president elect’s three-floor penthouse. And how much do the condo apartments cost? Anything from $625,000 for a studio (there are only a few) to more than $28 million. And what amenities do they offer? Marble bathrooms, Jacuzzi bathtubs, state-of-the-art appliances, walk-in closets, and panoramic views of the city, as well as a full-time doorman, concierge, and valet, a “fitness room,” maid service, and a common storage room. (As if anything in Trump Tower could be “common”!)
Photographs of the penthouse’s interior show a living room in ornate French rococo with an abundance of gold, a huge chandelier flanked by murals overhead, sofas big enough to seat a large family, Louis XV chairs with elegant curved legs, and a large window giving a spectacular view out over the city. Impressive, but hardly cozy. The chairs and sofas are spread out at too great a distance for easy conversation; to be heard at the other end of the room, one would have to shout. Fine for entertaining hordes of guests, or perhaps the Japanese prime minister (with daughter Ivanka controversially present), but not so good for quiet daily living. There are photographs online showing the apartment and, posing in it, the Donald, his wife #3, Melania, and their ten-year-old son Barron. Melania is gorgeous, but she looks more glamour puss than mother. Here are some of the comments, dated 2012 to 2015, that the photographs have elicited online:
· Melania is beautiful and elegant. Reply: Or dumb as the floor she walks on.
· Oh god this is ugly.
· I just can’t see a toddler playing there.
· All that money … and still no taste.
· No $$$ in the world can buy her a smile. [As seen here, Melania looks businesslike, though often displaying her shapely legs, and offers a paucity of smiles.]
· [One commentator castigating another.] You are JEALOUS. Leave the cat lady alone. Let her live in her glass castle.
Obviously, comments on the décor slide quickly into comments on Melania. And all this before she became the presumptive First Lady.
To judge by these pre-election photographs, the penthouse looks quiet and spacious, its privacy sealed off from the world outside. Today, with the Donald and his staff deciding the weighty matter of appointments, it may be a bit hectic as they confer, tensions arise, and the president elect makes phone calls to prospective appointees and summons them into his royal presence. (Unless, of course, all this is done in his 26th-floor office.) And the skies above the tower have now been declared a “national defense 2016 Clifforairspace,” permitting the government to use deadly force against any aircraft thought to pose an imminent threat – a designation to be lifted on January 21, 2017, the day after Childe Donald moves from 725 Fifth Avenue to somewhat more humble quarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
Meanwhile, the brouhaha continues far below. The intersection of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street is now restricted by portable roadblocks, concrete barriers, metal barricades, and even some booted and helmeted police officers carrying heavy weaponry who looked like an occupying army, if not invaders from Mars. On the east side of Fifth Avenue the sidewalk between 56th and 57th Streets is closed, forcing Tiffany customers to enter that stellar emporium by its 57th Street entrance. The west side of the avenue is still open to pedestrians, but passage there is hampered by an impromptu press pen, construction litter, and selfie-snapping tourists. And the whole block of East 56th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, with the residential entrance used by the president elect and other occupants, is now closed to pedestrians and vehicles.
“There will be some disruption,” Mayor de Blasio admits, “but look at the bright side: the holidays are coming. Midtown is going to be all messed up anyway.” He urges New Yorkers who don’t need to be there to stay away from the block with the Trump Tower, yet at the same time endorses the New York tradition that lets protesters do their thing close to what they are protesting, which in this case means the Donald and his tower. Should protesters again arrive en masse, as they have been doing at intervals ever since the election, it will be a test of nerves for all concerned.
Disruption there is, and at that very time of year when, with the holidays approaching, retailers register their best sales of the year. And this on Fifth Avenue, crammed with pricey retailers who, while being coy about it, are so scant of sales that they’re sending scarfed employees out into the street to lure shoppers past the barricades and into the bowels of elegance. A woman from New Jersey who wanted to buy the Sylvie, the latest pocketbook from Gucci with a glittering gold chain down the front, had to talk her way past three different police officers who searched her shopping bag before she could enter those sacred precincts, and a young man also from New Jersey likewise had to run the security gamut before forking over $500 for a pair of Gucci sneakers. Selfie-snapping visitors from England and Italy and Mexico, as well as Harlem, the Bronx, and the Upper East Side, rub elbows outside with a male honeymooning couple from Birmingham, England, who have come to get a glimpse of “the Devil himself,” while young protesters flaunt NOT MY PRESIDENT signs and posters. “We haven’t seen chaos quite like this back home,” observed a hospital worker from a small town in Minnesota who was in the city for a business conference, as she gazed up at the tower in bewilderment.
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC is emblazoned in gold on the lobby entrance of the tower, and so it is, with only a newly installed magnetometer to scan bags. For those who survive the affronts of security, the famous Atrium still gives access to the Trump Bar, the Trump Grill, the Trump Café, Trump’s Ice Cream Parlor, Trump Events (whatever they are), and the Trump Store, this last offering Trump colognes with names like “Success” and “Empire” on sale, next to “Make America Great Again” hats. On the ground floor is the Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry Boutique, Ivanka being not one of Trump’s trio of wives, beauteous adornments who sport the melodious names of Ivana (#1), Marla (#2), and Melania (#3), but an attractive golden-tressed daughter of the Donald and his no. 1, Ivana. In the café Secret Service agents now lunch on such delicacies as “Trump’s Mother’s Meatloaf,” served by an immigrant from Mexico who insists that he’s a taxpayer and no criminal and therefore under no threat of deportation.
Just as we must all get straight our future Chief Exec’s several wives and their offspring, so we must sort out the numerous Trump Towers. How many are there in the world? Seven and counting, since more are evidently under construction. (Towers, not wives.) Not just America, but the whole world is being Trumped.
Source note: For much of the information in this post I am indebted to two recent articles in the New York Times: “Trump Tower, Once a Tourist Attraction, Is Now Restricted From Ground to Sky,” by David W. Dunlap and J. David Goodman, November 11, 2016; and “Hunkering Down at His Tower, Grinding Fifth Avenue to a Halt,” by Sarah Maslin Nir, November 17, 2016.
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My poems: For five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down. To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here. For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.
My books: No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016. For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here. As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Coming soon: Meet the Trumpies, Our New First Family.
© 2016 Clifford Browder