Folks, my head still isn't in the game today. I'm concentrating on issues involving my dog's health -- and on earning a little extra money, because further vet bills loom. (See the post below -- and I'm very grateful for any advice vis-a-vis diabetes and hypoglycemia.) So I thought I'd share with you a remarkable reminiscence of Donald Trump, which comes to us by way of reader Bill Dash, whose work has appeared here before. All of the words below the asterisks are his.
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I once came within in a hair's breadth of killing on request for Donald Trump.
I don't remember the exact date. Actually I can't even remember the exact year. All I know for sure is that it occurred on a gorgeous spring morning, sometime in the early 1990s, at the information desk of the Central Park Visitor Center. It was there that I chanced to meet "The Donald", as he was dubbed, long ago, by the New York City press. It was a brief, mutually respectful encounter, but an encounter that proved to be characteristically Trumpesque.
For a number of years I enjoyed the great pleasure and privilege of being employed as the manager of the information-desk in Central Park. My duty station was the Visitor Center which is located near the south-end of the park, on top of the big grassy hill which overlooks Wollman Skating Rink.
The operation of Wollman Rink was a city concession, which at that time, had been leased on a long-term basis to Mr. Trump.
It's is an extremely abnormal thing for a big-shot tycoon like Donald Trump to be deeply involved in any aspect of the regular, day-to-day operations of Central Park. So I think some quick background-information is in order about how Trump came to be the one holding a long-term lease on Wollman Rink.
By the mid-1970s New York City, which for years had been desperately trying to keep from drowning in red ink, finally succumbed and sank into total bankruptcy. In the long drawn out process of going broke, the city had allowed Wollman rink, along with a zillion other important and valuable municipal assets, to become badly rundown, disgracefully so in fact.
The rink was just a hop and a jump from the Plaza Hotel, which Trump then owned. It was easily visible in all it's woeful shabbiness from the Plaza's upper floors. As the rink deteriorated, it gradually ceased to be a wholesome recreational fun spot for families and tourists and started morphing into a hangout for punks, loafers, petty-crooks and juvenile delinquents of all ages. Nearby property owners, posh businesses and the many wealthy, hoity-toity residents who lived along those ritzy stretches of Fifth Avenue and Central Park West, bordering the southern end of the park, justifiably considered the rink to be a deplorable blight.
Influential sources speaking in stage-whispers began to talk of demolishing the rink. Little did anyone dream that there might be someone of substance who would be seriously interested in rescuing a broken down mess like Wollman Rink from a wrecking-crew's jackhammers, much less someone as flashy and congenitally swank as Donald Trump.
Though Trump was more than entirely comfortable portraying himself as an incomparable deal-maker, world-class business savant, and the living embodiment of aristocratic opulence, he wasn't as yet fully at ease with the image of himself as a political lightening-rod and civic point-man. But this nascent aspect of his public persona received a major goosing-up after he decided to personally underwrite the cost of refurbishing the enormous bronze statue of General Sherman astride a magnificent steed, which was prominently situated across the street from the Plaza Hotel. Under Trump's direction, this famous and venerable city landmark, was cleansed of decades of grime and pigeon-droppings and then meticulously covered in gaudy 22-karat gold leaf. Talk about déclassé bling. While his efforts admirably reversed years of shameful neglect, Trump's glitzy gilding job took an otherwise majestic example of Victorian neoclassical sculpture, and made it look like the hood ornament on a pimp-mobile.
Nevertheless, he was emboldened by this dubious triumph and by his newly demonstrated talent as a white-shoe social-activist. Feeling his oats Trump turned his attention to the neighborhood eyesore: Wollman Skating Rink.
You really have to hand him credit for shrewdly perceiving that Wollman's dilapidated condition was nowhere near the lost cause everyone else commonly assumed. Rather than write the rink off as a rotten apple, Trump saw it as a juicy plum waiting to be plucked. If handled adroitly, it offered the promise of a priceless opportunity, one that could be exploited to his immense advantage.
Bagging an exceptionally favorable lease for the rink was the big key. It's probably just as true today as then, but back in 1980s New York, the terms chicanery and competitive-bidding functioned more or less interchangeably. So Trump decided to entirely outflank the indignities of the bidding process with all its myriad leaches and shake-down artists. Instead, he startled the city's leadership (in other words, all the leaches and shakedown artists) by suddenly announcing, with great fanfare, that he would be willing to completely overhaul and upgrade the entire Wollman Rink facility, "pro bono", providing the City Counsel would officially grant him an unqualified free-hand to work his magic, along with a sweetheart-deal on a longterm lease. With the city on the balls of its ass financially and essentially in what amounted to receivership, there was no way the counsel's members could possibly turn their noses up at such an incredibly attractive deal, without at the same time committing political suicide.
In classic bombastic fashion, Trump made sure news of his extraordinary offer was trumpeted far and wide as a grand demonstration of his hometown pride and tangible proof of his noblesse-oblige commitment to civic-charity. But everybody except complete morons and card-carrying members of the Dr. Pangloss Mutual Admiration Society readily grasped that what was being ballyhooed as a product of The Donald's selfless magnanimity was more about a brilliantly engineered Trump public-relations maneuver rather than anything having to do with philanthropy. However, most New Yorkers, couldn't give a rat's ass one way or the other -- as long as Trump delivered. To everybody's astonishment, that's exactly what he did. Trump not only delivered a quality job, he delivered it in record time. Even Trump's detractors, who were in those days legion, had to grudgingly concede that he'd done a darn nice job.
The single act of renovating Wollman Rink did more for Trump than accomplishing the Twelve Labors did for Hercules. From this pivotal event ,Trump took on the dimensions a living legend, a strange, bigger than life, latter day mixture of the prophet Moses, Charles Bronson, Andrew Carnegie, The Duke of Windsor and Don Rickles, along with just a hint, merely an elusive wisp of the impulsive iconoclastic snobbery of Quentin Crisp – and for a sizable fraction of the populace one has to also add Godzilla. Most importantly, as much, as he was for better or worse a legend formed out of the projected hopes and fears of the public, first and foremost Donald Trump existed as a self-perpetuating legend in his own mind.
That then, is the general background of events which brought Donald Trump to become intimately involved with Central Park and lead to the circumstances under which I chanced to cross paths with him.
So, as I started out describing, it was a beautifully bright weekday morning. Central Park was in full spring bloom. Birds were chirping, taxis were honking and the air was filled with the fragrance of freshly mown grass, wisteria, auto exhaust and the faint aroma of dog shit.
I was on regular duty sitting behind the information-desk, which is located immediately inside the Visitor Center, a small, quaint, 19th century, two story landmark building. Looking something like a charming little Swiss Chalet, it sits ensconced among a group of large sycamores atop the big hill overlooking Wollman Rink and just a short walk east of the Carousel.
Known as "The Dairy", it was christened with that unusual moniker more than one hundred years earlier, in 1870, by Olmsted and Vaux, the visionary creators of Central Park, who conceived the little house as a safe place where city parents could go to obtain fresh, uncontaminated milk, at a modest price, for their children. Thanks to the advent of pasteurization, and refrigeration, the Dairy's service as a milk source soon faded out, but the name stuck.
Well anyway, on balmy mornings, during the spring of the year, the south end of the park always played host to groups of school children on class outings -- mostly little shavers. That morning the weather was so lovely, that I had the two large mahogany main entrance doors to The Dairy latched wide open, when who of all people should come striding in but the Knickerbocker Lochinvar himself, Donald Trump. I'd never seen him in the flesh before. He didn't have a Chinese menu in his hand, but like a werewolf of London, his comb-over was perfect. Trump was impeccably attired in a handsomely tailored, navy cashmere blazer with fancy filigree gold buttons, gray flannel slacks, a crisp white shirt with french-cuffs and gold cuff links and a striking red silk tie. I forget what kind of shoes he had on, but it's a safe bet they weren't Hush Puppies. Poised forever in my memory, emitting his strange orangey glow, I have to confess, the man cut quite an oddly imposing figure.
Trump wasted no time in coming right up to the big ornate information desk and commenced issuing me instructions. In a perfectly polite but commanding tone he proceeded to inform me that there was a badly injured bird lying on one of the nearby footpaths and he was very concerned young school children might be traumatized by witnessing its death agonies.
He didn't actually use the word "traumatized", but since a major part of my daily job required me to rapidly decipher semi-coherent locutions, pigeon English and a host of other forms of garbled utterances and verbal gobbledygook, I was able to quickly interpret his words and figure out what he was driving at. Basically, he wanted me to drop whatever I was doing and go out and dispose of the injured bird – toutesuite!
Most likely it's still park policy today, but back then Central Park personnel were not supposed to intervene in the natural processes of life and death, regarding sick or injured "wild" animals, such as squirrels or pigeons, etc. Our explicit instructions were to back off and "Let nature takes its course".
Naturally I kept my trap shut. My mother hadn't raised a son dopey enough to begin righteously quoting chapter and verse about park rules to somebody as powerful and imperious as Donald Trump.
After all, protecting innocent children from a traumatic experience was a laudable motive, one compelling enough to justify over-riding this particular park regulation. By the same token, I also knew only too well, that while Trump fretted about the bird posing a possible danger to the mental health of adorable little school kids, as he spoke, those adorable school kids were probably using the bird as hacky-sack.
Besides, I didn't go around advertising it, but truth be told, I would, on rare occasion, grab the big coal-shovel from the Dairy's basement and very discreetly perform an unauthorized mercy killing. I always found it a thoroughly distasteful task, except for the sobering knowledge that if not for the intervention of myself and that trusty old coal-shovel, the poor incapacitated animal stood an excellent chance of being set upon and horribly mangled to death by some budding young sociopaths, or a dog off its leash. But if not, and still alive by nightfall, then the helpless creature faced the horrific certainty of being eaten alive by rats.
So, with that that charming knowledge to guide me, on that gorgeous spring morning and seeing absolutely no earthly benefit in rocking the boat, I would have willingly gone out and killed on request for Donald Trump. Yes, let's have no illusions about it. I truly would have unhesitatingly killed at the behest of The Donald, except for the fact that, because of an unexpected staff shortage that day, I was the one and only person on duty in The Dairy.
On this particular matter park regulations allowed for no compromise. I was explicitly forbidden, in the strictest of terms, from any unscheduled closing of the building for whatever reason, short of a full-scale nuclear-attack. Committing such a violation constituted abandoning one's post, a transgression regarded as so atrocious and unforgivable that the punishment was immediate summary execution by the Central Park firing-squad.
I tactfully explained the gist of this to Mr. Trump and offered to take my trusty coalshovel and go do the deed for him, IF, he'd be willing to temporarily man the information desk and phones, while I briefly left the building to go track down the suffering creature and quickly put it out of its and Trump's misery. He responded to my proposal by looking me straight in the eye, and nodding his head a couple of times. "No, that's OK.” he said, “I appreciate the offer. You keep doing what you're doing here. I'll take care of it. – Where's the shovel?"
I pointed to the door to the backroom, "Downstairs in the basement."
"Is it very dirty down there?" he asked. "No, not at all." I replied with pride, " Errol Johnson, the building superintendent keeps everything spic and span." Then I added, "The lights are on. You'll find the shovels and rakes leaning against the stone-wall over near the furnace. There're several to choose from Mr. Trump. Take your pick. But based on personal experience, I'd strongly recommend the big, old fashioned heavy steel coal-shovel. You can't miss it. It's the one with the big wooden D-handle. Take it from me sir, that baby is guaranteed to do the job with the least fuss and muss. Yeah, it's the coal-shovel you want Mr. Trump. Go with the coal-shovel." He seemed to be deeply considering my suggestion as he squinted at me. Then he nodded again, turned, gave a quick look around and took off for the basement.
You know, I gotta tell ya, that old coal-shovel was the ideal euthanasia tool. It was so big and heavy you hardly needed to exert any effort to achieve fatal results. As a matter of fact, you really had to be careful not to accidentally over do it. Smack a pigeon a little too hard and it bursts open like a soggy paper-bag filled with linguine in marina-sauce. All you really need to do is just calmly raise the handle to round about waist high, then relax and let it drop. You'd hear a metallic thunk and you'd know it was curtains. After that, you simply scooped up the decedent with the shovel and respectfully dumped the body in the nearest trash basket.
I can't help wondering what's become of that neat old tool. With any luck it's been designated an historically important antique and is safe in a museum somewhere. American Fork & Hoe Co.– Cleveland OH, in old-fashioned flowery lettering, was stamped into the heavy gauge steel of the socket. I wouldn't be the least surprised if that beefy old shovel pre-dated the Spanish American War. It looked a lot like shovels I'd seen in vintage photographs of late 19th century railroad-stokers. Those were the guys whose job it was to feed the fireboxes of coal-burning steam locomotives.
After a couple of minutes or three, Trump reemerged from downstairs, but not with the stalwart old coal-shovel. Instead he was holding a much lighter-weight, flimsy, aluminum snow-shovel. What in the? Sweet mother Machree, talk about a lousy selection. Brother, the only thing worse would have been if he'd come up from the basement brandishing a feather-duster.
On the other hand, there was no question the snow-shovel did look newer, shinier, sleeker, much more contemporary, and much less intimidating. Also, since it weighed a whole lot less, it was much less awkward to carry than that big old inelegant coal-shovel. Apparently, in the rarefied jet-set world of haute-couture, the coal-shovel just didn't have the kind of pizzazz it takes to make it as a Trump fashion accessory.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the snow-shovel in question couldn't be employed as an instrument of death. But hell, so could a rolled up issue of Women's Wear Daily. -- My point is that in practical terms, this particular snowshovel was ill-suited to serve as a humanely efficient instrument of death.
Most city people, lacking hands on experience, simply have no appreciation of the amazing toughness of a squirrel or a pigeon. Bitter experience had taught me what stubbornly rugged constitutions these small, seemingly fragile creatures really possess and how tenaciously they will try to cling to life.
With that silly powder-puff snow-shovel, in order to generate the kind of force that even vaguely qualifies as “death-dealing”, you had to raise the blasted thing over your head, then bring it crashing down as though splitting firewood with an ax. But even using an exaggerated technique like that, you still couldn't achieve any really decisive killing momentum. No matter how vigorously you exerted yourself, the first few hits almost never were enough to conclusively finish the matter. Often, it would just cause the poor miserable creature to panic and begin frantically flopping around leaking blood, making it all the more difficult to accurately land effective blows. But even if the recipient of your charitable efforts to snuff out it's life accommodated you by not moving a muscle, you still would have to keep on whacking away, over and over and over again, in order to be positive it was lightsout for keeps. When the dust settled, you were left with a big gory mess.
This much I can tell you with stone cold certainty: the heart-wrenching sight of a half-dead animal, lying gasping on a foot-path might shake-up little shavers and certain high-strung adults, but witnessing the horrendously gruesome exhibition of euthanasia by snow-shovel was guaranteed to give the heebie-jeebies to even the toughest gorilla in Hell's Kitchen.
On his way out, as he past the information desk, snow-shovel firmly in hand, his lower lip jutting out determinedly, Trump shot me a cryptic look that seemed to include a friendly smile. He also appeared to offer me a subtle wink, which I think might have been intended as a sort of low-key, Gary Cooperesque, reserved expression of manly gratitude -- maybe, maybe not, I'm not sure.
What I did know for certain, was that confidently armed with his own faultless rectitude, Donald Trump was on an urgent mission of mercy to protect young school children from being emotionally scarred. Albeit a well-intentioned mission to be sure, but a ridiculously Quixotic quest, worthy of little more than a shrug, a sigh and a roll of the eyeballs. Except for the haunting fact that this was a quest that taken to it's ultimate extension, was doomed to culminate in the bizarre and genuinely traumatizing spectacle of a tall, impeccably dressed man, with a strange orangey comb-over, beating a bird into a bloody pulp with an aluminum snowshovel.
"...Feh! Big shots," I thought to myself, "they're always just too damn brilliant to take the advice of us dumb bastards in the trenches."
As he hurried through the doorway and out of sight, I called to him, "Take care Mr. Trump. Good luck and good hunting." I remember feeling a little like the boy Joey, at the end of “Shane”, plaintively crying out to a mythic figure vanishing into the wilderness. Only, unlike Joey, I certainly wasn't pleading, “Come back. Come Back.” at least not to Trump anyway.
If I were plaintively beckoning at all, it would have been to the snow-shovel. -- I was starting to become nervous that maybe I might never see it again and that I'd catch holy hell from the park's Chief of Operations for casually giving it away to a billionaire, when the city was still on the ropes financially and the park was struggling to operate on a shoestring.
As for what happened after Trump departed, I have absolutely no idea. Later that afternoon, one of his minions came by to return the shovel. I studiously exerted every effort not to inquire about the outcome. I really didn't want to know any more about it than I did.
But if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to speculate, my hope would be that Donald Trump, slim customer that he is, would have done the expedient thing and bypassed the part where he chivalrously pounds the bird into a bloodsoaked pile of feathers and simply waited till no one was watching, then quickly scooped the bird up and buried it deep – in the nearest trash basket.