As it did this year, Inauguration Day in 1989 fell on a Friday. So it was on the morning of Monday, January 23, 1989, that I settled into my new office at the Old Executive Office Building. The OEOB, it was called. They call it something else now, but it’s not nearly as fun to say as O-E-O-B.
I was a researcher for the speechwriting office. “If the President makes a mistake, it’s your fault.” That’s what we were told. No pressure. I was 23 years old.
There was no computer on my desk in 1989. We could smoke in the office, so there was an ashtray (and oh, did we smoke). Women were not supposed to venture into the West Wing if we were (a) wearing trousers; or (b) not wearing hose. We watched a lot of MTV, and the network evening news was the focal point of every White House day. Y’know, just like today.
The Research Office was in Room 111 ½ of the OEOB, a high-ceilinged space divided into four small offices and a common room with a television and refrigerator and an enormous round ashtray on the coffee table (I’m telling you, we smoked a LOT). The common room had been Peggy Noonan’s office at one point. She stopped by to visit one day and told us so. There was a 10-foot-high heavy wooden door that led to the main hallway, and just inside that door there was a little table where the newspapers were left every morning. This is where I discovered the New York Post.
Tabloids were new to me and it was love at first sight. The mischief. The irreverance. The language! Oh the language. Every single one of us in the speechwriting office wanted to be a Post headline writer. And the stories – a vivid daily dose of Tom Wolfe’s then-bestselling “Bonfire of the Vanities” brought to life in smudgy newsprint. Race and class and politics and money. The Central Park rape case. The Rev. Al Sharpton and Tawana Brawley. John F. Kennedy Jr. and the bar exam (“The Hunk Flunks!”). Crusading U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani frog-marching bankers and mafiosi alike in front of the cameras in cuffs. Madonna at the very peak of her button-pushing glory.
And then there was this fellow Donald Trump. A match made in heaven, the New York Post and Donald Trump. He of the bluster and the boast and buying up casinos in Atlantic City and the Plaza Hotel in New York. And his lacquer-haired wife, Ivana. Always at parties. Always in taffeta. The Post couldn’t get enough of them.
Then along came another woman, Marla Maples. Seriously, that was her name. The Georgia Peach. A showdown on the slopes of Aspen. Does it get any better? And then boom! The Donald and Ivana were kaput. “SPLIT!” screamed the Post. “Don Juan!” “Best Sex I’ve Ever Had.” “Ivana to Donald: Gimme The Plaza! … the jet and $150 million, too.” The headlines kept coming. It was the gossip story of the year. Of the decade. And Donald Trump kept feeding it. Liz Smith, the gossip columnist who broke the breakup (for a different tabloid, but never mind) told Vanity Fair, “Donald overrode the P.R. people. He wouldn’t take any advice and he wouldn’t shut up.”
Huh. For the speechwriting office, it was all gold. The President worked his way through the 1990 mid-terms opening speeches with “It’s great to be here in (name a state) where the battle lines have been drawn and things are pretty polarized and lots of money’s being spent on both sides … but hey, I’m not here to talk about Donald Trump’s divorce, I’m here to talk about (candidate so-and-so).
Ha. Good one.
So for any 23-year-old settling into his or her office in whatever-the-OEOB-is-called today, my advice is this: take note. As you sit at your desk looking at your laptop and not smoking, take a look at the news sites and headlines and tweets – hell, look at the New York Post cover (online, of course) – and see what story is blowing up and then project 20 or so years into the future … Kanye West 2044?
Peggy Dooley was a researcher in the speechwriting office of President George H.W. Bush and was associate producer of the documentary “41on41” about the former president. She lives in Wisconsin.