Bacchanalian Bedware

If you visit the P.M. Bedroom Gallery in Blaine or Woodbury, you might run into Jim Borofka, co-owner of the stores and one of the last waterbed salesmen in the Twin Cities. The showrooms at HOM, for example, don’t feature waterbeds, though the store was once called the Waterbed Room. Borofka accuses HOM of “disconnecting” itself from its history, of disavowing its former cash cow. But P.M. Bedroom also changed its name a few years back, from P.M. Waterbed, in order to expand its market, update its image, and, especially, to minimize what Borofka calls the waterbed “stigma.”

Nothing conjures the decadent 1970s quite like the waterbed. Firm in the mind is the image of a giant, free-flowing bladder of a mattress undulating to the rhythms of Sly & the Family Stone, vulnerable to both hoop earrings and spiked heels. People picture mirrors on the ceiling, mustaches, and smears of Gentle Emotion Lotion. Borofka says that occasionally a customer will call and say, “‘Do you have waterbeds?’ And I say yes. And they say, ‘Are you sure?’”

And then he goes on to explain that waterbeds are not what they used to be. Designs have improved since that first “pleasure pit,” invented by San Francisco State University student Charles Hall. The problems of old have been mitigated: Interior fibers or compartments slow water flow; most modern incarnations are “soft-sided,” meaning that water pouches are encased in foam, and resemble standard mattresses. This makes for a bed that’s resistant to punctures, but still offers what waterbed enthusiasts list as health benefits, including body-molded support, constant warmth to aid sleeping, and a lack of dust, mites, and other allergens. “We can sell a soft side and, fifteen years from now, that person is still sleeping on the same surface,” Borofka said. “It wears very well.”

Borofka has slumbered on a waterbed for decades, ever since leaving his family’s Wisconsin dairy farm to attend college in Eau Claire. “I drove to school in my dad’s old truck and one of the first things I did was pick up a hard-sided waterbed. I thought, ‘I’m really getting somewhere now.’” Borofka desired something new and exciting, a way to express his independence. “Everyone who purchases an adjustable air bed nowadays, that type of clientele purchased waterbeds back then. They were curious people into new things, new technologies, not afraid to push the edge.”

Who buys them now, I had to wonder. Borofka, who sells around seven waterbeds per week, said they mainly go to “people who think, ‘We got a good night’s sleep on a waterbed, we don’t care what the neighbors say.’” He’ll gladly sell a customer whatever type of bed she wants—spring, foam, air, water. But, he confided, “In a bar over a beer, I would say the waterbed is the best bed.” —Jennifer Vogel