ATLANTIC CITY, APRIL 6 -- The best part wasn't the 5 1/2-minute fireworks show that you could only see the top half of, over the roof of the Trump Taj Mahal on its grand opening night. It wasn't even a parade of stars led by Michael Spinks, who lost a fight once to Mike Tyson, and swimsuit model Elle McPherson, who got a big greeting at the reception desk from Trump.

"You know who this is?" he asked the crowd in the lobby.

"Nooooo," they chanted.

It wasn't even the spotlight chase on the side of the building, a display worthy of the golden age of drive-in movies. Or the weird green bushes or maybe sea sponges that kept appearing on the corner of the big video screen mounted in the courtyard. Or Merv Griffin losing his notes for introducing Trump, and not being able to think of anything to say.

It wasn't even the strange and wonderful portents that suggested you can't open the world's biggest casino ($14 million worth of chandeliers) without a little help from the Big Guy, even in New Jersey.

Especially in New Jersey.

"I asked Donald Trump to meet with a disabled young man, and he said to that young man, 'When the Taj opens, you'll be there and you're not going to be on crutches,' " said New Jersey state Sen. Bill Gorman. "He's here tonight -- and he's not on crutches!"

Trump himself noted that it had been "raining for seven days but this morning I woke up and it was flawless."

It wasn't even indicted Atlantic City Mayor James L. Usry, who hushed a booing crowd with cryptic wisdom. "We will walk together with the Taj and with the billboards coming in," he said.

No, the best part was when Trump got lost in his own casino.

He had decided to take Jim Florio, the governor of New Jersey, on a tour of the Taj, right into the casino with the state troopers shouting "Get back!" at the old women in sweaters who shouted "Donald! Donald! Good luck!" while the television photographers battered people with their cameras in the middle of acres and acres of slot machines roaring and ringing away like an endless, sunless assembly line illuminated by the chandeliers, flashing signs and the sort of light you get when you decorate a room in crimson, violet, purple, orchid, fuchsia, salmon, cadmium red and scarlet, accented by the biggest-chested cocktail waitresses in history, the sort of light that makes everybody look as though their hair is dyed, the sort of light you could imagine in Imelda Marcos's shoe closet, or maybe the sort of eerie carnal light that makes you feel as though you're in one of those movies where the guy shrinks and travels through the human body; a confusing, discombobulating light, in other words.

"Donald! Donald!" the sweater ladies yelled.

And then one complaining: "I've waited three hours to get my money and ..."

"You take care of yourself," Trump said, with that mystical tone that hovered over everything at the opening.

He looked around at the crowd closing in.

"How do you get out of here?" he said. "Where's the elevator?"

The troopers didn't know, either. One of Trump's people figured it out.

Minutes later, he was breezing out to his limousine. He started to open the door of a brown Cadillac, but it turned out it was the dark gray Lincoln that was his, and off he went.

"There goes a good man," said Melvin Woolfolk, a retired Coast Guardsman. "I love him. He spends money. Most billionaires won't spend a nickel, but he spends money. He's gambling on this! He could lose! And I'm going to help him win!"

He flourished a stack of credit cards. "I got my Visa, I got my Discovery, I'm gonna go in here and use 'em! I always lose. I'm 80 years old, why should I worry about my money? I don't mind him taking it. There goes a beautiful man."

In the land of the disappointed dreamer, Donald Trump is king, and Atlantic City is the eternal city, the only city that seems to have always been here, waiting for us on the gray beach like an Indian curse, the fate of the huddled masses who had no idea that they would end up massed and huddled in Donald Trump's casino -- but nevertheless are glad to be here.

"He's number one, he's a genius," says Kathy Arena of Ramsey, N.J., who is crouching with her Yashica while Trump mingles with the throng. "My husband, Tony, is pretty smart too, but not that smart. Donald! Donald! I got to tell him, Tony! Donald, you're more popular than the president!"

Then it was time for the official ceremonies. Or that's what the crowd thought, standing out in the cold while technicians worked for half an hour on something on the stage in the hotel courtyard. A tape played generic heroism music, sort of a combination of the themes from "Rocky" and "Chariots of Fire." When the tape stopped, the audience started to clap, so it got put it on again. Then a variety of boos for local politicians, and then Trump himself. He said that "in a couple of weeks" there'd be great entertainment, but all he could think of was Elton John, although Michael Jackson will be coming as a guest.

Then the big moment. Trump, wearing a black overcoat, climbed some steps to a genie's lamp to touch off what had been billed as a laser that would cut a ribbon. What it was was some sagging fiber-optic wire that lit up, unfortunately a few seconds before Trump rubbed the lamp. The fireworks fired. Lasers lashed around. The podium had steam coming out of it. Trump stood there all by himself and watched it, looking oddly like a man standing next to a car whose radiator just blew up on an interstate, but somehow happy about it.

"Come back everybody," he said. "Have a nice life."