Shop Talk by Donna Abernathy
Valium Approaching
December 1999

As you know, I am Donna Abernathy. When naming people to comment on the direction of gay leadership in America, my name is undoubtedly not on any short list. Clearly, the leaders of the next millennium are going to be the ones who survive Y2K - and survival requires careful planning. It just so happens that I am an expert when it comes to event preparations. But, in all honesty, I suspect I was asked to write this column more for who I was rather than who I am. Well-appointed, affluent, heterosexual wives of tax attorneys are not on the cutting edge of gay culture -- at least this one isn't. At times, I don't even speak your language. I have a gay nephew who, three weeks ago, was discussing his New Year's Eve plans with me. He said that at midnight he plans on being "on the edge of a Y2K-hole." To this day, I have no idea what this means, but knowing Nathan, I'll bet it is an anal-sex reference. If queens didn't design all my clothing I would be so much less accepting.

But, as I said, in all likelihood, I was asked to write this column because of who I was. I was married to a very prominent Washington DC political insider, who, much to my irritation, announced his homosexuality to me during the Reagan administration. I say "announced" but I only found this out after an employee at a bar called our home to say that he found my husband's wallet. I asked my husband, "Honey, what are the chances that you left your wallet in, oh...I don't know...let's say wedged behind a toilet in the bathroom of the DC Eagle?" It was at this point that he chose to take a stand for gay liberation. I did the honorable thing and didn't ask despite a burning desire to know how one manages to wedge a wallet, a Mark Cross wallet, behind a commode -- the mind positively reels. While it sounds decidedly unhygienic, the concept isn't without its charm.

I was irritated by my husband's revelation of homosexuality, but hardly devastated. In a sense, I got what I deserved -- I mean, you marry a man named Reynolds that looks like Tom Selleck and you take your chances. For the next two and a half years, our relationship flourished -- we had an agreement: I would remain his trophy wife and he would spend a lot of money on me. It wasn't as mercenary as it sounds -- we had some of our best times in the couture salon in Neiman Marcus. Okay, maybe it was as mercenary as it sounds. Looking back, I guess I always knew Reynolds was gay. How many heterosexual husbands suggest that their wives should wear feathers and sequins more often?

Reynolds would take me to important dinners and parties in Washington. I was quite attractive back then -- before the disappointing sag of the 40s kicked in. Not many people know that at my high-school in Pennsylvania, I won the Miss Pig Iron beauty pageant (I grew up in Allentown and believe me, it was meant to be an honor). Eventually I befriended quite a few of the DC society set. Just between you and me, you NEVER want to see Cokie Roberts without her make-up. When she gets sweaty, she looks just like Bryan Adams. Don't ask.

Anyhow, we became a couple in the surprisingly large group of low-profile power brokers, and lived in an impressive townhouse in Georgetown. I met just about every aspiring young lawyer in town. It was at that point that I stopped worrying about gay rights. I don't know what it is like in DC now, but back then I couldn't spit without hitting a gay lawyer. My only political advice to the gay community is this: "out" powerful homophobic gay people like there is no tomorrow. If nothing else, it short-circuits their credibility, and on a personal level, if I hadn't learned about Reynolds, I wouldn't own a single Dior ball-gown. Just be careful that you don't out someone who is dying to go through a "celebratory" phase. There were six painful months after Reynolds first came out of the closet. I have a photograph of him that I planned to use as blackmail if he ever tried to economize on my wardrobe allowance -- he is wearing a pink tank-top, blue satin hotpants masquerading as running shorts and lavender leg warmers. Picture Burt Reynolds at a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader tryout and you get the idea.

Much to Reynolds' dismay, I could never remember which public figures were and weren't gay. At one politician cocktail party, I mistook arch-conservative Senator Orin Hatch for Barney Frank -- not because they look alike, but because Reynolds told me that there was going to be a gay Congressman named Barney Frank at the event and Orin Hatch seemed the gayest. By the way, if you are interested, an easy way to make Orin Hatch look like he is about to have an aneurysm is to simply walk up to him and say, "You must be Barney Frank -- I am so pleased to meet you." At that point I decided that it was too much trouble to try and keep track of who was and who wasn't gay. So I adopted a policy that served me well during the rest of my tenure in DC: until I learned differently, I just assumed everyone was bisexual. As a rule, this policy upsets more men than women.

Have you noticed that a heterosexual woman can identify an attractive woman but a heterosexual man claims to not be able to tell if another man is good looking? I finally made my current and heterosexual husband admit that he would rather share a prison cell with Brad Pitt than Keith Richards. I suspect that he would even take Brad Pitt over Sally Struthers. Just imagine Sally looking cracked-out on death row -- no make-up or curling iron, although she seems like the type who could always get her hands on some clumpy contraband mascara. Besides, I suspect Brad Pitt wouldn't eat both of their meals. Dear god, what would I do if my choices were Sally Struthers or Cokie Roberts? I'd hang myself with my hose.

So, that is who I was. Today I spend my time lunching with a different set of society women. My priorities have changed as I have aged. Shopping no longer takes a second seat to my socializing. Let's face it, you are what you wear. It takes an unimaginable amount of effort and dedication to inconspicuously wear conspicuously expensive clothing. I'll be frank, I was fortunate in that my second husband also makes, well...plenty of money. Call me shallow, but that point was non-negotiable. Oh, I also have two pre-teen children whom I enjoy.

As an extension of my considerable shopping experience, I am an absolute expert in the area of planning. This is more than handy as the year 2000 approaches. I have recently become aware that this Y2K bug may adversely impact my life and I won't stand for it. I didn't pay any attention to the hysteria until a few weeks ago. Who bothers to get upset when the extent of the damage is that a few alarm clocks will need replacing in Sri Lanka or other less critical locales? (You will note that I didn't say "unimportant" although I was tempted.) But are you aware that our credit cards may not work? For days! I got to thinking, if our credit cards can be disabled, what is to keep essential industry from being shut down? Just imagine if the Prada ready-to-wear factories stop manufacturing. I can't live in a world like that.

Being a person who believes in self-determination, I made some purchases to prepare for any Y2K related problems, and although the list isn't comprehensive, it is a good starting point:

* 50 candles: in case the power goes out. 25 from Calvin Klein Home and 25 from Hermès.
* 15 tubs of Princess Marcella Borghese peel off mask: if municipal water is no longer running, this avenue to hygiene will be your best friend.
* 20 pairs Donna Karan hose: if her factories shut down, just imagine the lines to buy when they producing again. I realize that men are not quite as interested as I am in hose, but then again, I am guessing that about 20% of you are going to be in drag on New Year's Eve -- I am not judging, I just want you to look your best.
* 60 days worth of Valium: because you should always have a week's supply on hand.
* 30 bottles of Stoli: because I will need them, Y2K bug or not, and this is the one item I will not share, not even with my kids -- the occasional Valium tablet is good enough for them.
* 10 bottles of ibuprofen: because you have to wake up, even in the new millenium.
* Lots and lots of batteries: if the power is out for days and my husband isn't feeling amorous, I will cry if I don't have fresh batteries.
* 3 sets Ralph Lauren 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sateen sheets: because I saw them and I liked them.

As a general rule, if you like something, buy it. Especially if you have a sugar daddy. Just about any purchase can be justified on Y2K grounds, from Beluga caviar to Manolo Blahnik sling-back pumps. Buy a Fendi fur if you live in a region that drops below 70 degrees on occasion. If you are fortunate enough to have a sugar daddy who is like my husband, 1) he doesn't care what you spend, 2) he isn't bright enough to know what is and what isn't a legitimate Y2K purchase, and 3) he isn't interested. I used Y2K to justify redecorating my entire home. When my husband asked why I needed 120 yard of silk Chinese wallpaper and a new Ligne Roset couch, chairs and dining table, I told him that I was retro-fitting the house as a survival bunker. Clearly we must have a survival bunker and clearly it needs to be something in which we could entertain heads of state. Of course, the new interior is no more Y2K ready than my old décor, except that there are more clean lines than the messy Rococo that I got rid of.

Regardless of what the next millenium brings, one thing is for certain: remaining fashionably modern will be expensive. If nothing else, the year 2000 will give people a chance to start again, a chance to reinvent themselves (my stylist, Matrice, plans on changing my hair from light chestnut to shimmering auburn). Be true to yourself (with the obvious exception of hair color and cosmetic surgery): my first husband only found real happiness after he learned that freedom is worth the risk of rejection. I learned that if I were 20 years younger, I would be a fag hag. If you will excuse the Boy Scout reference, you also want to be prepared, not just for Y2K, but for life in general. Make plans.

Trust me, I'm Donna Abernatlhy.