Crooks Like Trump

For sixteen years I owned half of a telecom contracting company working in the greater Kansas City area, in western Missouri and eastern Kansas.  The lady who became and still is my wife owned the other half.  For most of the twenty years before that I worked as an installer / programmer / repairman for other small local contractors in the same industry. I owned bits and pieces of some of those companies too.

We sold, installed, and maintained business telephone systems and computer networks.  I worked inside every sort of business you can imagine and some you’d maybe rather not think about.  I was the phone man for jails, sheriff’s offices, whorehouses and bookies.  I worked in city halls, county governments, and homeless shelters.  Factories and truck terminals.  Doctors, lawyers, accountants, advertising agencies, insurance companies… if I went on I’d have four thousand words in business types.

I had to be comfortable with big shots, the doctors, lawyers, and business owners, because I sold the systems, sold the service, and provided the service myself.  Gloria kept the books and paid the vendors, collected the payments, kept me stocked with parts and materials as well as coming out when the job required it and helping me run cable into businesses large and small.  She and I have seen parts of America that most of you can barely imagine, the parts behind the doors that are always locked, the doors that say Mechanical.  We have crawled through abandoned heating and ventilating systems in old buildings, putting cable where it seemed impossible.  We know what it looks like inside the walls, above the ceilings, under the floors.  We worked there.  I’ve run cable into scrub areas in surgeries.

That wasn’t all.  We installed equipment in millionaire’s paneled offices.  We installed equipment in mansions for the owners of the businesses we served.  We were under the desks, above the ceilings and behind the walls while businessmen cheated their customers.  I lay under a desk one day and listened to a few women in a medical insurance office discuss how they could beat this customer out of payment even though the policy did, um, indicate the the service in question was covered.

I was a mouse in the rafters.  I was a fly on the wall.  I was a bug under their desk.  Most of the time they couldn’t see me even if I was in the way of their feet.

There is a Telephone Worker’s Code of Conduct.  Really.  Before I went out on my own I worked for the local branch of Ma Bell, back when they were still Ma Bell.  Every year I had to sign this Code of Conduct.  We were under similar restrictions to people in medicine: Respect Patient Privacy.  Respect Customer Confidentiality.  Wasn’t I supposed to tell the cops I was also phone man for a whorehouse?  Nope, in fact I wasn’t.  Communications is, or was back then, privileged.  Everybody had a right to a phone.  If the cops wanted to bust somebody they had to do their own footwork.  We were exempt.

So I’m not going to tell you any names, addresses, or personal information, but I will tell you this: pretend rich guys like Donald Trump were part of the landscape then just as sure as they are now.  And they were putting people like me out of business then just like Donald Trump has all his life.

They strut around, pretend to own the world, but they hate to pay their bills.  They’re always on the edge of broke.  They always spend more than they can come up with when the bill comes due.  The only cash in their pockets is somebody else’s money.

This isn’t everybody.  Most of the business people I knew were good honest people.  They expected to get paid a fair price for their product or service and they expected to do the same thing in return.  There were a high number who couldn’t bring themselves to pay on time.  They understand the time value of money and like to believe that guys who carry ladders and wear tool belts don’t, so they can habitually sucker us out of a ten-to-thirty-day interest-free loan.  We know what they’re doing. If you’re a mom and pop shop like we were you know which ones will do it, every time, because you still take their business.  The interest on the loan is in the bill.  No, it’s not itemized out.

That said, most of them are good for it, over and over, every time.  I had customers I worked for for years.  I had customers who outgrew their phone system, or just plain outlived it, and hired me to put in a second and maybe a third.  Businesses grow; they add phones and computers.  They redecorate; the phone guy comes and moves all the phones and computers.  We knew our customers well for years, and they knew us.  These were long term business relations with, by and large, honorable people.  It was hard, often dirty work and didn’t pay that great, but it was rewarding and satisfying and we made a decent living.

But there were a few Donald Trumps over the years.  Crooks who know the safest people to steal from were people who had less than him.  They – we – couldn’t afford to sue.  When we got cheated – and from time to time we all did – we licked our wounds and went on.

They hire you to do something.  Say for instance they buy a phone system and computer network from you for a little 16 desk branch business they’re setting up.   With cheaters like Trump it always takes an absolute minimum of 90 days to get paid – could you send us a copy of that invoice we can’t find it, blah blah – and when the check comes it’s fourteen dollars short.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes, we’re sure.”

“Could you send me another copy of the invoice?”

<sigh> “Yeah. What’s your fax number?”

“Oh, the fax is broken. You’ll have to mail it to me.” (Do you want your fourteen bucks bad enough to buy a stamp?)

I, of course, installed the fax and maintain it. Under warranty. It’s a telecom device.  It’s not broken.  Just one more lie, all in a day’s work.  It’s not worth arguing about, and yes, my fourteen dollars is worth a half a buck for a stamp.  The math isn’t that complicated.

Meanwhile I’ve been back on two “warranty calls” on the system, still without collecting payment for the job.  Users can’t remember how to use their voice mail and need more training.  Under warranty.  Unpaid.

You know those almost four thousand lawsuits against Trump? About two-thirds of them are from guys like me, contractors he’s stiffed for good work they’ve done.  There are at least ten thousand other contractors out there who only got screwed out of a few hundred or few thousand bucks and said, Phooey, live and learn, and knew suing wouldn’t even be a break even.  Go sell another job, maybe the next guy has some honor.

Oh, and those four bankruptcies?  You know, where he did a great job for himself, his company, his “use of the country’s chapter laws…”  Let’s say this hypothetical 16 desk business I sold him a phone system and network for doesn’t turn a fat profit in 120 days, during which time he still hasn’t paid me.  So he decides, “Screw this, didn’t work.” You know… Trump Steaks.  Trump Vodka. Trump Taj Mahal.  Tried it, didn’t work, let the suckers take the loss. Trump Institute or Trump University (which were, by the way, two different scams.)

So he decides that it wasn’t a money maker, quits paying the bills, slips out all the money he put into this particular corporation, and “uses the country’s laws” to stiff me, and the guy who hung his ceiling, and the guy who laid his rug, and the guy who put up the walls, the guy who sheetrocked and sanded them, the guy who papered them, the guy he rented the space from, and the guy who sold him the desks and chairs, and they guy who installed the cubicles…

Somewhere up in the financial stratosphere the people who loaned him the money to build the experiment are losing their share too.  With a deal like Trump Taj Mahal there are several bucks up there.

If I’m lucky, in six months I’ll get the phone system and the computers back, but that’s not much consolation.  In the first place, it’s been 10 months since I ordered them (remember, he stiffed me for 120 days before he filed bankruptcy).  They are all obsolete.  Phone system software evolves as fast as user-space computer software evolves.  In the second place, it is all used.  It is a crime to sell used equipment and claim that it’s new.  There is very little market for used telecom equipment except for the very bottom feeders, auto salvage yards, scrap metal recyclers, folks like that.  And no, they are not paying new prices.

At least they’ll pay on time.  Guy in a junkyard will probably just write you a check the day you finish, shake your hand and say thanks.  Not a skunk like Trump.

This is the reality.  I worked with fake rich thieves like Donald Trump for forty years, between companies I worked for and companies I owned.  They are a plague on the economy.

I doubt if Donald Trump has anywhere near as much money as he claims to, but of one thing I feel certain: much of what he has he stole from honest working Americans.  That, friends, is Telling It Like It Is.

By the way: the madam at the whorehouse usually wrote me a check as soon as I finished.  If she wasn’t there at the moment, my check would be in the mail in three or four days.  Ask me which of these people was more honorable.

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