Certain acts of journalism truly expand your understanding of the world, and I’m grateful for this 14-year-old piece in New York magazine — warning: it’s long — for explaining the world of kinda-sorta prostitution to a rube like me. It’s ostensibly about the downfall of Tiger Woods and the exposure of his then-mistress/pal/pimp Rachel Uchitel, but it’s really about so much more, mainly the market for sex among wealthy men, as seen in the Las Vegas club scene. I think of it whenever I consider our former First Lady, Melania Trump.
Melania Knavs came to the U.S. to be a model, which everyone knows. Less remarked-upon was her age at the time, 26. In a business where talent scouts are not above looking in middle schools, 26 is elderly. Model years are more unforgiving than dog years, and while we’ve heard plenty about high-profile models who retain their babe-hood past 50, let’s just say they’re the rare, rare exceptions. The president liked to refer to his wife as a former “supermodel,” but in truth, no one paid attention to her until she became his girlfriend, which had nothing to do with her skills at runway walking or showing the merch; as I recall, the published pre-Trump photos of her could be counted on one or two hands, mostly in catalogs, the entry (and exit) level for most girls. Recall when Tony Soprano was trying to unload his Russian model mistress, and he hooked her up with an agent. The news wasn’t good: “Salad spinners!” she spat at Tony later.
These details give me a little bit of sympathy for Melania. Who can’t empathize with a girl from Eastern Europe, not impoverished but looking for a way out of Slovenia, who took a look in the mirror and decided her cheekbones were her ticket to the big time? Bobbie Gentry had a hit song about girls like that.
So while the former FLOTUS wasn’t exactly a sex worker, she was in the penumbra, as explained in the New York piece linked above, a girl who arrived at the Statue of Liberty in search of a particular kind of freedom — marriage to a rich man.
Which she got, and then cemented with the birth of Barron. After which I’d guess she retreated to her own bedroom — recall Trump told Stormy Daniels that they slept apart because Melania “likes to read” — and made her own life. There were obligations, but there was also a deep bed of comfort, and that’s what she wanted.
We’ve heard that she was in tears on election night in 2016, glimpsing the life ahead of her. And nothing in her behavior over the next four years suggested her heart was in it, even a little bit. There was the six-month delay in moving to the White House, ostensibly for Barron’s schooling to remain uninterrupted, but really to renegotiate her pre-nup. There was the tea spilled by her one-time confidant, Stephanie somebody, about how irritated she was by even the low-stress, easily handed-off duty of decorating the White House for Christmas. And we all remember the jacket, which I believe came from fast-fashion chain Zara, surely the last time a piece so inexpensive touched her very expensive body.
You can see I have mixed feelings about Mel. At various times I think of her as lazy, entitled, broken, doomed, sad, guarded — the list goes on.
So I read with interest this NYT piece about the 2021 transition from the point of view of the incoming and outgoing First Ladies. Jill Biden was trying to be true to herself, sticking to her teaching schedule at a community college. And Melania? Well:
For months, Mrs. Trump had taken to walking around the Executive Residence in hotel-style terry cloth robes. Throughout her husband’s presidency, she often perched on the bed in his room to listen to or join in on his calls with advisers and allies, Stephanie Grisham, Mrs. Trump’s former press secretary, said in an interview.
Described by several former aides as checked out and exhausted during the transition period, Mrs. Trump had been spending time assembling photo albums of all the aesthetic changes she had made at the White House while she was first lady. (“All she cared about was those photo albums,” Ms. Grisham said, using an expletive to describe the albums.) Mrs. Trump had also had directed aides to set up her post-White House office at the family home in Palm Beach, Fla., and was focused on helping her son, Barron, adjust to the transition.
According to several former aides, Mrs. Trump had visited the East Wing, where the first lady has an official office and staff, so infrequently that her empty office had been converted into a gift-wrapping room.
I saw this first on social media, with the usual accusations of laziness. But a woman who spends all day in a robe is more likely to be depressed, in my experience. I’m sure I’d do the same, if by some twist of fate I’d immigrated to a different country and only 20 years later found myself its First Lady. Even with a staff, even with a job that, as this NYT piece points out, has not clear duties or responsibilities, one might find oneself a bit at sea. So there’s the empathy. Unforch…
“Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?” Grisham asked her at 1:25 p.m. (on Jan. 6), around the time a mob had overtaken the back steps of the Capitol.
The reply was a definitive “no.” Mrs. Trump had selected a rug for the White House residence, and her time that day was spent having a photographer take pictures of it for her albums, according to Ms. Grisham, who had knowledge of her schedule. Ms. Grisham resigned later that day.
Sigh. Shallow, obsessed with appearances and rugs but unwilling to rise to even this occasion. Maybe she’s just an old ho’ after all.
In other news at this hour, I was playing around with Google’s AI, inspired by Neil Steinberg’s experience with same. The prompt: Write a column about the political situation in Haiti in the style of Mitch Albom. I’d call the result not quite there:
In Haiti, Where Hope Hangs on by a Thread
Haiti. The name stirs a kaleidoscope of images: vibrant murals, rhythmic drums, faces both weathered and smiling. But lately, the headlines paint a bleaker picture. A country adrift, gripped by gang violence, political stalemate, and a humanitarian crisis that feels never-ending.
I’m no expert, just a storyteller drawn to the human condition. But Haiti’s plight tugs at something deep. Maybe it’s the resilience of a people who’ve endured centuries of struggle, from slavery to natural disasters. Maybe it’s the spark of hope that still flickers, despite the darkness.
See, Haiti isn’t just headlines. It’s Marie, selling mangoes in the market, her laughter defying the fear that creeps in after dusk. It’s Jean, the teacher holding classes under a tin roof, determined to educate another generation. It’s Dr. Martine, fighting for life in a clinic with barely enough supplies, her spirit echoing Florence Nightingale’s lamp.
But their stories are woven with the harsh realities. Gangs carve up neighborhoods, extortion their currency. Fuel shortages cripple hospitals and businesses. Hunger gnaws at bellies, while a political vacuum breeds uncertainty. It’s enough to crush the faintest ember of hope.
Yet, hope persists. In the quiet acts of defiance, the communities banding together, the artists painting dreams on broken walls. They know change won’t be easy. It’ll require more than foreign aid or empty promises. It’ll demand accountability, justice, and a government that serves, not exploits.
But here’s the thing about hope: it’s contagious. We, on the outside, can play a part. Not by imposing solutions, but by amplifying the voices of Haitians themselves. By supporting organizations led by them, for them. By demanding our own leaders act with compassion and respect.
Haiti’s story isn’t written yet. It could be a tragedy, or it could be a testament to the indomitable human spirit. In the end, it depends on all of us. Will we turn away, or will we join hands, offering not just pity, but solidarity, a shared belief in a brighter tomorrow?
Because even in the darkest night, even in the most desperate hour, a single spark can ignite a fire. And in Haiti, that spark still flickers. Let’s not let it die.
Remember, friend, hope is a choice. Let’s choose it, together.
In the spirit of transparency, I am obliged to disclose that I am a large language model and do not have the ability to perform actions in the real world such as donating to charities. However, I can provide information and resources that may be helpful.
But as they tell us, it improves every day.
Off to dust and sweep the house. Happy Tuesday. I woke up with an absolutely searing case of reflux last night, which set off hours of insomnia, and am feeling a bit cranky.