Pillow Talk: A Month With A Bad Mattress

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You’ll forgive me if I seem a little cranky today. Normally you can count on me to be enthusiastic, even peppy. Not Gallagher unchaperoned in produce at Whole Foods peppy, but peppy. But something is definitely off today. Is it frustration at the unfairness that Daniel Day Lewis gets knighted for his acting chops, yet Alan Hale, Jr. never got a single attaboy from the Academy for his turn as the Skipper? Grudging acceptance that Cat Stevens qua Cat Stevens is never coming back? Insistence on using the word qua? Truth is, it’s none of these things. It’s this: I am day seventeen into my new, miserable mattress experience.

Why suffer so long, you ask? I’ll tell you why. Sometime over the last decade of sawing logs on my old mattress, the sleep industry became a total nanny-state. Now the rules of the game are clear and unequivocal, promulgated with priggish eat-your-peas rectitude: no mattress returns for thirty days after purchase. No exceptions. No mercy. It seems I cannot be trusted to veto my own decision without literally sleeping on it for a month. I guess our bedding betters know what’s best for us. Truth is the signs were there all along, at least for those with eyes to see. I’ll say it — Big Mattress has become a humorless juggernaut:

Me (comparison shopping about five months ago): Hey, buddy, what’s the deal with these mattress tags? Why are you guys so heavy-handed about restricting removal? Not much of a bedside manner, if you ask me.

Mattress Salesman (whispering, drawing me close): Think you’re pretty clever with your little jokes, don’t you? [Tazes me]. Who’s laughing now, funny guy? Don’t kid around about things you don’t understand. [Throws me a towel]. Now clean yourself up, and get the hell out of Mattress Haus.

So I’m left in something of a mood, loitering outside the store like a teenager hoping for convenience store beer. As if waiting for thirteen more days is an option. Worse still, none of my usual mall remedies are bringing me joy. Not counting obsessive-compulsives in The Container Store. Not saying awkward things like “daddy likey” as I pass the twenty minute mark in the Brookstone massage chair. Not challenging that cocky Starbucks barista to make me a frappadero, an imaginary drink. Not countering the up-sell at The Art of Shaving. Not wearing a trench coat into Victoria’s Secret. Not even going to checkout at Sur La Table and seeing how long I can make the second-to-last syllable of the store’s final word last. Nothing is working.

It’s not like I don’t understand where they’re coming from. Like Odysseus binding himself to the mast, sometimes we need protection from ourselves. My old mattress was a classic enabler. I see that now. Just like Gretchen back in college, that crazy “no rules” psych major from Malvern who loved The Cure and had more mugs hanging from her backpack than an Arizona pack mule. That mattress conformed to my every position, which sounds good at first until you realize that the bean bag chair that came with your first apartment did the exact same thing. If you had slept on that, by middle age you’d have the posture of Ruth Gordon circa 1982.

But we forget that when night after night we collapse into her easy, non-judgmental embrace. Want your kids and pets in bed with you and the missus? The more, the merrier! An armada of Stoned Wheat Thins and hard salami sandwiches on your bare chest, while you recline and watch The Big Lebowski for the fifty-seventh time? The bed abides. What I didn’t see in all this non-judgment was that my mattress was swallowing me whole. I don’t mean metaphorically. I mean toward the very end I needed carabiner rigging just to get out of the rack every morning. I could have suffocated inside that soporific fly-trap, that bed-taco, that demon mattress.

So we finally did something about it, and by “we” I mean my wife. Alas, consistent with her Teutonic, take-charge heritage she overcorrected. If my last mattress was Gretchen the Enabler, then my new one is Olga the Dominatrix. I literally sleep on a slab of runway concrete now. Sometimes when I come home at night, I find my electric toothbrush — also German — on the bedside dresser, which definitely is not where I left it. I imagine the two of them, brush and bed, passing their day together smoking stale cigarettes and discussing Goethe, all the while wishing I were “more man, like David Hasselhoff.”

I can’t help but think: isn’t there some bedding compromise, something between Gretchen’s squishy relativism and Olga’s unstinting Calvinism? I don’t know. I’m not allowed back in Mattress Haus for another thirteen days.