Panic Grips Capital!

It's like one of those old horror movies where the atom bomb blast rouses the dinosaurs from the ice they've slumbered in all these eons . . . maybe down in a meat locker at the Metropolitan Club . . . and all of a sudden you can hear the cry going up in liberal strongholds from Montessori schools to French bakeries to the Institute for Policy Studies: The Reagan People are coming!

It could be serious . . . the Beltway jammed to gridlock with Volvos bearing enlightened folk planning to tough it out on nothing but white wine and Brie . . . followed closely by psychiatrists whose departure creates an ecomomic wasteland out of Connecticut Avenue just above Calvert Street (the area known as Shrink Alley) . . . leaving no one to brake for small animals or save the whales; no more of the savage culinary competition known as Duelling Cuisinarts; no one left to warm their hands in front of woodstoves, while worrying that a redwood tree might get chopped down. . .

The Reagan people are coming.

Not just Republicans, Reagan People. Liberals have proved they can survive plain old Republicans. During the Nixon and Ford years they had the memory of Kennedy style to sustain them. But The Reagan People are different, harking as they do back to the Eisenhower era, back to the terrible nothingness we remember as Washington Before Camelot, a memory that resembles nothing so much as a television screen in a motel room in Pierre, S.D., after the last station signs off with Sermonette and you're staring at an electronic snow-storm.

Panic. Imagine it: Washington returning to those chilling days of yesteryear: life without fern bars, art galleries, French food, gay lib, $250,000 townhouses, pasta machines, Iranian demonstrators or Bloomindale's which is to say civilization as Washington trend-setters have come to know it since 1960.

But it is realy so frightening? Look back at the Eisenhower void that terrifies them so much, and after a while things start taking shape: a tailfin here, a kidney-shaped swimming pool there, drinks with cherries in them, angora sweaters, virginity, family-saga movies with Burl Ives playing Big Daddy, panties on lambchops and girdles on all females over 11, bongo boards, men proud to announce they're corporate vice presidents, and no more foreign movies, cars, food, tourists, interventions, accents or attitudes.

If worst fears come true, the future is then.

The '50s.

We should have seen them coming. We started the '70s with the campuses in flames and the women up in arms. We ended them with frat parties and the Dallas cowboy cheerleaders. For the last year the trendies have been dropping out of jogging and into Nautilus-machine musclebuilding, all the better to provide that 1950s beefcake look. James Garner is even going to star in a resuscitation of "Maverick." The fashion industry, which always sees these things coming, has already reintroduced the preppie look, narrow neckties and the concept of women having waists.

There are changes on the way, big ones. They won't come all at once, but we should be ready. Sex

After all these years of telling ourselves what good clean fun sex is, it will be fashionable to think of it as dirty again. It will even be linked after a year-long study by the National Institutes of Health, in cooperation with the Readers Digest, to the production of children. It will happen in the dark. In '50s style, the most popular sexual dysfunction, as measured by column inches in Redbook magazine, will be frigidity, not impotence. Gays will either shut up or we'll stop listening. Sex will occur in the back seats of cars, which will be big enough. Cars

Ah, cars. We'll have to learn to worry about class, not gas. Cars will be bigger than ever, chrome monsters built to look like they were sculpted out of Cool Whip, with seats like giant Mafia-baroque velour sofas, with maybe even miniature chandeliers, like in Las Vegas bathrooms. Forget Mercedes, Dashers, Audis or any other cars designed to look purely utilitarian, even at $24,000 apiece. Or which feature a windshield wiper on the back window. Instead, they'll feature little yatching flags spelling out owners' initials on the doors. There will be woman-driver jokes and tailgate picnics. Wonderful as all this may sound, do not go so far as to expect Reagan to make good on his rumored campaign promise to bring back wing windows and the Buick Roadmaster. Food

We're going back to basics. Consider merely the paraphernalia. No more pasta machines, Cuisinarts, woks, copper crepe pans (you never used them anyway) and juicerators (they were hell to clean, admit it). These will be replaced by giant freezers and microwave ovens. That's right: No more whisking, folding, braising and blanching, because all we'll have to do is buy the stuff. Thaw' n' chaw! And no more foreign food! Which is not to say we're sacrificing variety: We'll be eating everything from raisin bread to surf 'n' turf. We'll enjoy a big comeback of '50s staples such as Franco-American canned spaghetti, Sau-Sea shrimp cocktail (use the jars afterwards for orange juice glasses), and Chun King anything.

The gastro-political spectrum will return to chicken tetrazzini on the left and steamship round of beef on the right. Steak-Umms and Tater Tots may provide a solid middle ground, especially if preceded by hor d'oeuvres such as deviled eggs or Ruffles with California dip, and followed by a dessert of cake by Sara Lee, which, as you recall, has a motto that begins with a phrase that might well have served as the Republican rallying cry: "Everybody doesn't like something. . . " Wine

Forget wine. The old meat-fish-and-poultry conundrum will be solved by serving milk with all of them. After dinner, it's highballs. Manners

When Republicans moan, salp their bellies and tell you how "full" they are after a meal, take it as a compliment. They aren't called fat cats for nothing. Don't be surprised to see them make a gravy lake in their mashed potatoes so gravy lava can flow down thesides of Mt. Potato. Some Republicans from Western states will plow rows in mashed potatoes with their forks, plant them with peas, and then irrigate them with the gravy to create Potato Acres, or Rancho Potato.

In general, if you're worried about how to behave, look to role models such as Wink Martindale, Mr. Whipple, Donny and Marie, the Lennon Sisters or Frank Perdue. The basic format for home entertaining will be the Tupperware party, with color guard and invocation for special occasions. Music will be provided by musicians wearng funny hats. After 10 years of clapping your hands to the off-beat, you'll be hitting the on-beat, you'll be hitting the on-beat, which makes evendisco sound like "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Crooning will be back -- male singers with neckties pulled down, hats on the backs of their heads, and cigarettes. Children will study the accordion, and will be asked to perform "Peg o' My Heart" at parents' parties. Saying Hello

There will be no more elaborate greetings involving gimme-five hand slapping, encounter hugs or cheek kisses. Early scouting shows that Reagan People prefer a return to a simple '50s-style handshake, with only one word spoken: "Congratulations." Pets

Even pet manners will change. Dogs will once more fetch slippers, and they'll be cocker spaniels, collies and Scotties. None of these massive hippie Dane/Bernard half-breeds, no airhead Afghans. Hair

Men's hair will be cut in the "white-walls" or "high and tight" style, which makes the hair look as if it were transplanted intact from a much smaller boy.

Women are already going for shorter hair, with a renaissance of the "poodle" or "pixie" cuts due any day now. Need we add that visible body hair on women will once more be found offensive? Clothing

Excepting a craze for endangered-species fur coats, the big clothing changes will be hidden. The push-'em-up, push-'em-out bra will return on full-figure gals. (all women will be full-figure gals.) Girdles are a cinch, and women will once more claim they only wear them to hold up their stockings, which will be seamed. Bikini underpants will be out for both sexes. Body shapes will change radically when we stop jogging and get into golf. Women will have more time for shopping when, after a year or two, they no longer feel that they're in danger of being stoned to death if they don't spend all their spare time in law school. Furniture

Lest this all be considered revisionist backsliding, consider that in the last decade or so, we spent all that time trying to evoke the pioneer past with our whole-grain cereals, our brass-rimmed eyeglasses, and out barnboard walls. The Reagan era brings us out o f the 19th century and up to the '50s, which was the great age of Modern: modern jazz, modern architecture, and especially modern furniture (usually known as Danish modern, for reasons which are now obscure.

How better to signal your eagerness to greet a Republican tomorrow than by redecorating with kidney-shaped coffee tables, pole lamps, pole bookcases, those wall clocks that looked like diagrams of atoms, butterfly chairs, Barca-loungers, which will be designated as "Daddy's chair," couches covered in either plaid wool or alumicron, and protected from unsightly dirt by vinyl furniture covers embedded with little gold spangles? In colors, we'll obliterate our beige-and-white interiors with pastels that look like the bottoms of swimming pools. There may be a run on the gift shop at the Diplomat Motel, which as recently as August still carried a line of "Mood Moderne" candleholders. Also expected back: camel saddles and black ceramic cats.

See, there are simple anwsers.

Is all of this so hard? Is it that frightening?

Things could be worse -- you could be a redwood tree. Enjoy yourselves. It's earlier than you think.