Hot Tub Hedonism


LIKE SHERMAN IN GEORGIA, the trend in watery luxuries for the home--water beds, Water Pics, and vibrating shower heads--marches relentlessly back to the sea. Gone are the days when a lawn sprinkler and a fish bowl sufficed to adequately furnish a home with aquatic appliances. In recent months advertisements for a $1200 bathtub have been catching the eye of readers of national magazines. California--birthplace of car customizing, the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and Jerry Brown--now offers what may prove to be the new wave of America's vassergeist: California Hot Tubbing.

More than just a gleam in an advertising man's eye, hot tubs actually exist and are widely used in such areas as Santa Barbara, California. The tub itself is basically a California wine vat adapted for bathing purposes by the addition of pump, filter, heater, water-jets, and lots of water. While some claim that the modern hot tub originated in the '50s among rural dropouts in the Santa Barbara Hills, tubs did not attract much notice in California until four or five years ago.

"Sure I remember hot tubs. Suddenly it was very chic to have your bathtub in front of your fireplace," says Sherri Hays '80, a one-time California dweller. Actors and artistic types were the first to adopt them, says Hays.

Crimson: "You mean celebrities? Beautiful people?"

Hays: "Well... you see... in California everyone's like that."


In typical follow-the-leader fashion, the rest of the country is only now catching on. A massive quantity of advertising has tueled the hot tub phenomenon nationwide, but it's not all hype. Anyone who likes a good hot bath immediately understands the hot tub's appeal. One enjoys all the soothing relaxation of a bath, which scientific studies have shown to compare favorably with psychoanalysis. But instead of the usual confined surroundings--a steamy, suffocating atmosphere and a view of clammy tiles--imagine the sky above, the good earth below, and miles and miles of California forest stretching out ahead.

What price hedonism? The tubs retailed by California Cooperage go from $1200 for the economy model to $2370 for a full-sized tub. Lower-priced competition offers tubs in the $600 range. Hot tub hedonism may be back-to-nature, but it's very bourgeois back-to-nature.

Nevertheless, low-rent water babies need not despair. A drop to popular prices is likely if California hot tubs find a mass market. That's what happened with calculators and waterbeds, both expensive innovations which now sell for a fraction of their original price. Such exotic headaches as cleaning redwood slime out of the water pump and dealing with houseguests who refuse to leave the tub may become staples of cocktail party conversation, if hot tubs can be successfully exported to colder climes than California.

SITTING IN AN OUTDOOR hot tub during a Cambridge winter seems like an invitation to pneumonia, but Sandy Alexander '79, a California expatriate, says snow and tubs go well together. "My brother and I used to go in an outdoor Jacuzzi up on Mammoth Mountain in the winter. We'd get out and roll around in the snow in our bathing suits, throw snowballs at each other. The cold doesn't hit you for about 15 seconds. Back in the tub your skin prickles all over--it's the greatest feeling." A hot tub might be just the thing to loosen up social activity around Harvard, Alexander says.

Some California exiles are more cynical about hot tubs and their devotees. To Wayne Koestenbaum '80, hot tubbers are "a certain genre of people. Men who write poetry to get in touch with the feminine in themselves, women who want to get back to Mother Earth, who want harmony in their bodies... people interested in exploring every sensuous possibility there is..."

One's reaction to hot tubs says a lot about one's reaction to California style. The East has a love-hate relationship with the fun-loving West. New Yorkers put down California culture and California parties such as the one Woody Allen parodied in Annie Hall--but deep down some of them secretly long to live that California life. The 500 people who move into California each day include an awful lot of New Yorkers.

In the February Esquire Richard Reeves argues that the people who make California prosper are exporters of ideas. "They export ideas of a sort, ideas with a California twist, or twisted California ideas--drinking vodka, est, credit cards, student revolts, political consultants, skateboards. . ." California hot tubbing is that California idea, right down to its redwood heart. If Americans are the new Romans, then we may be taking our new Roman baths in redwood tubs from California. And why not? Today, Santa Barbara, tomorrow--the world.