Discovering The Bombshell Within

I have written the definitive guide to being a bombshell. I have deconstructed their entrances, exits, tantrums, fashions, body language. I have studied their hobbies, reading material, perfumes. I have watched How to Marry a Millionaire at least seven times, Promises! Promises! at least three. If I missed any details-if I didn’t recall the brand of perfume displayed near the bath-I watched the movie again. I love bombshells. It was a joyous odyssey to study them; you might even say it was anthropological. I can say, without reserve, that having penned The Bombshell Manual of Style , I am an expert. But I am not a bombshell.

I am a bohemian.

This started before I was born. My parents lived on the second floor of a cold-water flat on the Bowery, an Armenian restaurant downstairs. There was a pull-chain toilet in the hall (shared), no sink, a cloth ceiling to cover exposed beams and mice scampering across them. We had no bed, but an extra-long sofa; the dining-room table (also a desk) was a door screwed onto metal legs; and the stove was where the former tenant had ended it all by turning on the gas. Sometimes, when not listening to their Shostakovich records, my parents would step out and take in a Soviet film. And, of course, there was a sociology major renting out the back room.

My dad was a Columbia student, writing his dissertation on communism in Chinese agrarian society. My mom, an actress-adding the only bombshell element-worked at Elizabeth Arden. Except for a gospel-singing, highly perfumed godmother and Southern-belle grandmother, I had little exposure to bombshells.

I admit to having at least a modicum of charm and to being a shameless flirt. I have high heels, false eyelashes and two satin Gucci cocktail dresses in black and hot pink for public appearances. I perch on chairs; curl coquettishly, and inappropriately, on armrests, car seats and desks, even at job interviews; and take all my clothing off at any opportunity.

For a writer, I don’t look too bad. I don’t know if you’ve seen many of them in situ , but most writers look like hell. (I have space at the Writers [sic] Room where I see them shuffling around in bedroom slippers, sweat pants, shapeless sweaters and glasses repaired with tape.) Yet nearly all the press-despite my lanky hair, glasses, economical silhouette and obvious lack of va-va-voom-has insisted on calling me a bombshell.

Of course, I’m trying to make a good impression and sizzle a little for the sake of my book. (You can bet no one expected Norman Mailer to “dress like a bombshell” when he was promoting his voluptuously conjectured and gutsy Marilyn . Or Joyce Carol Oates for Blonde .) I showed up at Joey Reynolds’ studio in a leopard-print coat. But every time Joey said he had a Real Live Bombshell on the air at WOR, I felt compelled to counter the “compliment”: I’m not a bombshell, I study them. Only Lenard Lopate of NPR understood; and a stinging review of our Barnes & Noble reading in the New York Press nailed it, asserting that my muse for the book, Christina Cooley, was the genuine article and that I was, alas, too Audrey Hepburn. (I never said I didn’t have style.)

It’s true I have marabou and sequins sprinkled throughout my wardrobe, but I’m most comfortable in a black turtleneck or cotton paisley dress. Definitely un-bombshell.

Yet, surprisingly, there are many crossovers between bombshells and bohemians.

First of all, they both arrive late: bombshells for assorted and obvious reasons, like heels breaking, starting a hairdo over from scratch, staying up all night watching black-and-white movies; bohemians because they were up all night reading, writing, listening to jazz or watching black-and-white movies.

Both bombshells and bohemians love to undress: bombshells for calendars, centerfolds, plays and sleeping; bohemians to model for artists, performance art and sleeping.

But there’s a big difference between bombshells and bohemians, and it’s something I hadn’t thought about until recently, when I began, as most of us have, to re-evaluate. I have questioned what it is I do for a living, namely naming lipsticks and beauty products. I do not heal, prescribe, mend, comfort, fix, serve, rescue or build. I have also questioned the value of my recent book.

The Bombshell Manual of Style , despite its upbeat, all-encompassing and generous outlook, seemed frivolous. It’s not a novel; it’s not epic. The idea of a bombshell manual seemed about as necessary as lipstick.

Until I looked deeper. What, I asked myself, would a bombshell do in the wake of tragedy, specifically post–Sept. 11?

A bombshell would take in a kitten, bake cookies for firemen and show up in her stilettos to present them, cheer rescue workers on the West Side Highway, make out with firemen or put flowers in front of the police station. And she would never stop shopping. A bombshell gets on a plane; a bombshell orders champagne; if champagne is only served in first class, somehow she’ll manage some, even in coach. The bombshell would be thrilled to have a job, especially my job, naming beauty products for a company that doesn’t do animal testing and donates 100 percent of profits from a lipstick to comfort and support people living with AIDS.

While the bohemian is reading Holocaustal, morbid, atomic, wartime, subversive or drunken poetry-Apollinaire, Ginsberg, Rimbaud, Toge Sankichi, Anna Akhmatova-and is too depressed to work on the novel or poem or screenplay, the bombshell reads something uplifting, like Walt Whitman.

Bombshells are patriotic. They adore national landmarks and Presidents-all Presidents, Democrat and Republican. They love the flag, they love their country and they love soldiers. This goes for sailors, the Coast Guard- just about any man in a uniform.

Bohemians are subversive and disagree with all Presidents, Democrat or Republican. Chances are, if a bohemian has a flag, it will be French or Soviet. An American flag? Hardly.

When I was in high school, I was the only student in my homeroom who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. But now?

I am thinking more like a bombshell. While I have always been a fan of a little fascism when it was in my favor (it was decidedly un-bohemian of me to think it swell when Mayor Giuliani curtailed smoking in public places), I was the expatriate type, romanticizing life in Paris, Scotland, Cairo. Now I want an American flag. I love Mayor Giuliani even though he doesn’t understand ferrets, my pet of choice. I want the Pledge of Allegiance to be read every day (participation optional). Our firemen and policemen deserve a raise. Until there are no countries (i.e., John Lennon’s “Imagine”), I want to love my country and Americans and not judge them so harshly. And stop dissing Norman Rockwell. I want to support American companies and goods made in America; I’ll even try our shoes.

Kimberly Forrest, co-author of The Bombshell Manual of Style and former editor at W , climbed my fourth-floor walk-up in Birkenstocks that her artist boyfriend had spray-painted silver. Kimberly is disturbed by jingoism and flag-waving, and she looks disdainfully at those little pins and ribbons in red, white and blue.

She’ll be the first person I ask to pitch in when I write The Bohemian Manifesto . I may have lost my bohemian edge. Discovering The Bombshell Within