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The ugly art of Trump’s deals: A businesswoman reveals how she finally got Donald to pay his bills

Erik Sine

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Came across this article, and just thought it was "weird" and "vague". Not really detail filled like it should be if you're going to blast someone. Seems to be more of a hit piece and agenda driven more than anything.

The ugly art of Trump’s deals: A businesswoman reveals how she finally got Donald to pay his bills

I’m in the sign business. Donald Trump is in the business of selling his image. It should come as no surprise that he and I have crossed paths.

His projects are blazoned with brassy Trump logos, a number of which my sign company subsidized over the years — not intentionally, but that’s how it works: Among contractors, Trump is famous for not paying his bills.

His underlings drag you out, then sing you a song: “We’ve got staff attorneys; you pay by the hour. We can afford to fight. You can’t. Be a good guy. You’ll make it up on the next job!”

Once, in 1991, during an extended wrangle over unpaid invoices, I had a call from the great man himself. The distinctive tin-eared scream — “Sign Lady!” — he has a nickname for everyone — “Come see me. Tomorrow at 10.”

As prep for the meeting, I speed-read his autobiography. Never did the word “contractor” appear unaccompanied by “thieving.” Sure tipoff. Deadbeats don’t think they’re crooks; in their minds, they’re preemptively restoring the balance of nature: “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

He greeted me from behind a slab of mahogany that comically dwarfed him, then nailed me to the chair with a rat-a-tat grilling: “What should I call my next project? Celestia? Empyrean? Royal Imperial Regal?” He must run that routine on every visitor, I thought, leveraging flattery into a free focus group.

Lobbing back reactions left me plenty of bandwidth to contemplate the oxymoron — literally, “sharp-dull” — that defines the man. He can’t see past his own aura, yet folks scramble to lard him with loot. What does he have? A black-hole force field that bends light. Solipsism as charisma.

Once I’m presumably softened up by his regard for my opinion, he demands I leave immediately for Las Vegas to analyze the “signage” on a hotel he’s considering buying; and while I’m at it, study rival hotels’ logos to ensure his will be the biggest and best. “Report by Monday,” he says. No hint of paying for my ticket or my time.

Incredible. There I am, thinking he’s called me in to discuss my unpaid bills, and he’s looking to generate more. “You want me to drop everything and fly to Vegas on my own dime?”

“Talk to my assistant. She’ll get you comped at the Bellagio.”

“Mr. Trump,” I replied, “you’re asking me for three days’ work and an airplane ticket!”

“You’ll make it back on the job,” he says airily, raising one famous eyebrow in mock rebuke at my small-mindedness.

What job? He doesn’t even own the property!

“About the outstanding invoices on our previous jobs . . .,” I said.

He dismissed me: “Clerks take care of that.”

His Vegas deal fell through before I even got back to my office; I heard it on the cab radio. He was still three jobs up on me, with no prospect of my getting paid.

Then opportunity struck.

Briefly, until Citibank repossessed it, Trump ran an airline out of LaGuardia, Trump Shuttle. My company owned a billboard near the airport, and one day we rented it to an ad agency on behalf of a client whose name they were “not at liberty” to divulge.

It was only when the ad copy arrived that I discovered who the client was.

Predictably, the rent was promptly in arrears. Occasionally the agency sent a small check — they paid us when Trump paid them — just enough to delay eviction. Soon the one-year contract would be up.

Then Trump conceived a yen to plant his own kisser on the billboard: the smirky pout and moussed swoopover, 20 feet tall. My operations man was appalled when I told him to proceed without payment.

But this was bait. I had the artist shave off 20 years and 25 pounds. Himself, idealized and sanctified, big as a building.

“He loves it!” said the agency man. “He wants to renew for another year!”

“Fine. Tell them to pay up. Six months’ back rent, plus the paint, plus what they owed before.”

“They’ll pay once they get the renewal.”

“Payment, then we’ll see.”

Trump is the highest form of celebrity, a meta-celebrity, famous for being famous. And he has a fantastic memory. Unthinkable for a pipsqueak like me to cross a big dog like him. But I did.

He paid the arrears. And as soon as the check cleared, I regretfully told the agency guy we’d rented the board to someone else.

“I’ll have to leave town!” he wailed. He must’ve told them he had the renewal in hand or they’d never have cut a check.

But Trump’s a professional: Doesn’t hold a grudge. I ran into him some weeks later at a charity shindig. “Ya got me, Sign Lady,” he chuckled, graciously introducing me to gorgeous, brainy Marla.

“But there’s always next time!” He waggled a stubby finger and melted into the crowd.

Starr is president of Artkraft Strauss, a sign design and consulting firm in Manhattan. This is adapted from her forthcoming memoir, “Ten Thousand Neon Nights.”

You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life. - Winston Churchill

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