Okay. This is a wardrobe nightmare. What do you wear to Elton John’s home in Los Angeles when the invite says “casual”? Look, I realize in this world of plague and disaster that is a pretty irrelevant question, but it was one facing me on Oct. 24, and if it comes right down to it, who has done more to end plague than Elton John, working himself to an early demise giving 30 charity performances in the past year alone amid an insane working schedule and raising money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation ($435 million to date, so not insignificant).
Elton John threw a 50th-birthday party for his husband, David Furnish, and the invite weighed half a kilogram and was on such stiff cardboard I’ve recycled it as a paperweight. I agonized about accepting. Elton was generously picking up the hotel costs but there would be the airfare, the live-in dog-sitter and the awful question of what to wear at four parties graded variously as casual, evening gowns, boys’ club night and Elton’s Million Dollar Piano show in Las Vegas. Aeroplan wanted 160,000 points for a one-way Air Canada business-class ticket to L.A., which was the only way I’d get to carry a gown on board, so I took economy and upgraded cheaply the night before. Not that I’m poor but I’m not super-rich either. I dodged the birthday present question by making a donation to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
You can bitch all you want about gay marriages but Mr. & Mr. Furnish-John do the work of saints. My Washington friend, TV commentator Laura Ingraham, would probably not have a single thing in common with the Johns except all are parents and haven’t got quite the comme il faut family structure. Elton and David have a son, Zachary, via a surrogate. Ms. Ingraham adopted Russian orphans Dmitri and Nikolai, plus Maria from Guatemala. Piquant really. Neither of them remotely resembles the “nuclear” family and both are working their behinds off to keep theirs and other people’s children happy and healthy. Laura’s a single mum and the Johns are what they are and what they are has, through their charities, helped thousands of young people with HIV/AIDS beat that wretched disease, which didn’t disappear with the 20th century so we could all move on to the next set of ribbons and initials.
After I looked at Zach’s room in the Johns’ new Los Angeles home with its owl and pussycat mirrors (he’s nearly 2 now), I got that sick feeling contemplating the choices I made in life. Not being able to conceive is no barrier to adoption unless you are fixated on your own progeny. I was also somewhat hung up on pushing my career forward and where exactly does that get a scribbler unless you skip the parties and are as talented as Margaret Atwood or as determined as J.K. Rowling? Big mistake and so now I’m the potty dog-lady.
“Casual?” emailed a London friend when I asked her what she was packing. “Is there such a thing in L.A. with David and Elton?” The evening gown was solved by a trip to the Room at the Bay. The Giambattista Valli dress was a leopard number with feathers, brown and white spotted ones, and I felt like Dame Edna but Joan Rivers told me I was the most elegant woman at the party, though I think she said that to all the girls. I forgot to tell her I was wearing her Shopping Channel Right to Bare Legs makeup which, in case you are my age and wondering what to do about that mottled leg effect you sneered at when you were young, is a godsend. Total cover-up and it doesn’t come off on skirts.
Hair and makeup were done in my hotel room and unfortunately didn’t work out too well. I chucked the hideous little hair extension I had brought to pin over my thinning spots into the waste-paper basket never to be seen again. But as I had tipped housekeeping it reappeared, thoughtfully wrapped in tissue paper on my bed, when I came home that night. Gave me the willies—like finding the horse’s head from The Godfather on your pillow.
I asked about little Lev, the HIV-positive infant the Johns had planned to adopt till the veto of the Ukrainian government. “Elton’s supporting him through his grandmother,” said David. This couple doesn’t move on and forget—like the “pundits” who took swipes at Elton for wanting to adopt in the first place. David looked utterly Tom Ford in his Tom Ford black dinner jacket while later chatting face to face with Tom Ford, sadly not in front of mirrors or we could have had an infinite number of Fords. David’s parents were there, centre table, watching their son in the playground of the famous. It cannot be true they are sweet Gladys and Jack from Scarborough but so it is and a TV series could be played around them adrift in a sea of accomplished flamboyant gays.
My chance to hit the ultra-hip Greystone Manor club went missing when I checked out of the third day of partying, skedded to begin at 10 p.m., dress code “wear your shortest and sparkle.” The prospect of trying to keep up with 700 of the coolest gays in the world was slightly out of reach. The hit Disco Inferno—“burn baby burn”—had sent my hips twitching the night before at Elton’s after-dinner recreation of Studio 54 complete with semi-clothed dancers in cages. Much more and I would have been grounded for life’s remainder. I came back to Toronto instead to joyous jumps from the dogs. Arpad did his four-legged backwards hop and twist thing. Home and it’s Don Mills and that’s okay. Nice to be away but my canines needed me. “Burn babies burn,” I said to them and they wiggled.