I just woke up from one of the strangest, most intense dreams I’ve ever had, and it was about Donald Trump. I’m presenting it here, as a work of fiction. No actual persons, living or dead, appear in this story.
Years ago, before the election of 2016, and even before The Apprentice aired on television, I had an encounter with Donald Trump. I was a teenager in the 1980s, looking for a job, and he was a relatively-unknown businessman. I called a phone number in a week-old newspaper ad, and a recording told me to show up for work the next morning at 8:00 am sharp. An address was given.
The next morning, I was there on time, and was greeted at the door by a tall, smiling man in an expensive-looking suit. He introduced himself as Mr. Trump. Next, he handed me a pile of receipts, a ledger book, and a pen, and told me to record the information from the receipt slips into the ledger, and keep a running total of the expenses in a separate column. “You can do math, right?” he asked, offering me a calculator and a cup of coffee, and I replied that could definitely handle it. I’m actually better at math than most people, but I kept my irritation at his question to myself. It was, after all, my first day on the job.
I sat down and began work, in the middle of a large group of people, at desks, engaged in similar tasks. No one talked; the only sounds were the tapping of calculator buttons, the scratching of pens on paper, the sipping of coffee, and the breathing of the glassy-eyed employees. Occasional breaks in the routine did happen, when other employees got up to re-fill their coffee cups, but then they sat back down quickly, and resumed working. I’d already had plenty of coffee before work, so I just had the first cup I was given, without any refills. The information I was transcribing was pretty straightforward: “M. Jones, consultant fees, $374.52,” and other things like that. It was boring, repetitive work, but not difficult. The other workers were moving in unison, establishing a rhythm which I shortly fell into myself. We were all in a trance, and that made the time seem to pass more quickly.
I was lost in a sea of words and numbers when a bell rang. Everyone got up, shuffling off to lunch, and I went with them. In the company cafeteria, we were given something identified by a sign as chicken and dumplings. This vile glop was in a bowl, and came with a spoon, and more coffee was available to drink. We sat down to eat. I tried to eat this lunch, but it had the look, smell, and taste of what I imagined prison food to be like. The alleged “chicken” was, I suspected, actually some other animal, and the “dumplings” were simply undercooked lumps of partially-congealed yellowish powder. All of my fellow workers were eating this food rapidly, but I had only managed to get a couple of spoonfuls eaten by the time the bell rang again, prompting the whole herd to get up and shuffle back to the work room. The man with the big smile asked me, “Did you not enjoy your lunch?”
I replied, “No, I didn’t, but I had a big breakfast before work. I’ll be fine.” His smile turned into a face that looked as if he’d just tasted something extremely sour, and he walked away. I returned to my desk and resumed my work. The first receipt caught my attention: “Robert Austin, employee lunch, $157.50.” Shocked at seeing my own name, I stood up, and broke the silence, waving the receipt in the air.
“Is this some sort of bill for that terrible lunch we just had? Why is the price so high? And who’s paying for this?” The other employees around me tried to shush me, afraid I would get us all in trouble, but I ignored them.
Mr. Trump entered the room immediately, came over to my desk, and said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Austin. It’s all in the budget, and will be taken care of by our standard operating procedures. Please continue with your work.” The other employees calmed down at the sound of his voice, but it had the opposite effect on me.
“That food wasn’t fit for my cat to eat, and I’m not processing another receipt until these ‘procedures’ of yours are explained to me!”
“Mr. Austin, you don’t seem to be adjusting to this job as well as your co-workers. Are you sure you really want to work here?”
“Now that you mention it, no, I’m not sure of that at all. Why don’t you just pay me for the work I’ve already done, and I’ll be on my way? I’m sure I can find a better job than this.” It then occurred to me: no one had ever told me what wages I was earning at this job. “Hey, how much are we getting paid for this work, anyway?”
No one said anything, but there was a loud slurping sound, as all the other employees drank deeply from their coffee. I felt dizzy for a moment, but it faded quickly. “And what’s this coffee spiked with, anyway? Was it in the lunch, too?” I turned to the other employees, “Are you all zombies? Why aren’t you saying anything? Have you all become sheep? Stop drinking this damned stuff, so you can re-enter the land of the living!”
The only sound was more coffee-slurping. Mr. Trump said, “Mr. Austin, come with me to my office. Now.” I followed him out into the hall, but did not go to his nearby office, not wanting to get trapped there. Two other men, obviously security gurds, were out in the hall, and both were bigger and looked stronger than either Trump or myself.
“Mr. Trump, pay me for the work I did this morning, and I’ll be on my way.”
He handed me a crisp $100 bill. “Here’s your payment for your work . . . and your silence. If you repeat your accusations about the coffee or the food to anyone, you’ll be sued for defamation of character — or these two gentlemen will visit your home and make you silent, permanently. You won’t know which of these two things will happen until one of them does. Take the money, go home, find another job, and keep that big mouth of yours shut.”
I left, went home, and spent the afternoon trying to figure out what to do. I could not simply do nothing; my conscience would not allow it. Rather than reporting Trump’s business to the authorities, which I was scared to do, I decided to go straight to the other workers, in secret, and try to blow up this operation from the inside-out. I returned to the business district at quitting time, and followed two employees home on a city bus, making notes of their addresses. This was on a Monday. I did the same thing for the next four days, finding the homes of two more employees each day. I figured that whatever drug was affecting them would be at its weakest on Sunday night, so I delivered anonymous messages to these ten people then, warning them of what was going on at their workplace. Three of those ten, Charles, Emma, and Dave, called in sick the following Monday and Tuesday. I visited each of them Tuesday night, and found that their drugged state had faded enough for them to think like real people again. They resigned on Wednesday.
I repeated this the following week, with the help of my three new co-conspirators, who already knew some of their co-workers’ addresses. This help accelerated the process, and we got seven more people to call in sick the following Monday. That evening, the business burned to the ground, and neither Mr. Trump nor his goons were anywhere to be found, from that point forward. Clearly, they had realized that their security measures were not working, and moved elsewhere, in the middle of the night, just in case any of this was reported to the police, or to the media. As for the threats against me, there was no follow-through on either threat. I had successfully called their bluff.
A note about the original dream from last night: in it, I published my story on my blog the day after quitting, and told my co-workers (after my first day of work) to check it the next morning, giving them the link to find it. I had to change this for the story, for the simple reason that blogs didn’t yet exist in the 1980s.