BY TIM GAY | Now it can be told. It began on a hot summer night in Cherry Grove, when two strangers – a hairdresser and a make-up artist – came to my rooms at the Belvedere with a Galliano summer dress and a pair of red high heel sling back opened toe sandals. They plied me with martinis and fussed about with wigs and make-up and Sarah Coventry jewelry.
When they were done, they excitedly gazed upon their creation. They had a video camera, and began taping me. By the look in their eyes I thought I was Elsa Lancaster.
“The pointed elbows! The protruding collar bones! The knobby knees! And those sunken sallow cheeks!” one of the men exclaimed.
The other man gleefully chortled, “God, yes, he's the perfect image of Pat Buckley!”
I looked into the mirror, and horror of horrors, Mrs. William F. Buckley Jr. herself stared back at me. I was aghast! I ran screaming out the door toward the Meat Rack to hide in shame. All I remember is my sling back sandal getting caught. I fell down, leaving blood and mascara all over the boardwalk.
The next morning, the same men were at my door. “Mrs. Buckley would like to know if you would be available to come into the city tomorrow.” My mind raced. Had she seen the video? Would I be arrested for impersonating a socialite?
“She would like you to attend a charity ball. And, she would like you to go AS HER.”
I was flattered, but apprehensive. My first question was “What will I wear?”
I needn't worry, they assured me. Pat had a whole apartment filled with dresses and shoes and evening bags and jewelry. A staff would dress me and send me out for the night. All I had to do was arrive in a black car, smile for the cameras, hold out my hand and air kiss, sneak a puff or two of a Merit cigarette from Jackie Onassis, and then quietly leave. And I would make enough money from a 15-minute pose-blow-and-go to pay a month's rent for my apartment above the Hell Fire Club.
I, a clothes check-boy at the Mineshaft, was suddenly a doyenne of society arriving at balls from the right side of the red velvet ropes, for all the paparazzi to click.
From then on, each month, I received my – I mean Mrs. Buckley's – social itinerary. Of course, I met all the other socialites, the grand dames and the matrons, the “trophy wives,” the young wannabees, and the type A ladies of the business world.
We table-hopped and pretended to talk. All the while, we were really posing for the camera, employing the conceit that we had been caught off-guard.
Of course, there were “the men” at these events, but they didn't matter. They were our accessories, our “purses.” The focus was on us, the Women, the beautiful creatures of the night.
I often had escorts, or went alone. But I knew there would come a time when I would meet HIM, William F. Buckley Jr. About that time, my “husband,” that asshole, decided to write a newspaper column asking that gay men have an A tattooed on their asses for “AIDS.”
I knew the politics were all wrong, but what could I do? Christian LaCroix and Christian Dior, Bill Blass, Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel – I was caught up and wrapped up in the whirl of design. I was an impersonator in an impersonal world.
At one event, an early one for AIDS, ACT UP threw eggs at me. And I really didn't mind. Little did Mr. Buckley know that he was writing checks to Pat, who was writing checks to me, and I was writing checks to the gay groups and AIDS organizations that he detested.
Then one night in the Ladies' room off the Plaza Hotel's ball room, I discovered I was not alone. I was powdering my nose, when all of a sudden Nan Kempner burst in, went directly to a stall, didn't even close the door, and hoisted up the toilet seat and her Carolyn Herrera gown. “God damn, I had to piss,” she exploded.
But no one else in the ladies room seemed perturbed. Brooke Astor wryly said, “Nan, if you didn't drink a six pack of beer before getting here, you could probably control that bladder.”
Estee Lauder chimed in. “Dear, remember that that dress belongs to the real Nan, not you.”
Brooke looked at me and said, “Surprised, are you? You aren't the only female impersonator around here.”
It turned out that Mrs. Astor was played by Quentin Crisp. Estee Lauder's stand-in was her son, Ron. Patty Hearst was often played by John Waters. Nan Kempner's stand-in was the bouncer at The Spike. And it went on and on.
And they all had me figured out.
“Honey, one look at your clinging dress, and we all knew that Pat Buckley never had a cock quite that big,” “Patty” noted
So where were the real socialites? “Estee” told me the real scoop. “They're at home lounging around in sweat pants, drinking Diet Coke, and watching 'Jeopardy.'”
Before long, “Nan,” “Brooke,” “Patty,” “Estee,” and I became the life of a different social scene. When the parties were over, we became the blue-haired belles of the East Village, at the front table at The Pyramid Club. Page Six had a field day and Women's Wear Daily was shocked.
One night, “Nan,” “Brooke,” “Estee,” “Patty,” and I were seen strolling through the Meat Packing District in Versace, Giorgio Armani, Givenchy, and Donna Karan. We were at home – trannies among trannies.
Eventually, Mrs. Buckley herself called me. “You must stop. My husband is getting suspicious.”
Perhaps that was what led up to that one horrible night. I was table-hopping at one more charity, primly smiling for the cameras, when I felt a clammy cold hand on my bony shoulder and another reaching up my little black Donna Karan dress. I turned around, and there he was – MY HUSBAND.
“Pat, my dahling,” he sniffled. “You look absolutely smashing.”
“Well, I feel smashing-like smashing you!” I said.
“You certainly are feisty tonight. I love it when you are feisty.”
Bill grabbed my buttocks. He reared back his head like an old work horse, and displayed his vast repulsive nostrils. Bill snorted, “Kiss me, my fool!” His head came toward me like some 1950s black and white movie space monster, nostrils wide open and his tongue sticking straight out of his mouth.
And I stomped his foot with one of his wife's red Ferragamo evening pumps.
Suddenly, I awoke in my rooms at the Belvedere. Was it all a nightmare? I saw the pair of red high heeled sling back open toed sandals on the floor. And then I saw the note on the night stand that read, “Pat, you never looked lovelier than you did last night. Love from your little snookums, Bill.”