MEMO TO Donald Trump: You are only as big as your dumpster.
Maybe that bit of wisdom won't help him in his current financial difficulties, but it's all I know about business. I learned it from the only private enterprise tycoons I know: my brothers and sisters-in-law and my wife, Marina.
Right now Trump needs a really huge dumpster just to hold his IOUs. Not that he is likely to plunge into bankruptcy, a faint possibility that has a number of small-minded multimillionaires and envious peasants chuckling gleefully.
I'm not going to mock him just because he has spent the past five or six years telling the world how slick he is. His unaccustomed discomfiture does raise some interesting questions, though.
Like, when you're supposed to come up with $73 million in installment payments on a Friday and you miss the deadline, as Trump did last week, how do your creditors handle your delinquency?
Does the 10-day grace period include working days only? When the grace period ends, does some faceless computer operator in accounts receivable dash off a second notice? Is it polite just because the numbers are big, or does it include the usual thinly veiled hint that further delay will bring a plague of collection agency buzzards down on the deadbeat?
Will the big-time bankers try to stick him up, as they always do when the people who run small-business enterprises and have never missed a payment come knocking on the loan officer's door?
What about his womenfolk?
Is Marla Maples out there somewhere, humming "Stand By Your Man"? Or is she going to emulate Tammy Wynette, who made that song famous while dumping several husbands? Or is she just another fading set of initials carved on a tray table in the Trump Opulent Express or whatever he calls his personal jet?
Are The Donald's troubles real or trumped up?
Marina is convinced that the whole thing is a hoax, designed to ruin the attempt by his estranged wife, Ivana, to use their $25 million prenuptial agreement as a small down payment on a really comfortable settlement. I think there is some real pressure on him. But when you consider all the toys he has to play with -- the Plaza Hotel, Trump Tower, three Atlantic City hotel/casinos, that awesomely ostentatious yacht -- it's hard to believe he can't divest a few doodads and straighten out his cash flow.
Unless, of course, he paid too much for most of his toys. The Trump Shuttle, for instance. He bought that from Frank Lorenzo when Lorenzo was busy destroying Eastern Airlines. What was supposed to be a distress sale steal could be another albatross squatting on Trump's bottom line.
There is a pretty big difference in their net worth, net weight and net integrity, but Trump's situation reminds me of a long-ago story involving Denny McLain.
For those who have not followed baseball-related crime stories over the past couple of decades, McLain was a very good pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. For a brief period.
At the height of his success, he cornered a Detroit sports columnist and, poking him in the chest, rumbled: "Try to remember one thing. I'm just a little bit smarter than the next guy."
The next guy, it turned out, was as dumb as a stump. McLain was charged with a variety of crimes, mostly drug-related, and ended up in prison.
Not even Trump's severest critics, worst enemies or the business associates he picked clean has ever called him a crook. But he has spent an awful lot of time gloating over his victims and proclaiming his wonderfulness. I can see him poking his finger in Merv Griffin's chest and saying: "Try to remember one thing. I'm just a little bit smarter than the next guy."
I say, check your dumpster, Donald. Does it look a little smaller?