by Philip A. Kaplan
If I were to ask you what is the most technologically complex, financially convoluted product you’ve bought during the past number of years, I’d venture to say you’d answer an automobile, a computer, a smart phone or a wide flat screen high def color TV. But I’m here to tell you that my most recent, torturous, complicated purchase make the buying experiences of all those others pale by comparison. While your possessions probably roll or blink or ring or entertain, mine just sits there. And though you can likely drive, log onto, talk into or stare mesmerized at your acquisitions, all I can do with mine is just lie on it…..because… it’s a mattress.
You would think that buying something as commonplace and stationary as a mattress should be a simple, quick, easy one-stop shopping exercise. You go into a store, plop down on a few mattresses and tell the salesperson to wrap up and deliver the one that felt the most comfortable, and you’re outta there. But if you happen to be a compulsive, anal, drive-your-wife crazy comparison shopper like me, buying a mattress isn’t that easy. Just to prove how nuts I am, we ended up going to nine different mattress stores before finally buying one.
“What led you to go mattress shopping in the first place?” you might ask. Well, as it happened, one night a mattress TV commercial caught my attention. The announcer gravely intoned, “You need to buy a new mattress every eight years. If you don’t, all kinds of ugly problems will happen… infestations of dust mites and bed bugs crawling on your skin and a sagging mattress wreaking havoc on your sacroiliac.” Since the mattress I’d been sleeping on at the time was thirty years old, I calculated I was about four mattresses overdue. So to avoid tempting the fate of imminent danger I somehow managed to avoid all these years I took the bait and went shopping.
The first sign of trouble appeared as soon as I approached the bedding section of a local department store. Greeting me was a row of mattresses in a bewildering array of models, materials, and prices stretched out side by side as far as the eye could see. I was invited to lie down on a few of them with supposedly varying degrees of firmness, but after doing so for two to three minutes each, I was hard pressed to feel any noticeable difference. I was to later discover that properly assessing the comfort of a mattress, one should lie on it for at least fifteen minutes. Doing so on all the mattresses in all those nice stores, I would have snoozed away the better part of a month.
Gripped by decision paralysis, it was time for further mattress analysis. So I hit the best sleep-inducing knowledge source I know of: the Internet. Googling “mattress” brought up 21,600,000 results. Narrowing the search to “mattress reviews” turned up a more manageable 4,880,000. After culling through what seemed about 2,000,000 of them, I honed in on a few promising websites, one of which was “www.sleeplikethedead.com.”
Here’s what I learned: Modern technology today has brought us mattresses filled with inner springs, open metal coils, pocketed coils, advanced pocketed coils, cable coils, and smart coils, the latter so named, I suppose, because they must have scored 2400 on some SAT spring test. There’s also latex foam, memory foam, advanced memory foam, air and that natural liquid elixir, water. There’s even a substance invented by NASA, for that heavenly feel, no doubt. You would think that soft, medium, or hard would just about cover the firmness characteristics of any mattress. But nay, not today. Your choices now include plush, luxury plush, ultra plush, cushion firm, luxury firm, and ultra-firm. And the prices! The prices range from a few hundred to $8000, the higher end models coming with such seemingly non-essentials as very luxurious, expensive mattress coverings. Since it would be hidden under a bed sheet, how would it contribute to my comfort or who would see the darn thing? I couldn’t imagine inviting you to my house, escorting you to the bedroom, ripping off the blankets and sheets and asking you to admire the mattress ticking.
“Martha, how do you like the rich mocha hue accented cashmere knit fabric? I picked it over the caramel accented silk knit fabric.”
To further complicate the buying process, manufacturers have chosen to bless their offerings with colorful, exotic names that give no clue as to the merits of the underlying mattress. There is the Carried Away mattress, the Crown Jewel Brookmere, the Elderberry, the Lakewold, the Silver Dream, and the Whitegate. And they are all part of “collections.” Every mattress manufacturer has its own “collection.” There are the Arba, Crest, Monet Gardens, Oceania, and Vanderbilt collections. The latter, to its credit, does not boast that Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt himself slept on any of its mattresses. But despite all the confusion, I did feel somewhat better armed with at least a modicum of knowledge to re-embark on my quest for sleep perfection.
The first mattress I tried was comfortable enough, but what killed the deal was the instruction that I would have to flip the mattress once a month for the first six months, and then twice a year every year forever after. For fun I attempted to slightly lift the mattress with the provided sewn-in handles. It weighed a ton and wouldn’t budge. Since the salesperson didn’t offer to come to my house to do the flipping, I didn’t wait around long enough to find out how a 175 lb. weakling like me was suppose to do it alone.
On to the next store, which featured an air-filled mattress whose company boasted that my wife and I by means of a TV-like remote control device-there were two of them, no fighting over the remote-could each independently inflate or deflate our respective side to our own individual firmness comfort level. WOW! The best of all worlds! Except, according to the review pages of “sleeplikethedead.com,” there were instances of the mattress tending to leak. Furthermore, in time there were air hoses that eventually needed replacing as would the electric air circulating pump. This was to be accomplished not by the manufacturer or by the store, but by me, both physically and fiscally. Whew! Too technical for me, I just wanted a mattress to sit there, no assembly, maintenance or repair required.
The next mattress was constructed of a foam product, invented by NASA. I figured it was good enough for the astronauts; it was good enough for me. The promise was that this material would mold itself to my body, somehow incredibly remembering my most comfortable position. What “sleeplikethedead.com” told me was this miraculous substance would emit a strange odor for the first few weeks, had a tendency to overheat during the summer and, after a number of years, might permanently sag in the fixed indented position of my body. So much for the out-of-the-world experience!
I won’t trouble you with the details of the next five visits, but after the eighth, I was desperate. More out of frustration than conviction I vowed that the ninth store would be the last, and if they carried a mattress nearest to what I felt would be most comfortable; I’d buy it and be done.
What sealed the deal on the one that we did buy was an acrobatic performance by our salesman. Now, I tend to toss a lot at night and my wife sleeps in one fixed position. To prove that my rolling around would not disturb her on this bed, he had my wife lie on one side of it and then, from about ten feet away he proceeded to take a running, flying, diving leap head first onto the other side. When he landed, amazingly my wife’s side barely shook, leaving her, as advertised, undisturbed. As I recall, the last time I took a flying leap onto our bed with my wife in it many, many, many years ago, I did so precisely to disturb her.
But the salesman’s theatrics did the trick and before handing over my credit card, he gently coaxed me into buying a frame for the mattress and box spring to rest on-the old one wouldn’t do and we couldn’t let our beautiful masterpiece just sit on a cold, hard, bare floor. To protect its delicate skin I also had to buy an expensive mattress cover to maintain the integrity of the stain warranty. By then I was so exasperated, tired, and punch drunk, I just wanted to get it over with, so I said “yes” to everything and “where do I sign?”
Our mattress was delivered about six months ago and I’m happy to report we’ve been sleeping quite comfortably ever since. Still every once in a while I have this terrifying nightmare. Its seven years and six months from now. One night I’m watching TV and a mattress commercial comes on. The announcer reminds me that my eighth year anniversary is coming due and it’s time for another mattress. But before he drags me kicking and screaming into the same buying frenzy all over again, I wake with the happy memory that my previous mattress lasted three decades, so maybe I can squeeze a few more years out of this one.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing