“I remember when we could sleep on stones. Now we lie together in whispers and moans.” U2 Ultraviolet (Light My Way).
There’s this novel by Sharon Creech called Walk Two Moons. It’s about a young indigenous girl who is travelled across the United States with her grandparents to try to reunite with her mom, who has run off. I had to read it for library school for a Children’s Lit class. (Or maybe it was for an Indigenous Lit class.) This would have been at an American library school in the mid 2000’s, so my guess is that it was probably a Children’s Lit class rather than an Indigenous Lit class. IT DOESN’T MATTER. The point of this story is that of all the characters in the book, I really liked the grandparents the best. Especially the grandfather, Gramps. The three of them, Gramps, Gram, and Sal (the girl) would stay in these run down motels as they made their journey west, and Gramps would always say stuff like, “Well, this ain’t our marriage bed, but it’ll do.” That line always made me chuckle and I began incorporating it into my daily life, referring our own bed as “the marriage bed”.
Well, friends. The time came this summer for us to update the marriage bed. My wife would probably say that the time was long overdue. In fact, there’s no need to guess. She said out loud that it was SEVEN YEARS overdue. I didn’t know! I thought it was still okay. I am blessed with the ability to pretty much sleep anywhere, anytime. I am also thrifty, and a causal browse of beds a couple of months ago gave me debilitating sticker shock. $3000-$5000??? For a BED? I couldn’t do it. That was the cost to replace our broken central A/C, and I still hadn’t done that. I would do that before I bought a new bed, (I said to myself), and so the matter rested (PUN!) for another few weeks. Had my wife really been suffering in silence for seven years? Maybe it was time to do something.
I take after my dear departed Uncle D, people tell me. And I remember towards the end of his life, when his poor body was riddled with cancer and he spent most of his days resting in bed, his wife (my aunt) really campaigned for a new bed. They had been married for 51 years at this point, and I could really imagine that this was still the original “marriage bed”. It looked lumpy enough for this to be the case. If there was any time in a man’s life to splurge on a new bed, you would think this would be it. But NO. He didn’t see the need, and he slept and rested on that lumpy mattress until he couldn’t any more, and he was moved to palliative care. The first thing my aunt did after the funeral was visit a mattress shop. (I almost imagine her stopping in on the way home from the cemetery, but surely not. Right?)
Now, my body isn’t riddled with cancer. At least not YET, anyway. But I do like to sleep soundly at night and take naps during the day whenever possible. I share my uncle’s sentiment that a new bed somehow is a frivolous luxury. After all, it’s only been 13 years, and my uncle and aunt slept much longer on theirs. (Maybe not the full 51 on the same bed, surely, but I bet my uncle stretched it to 25 years, at least.) I know experts say you should replace your mattress every 5 years or so, but these are the same nervous nellies who say you should replace your windshield wipers every 6 months. Who does THAT?
The main complaint about the marriage bed is that is sags down in the middle. It seems fine if one person is laying down on it, but as soon as that second person lies down both people tend to slide into the middle. Now, you might think, “Well, what just encourages cuddles. What can be wrong with that?” and I would agree with you. MY WIFE WOULD NOT AGREE WITH YOU. Cuddles are all fine and good, but a person needs a little space when sleeping time actual happens. I bet my wife would take Judge John Hodgman’s advice and get a king-sized bed, if our bedroom could accommodate it. Our wee room can only fit a queen, though, and that’s what we have to work around. Also, the sagginess only got worse when our daughter would appear out of nowhere and somehow wedge herself between the two of us in the middle of the night. Sometimes we would have the strength to pick her up and stick her back in her own bed, and other times we would just put up with it the best we could.
Although this is the same mattress, the bed itself has gone through a couple of changes since our wedding. We started off with a proper bed frame: what some people call a “Sleigh Bed”. It had a proper head and foot-board, and I honestly don’t know where it came from. My Mom and wife came home with it one day a few weeks after we got possession of our house, and I think the mattress came with it. Although it looked nice, I don’t think it was made of very solid material, because a year or two into the marriage, the marriage bed just cracked under our own weight one morning and we both tumbled out of bed on my side. For many months we just had our box spring on the floor, with the mattress on top, and that worked fine, but there was a nagging feeling that we should have a proper bed frame. I went out and just got the most basic (read: cheap) metal frame I could find, as a stop-gap until we could decide on something more permanent. With no foot-board or even a head-board, it was meant to last for a few months. We’ve had it for ten years. It’s still fine. But the mattress is another story.
In the past few weeks, the “new bed rhetoric” was ramped up. Not only was the “sagging to the middle” complaint in heavy rotation, but my wife began to play the “sore back” card. I thought that maybe her sore back was just part of the natural journey through life to the grave, but my wife was convinced that it had to do with the marriage bed. I saw no way out of it, and realized that by the end of the summer, I was either going to get a new bed or lose a wife to the futon, the hide-a-bed, or perhaps even to the floor, all preferable options to our current situation.
A couple of weeks ago we decided to take the first steps. We visited a couple of independent (read: low-end) mattress shops in an industrial area. No frills, here. The first shop had mattresses starting at $299 and even I thought, “what do they HAVE in there? sawdust?) We lay down on a couple and asked a couple of questions. Free Delivery? “No. $40.” Do you take the old one away? “No, BED BUGS! You must call 311!” At this comment, my wife and I shared a knowing glance. In our line of business (library work), the phrase, “Call 311” is short hand for “Go Fuck Yourself”, as in: “Well, you can always call 311.” as a last resort for finding information. So a sentence like, “I can print this information for you here, or you could call 311.” is just a fancy way of saying, “I can print this information for you here, you could Go Fuck Yourself.” Now, I’m sure this mattress man didn’t intend to tell his potential customers to Go Fuck Themselves, but that was the impression we both got as we moved along. The best takeaway out of this outing was that we learned some of the lingo. We learned that we liked the feel of “pocket coils”. I asked my wife if our old mattress had pocket coils and she looked at me like I was nuts. “I don’t think pocket coils were even INVENTED when we bought that mattress,” was her cheeky response, and I couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic.
A few days later we tried a couple of other mattress places. I’ll only name one of them by name. I had a sense, on this day, that MAYBE we would be making a purchase. Now that I knew mattresses ranged from $299 to over $5000, and we liked pocket coils, I had set a budget in my head of around $1000 and tried to see if I could stick to it.
We went into the first place and the salesman glared at us from behind his desk. He was the only one in the store. There was no greeting, but you could feel his eyes on you as you made your way around to the different mattresses. He was an older man. “Almost 60!”, he told us later, but his hair was dyed black, so his overall appearing was of a much younger man who had the sunken features of a person with a long-term illness. Maybe sleep deprivation. We had our daughter with us, as we did on the first outing, and she got right into the spirit of climbing on the beds and trying them out.
“What do you want?” was his opening gambit. Not, “How are you folks, today?” or “How can I help you?”, “Let me know if you have any questions?” but “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” as if we were interrupting his nap. For all I knew, maybe we were.
“Um, mattresses?” I said dumbly, because wasn’t it obvious? No one in their right mind goes mattress shopping for the fun and sport of it, do they? He asked us a couple of other questions from behind his desk, and then he came out and approached us. He asked us about our budget, and I didn’t want to look cheap, so I avoided the question. He showed us his stores “premium line” of beds in soft, medium and hard. “Like the three bears!” I quipped, but I did not get a smile. This guy was not interested in a joke. He was all about the mattresses. Well, these “premium beds” were all about DOUBLE the budget we had set, and my wife, bless her, got us out of it by saying, “I don’t really like how they feel”, which I think really meant, “I don’t really like what they COST” and he began to show us what he called “Secondary Beds” (also in the three bears levels of hardness and softness) and they felt exactly the same to me. I mean, I could probably sleep on any bed, so I really let my wife dictate the level of hardness that was good for her. We were a good team. She picked the hardness, I monitored the prices and we made our way around the show room. At this point, the salesman played the guilt card. “I know these seem expensive, but how much is your wife having a good night’s sleep worth to you.” I glared at him and didn’t even answer. In my head I said, “About a hundred dollars”, Rain Man style.
And then he got all personal, asking us if we were “hot sleepers” and if we “sweated” when we slept, or bounced around and all this stuff and I turned to my wife and said that this guy was giving me the “no feeling” and I knew at that point that whatever faint chance he had of making a sale to us today, evaporated like the sweat of my sleeping brow. He pressed his business card into my hand. It had his name and contact info on the card. It also had his “position”, which was “Comfort Specialist”. Which was ironic, because he was making us feel distinctly UNCOMFORTABLE that afternoon.
I think our sales person could sense that he was losing the sale as well, and so he cornered us as we tried to leave, showing us the wonder and mystery of memory foam. He had a big block of demo foam that he crunched up and let us see it slowly return to a cube. “NASA made this for the their spacesuits!” I’m not sure how this was supposed to impress us, but he crunched and released about three more times and we all stood there dutifully and watched the foam slowly retake its form. (That was three times too many, if you ask me). Even our daughter was unmoved. His final desperate plea to us was letting us know that business wasn’t doing that great, and how they used to have 5 show rooms and now they only have 2 and that everything was expensive and all of this stuff and again I wondered if this was a sales pitch that actually worked. The “sympathy” purchase? No thanks. We were out the door and my wife said, “I could tell you were not on board right away. Do you think we could visit one more store?”
My thinking was that if we went to one more store, and found what we wanted, we wouldn’t need to take up another vacation day with mattress shopping, so we soldiered on. We were running out of time with our daughter. The novelty of lying on mattresses was wearing thin, and we had promised a visit to a splash pad when we were done, so there was a sense of urgency as we entered our second store of the day, our fourth store overall. We were greeted right at the door with a hearty, “Welcome to Sleep Country!”. Our sales person was a blonde haired man in his 50’s. A touch on the heavier side, he reminded me of Jim Gaffigan with a slight lisp. I liked him immediately. I liked his opening, as if we had actually entered a new country by coming through those front doors. I like to think that our salesman did too, as if somehow we had passed through a wardrobe and here we were in “Sleep Country” where it is always winter and never Christmas, and where beavers drink tea and speak English. His first question to us what how we slept. I told him I was a “Side Sleeper” and he nodded his approval. When my wife confessed that he favoured the stomach, he brought over the appropriate pillows to our sleep preferences, but you could tell he didn’t approve of my wife’s sleep style. He didn’t have to say anything, but my wife could tell she was being judged.
“I know you’re not SUPPOSED to sleep on your stomach, but my parents put me on my stomach when I was a baby and it just stuck,” she stammered, and all of a sudden explaining our sleep preferences to this Sleep Country Mr. Tumnus seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Where the other salesman seemed creepy and nosy, this salesman seemed helpful and understanding of our sleeping needs. He also approved when we asked about pocket coils. I won’t bore you with the details of all the beds we tried, but we settled on a particular mattress that we both liked. My wife liked how it felt, and I liked what it cost, and so it looked like we were coming to finalizing the sale.
“There’s just one more mattress I’d like to show you, since you said you like a firm one. I wasn’t even going to SHOW you this one because you are not CHINESE!” And with the word CHINESE he held his hand up to the side of his mouth, and said it in a stage whisper. “This is our most popular mattress in our Vancouver stores, but I can’t even lie down on it, it’s so hard!” We were intrigued, and had to give it a go. Yes, it was very, very hard. Like lying on a piece of plywood, actually. We thanked him for showing us around, and I didn’t even mind his benign racism towards Chinese sleeping habits. We told him we’d like to get the previous mattress, and it was as easy as that.
He talked us into a new box spring, even though in my heart of hearts we didn’t need it. But at this point it was only an additional $100 to the cost of the mattress, and since we were able to take delivery the next day, he knocked $100 off the price, so it was like getting the box spring for FREE (his words). He went over the return policy, which was that we had 90 days (“90 sleeps!”) to change our minds, as long as the mattress wasn’t SOILED. He looked right at ME when he said “SOILED”, and who could blame him? He was also pleased to know that we already had a mattress cover, which would help with any potential SOILING. He asked what we wanted to pay for delivery, and we kind of looked at him dumbly. You got the feeling this was the favourite part of his sales pitch. “Come ON! What would like to PAY for delivery?” My wife caught on first. “Um, nothing?”
“Then that’s what you’ll pay! NOTHING!”, he grinned broadly at us. “And we’ll take your old one away too! If it’s usable, we donate it to charity, and if not, we recycle it! No land fills in Sleep Country!” And this was the first moment that I really thought our salesperson believed he really lived (or at least worked) in a different, magical place. Before we knew it, we were back on the outside, in the parking lot. And yes, the final price came in about a hundred dollars under budget, so what’s not to like?
We really couldn’t have had two more different salesmen that afternoon, and maybe the contrast made the second guy look better than he was, but we were both pleased with the experience. We eagerly awaited the arrival of the marriage bed 2.0 the next day, and when it finally came and we tried it out my first thought was, “That son-of-a-gun sent us a CHINESE bed!” as it felt so firm under us. I think it was just the adjustment from the old one that made it seem so firm, because now that we’ve had a week or so of sleeps on it, it feels great. We weren’t planning any out of country trips this summer, but I’m sure glad we got our passports stamped at “Sleep Country” and updated the ol’ marriage bed.