A few days ago, I was passing Trump Tower, and I got curious enough to walk in and snoop around. The last time I was in that place was in late’80s, when everything on Fifth Avenue was booming. The Rizzoli bookshop was still there, and the place was a sort of enclave of privilege and wealth. This was during a brief period of my life when I switched from the life of a scholar to that of a businessman — a lifestyle in which I travelled to countries like Japan and the U.S. I remember that I was staying in the Peninsula Hotel, where I first watched CNN — at the time unknown in Europe. Cable TV was a sign that the world was changing. Fast.
So it was not unusual that one of the partners of the company I was working for organized a work lunch in Trump Tower, which had an excellent Italian restaurant in the basement. I forgot its name, but the restaurant moved out of the tower 15 years ago, I was told.
Today, the tower’s golden lobby looks like an abandoned place. Aside from the Trump bar squeezed in the corner of the basement, my Italian restaurant has been replaced by a self-service tavola calda, or snack bar. The elevators in the lobby never opened or closed. I walked around, and aside from the Trump family shrines — with Trump souvenirs for babies and “Make America Great Again” paraphernalia — the landlord’s ties, books and shirts are also for sale. In short, there is a small Trump shop that looks like a souvenir bazaar that you might find anywhere else in New York. Actually, the only people I saw coming in were young kids — mostly Chinese — who walked in to take a selfie. Probably the most elegant display in the lobby was a shop that sells Ivanka Trump’s jewelry. Somehow, there were traces of all the members of the Trump clan in the lobby. All but one — Melania Knauss, Donald Trump’s current wife.
My visit to Trump Tower was totally uneventful. I noticed that a bit of old glamour is kept in the garden behind the tower — an oasis surviving from the late ’80s, perhaps?
I walked down Fifth Avenue and stepped into the Uniqlo flagship store on 53rd Street. The place is a cheap, casual Japanese store that has almost completely replaced the dominion of the Gap stores in New York. Uniqlo shop is full of dazzling colors, and sells practical, attractively designed and — due to the low prices — almost disposable garments. The brand’s products are globally made and mass produced, but with better quality control than the Gap. In Gap stores, you can find the same type of garment manufactured in different countries using different quality of fabrics. So picking a quality piece of clothing in Gap stores has become pure luck.
However, observing the crowded world of Uniqlo, where even Italians became regular shoppers, and where customers are now called “guests”, I bumped into a couple of young sellers discussing the Pokemon Go mania that exploded in America a week ago.
For people who do not know, Pokemon Go is an app that has become a worldwide phenomenon, taking gamers out of their living rooms and onto the streets as they compete to capture, train and battle Pokémon characters using their mobile phones.
In just seven days since the game was released in the US, Australia and New Zealand, Pokémon Go has now almost certainly exceeded Twitter’s 65 million American users, and the game’s servers have repeatedly crashed under the strain of its popularity.
The share price of Nintendo, which owns a third of the Pokémon Company and an undisclosed stake in the game’s developers Niantic, has rocketed by 50%, and the release of the game in other countries – including the UK – has been put on hold while the developers struggle to cope with demand.
The two sellers, who looked like they were barely out of their teens, talked about Pokemon Go with passion and amusement. Soon, one of the teenage guests joined the conversation, telling us all the details of how a girl using the app bumped into a real corpse while searching for little monsters, and how some of the app users got injured because they had not been paying enough attention to reality while on their virtual hunt. But the teen described the whole thing with a nerdy affection, as someone who knew how to avoid trouble when mixing the virtual world and the real one. If it were not for the fact that he did not recognize our age difference I would believe him. But lucky for me, his attitude actually allowed me to participate with enthusiasm in this new stage of humanity, in which people are desperately trying to escape from the real world.
I got curious enough to try this new treasure hunt, which I had known nothing about only a few days before. I ignored the fact that my stepdaughter and stepson grew up collecting Pokemon figurines and playing the games.
So while a big part of the world has gotten hooked on the Pokemon Go app, and a much smaller part of population is trying to understand this new phenomenon, I snuck away from the boys, paid my dues to Uniqlo, and then I, too, downloaded the app.
Thus armed, I walked back to Trump Tower. That said, I could not become a Pokemon Go expert in a second. I can now tell you that the Pokemon world is not that simple. It is very structured, and anybody who tells you that this is just a temporary fad is wrong. When I, for example, I spotted my first few Pokemon in Trump Tower — and boy, that place swirled with the little monsters — I did not manage to catch or kill a single one of them. I did manage to take a photo of one of them, and when I got home, I was told that was one of the most famous Pokemon. Sure enough, we took out our maps, and there were some Pokemon around the house. But in order to know the name of that little yellow creature, I had to send a photo to my stepson, who was climbing Mount Fuji in Japan. “It’s Pikachu, the original Pokemon,” was the quick answer from one of the few countries where Pokemon Go is not yet available.
Will I continue to go to Trump Tower, trying to catch all of Trump’s Pokemon guards? I have no idea, but my impression is that Pokemon is here to stay. Even the two contenders for the White House have jumped on the bandwagon, using Pokemon to promote their campaigns. So we might as well just get used to it.
Also published on Medium.