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Modern Living: Waterbeds: A Rising Tide

4 minute read

I got a vision then. I saw a wave of blue water like a breaker. On the wave in golden script was written: The World Wants Waterbeds.

—Michael Valentine Zamoro

Visionary Zamoro, who early recognized the vast potential of the water-filled vinyl mattress and was one of the first to begin merchandising waterbeds a year ago in California, has been proved a prophet in his own time. In the past several months, the waterbed has left the hippie’s pad, where it first gained popularity, and successfully moved into the suburban bedroom. Promoter Zamoro, 53, has since retired on his profits, but the waterbed seems well on its way toward becoming a permanent fixture.

Tasmanian Opossum. In Manhattan, the waterbed display at Bloomingdale’s department store for a while was a popular singles meeting place. Sears, Roebuck and Holiday Inns are eying the beds, and Lake Tahoe’s Kings Castle Hotel has already installed them in its luxury suites. Playboy Tycoon Hugh Hefner has one—king-size, of course, and covered with Tasmanian opossum. The growing number of manufacturers and distributors, with such appropriate names as Aquarius Products, the Water Works, Innerspace Environments, Joyapeutic Aqua Beds and the Wet Dream, can hardly meet the demand. They have sold more than 15,000 since August.

There are good reasons for the overnight success of waterbeds. Says Storekeeper George Pugh of Long Beach, Calif.: “You can make them rock-and-roll you to sleep.” Buyers with bad backs report noticeable relief. But perhaps the greatest impetus to sales has been provided by another remarkable quality of the waterbed. Claims an Aquarius ad: “Two things are better on a waterbed. One of them is sleep.” Urges another advertisement: “Live and love in liquid luxury.” A third promises: “She’ll admire you for your car, she’ll respect you for your position, but she’ll love you for your waterbed.”

Social Center. Reports Los Angeles Scriptwriter Bill Cannon: “I like it because it conforms to the body and it goes gush, gush when you go gush, gush.” Dr. HIPpocrates, the counterculture’s answer to the syndicated Dr. Walter C. Alvarez, quotes his secretary as saying: “I recommend it for women who have trouble having orgasms.” Some owners, like Divorcee Linda Butler, 22, of Concord, Calif., find that the bed becomes a somewhat more general social center: “Everyone who visits me wants to see it, and we end up staying there for dinner and drinks. I do more entertaining there than sleeping.”

To lure the wealthier buyers, Innerspace offers the $2,800 “Pleasure Island.” an 8-ft.-square waterbed surrounded by contour pillows, color television, an elaborate stereo set, a bar and directional lighting. Basically, however, the waterbed is simply a vinyl bag filled with water: that, plus a foam-rubber pad and vinyl liner, is available in Los Angeles for as little as $45. As fittings are added, prices rise. Manhattan’s Aquarius, a major East Coast manufacturer, sells its king-size bed for $199, including mattress, safety liner and wooden frame. A thermostat and heating element, to ensure comfortable sleeping temperatures, cost $40 more.

Waterbeds are empty and easy to handle when delivered from the store. They can be filled by connecting a hose to a bathroom faucet (wise owners will also pour in a healthy slug of Clorox to ward off the formation of algae). But once filled, the waterbed becomes almost impossible to move; a king-size version will weigh around 1,600 Ibs.

Collapsed Balcony. Most manufacturers offer waterbed guarantees, ranging from 90 days to an eyebrow-raising 50 years. Leaks are infrequent, and most beds come with repair kits similar to those used for inner tubes.

But accidents will happen. The new waterbed lore includes the story of a West Coast couple whose mattress sprang a leak. With help from neighbors, they wrestled it out of their apartment onto a balcony, which promptly collapsed under the unaccustomed weight. Another householder, filling his waterbed on the lawn to test it, stood amazed when it began rolling downhill, amoeba-like, oozing over hedges and crushing gardens before squooshing to a halt. Mr. and Mrs. James Klopp, of Mountain View, Calif., fell asleep on their new waterbed while it was filling, and awakened to find their bedroom awash.

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