THE BOY WHO WOULD NOT BE QUEENS

Spend­ing a night in Don­ald Trump’s child­hood home is not like sleep­ing in Hitler’s lair, but thanks for ask­ing.

Newsweek International - - CHINA FOCUS - by ALEXAN­DER NAZARYAN

ABOVE MY BED IS A SIGN ENCASED in a wooden frame. “In this bed­room,” it says in cal­li­graphic font, “Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump was likely con­ceived, by his par­ents, Fred and Mary Trump. The world has never been the same.”

The bed­room is on the sec­ond oor of a Tu­dor house on Ware­ham Place, in a part of Queens called Ja­maica Es­tates, in New York City but closer to Long Is­land than Man­hat­tan. Far closer. The house is “vaguely faux-tu­dor­ish,” says Gwenda Blair, au­thor of The Trumps: Three Gen­er­a­tions of Builders and a Pres­i­dent, and with its cream stucco façade, peaked roof and dec­o­ra­tive wooden planks, it looks like the manse of a mi­nor English lord. Ev­ery “good” sub­urb of Con­necti­cut and New Jersey has such houses.

This was the house Fred Trump built in 1940, as he was be­com­ing one of the city’s most pow­er­ful builders. Don­ald, his mid­dle son, spent his rst four years here, from 1946 un­til 1950. What that log cabin was to Abra­ham Lin­coln, this house is to Don­ald Trump. He is a New Yorker, sure, but not in the way of Man­hat­tan-born Theodore Roo­sevelt. He is a man of Queens, like that other great de­fender of for­got­ten Amer­i­cans, Archie Bunker.

As the Trump fam­ily grew in both size and wealth, the house be­came too small, so Fred moved his fam­ily one street over. You can see that house from the bed­rooms of the rst Trump house. While the rst house is on street level, the sec­ond is on a rise of land, al­ready dis­tanc­ing it­self from the peo­ple be­low.

Earlier this month, the Ware­ham Place house be­came avail­able on Airbnb. The cost per night is $725. The list­ing also says the house can sleep 20, though most of those peo­ple have to be cool with bunk beds. Also, the woman who man­ages the list­ing, Ari, will be there the en­tire time. (She lives in the at­tic.)

The day be­fore I am to spend the night, Ari in­forms me the hot water does not work. I de­cide this is karmic pun­ish­ment for all the times I have called Trump an orange goo all or worse.

The nal price, with taxes, is $816, mak­ing it more ex­pen­sive to stay in Queens than at the Plaza in Man­hat­tan. You might re­mem­ber that glam­orous ho­tel from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, a young Ma­caulay Culkin wan­der­ing its or­nate, car­peted hall­ways. He asks a tall busi­ness­man in an over­coat how to get to the lobby. Trump points him “down the hall and to the left.” He de­liv­ers the line with the know­ing, hur­ried pre­ci­sion of a Man­hat­tan na­tive. All traces of his roots in Queens are gone.

Ja­maica Es­tates is on the east­ern edge of Queens, the New York bor­ough some­times called the most di­verse place in America. To get there, I take the Flush­ing line. It is not the fastest way to Ja­maica Es­tates, but the el­e­vated train a ords me the plea­sure of oat­ing above Queens, watch­ing the sig­nage of the lowrise neigh­bor­hoods change, from English to Urdu to Span­ish to Korean, then back to English, then Rus­sian. At­lanta Braves pitcher John Rocker once took this line for a game against the New York Mets. He wasn’t a fan. In a fa­mous 1999 in­ter­view with

Sports Il­lus­trated, Rocker com­plained about sit­ting “next to some kid with pur­ple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s de­press­ing.” He added: “I’m not a very big fan of for­eign­ers.”

Nei­ther is Trump, un­less they are Rus­sian bil­lion­aires. Rus­sian bil­lion­aires do not live in Queens, and the peo­ple who do live in Queens are not big fans of Trump. Of the 473,289 peo­ple who voted in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Queens, 75.1 per­cent voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton. Ja­maica Es­tates was even more anti-trump, with 77.47 per­cent of its vot­ers choos­ing Clin­ton.

You can see why when you emerge from the sub­way at 179th Street. There is the Bis­mil­lah Su­per­mar­ket. There are roti shops. The lo­cal school is named for Su­san B. An­thony, the su ragette. The peo­ple here work hard, have to work hard, and they do not get “small” loans of mil­lions of dol­lars from their fa­thers, as Trump did. I know th­ese peo­ple. I am an im­mi­grant, as they were. They want to be rich, as I did. A few months after my fam­ily ar­rived in the United States from the Soviet Union, my un­cle told me he’d shared an el­e­va­tor with Trump’s rst wife, Ivana. I re­mem­ber the im­mense pride I felt upon hear­ing this. He’d been here longer, my un­cle, than the rest of us. He lived on Long Is­land and did some­thing in­volv­ing biznes, like ev­ery Rus­sian im­mi­grant. It didn’t mat­ter. He’d gone to Trump Tower, and he’d stood shoul­der to shoul­der with Mrs.

Trump. He’d made it in America.

“IT’S LIKE SLEEP­ING in Hitler’s lair.”

That’s what a friend told me at break­fast, as I pre­pared to head to Queens. Later, one of my col­leagues made a sim­i­lar point, which forced me to se­ri­ously con­sider the sim­i­lar­i­ties, es­pe­cially since news­room screens all that day showed Trump talk­ing about how some of the white na­tion­al­ists and neo-nazis who rav­aged Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, were de­cent folks. Later yet, some­one on Twit­ter re­sponded to a pho­to­graph of the Trump house I’d posted: “Have you found Mein Kampf yet?” This may have been a ref­er­ence to an as­ser­tion made by Ivana in Van­ity Fair, that “from time to time her hus­band reads a book of Hitler’s col­lected speeches, My New Or­der, which he keeps in a cab­i­net by his bed.”

I don’t think rent­ing out Trump’s house in Queens is the same thing as shack­ing up at Wolf­schanze (Wolf ’s Lair), where Hitler spent much of World War II. Trump is the pres­i­dent of the United States. He is part of our his­tory. In­stead of rag­ing against that, we should gure out how that came to be. Re­mem­ber how peo­ple used to hate Ge­orge W. Bush? Now they praise him as an el­der states­man when­ever he re­nounces Trump. Will the pas­sage of time be as kind to Trump? Prob­a­bly not. You never know, though. Two years into the Rob Kar­dashian pres­i­dency, we might be pin­ing for the ci­vil­ity of the Trump era.

THE TOILETS ARE NOT made of gold. (Some­one on Twit­ter asked.) There are three toilets, and they are all porce­lain. Trump the son is all about gold, but Trump the fa­ther was ap­par­ently all about wood. The house is full of the kind of orig­i­nal de­tails de­sign geeks geek on: wooden shut­ters, mold­ing, win­dows with leaded di­a­mond pat­terns, ra­di­a­tor cov­ers with nar­row slits.

You come into the house through an al­cove sep­a­rated from

“Ware­ham was the last place where the Trumps were even re­motely” reg­u­lar folks.

the liv­ing quar­ters by a door. In the mo­ment be­fore I open that sec­ond door, I have over­whelm­ing an­tic­i­pa­tion. You can’t just rent out Mount Ver­non with three clicks on Airbnb. But you can sleep in Trump’s house! The irony is that while a ticket to Mon­ti­cello, the Vir­ginia es­tate of Thomas Je er­son, will cost only $25, ac­cess to Trump’s birth house is go­ing for $725. The for­got­ten Amer­i­cans may have the White House, but the Trump house in Ja­maica Es­tates likely re­mains out of their reach.

When I open that sec­ond door, I am greeted by a life-size cutout of Don­ald Trump, star­ing at me from across the liv­ing room. In the din­ing room is a framed Peo­ple mag­a­zine “At Home With the Trumps!” cover, as well as an Andy Warhol–like mul­ti­col­ored col­lage of Trump por­traits and a pho­to­graph of Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence. On the din­ing room ta­ble, an Amer­i­can ag has been laid out as a run­ner, in a show of pa­tri­o­tism that is mis­guided, ex­ces­sive

PA­PER DOLL: Trump’s child­hood home still has many orig­i­nal de­tails, such as ne wood­work, and some re­cent ad­di­tions, such as this card­board cutout of the pres­i­dent.

and per­fectly Trumpian. Above the gor­geously carved wooden

re­place hangs a framed pho­to­graph of Trump be­ing in­ter­viewed on The Tonight Show by Jimmy Fal­lon, who is hold­ing up a pic­ture of the Ware­ham Place house.

All th­ese dec­o­ra­tions may seem tacky, but in­ad­ver­tently, the Ware­ham Place house cap­tures the rai­son d’être of Don­ald Trump, which is the end­less ven­er­a­tion of Don­ald Trump.

“Ware­ham was the last place where the Trumps were even re­motely reg­u­lar folks. Four kids surely lled the place with life,” says Michael D’an­to­nio, au­thor of The Truth About Trump.

When Don­ald was 4, Fred moved his grow­ing fam­ily into a colo­nial brick man­sion on Mid­land Park­way. “On Mid­land Park­way, the in­di­vid­ual Trumps had as much room as they wanted and were at­tended by ser­vants,” D’an­to­nio says. “It’s here, I think, where Don­ald learned what it was like to be rich, pam­pered and iso­lated .... Some­times I won­der if [Don­ald] and the rest of us would be a lot bet­ter o if Fred Trump had kept his fam­ily rooted on Ware­ham Place.”

I DON’T KNOW MUCH about the own­ers of the house, and since Ari re­fused to be in­ter­viewed, I don’t know how she is re­lated to them, other than that they bought the house at auc­tion earlier this year. Some­times, I hear her foot­steps in the at­tic. If I didn’t know bet­ter, I’d say it was Fred’s ghost, wan­der­ing like the rest­less ghost of King Ham­let.

Fred was a true deal­maker of the kind Don­ald played on tele­vi­sion. In the 1930s, Trump his­to­rian Blair tells me, Fred was run­ning a su­per­mar­ket when he ac­quired a mort­gage com­pany that had gone into bank­ruptcy. That al­lowed him to re­vive his real es­tate busi­ness, which had been stymied by the Great De­pres­sion and, in time, to amass enough money to build the Ware­ham Place house. “He gamed the bank­ruptcy court in 1934,” Blair says of Fred’s ac­qui­si­tion of the mort­gage com­pany, “just as his son man­aged to game the bank­ruptcy sys­tem at the end of the cen­tury.” In fact, Don­ald was so good at gam­ing that sys­tem, he took to call­ing him­self the King of Debt.

You can’t pin the sins of the fa­ther on the son, un­less the son seems in­tent on repli­cat­ing those sins. In 1927, Fred may have been ar­rested at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Queens. Don­ald wasn’t alive then, but he stood de antly by his fa­ther in 1973, when the two of them were ac­cused by the Jus­tice Depart­ment of re­fus­ing to rent apart­ments to African-amer­i­cans.

As Ari and I are talk­ing on the side­walk, ve women in burqas pass on the other side of the street. Chil­dren run and ride bikes be­fore them. Ari is telling me one story; the women tell an­other, their burkas rip­pling in the light sum­mer breeze.

THE FLOORBOARDS ABOVE ME creak as, on the tele­vi­sion, Sean Han­nity is­sues a ery de­nun­ci­a­tion of what he calls the “de­stroy-trump me­dia.” I move the cutout of Don­ald Trump next to the tele­vi­sion, so that he is watch­ing me as I watch Fox News. Later in the evening, I will re­turn from the kitchen and, hav­ing for­got­ten about the cutout, will be fright­ened by Trump stand­ing in the liv­ing room, con­fronting me in my boxer shorts. “What are you do­ing in my house?” he will ask.

And I will tell him, “Pay­ing $816 to take a cold shower.”

I GO INTO WHAT may have been Trump’s bed­room as a child. There is a pic­ture of him with Michael Jack­son, as well as a quote from The Art of the Deal: “I like think­ing big. I al­ways have.”

I walk around the house, run­ning my hands along the smooth wood, like a prospec­tive buyer pon­der­ing an o er on the place. I am sur­prised by how much I like this house, how it feels both spa­cious and cozy. And though it’s ob­vi­ously gone through

sev­eral lam­en­ta­ble ren­o­va­tions, plenty of orig­i­nal—or orig­i­nal enough—de­tails re­main. A big bed­room on the sec­ond oor, for ex­am­ple, has in­laid book­cases with desk space. My chil­dren would be happy in this room, as would yours. It is big and full of light. I think of poor Bar­ron, Trump’s 11-year-old son, grow­ing up in the gilded prison that is Trump Tower. No won­der he al­ways looks mis­er­able. He should move to Queens.

The best room is the study, which I have to assume was Fred’s. The study, o the din­ing room, is wood-pan­eled and dark. I sit there, lis­ten­ing to Ben Web­ster play sax. The study has a bath­room. This is a glo­ri­ous man cave in the mak­ing.

I HAULED A BOOK with me to Queens to ward o bore­dom. Twi­light of Amer­i­can San­ity is by Dr. Allen Frances, a psy­chi­a­trist, who ar­gues that while Trump is more or less sane, Amer­i­can so­ci­ety no longer is, mired in de­nial­ism and rage. Hence, #MAGA. It turns out I don’t need the com­pany of Frances and his anal­y­sis of Trump’s pol­i­tics. For starters, there are at least a half-dozen copies of The Art of the Deal placed around the house. I en­vi­sion guests re­clin­ing in the liv­ing room, read­ing aloud the pas­sage in which Trump saves the farm of an old lady in Ge­or­gia or re­stores Cen­tral Park’s Woll­man Rink. “As an ado­les­cent, I was mostly in­ter­ested in cre­at­ing mis­chief,” Trump wrote in that book. “It wasn’t ma­li­cious so much as it was ag­gres­sive.”

There is also His­toric Homes of the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dents by Irvin Haas. It shows a pho­to­graph of Lin­coln’s log cabin and of the White House, which Trump has called “a dump.”

The book­shelves in the study and up­stairs bed­room hold a hodge­podge, in­clud­ing lit­er­ary ction (Jonathan Franzen’s The Cor­rec­tions), beach reads (Tales From the Crib by Jen­nifer Coburn) and aca­demic ti­tles like Jesse Gold­ham­mer’s The Head­less Repub­lic: Sacri cial Vi­o­lence in Mod­ern French Thought. I don’t know if th­ese ti­tles speak to Ari’s tastes. They cer­tainly don’t speak to Don­ald Trump’s, for he does not like to read.

When I “check out” at the end of my stay, I leave Twi­light of Amer­i­can San­ity be­hind, on an end ta­ble in the liv­ing room. It pairs nicely with The Art of the Deal, whose ghost­writer, Tony Schwartz, once called Trump a “so­ciopath.”

FOR A WHILE, I stand at a win­dow, watch­ing my new neigh­bors get out of cars, herd chil­dren through doors, drag refuse bins to the curb. Then I try to talk to them, only to quickly nd they aren’t thrilled to have a re­porter around. One woman opens her door think­ing some­one she knows has come call­ing. In­stead, it is a jour­nal­ist. Later, I learn that she has been in­ter­viewed by other re­porters. The woman keeps talk­ing about how she does not want to talk about Trump, but it oc­curs to me that she en­joys im­mensely talk­ing about Trump. Just like the rest of us. “It’s just a house,” she says as I am leav­ing. “It’s just a house.” I ask an­other res­i­dent how peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood feel about Trump. “I don’t think you’re gonna nd too many fans around here,” he says.

After a while, I give up on the talk­ing-to-the-neigh­bors gim­mick. They do not de­serve this. It is their neigh­bor­hood, not his. He ed long ago.

I INVITE EVERYONE from the Newsweek news­room to come out to Queens and visit the house where Trump crawled around in di­a­pers. No­body comes ex­cept one sta er, but it’s ne, be­cause he is a friend. For a while, we sit in the liv­ing room, watch­ing Tucker Carl­son, the Fox News pun­dit, talk­ing about Nazis. There isn’t al­co­hol in the house, which is tting, since Trump does not drink. There is no food ei­ther. We scroll on our phones, look­ing at lo­cal restau­rants. Carl­son keeps talk­ing about Nazis.

Hill­side Av­enue is one of those great New York thor­ough­fares where hu­man­ity is glo­ri­ous and squalid and some­how everyone gets along, al­though noth­ing re­mains of the white Ja­maica Es­tates Fred knew. His his­tory has been erased, which I guess is what makes many white Amer­i­cans anx­ious: They re­mem­ber when the roti shop was an Ir­ish bar, for­get­ting that be­fore it was an Ir­ish bar, it was some­thing else. Their grasp of his­tory is fe­ro­cious but lim­ited. They do not see far down Hill­side Av­enue.

My friend and I nd a ha­lal In­dian steak­house called Mirch. We are the only white peo­ple in­side. This is thrilling, un­til self-aware­ness kicks in and the thrill turns into shame. The food is very spicy and very good. The owner sits with us. He is from Bangladesh (I think). He works on tech for a Long Is­land hospi­tal con­sor­tium and says he will give us free food if we write about his restau­rant. We tell him we will men­tion his restau­rant by name (I did). I prom­ise to re­view it on Yelp. (I did.)

We ask him about Don­ald Trump. “He’s a busi­ness­man. I’m a busi­ness­man,” he says in a voice that makes clear there’s more to it than that. He is a mem­ber of the Eleanor Roo­sevelt Reg­u­lar Demo­cratic Club. He cam­paigned for Hil­lary Clin­ton. Like the vast ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple in Ja­maica Es­tates, he is not white. But much like Fred, he is build­ing a busi­ness, hop­ing to turn his restau­rant into a fran­chise. He is scout­ing for space on Long

The Art of the Deal ghost­writer once called Trump a “so­ciopath.”

Is­land. Maybe his chil­dren will go to the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, like Fred’s son did. Maybe they will run a restau­rant em­pire and, when that thrill has cooked down, turn to pol­i­tics.

IT TOOK ME A WHILE to de­cide where I would sleep. There are sev­eral bed­rooms on the sec­ond oor of 85-15 Ware­ham Place, each with Ikea bunk beds. Call me a coastal elit­ist, but I be­lieve that spend­ing $725 for one night’s stay rules out a bunk bed.

The “con­cep­tion room” beck­ons, in large part be­cause I can watch Fox News from bed. That bed, of course, is not orig­i­nal, but I sus­pect the sign above it may have en­cour­aged guests to at­tempt a con­cep­tion of their own. I am a germa­phobe, like Trump, and the de­sire to wipe ev­ery sur­face with hand san­i­tizer grows acute. The fear is ir­ra­tional, like many of the fears that Trump sum­moned on his path to elec­toral vic­tory. We are not gov­erned by rea­son, as our best politi­cians have al­ways known.

Fi­nally, I muster the courage to bed down in the con­cep­tion room. I watch Fox News. My col­league has gone back to his apart­ment in Man­hat­tan, be­cause he wants to sleep next to his wife, not un­der a pic­ture of Trump and Michael Jack­son. I get that. The air con­di­tioner drones. Han­nity whines. I look up from my lap­top just as Ger­aldo Rivera says some­thing about “gangs of pe­dophiles,” while vi­o­lent scenes of Char­lottesville play. Were those neo-nazis also pe­dophiles? And how does Rivera’s mus­tache stay so pointy?

Ev­ery­thing I’m do­ing now sud­denly seems very wrong: I want to sleep next to my wife, far from the site where Don­ald Trump was pos­si­bly con­ceived. It oc­curs to me that maybe I

should turn o Fox News.

SLEEP IS FITFUL. In the morn­ing, I go for a run. As I am plod­ding down Hill­side Av­enue, Trump be­gins to tweet again about the pre­vi­ous weekend’s neo­nazi rally in Char­lottesville, which de­volved into vi­o­lence that claimed three lives. De­spite cam­paign prom­ises that he would be­have “so pres­i­den­tial,” the last few days have found him de­fend­ing neo-nazis and Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues, to the dis­may even of de­scen­dants of the men those stat­ues de­pict. I won­der what he would say about Ja­maica Es­tates, where you are far more likely to see a woman in a sari than a white guy in a “Make America great again” hat.

The whole coun­try, in fact, is be­com­ing less like the Ja­maica Es­tates Trump knew and more like the one I’m jog­ging through now. Maybe a visit to his birth­place would re­as­sure the pres­i­dent that America does not lose its iden­tity when it loses is pal­lor. No­body is hatch­ing ter­ror­ist plots on Hill­side Av­enue. The MS-13 gang, an ob­ses­sion of Trump and his at­tor­ney gen­eral, is not prowl­ing side streets. It is peace­ful here. It is America.

AS I INSPECT the house, I nd a mezuzah at­tached to the back door. A mezuzah is a small con­tainer that holds a prayer, and it is usu­ally at­tached to the door of a Jewish res­i­dence. The Trumps were not Jewish, but later own­ers of the house were. Fu­ture res­i­dents here may be from Pak­istan, Zim­babwe or Mi­ami. They might tear down the house, or they might turn it into a shrine to the 45th pres­i­dent. But the house will not re­turn to nor­mal. I am sure of that. Trump in­spires only ex­trem­i­ties of feel­ing. Ware­ham Place will never be the same. Nor will America.

Time to go. I clean up, then take the train back to Man­hat­tan. The ride is long. I read tweets. Ev­ery­thing is bad and get­ting worse. Trump is fu­ri­ous, and the re­sis­tance to Trump is fu­ri­ous. Everyone on my train looks ex­hausted. Many look afraid. By the time we reach Man­hat­tan, there could be nu­clear war with North Korea, a trade war with China. Clat­ter­ing along on the train pulls me out of the sub­ur­ban idyll that Ware­ham Place rep­re­sented for the Trumps and for the suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of home­buy­ers who fol­lowed them out to Ja­maica Es­tates.

I know Ja­maica Es­tates is not the fu­ture; that is a half-dozen stops ahead, in the jagged sky­line of mid­town Man­hat­tan. This is the jour­ney a young Don­ald Trump took, dream­ing of big­ger things than Queens. Only he did it in a chau eu­red car.

+ UP­WARDLY MO­BILE: The Airbnb list­ing says the house will sleep 20, but that’s only if most of your guests are will­ing to sleep on bunk beds.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.