True Airhead Moment, circa 1978 --

The Schlock Of Recognition .

She was blond, but not as blond as he was. His diamond earring was reflected in her tinted glasses. They wore the same brand of designer jeans. Together they sat under the macrame sculpture hanging from the ceiling and nibbled the dried mushrooms.

"What do you think?" he said.

"I don't," she said, and even he had to look. "Not in the afternoon," she said. "It's really bad for my bio-rhythms."

The world had divided into yet another dichotomy -- real people and the airheads.

Airheads are the inevitable issue of the marriage of the Me Decade and the Counterculture, combining all the worst elements of the laid-back, ambition-is-politically-incorrect '60s and the I-am-therefore-I-think-I'm-terrific '70s.

Somewhere between Haight-Ashbury and est, an entire subset of people has managed to swallow the notion that they are intrinsically interesting and don't have to make the slightest effort to fascinate the compay they keep. Self-worth is equated with the intake of oxygen at regular intervals.

"You want to know what they're like?" asks a man who found himself married to an airhead. "They're like the stuff they play on elevators and hold buttons.Airheads are human Muzak."

Airheads are everywhere these days, unchecked by age or occupation. Like kudzu and killer bees, they are steadily encroaching, smiling their vacant smiles in bars and bookstores and congressional offices, insinuating themselves into the gossip of one's best friends, smothering conversation in the best restaurants.

Luckily, it is a relatively simple process to recognize airheads before it's too late. They are tanner and have longer nails.

As a matter of course, they do what others spend a lot of money -- and time changing planes in Miami -- to do for two weeks. Their principal activities are running small dress shops, inherting wealth, and getting it together. Their vocabulary consists of rearranging the words "mellow," "totally" and "into" in different sequences.

You know you've been surrounded by airheads if:

You find yourself in Aspen, Tramps, or a hot tub.

The gleam in your companion's eye is obscured by the glitter of his gold chains.

You've been at a party for 20 minutes and there have been no introductions.

You notice The Smile -- the one they always have. The kind that has no wryness in it. It is smiled in the present tense and the bittersweet lessons of the past donht pull at it.

You are in Los Angeles and someone says, "I'm really into Valium; it helps you forget. I forgot a whole year on Valium once."

You are at a Washington dinner party discussing politics and someone says, "Oh, don't talk about anything serious. We're here to have fun."

The concept of fun, of course, is necessarily defined somewhat differently once the idea that life has a beginning, a middle and all the rest has been ditched in favor of living it as one long caesura.

A typical Airhead Evening: The hostess rushes into the lobby of that seedily-chic hotel in Aspen on the effervescence of a giggle, in possession of the usual inventory -- a can of Coors, taut thighs in tight jeans, furry boots, down vest, bright eyes. She has come to take the observers to the mountaintop, to a dineer being given at the retreat of a Hollywood film producer.

It is the kind of house that is big on furry sofas and short on reading lamps. A famous television comedian is in the living room. A famous writer is in the tub. The Hollywood film producer is in Hollywood.

No one is quite wure what is happening and no one cares. The women are in the vast kitchen, surrounded by copper everything, making tacos. The men are in the vast living room smoking joints. The only entity willing to make direct eye contact with anybody is the television set.

There is no conversation. Ideas are discreetly dismissed, as if they were innocent social blunders.

One of the men carries on a soliloquy about hot peppers. About how hot they are. One of the women talks about the wife of a famous rock star. About how close they are. Music is listened to, consumables are consumed, and the evening ends itself without anything of note happening. It is considered successful.

Airheads, however, are not to be confused with the merely vapid or the unwittingly dull. There are, in fact, a number of distinctions between airheads and the unutterably boring:

Airheads are decadent. Not by design, but by default, the innocent end product of too many years of perceiving reality as something that can be changed with the channel. At what passes for maturity, most airheads exchange television for sex and drugs, which is what they od and what they talk about when they are not talking about each other.

In fact, the drug culture may be said to have been integral to the establishment of airhead colonies, since drugs are believed by their airhead users to bathe them in a lambent outlaw glamor, while at the same time obviating the need for intelligent conversation.

At one end of the psychoactive spectrum, there are quaaludes, which reduce the mind to the consistency of goosedown.

At the other end, there is cocaine, which invests even the most inane comment with the eloquence of Voltaire.

Airheads do not live in Scranton. Instead, airheads tend to live in definably-chic places -- Martinique, Beverly Hills, the Upper East Side. Or, if they must live in Washington, they know genuinely interesting people who, for unaccountable, illegal or generally selfish reasons, want them around.

East Coast airheads tend to be thinner, wear less turquoise, eat less bean sprouts, reas more newpapers and have more jobs than West Coast airheads. But all of them, like dead moons in endless orbit, glow with the unmerited light of the people they surround or the places they inhabit.

Airheads don't want anything. Oh, it's not that they don't like anything, they like fresh powder (Aspen) and nice clothes (New York) and airline tickets, but no demon desire barks in an airhead's heart; no quest, no matter how quixotic, invests their character with poetry or passion. There are no eccentric encounters with the self.

About time and its too-quick tread, they have the curiosity of clocks.

Airheads have not angst. It would be one thing if airheads had fled to vacant places to escape a secret sorrow, had run from dashed hopes, marred visions or scarred ideals. Instead, they seem to leap from adolescence to airheadism with the grace of gazelles.

Alarmed friends and relatives ask, "Is there no way out? What are the cures? Where are the dedicated researchers working late into dark nights searching for the solution to their problem?" The answers, in order, are: no, none, and out learning how to do the Freak.

Those concerned, however, should take comfort from the fact that if airheads were not sitting around treating conversations like soap bubbles, they would probably be devoted to obscure causes, wear robes of unbecoming colors and harass people in airports.

Perhaps what it really comes down to is the airheads' rather understandable cowardice in the face of the complicated process of getting on with life. It's tricky business, this creation and preservation of the tenous strands that connect people with one another, and the airhead solution obviates all that by reducing social commerce to the level of the supermarket or the fast-food restaurant.

In the end, however, airheads do perform serices of some value. They provide advocates to the cause of disco roller skating and the best possible argument to William Butler Yeats. It is not always the best who lack all conviction.