Donald’s ambitions



Born on May 15, 1945, Donald was on the cusp of the baby boom generation. Slightly less than two years younger than Stan, they were miles apart in mentality, as the end of World War II had drawn a curtain between them that they could not open, giving Stan one set of values and Donald an entirely different set. Although six years older than I was, Donald had much more in common with me, wearing his hair below the collar while Stanley would not, and carrying with him a more modern view of the world – although what separated me and Donald was the concept of class. Donald wanted to be somebody, do something important, and become a member of the ruling class, where as I was and always will be anti-establishment. Indeed, over time, we both lived up to those expectations. Donald would through his son, Josh, hobnob with presidents and other dignitaries. His son, who I met when only an infant, would become a special assistant to President Bill Clinton, and the presidential speech writer, crafting some of Clinton’s most important addresses. I got to meet Clinton because as a reporter for a tiny weekly newspaper, I snuck onto an exclusive golf club to get a picture of him I wasn’t supposed to take, getting my picture taken in the background in turn by accident by some official photographer or the Secret Service.

          My opinion of Donald improved over the decades, not because he changed but rather because I had. From what I could gather of him from his 2004 interview, he seemed almost exactly the same as when I last saw him in May, 1978, though photographs of him, give him a much more grandfatherly look than the aggressive businessman he so desperately wanted to become.

          While he still has the moustache I remembered him having, his hair is shorter, and gray instead of straw colored.

          .Donald was a short, blonde-haired man with a stuff brush-like moustache when I first met him, a reflection of the early 1970s. While he wore his hair moderately long, he was no hippie. He had social aspirations to become part of an elite society where he could hobnob with other wealth people.

          Donald understood something Stanley did not, about the nature of class.

          Stan’s blue collar upbringing and the intense labor he put into getting through college cause him to balk at the prices people would pay for what amounted to scented water. He like many of us in the working world did not completely get the idea of status. We understood instinctively the difference between driving a pick up truck and a VW bug. But we did not quite understand that a designer hand bag or a posh perfume made us seem more important than the person who bought a pocketbook or an economy-sized bottle of toilet water from Woolworths. We understood what it meant to be a Marlboro man, but not what it meant to wear a Brooks Brother suit.

          Donald got it – not just for his customers but for himself. He knew that if he wore the right clothing, drove the right car, living in the right place, other people would perceive him as important. He did everything possible to polish this image, and made sure to limit his contact with the wrong people and to not be seen in the wrong places. He drover a Mercedes convertible, wore the best clothing, and made sure that he got his hair cut every two weeks.

          Unlike Stanley, Donald knew precisely how to separate himself from his working class roots – and tried to convey some of this to Stanley, telling him more than once not to get too close to the employees.

          Part of this had to do with discipline. At boss who was an employee’s friend was ineffective. Friends often took liberties a non-friend boss would not tolerate.

          Donald needed to create distance for himself from us and seen to need the extra strata of Stanley as supervisor between us and him. This became more evident in the new warehouse, but even in the first place, Donald always made it clear he was the boss.

          He was demanding and stern, aloof in a way that made me uncomfortable the whole time I worked for him. He was even stern with his younger brother, Bruce, a man who worked with us from time to time, but really had no taste for physical labor and unjustifiably saw himself as too good to do the work we did, when in reality he lacked any talent for doing it.

          Bruce was someone Donald seemed to tolerate because he was family, but who drove the perfectionist Stanley crazy because no matter how much Stanley lectured him, no matter how specific his instructions, Bruce could not or would not get them right. Late in 1975, Donald hired other bodies that would eventually assist in the move to the new digs across town.

          Donald’s moods were unpredictable. He could be cheap or generous, nice or nasty, but there was no way to figure out which he would be at any given moment, or how he got that way. Part of it had to do with the Clairol lawsuit that plagued him for years, and which took him until 1994 to win.

          Early on, he hedged his sharp remarks with humor

          Donald once teased me, claiming I wanted to make love to his wife, Gwenn Kuskin.

He was not completely wrong. I was totally taken with her. This dark-haired, fashion plait would sweep through the front office and leave a pheromone trail that would linger in the warehouse for hours after her leaving. Whenever she was around, I had a hard time concentrating on what I was doing, and sometimes got scolded by Stanley for making small mistakes. Donald and Gwenn would eventually divorce. She would remarry, but she would remain friends with Donald.

          But as time when on, especially after we moved to the new place and his passion for success grew, his humor faded, and I found it harder to like him, until at one point, I thought I actually hated him, when in truth, I simply hated those things he most aspired to become – another sad part of our division in class.

          As with Stanley I was condemned to live my life out with blue collar beliefs, even though I had the ability to make the transition when Stanley did not.

          Stanley had a better relationship with Donald, but even this was hardly warm. As warehouse manager with a growing staff, Stanley needed to know more than the rest of us, so Donald had to let him into the inner sanctum to convey information Stanley needed to keep the place going.

          But even early on, Donald had clearly made up his mind to keep his employees at a distance. He might need us, but he didn’t have to like us, or become our friend.

          Some like Carmella did not completely understand this, assuming that the more Donald needed someone, the closer of a relationship that person would have with him.

          Years later, I cam to think Donald really did like us, but feared to show it, fearing justifiably as it turned out with me that we would betray him.

I didn’t have a car of my own yet – not until a year later – so I took the bus up Bloomfield Avenue every day – the 116 when I could get it which dropped me off in front of the industrial complex, the 29 when I could not, and had to walk all the way down the hill from Caldwell.

Donald started letting me drive the van home as long as I paid for the extra gas.

          His remoteness made me hate Donald for a time, and later led me to pity him as I saw him as someone who struggled to get truly close to anyone – although in looking at photographs with him and his family many years later, Donald showed a tenderness I never saw in him as a boss. All I saw for the most part was his intense ambition and his need to find a prominent place in society.

          Yet, even with him, I had a few special moments, such as that time when he invited me to his North Caldwell home to celebrate a Jewish ritual with him and his family, and I remember wondering what I was doing there in his kitchen with him and his wife.

          For the most part, working at the Bloomfield Avenue warehouse was a life of hopeful expectations. We all believe we would move into Donald’s dream together and we worked the way our parents and grandparents had worked, more communal than capitalistic.

          Stanley seemed strangely contented, reading into all of is some measure of progress I did not see. I didn’t need to. All this was just a job to me, even though as time when on Donald and Stanley carved out a niche in their dream I was supposed to fill.
          Donald envisioned a time in the future when he could leave the day to day routines to Stanley, who in turn would step up and take over ordering and a number of the other larger aspects of the business, leaving Donald to oversee the network of businesses and steer us all towards some more corporate vision he had developed when still working out of his father’s garage.

          Thus I was expected to step into Stanley’s shoes and run the warehouse.

          I really didn’t know what all this meant at the time. I don’t think Stanley fully comprehended it either, and lived simply with the expectation that he was somehow putting distance between himself and the grueling labor of the sheet metal factory he saw as the earthy equivalent to hell.

          Despite Donald’s ambition, D&B Wholesale Cosmetics and Cosmetics Plus were still too small to resemble anything corporate. Even with Donald isolated in his wood-paneled office, and seated behind his large oak deck, we all were little more than laborers struggling to do whatever needed to be done next.

          We came in more or less together each day, looked over orders that needed to be picked and packed, looked to see what pickups needed to get made and if I had pickups, I made them, and if we had orders, we shipped them. We took breaks, had coffee, went out to get lunch – either from the diner at the end of the industrial complex or from the numerous fast food establishments that had spouted up along Bloomfield Avenue like spores.


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