Wince upon a mattress
Having a stranger gaze at me as I lay sprawled across the bed made me feel a little, well, dirty. He was murmuring something, but I was trying to tune him out. Where’s John? I wondered. If John would just come back, I could get this guy away from me.
I abruptly rolled over, away from him, and curled into the fetal position, my knees protruding over the side of the mattress. “Ah,” he said, sensing an opening. “I see you’re an edge sleeper.” I could feel him move in. “Well, you know then, [while the term “little lady” wasn’t uttered, it was implied], that side padding I was telling you about is going to be important.” If I hadn’t been so comfortable, I would’ve rolled back over and clocked him.
I knew mattress shopping was going to be icky. My preliminary research had pegged it just a notch below used-car shopping on the skeeze meter. Almost every friend I asked had some tale of buyer’s remorse. The best advice came from an article by Seth Stevenson on Slate, which opens: “Here’s a fun game I play. First, I walk into a mattress store and ask what’s on sale. Then, I throw my hands in the air and shout along with the salesman, ‘EVERYTHING’S ON SALE!!!!’”
At that point, Stevenson walks out, because, he explains, “I fricking hate mattress salesmen.”
While I don’t hate these people, per se, as a good Yankee, I do hate being taken advantage of or swindled. And if there’s any endeavor that can make you feel like a boob and a rube, it’s trying to buy a mattress.
That’s because the big mattress retailers want to befuddle you into making an emotional, rather than rational, choice. (The only place we didn’t get a lot of sales hoo-ha was locally owned Portland Mattress Makers.)
First, they’ll make you feel like an enlightened consumer by reasoning with you about coil counts and spring gauges, foam composition, and the benefits of latex. You’ll stand nodding in the showroom, arms crossed, examining the cutaway view of the mattress’ springy and foamy interior, thinking all the while, What the frick are you talking about?
Then they’ll hit you with back pain, bed sores, blood clots, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, teeth grinding and vermin infestation — all results of purchasing an inferior mattress — thus scaring you into buying-up. At one store, I overheard a salesman telling another unwitting shopper that it wasn’t the complications from paralysis that killed Christopher Reeve, it was his bed. Just at that moment, I caught John eyeing a Simmons Classic, a step down from the World Class models we had been sampling. What are you trying to do? I thought. Off me?
Ah, but we were still naïfs in the mattress jungle at that point, ripe to be pounced upon. We didn’t know the difference between a Tempur-Pedic and a Posturepedic, or a pillow top and a memory foam. We didn’t even know the stores will deliver your new mattress and haul away your old bed for free — unless, of course, they won’t, a point they’ll bring up just as you’re about to close the deal. (“Oh, and did we mention all warrantees are void unless you purchase our $100 mattress pad?”)
I’d never bought a mattress before. Until John and I joined households, I slept on what I dubbed “the burrito bed,” a hand-me-down relic from my long-deceased grandparents’ house. It still had the sateen $29.95 Serta price tag sewn in at the foot of the mattress, and was so swayback that it felt like I brushed the floor whenever I rolled over. It was fine for one, but too snug for two. John’s so-so mattress served us for 10 years, but we recently decided to redo our bedroom and upgrade our bed. That’s when the games began.
After our second store visit, we figured out another part of the ruse: mattresses of the same brand and model can have different names. That Stearns & Foster “Cloud Rest” you tried at one store might be called the Stearns & Foster “Return to the Womb” at the next, so you can’t comparison shop. You just have to loll around from showroom to showroom until you find the mattress you like.
Which, after repeat visits to six stores over the course of a week, we finally did. When our new bed was delivered and set up for us, I couldn’t believe how ginormous it was. It seemed to take up the whole bedroom and looked so tall that I feared I’d fall off it in the middle of the night and break a hip. I doubted our sheets would fit. It made me feel so bourgeois, so McMansiony. Surely we didn’t need this much mattress. I had instant remorse.
That is, until I slept on the thing and became an instant convert. I awoke believing in the higher power of stabilizing springs, wrapped coils and side padding. Not even the ads that came out a week later announcing all the Presidents Day sales events (“EVERYTHING’S ON SALE!!!!”) could rouse me from my cloudy/womby reverie.
Because only a rube would scrimp on her sleep.
Elizabeth Peavey nods off here each month. Mind the drool.