WHATEVER happened to the Me Decade?
What happened to conspicuous consumption, to self-indulgence, to candy is dandy and naughty is nice? How did Jane Fonda replace Jean Harlow? And when did "bad" get to be a four-letter word?
There is nothing more tiresome than good intentions, except the ones that actually get exercised. There you are, rigid and resolute, turning your back on temptation every step of the day. Ambitious and nutritious. Working it out instead of living it up. All toned up and nowhere to flow.
Give it a rest! Scarcely 10 days to Fat Tuesday, and you're spending more time in your jogging shorts than in the Jacuzzi. Your psyche is shrieking for sensual gratification, and you're feeding it Caesar salad. Well, I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it.
This week, listen to that other inner voice -- the one that whispers of bittersweet chocolate mousse cake and charred prime porterhouse steaks with french fries and cheese-stuffed tortellini with cream sauce and absolutely Not Lite beer. Think about extravagances -- $250-an-ounce perfume and state-of-the-art stereo VCRs -- and slumming and airhead television and torrid paperback romances. Anything you've ever sworn off for good reason is up for grabs this week.
This is not a negative proposition. This is an affirmative vote for aesthetics over ascetics. Going Bad doesn't mean surrendering your principles. The occasional self-indulgence gives women a glow and men ideas. Look at Renoir's "The Boating Party": Everyone in that whole canvas has the swollen lips and dreamy eyes of fulfilled desire.
So give in to temptation, without reservation. Be yourself. Baby yourself. Go bad and go all the way. Remember, when we're good, we're very, very good -- but when we Bad, we better.
Going Bad offers a whole galaxy of possibilities. Things can be bad for the image, bad for the brain, bad for the budget and bad for the body. There's the barely bad, the boldly bad and the brazenly bad; there's going bad in public, bad in private and bad in partnership.
The only thing you can't be is carelessly or casually bad. That's conventional; we're talking consentual. Because Bad has to feel good, or there's no point to it at all.
NEVER DO TODAY . . .
January having been a month for resolve, justice demands you slough if off immediately. At least, put it off. Drag your feet. Let the ATM dispense while you unbalance. Dodge the dentist. Skirt the scales. Procrastination is the proposition.
Procrastination is not passive. It's a philosophy of priority, with appropriately Cavalier antecedents ("Gather ye rosebuds while ye may," etc.)
Les Waas, founder of the Philadelphia-based Procrastinator's Club of America, says club members view procrastination not only as a virtue, but as a necessity. Procrastinators have "more time to smell the roses and live a little better." Waas points out that it's often the hurry-up types who die young . . . and then find themselves referred to, in a fine irony, as "the late Mr. So-and-So." Why do you think they call them deadlines?
Things to remember about procrastination:
Long-term planning is recommended.
A horizontal position is essential.
Practice makes perfect.
Horizontal positioning is a required technique for those who wish to attempt either sloth for beginners, vulgarly known as the Couch Potato Concept, or advanced self-indulgence, trendily termed "Cocooning."
You can adopt the horizontal attitude on a chaise longue (the Vanity Fair approach), an overstuffed armchair (the Dewar's Profile style) or a futon, that La-Z-Boy of the '80s. You can dress up, drink up or dry up. What is definitive is the accoutrements. The TV remote control, Playboy, salsa and a six-pack are quintessential Couch Potato. Tom Wolfe, the CD remote and the wine cellar are Cocooning.
Couch Potatoes make their own atmosphere: It is, after all, primarily a matter of a low center of gravitas. Cocooners have to import their cachet. Myer-Emco's Robert Ellis says he designed one whole-house sensurround system, an integrated remote control audio-video network "with volume control in any given room, screens going in and out, even turning on the lights," for about $100,000.
For conspicuous consumption, check out The Wine Enthusiast catalogue ("Wine as a lifestyle"). It offers a combination 40-bottle temperature-controlled mini-cellar and entertainment center with room for stereo equipment and stemware. For about $775, not counting the hi-fi itself, you can keep Zevon and zinfandel at armchair's reach.
LET 'EM ORDER PIZZA
Practicing Cocooning may lead you to the Phone-Home Weekend, in which all your whims, edible and audible, are indulged with a minimum of exertion on your part.
First off, buy a cordless telephone. Even better, get a no-hands-on model like the Plantronics LiteSet (about $220). Once charged, the half-ounce headset just slips into your ear like an elongated hearing aid, and the dialer pops into your pocket. It even has automatic last-number redial in case the pizza Noid has the line tied up.
Next, consider your options. Food, sure -- not just pizza, but depending on your neighborhood, Indian and Chinese. Given a little notice and a $30 delivery charge, Ridgewell's will make house calls with everything from a bowl of chicken soup (sent last week to a sick boss) to a four-course dinner de deux.
Or just Dial-A-Meal, and keep on dialing. All sorts of diversions and excursions are available by phone. Seek divine intervention (Dial-A-Prayer, Dial-A-Devotion, Dial-A-Saint), the loyal opposition (Dial a Humanist, Dial an Atheist) or the starry supposition (Dial Jeanne Dixon). Really serious Cocooners can Dial-A-Mattress. Then Dial-a-Date. Maybe Dial-a-Limo (bring the date and your dinner to the door). Maybe Dial DOCTORS -- just in case.
Then let the funfest begin. With a phone for a wand, you can conjure magicians and mystery murderers, masseuses and manicurists, clowns and caricaturists. Contemplate an ecdysiast, a detective or a disc jockey (why don't we do it in the mode?). You might even call for a videotaping service, and make a permanent record of this languorous weekend.
Had enough? Then get call forwarding, and send your calls to a friend. Badder yet, plug into an answering service: Focus Inc. will give you a free week's worth of round-the-clock, pleasant-voiced pickup.
BRING ON THE LITE
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can find True Bad in virtually every medium. Movies, television, books, magazines -- there's beaucoups of boos. The only challenge is to find trash with panache.
In general, decadence is in, debauchery is out. Erotica is in, angst is out. This means that while watching the daytime soaps may be an acceptable risk, "thirtysomething" is probably out.
Mini-series are good bets. MTV is perfect. Trashsports are merely bad, but so high concept.
Cartoons are acceptable only in serious vintages: early (pointy-nosed) "Tom & Jerry" and Donald "Duck Tales" weekdays at 2:30 and 4:30 on Channel 5. Even "The Flintstones" (3:30) offer some double-edged nostalgia now that The Great One has been cancelled. But Saturday morning is pretty much a wasteland. Better you should head over to the Hirshhorn Museum for the children's animation series. March 12, for instance, is an "All-Star Classics" program of Donald, Mickey and Bugs.
Suitably Bad movies are plentiful. Among the current crop, how can you resist "Return of the Living Dead Part II" ("Just when you thought it was safe to be dead")? Or "Broadcast News," in which the blond bimbo is played by William Hurt? Or "Dirty Dancing," which is frankly airhead but body beautiful?
For the home video set, the selection is even wider. There's classic comix come to life ("Superman") and classy swashbucklers (Richard Lester's "The Three Musketeers," one of the finest silly films ever made). There's the samurai sci-fi of "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" ("It's 'Big Boo-tay'") and "Little Shop of Horrors," the gloss of old "Avengers" episodes -- the ones with Diana Rigg, of course -- and the loopy logic of "Help!"
And then there's "adult entertainment," an oxymoron if there ever was one. In this case, the badder the better, but let your self-consciousness be your guide.
Horoscopes are definitely Bad for the brain. The Rosemary Rogers school of heaving passions is perfect; serial spy novels can be Bad, too, if not too sincere. Also: "Vanna Speaks" (sic), Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" (boorish and bad) and "Rudy Maxa's Diary."
As to music, New Age is the airhead of the airwaves. This should give WBMW and WLTT an Edge among those who don't know who he is. "Bad" may just have enough brass to get Michael Jackson by -- in a squeaker.
GETTING BAD AND TAKING IT ON THE ROAD
Some of the things your father said were bad for you probably are. Men with five o'clock shadow. Drive-in movies. And roadside taverns.
Spend an evening in a really basic bar, dumping quarters simultaneously into the pool table and the jukebox. Playing shuffleboard bowling is really bad for you -- addictive and absolutely non-aerobic. You may have to head out toward the 'urbs to find a really soulful dive, but these bastions of man's baser instincts are in danger of disappearing, so get out there and patronize them while you can.
Drive-ins are dying out just when -- or perhaps because -- the new celibacy makes them safe. Get it while you can. The last area amphitheater is the Hillside out Marlboro Pike, and in an era of such intense auto awareness, this could be a great venue for one-yupmanship.
Bowling can be Bad, but only if you've never tried it before. A day in a video arcade, especially an old-fashioned one like the Electric Circus in Capital Heights, can leave you as blind, deaf and numb as the Pinball Wizard. Spend an afternoon at the race course picking up the tricks of the tracks. Or in an upcounty flea market, picking out the brics from the bracs.
It takes practice to go Bad in a museum, unless there's an exhibit of Impressionists that really stirs your senses. Visiting the gems at the Museum of Natural History can be Bad behavior if it inspires you to drop a bundle in the nearest jewelry store.
If it's been a long time since you've been naughty in nylons, maybe it's time to hit a singles bar. Dancing is especially Bad if you don't know your partner's name. If you're sufficiently lascivious, a raw bar can be good for the body and still pass for Bad. You are how you eat: At least I am.
Taking a suite in a luxury hotel for the weekend can be a twofer, bad for the budget and bad girl/bad boy Bad -- especially if you don't come out for two days. (Living on room service food is definitely Bad.)
Much badder, and blue-ribbon, is taking a day trip to Manhattan to spend the whole afternoon at the Russian Tea Room, eating blini with Beluga (currently $45.75 an ounce; the blini are a mere $6.75) and taste-testing the two dozen vodkas. Tip up a slinky Ballet Russe -- vodka, creme de cassis and a twist -- and jete' away.
BODY WORKS AND OTHER SENSATIONAL IDEAS
If you prefer to indulge yourself without abandoning your upwardly mobile principles, try a tanning salon. In moderation, of course; skin damage isn't Bad, it's just bad. Tanning may be relentlessly narcissistic, but it makes you look less pale, pained and strained -- and the hypnotic heat can be soothing to those Rehoboth habituates who are suffering withdrawal. Besides, more and more psychologists are convinced that lack of sunlight can lead to mid-winter depression, and who needs help? Most sun salons offer per-hour packages that are cheaper and quicker than a Caribbean getaway; most also offer a free first session.
Of course, it would be Badder to buy a body-length sunlamp. The B.N. Genius catalogue from the Sharper Image has the ProTan on mid-winter special, marked down from $750 to only $600. Rent it out to your Bad buddies, and get your investment back.
Isolation tanks are supposed to be relaxing to the max -- one hour of floating being "equivalent to six to eight hours of mental rest," according to the flyers from Great Escape in Baileys Crossroads. For $30 an hour, you can loll in skin- temperature saline, combining the energy expense of Couch Potatoing with the chichi of Cocooning.
Whirlpools and hot tubs don't even pretend to do anything for you, unless you believe in those partyline ads where men in gold chains and women in bikinis eye one another with intimate surmise across the bubbles. (Those ads alone may qualify hot tubs as bad.)
At Making Waves in College Park, an hour's slow simmer goes for $12 a person. Or you can call the Howard Johnson Plaza on Wisconsin Avenue and ask for the $119 double bubble special -- a room on the "Executive" floor with a built-in Jacuzzi and a complimentary bottle of champagne.
A good massage is thoroughly indulgent -- slick, sensual, high on tactile discovery and absolutely neutral on muscle tone. Expect to pay about $45 for an hour of indolence. If you get a registered nurse like Carol Berberich of Silver Spring, the session (and it is definitely therapeutic) may even be covered by insurance.
If you're willing to spend $200 and about five hours, consider the "Main Chance Day" package at Elizabeth Arden. It's head-to-toe hedonism: a sweatout at the steam cabinet, followed by a massage, facial, manicure, pedicure, hairstyle, makeup (and light lunch).
If you're more auto erotic, take the coupe for its own Miracle Morning, or, as they call it at the Auto Salon Ltd., a "New Reflections Detail" job. Bethesda manager Bill Salter says the makeover, which takes anywhere from three to six hours, includes such spit-and-polish work as dressing all the leather and vinyl, shampooing carpets and upholstery, using a Teflon-based paint sealant and cleaning AC vents and crannies "with toothbrushes and Q-Tips." This makeover runs around $150, depending on the model.
FREEBIES AND MOOD-SETTERS
Spend an hour at a fur salon, just browsing.
Stand outside Filomena's Restaurant in Georgetown and watch the women hang pasta like sirens combing their hair. I dare you.
Volunteer to be a shampoo subject at a beautician's college. There are few things more soothing than someone else's fingers on your scalp.
Test-drive a Testarossa. Larry Haney of American Service Center says the average Ferrari owner babies his $128,000 beauty, "taking it out for two or three hours on Sunday . . . when the sun shines," putting 15,000-20,000 miles on it over five years. That's about $500 worth of indulgence per hour. Now that's Badddd.
DETENTE AT THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE
Eating Bad is getting trickier all the time, what with nutritionists pulling a 180 every five years. I spent most of a lifetime defending my daily pasta intake as a birth defect (I was delivered shortly after a spaghetti dinner), only to find that pasta is back on the A list.
Similarly, the great American red-blooded steak, long considered the ultimate in bulk-up health foods, is now revealed to be artery-clogging, calorie-concentrated and, if really charbroiled, possibly carcinogenic. Even pizza gets the grudging nod. So what's a Badbody to do?
Follow your nose. If you've been eating only whole-wheat linguini with fresh tomatoes and basil, now's the time to have a two-inch sirloin or Godzilla's taco (El Palacio's "tostada grande," which looks something like the clam shell Aphrodite rode in on).
Understand, food does not have to be caloric to be Bad. Cost and context count, too. Cold steamed lobster can be very Bad eaten in bed. Pasta gets to be Bad again if eaten with the fingers. On the other hand, sushi, which is both low-calorie and acceptably eaten by hand, is almost never bad.
Foods to eat out: Fried onion rings with melted Kraft spread at The Post Pub on L Street NW. The Greatly Enlarged Welsh and Tennery sandwich at Roy's Place in Gaithersburg (lobster salad, thick bacon, tomatoes and sharp cheese on French bread). Stuffed French toast (with ham and cheese) at Today's in Rockville. All-you-can-eat deep dish pizza at Armand's (pedestrian, but effective). Spinach fettucini alfredo at Joe and Mo's. Mumm's Rene Lalou at Flutes (1979, $95).
Foods to take out: Potato knishes from Sutton Place Gourmet. Whopper-sized bagels with nova spread from Whatzabagel in Bethesda. Jeffrey's dark mocha ice cream. The two-fisted croissants at Prego. Pepperidge Farm cookies by the discount bag from the thrift shop in Glen Echo Shopping Center. The Heath bar-chocolate chip cookies at the Giant bakeries.
Foods to cook up: Be'arnaise sauce. Cornbread. Pot pies, which is to say almost anything with pastry or biscuit dough involved. (Pot pies made it on to the cover of this month's Food & Wine magazine, which actually threatens to make them respectable again.) Scones with raspberry jam. Anything from Ernie Mickler's priceless White Trash Cooking.
Foods to eat behind closed doors: Raspberry sherbert with Schoof's Truffle Butter. Whipped cream, with anything or without.
Foods to remember fondly: Fried Camembert with strawberry preserves at the defunct Big Cheese in Georgetown. Figs Alice B. Toklas at the late and very lamented 209 1/2 on Capitol Hill. Strawberry cheesecake from the razed Blue Mirror. Mutton chops at the Piccadilly. The $15 sirloin at The Palm (the steak is still there, but the tab is about $22).
And a sentimental favorite: There used to be a joint in Nashville called Ireland's that specialized in "Stake 'n' Biscuits" -- five real buttermilk biscuits, split and smothered in melting butter and stuffed with tender slabs of real steak, all covered with a mountain of hot-from-the-grease french fries also topped with butter. And backed with fudge pie. The mind boggles.
CHOCOLATE, LIKE CLAPTON, IS GOD. TRUST ME.
Chocolate addicts are like Will Rogers: They never met a dessert they didn't like. And now that every upward intersection, shopping mall and super-supermarket has sprouted a bonbon boutique, a bittersweet fix is just a swallow away.
There are some notorious notables to be considered. The double dark chocolate cake with raspberry topping at the Vista International Hotel bakery. Chocolate Intemperance at the Pleasant Peasant, a fudge brownie shell filled with extra rich chocolate mousse, topped with fresh whipped cream and slabs of semi-sweet chocolate. Triple chocolate cake with butter-butter-and-more-butter icing, mousse filling and melted Kron sauce at Chardonnay in the Radisson Hotel on Scott Circle. And erotically sculptured sweets at The Sweetery in Rockville's Mid-Pike Plaza.
The Fedora Cafe at Tysons Corner serves up a five-dessert sampler for three decadent (or two delirious) diners: For $8.95, you get a slice of two-chocolate terrine with Framboise'd ladyfingers, pastry profiteroles with creme filling, fruit zabaglione, strawberries and fruit flan with roasted cookie crust.
Alice Longworth notwithstanding, when it comes to Bad food, you can be too rich. Sheer extravagance in desserts, just as in decolletage, can be merely vulgar. Houlihan's restaurants, for instance, serve something they call Caramel Nut Crunch Pie -- crushed Snickers bars and vanilla Haagen-Dazs in an Oreo and peanut cookie crumb crust, topped with hot caramel and hot fudge sauces and another mini-Snickers. I mean, where are Standards?
BAD IS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU'RE SORRY
Bad is black satin. Bad is "Blue Velvet." Bad is having your cake and eating it, too. (In black satin.) Bad is bent. Bad is giant anthurium. Bad is petal-cut candles that bloom as they burn, brandy snifter cradles with built-in alcohol lamps, and cheap sunglasses. Bad is licking the bowl. Bad is living well, and the best revenge.
Best of all, Bad is what you can always abandon, and still feel good about yourself. Because all Bad things must come to an end.
Larry Fox and Dorothy MacKinnon contributed Bad things to this story.