Trumpeting His Arrival
I met him on the side of the runway. No, not at an airport but one of those long narrow stages models sashay down while trying to look intensely bored. It was during fashion week 1997 in the ballroom of the Plaza Hotel which he’d recently bought. I used to go regularly as a buyer for Saks. We were all sitting around, buyers and press, waiting for the show to start, fashion shows always ran late, when he lumbered in followed by a scurrying entourage. Of course, I knew who he was. His picture was everywhere — newspapers, magazines, subways — after a messy affair and a nasty divorce. He looked older, puffier in real life. And that hair! I found myself staring at his head trying to untangle the complicated twists and turns of his hair. It was the Celtic knot of combovers.
He stood at the end of the row, both arms slightly in front and away from his body like a giant dancing bear. He had an awkward but also somehow commanding presence, maybe demanding is a better description. He clearly expected something — applause? Recognition? I couldn’t imagine what — until one of his minions managed to elbow through the crowd with a white cloth and, with great flourish, proceeded to wipe down the seat of his chair before he sat. I’m not kidding. It was like watching a cartoon king take the throne.
“It’s going to be a terrific show, terrific,” he pronounced to no one in particular so I wasn’t sure if he was addressing his handlers or me or just making a royal proclamation. “A tremendous designer, Thierry Mugler, very famous, one of the best, maybe even the best.”
Never mind that he mispronounced Mugler. The designer was terrific, and I was happy to be seated front row at the show. My customers loved Mugler separates.
“All the best models are in this show, only the best, super models,” he continued his decree. “They’re all tens, at least tens.”
Back then, I would never have described myself as a feminist. I thought women like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan disapproved of pink collar girls like me who worked in the fashion industry and wore pretty clothes and red lipstick so I can’t say I understood the sisterhood of feminism. But even I recognized that the man seated to my right was a top shelf, world champion, misogynist pig.
“I’ve noticed some good-looking models this season, beautiful girls! Classy,” he said. “My daughter is one, but you know that.”
In fact, earlier that week I had read a Women’s Wear Daily article on up-and-coming models that included his daughter. I’d also read editorials critical of the fashion industry’s insatiable hunger for youth and how vulnerable underage models were to exploration and eating disorders and sexual predators. But the man sitting next to me expressed no concern for his daughter only pride in her physical appearance as though it validated his own.
“Great body! Fantastic body! And she’s only fifteen years old, can you believe it?”
At that point, he pivoted on his chair and lurched toward me leaving no doubt who he was addressing. I wasn’t sure how to respond. Should I say I believed his daughter was fifteen? Should I say she looked younger? Older? Should I demand proof of her birth certificate? I opted for a noncommittal nod. This seemed to suffice. He sat back in his chair. I flipped through the run-of-show.
He scanned the room. He smoothed his tie. He tented his fingers. He tugged the cuff of his shirt to reveal the embroidered monogram and gold cufflinks in case I hadn’t fully grasped the magnitude of his importance. I knew he was incredibly wealthy. But he acted like someone playing the part of a rich man, broadly and badly, so that I thought of Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island. He tugged the other cuff. His jacket fell open. That’s when I noticed; his fly was down. A roll of pale belly fat bulged through the gap. Utterly oblivious, he held the hand-on-cuff-circa-1980-GQ-model pose so long I didn’t know what in the pompous hell he was thinking until I saw a swarm of paparazzi moving locust like across the room toward us, cameras swinging from straps around their necks. They’d spotted him. But not before he’d spotted them. Suddenly, I realized everything he had said and done, the way he sat in the chair, opened his suit jacket, adjusted his cufflinks, was preparing for this moment, this shiny spectacle of choreographed celebrity. And I loathed him for it.
I gleefully imagined the next day’s tabloids. I pictured photo spreads devoted to his open fly and flabby flesh. I thought of the degrading headlines and the laughs I’d share with my department head. Maybe I would even be in some of the snapshots, side-eyeing him with an expression of sophisticated amusement.
Just in case, I pulled a compact from the depths of my purse to check my teeth for lipstick. Instead, what I saw was the reflection of an ugly, twisted, smirk of a self-important horror of a human; myself. I snapped the mirror closed.
“Hey,” I leaned over to whisper. “Check your zipper.”
He glanced down and managed to fix his fly mere seconds before the first camera flashed. Then, it was all bright lights and shouts of “Mr. Trump, look this way! Mr. Trump, over here!” and the click-whirl-click of shutters growing faint as I slipped ghost-like into the shadows.
Vivian McInerny is a journalist and fiction writer based in Portland, OR. This is a work of fiction. The story is a figment of the author’s imagination and in no way represents facts, alternative or not, nor news, real and/or fake. I took the image above at New York fashion week. @notforprint @realtransfer