Recent Work By Sabine Heinlein

The following is the sequel to a story about first-time homeownership that ran in The Nervous Breakdown a few months ago.

Of all the contractors we met I liked the snake charmer the most. He came, snaked the sewer and left. Straightforward as that sounds, the experience was far from the norm. Most contractors said they would come but never came. Some contractors came and never left.

When my husband and I bought an old, landmarked house in Sunnyside, Queens we were catapulted back to infancy. Before we knew it, we were crying uncontrollably and shitting our pants. The house was an unknown world, equally exciting and terrifying. Within seconds we would go from giggling hysterically to crying for mommy.

The latter happened when, one morning after taking a shower, the bathroom tiles started to come off the wall. We called Igor, a licensed contractor with a crew of three who owned a house down the street. It was reassuring to have someone close by who allegedly knew how to fix things. Unlike several other contractors we had called who showed up two days late or not at all, Igor and his men arrived within a two-hour timeframe. This was more than we had come to expect.

Before Igor sent anyone to us to fix the tiles, he insisted on having my husband and me over for homemade wine in his basement bar. He spent the first fifteen minutes showing us the lighting system he had installed. The lights were hidden and had dimmers, which Igor manipulated with a tiny remote control. It seemed as if he had conquered the sun. The wine, he proudly explained, was made from a kit he had ordered online: You mix the powder with water and pour the concoction into bottles branded with your own individual label. Voilà! Igor’s Vineyard. When I mentioned that the wine tasted sweet, Igor growled, “But of courrrse! It’s desserrrt wine.”

To call Igor and his Eastern European crew sensitive would be an understatement. The men always sounded as if they were about to jump off a ledge. But you don’t want a Home Depot vanity sink in your bathroom? They choked with Dostoevskian despair. But you don’t want to paint the hallway bright yellow? Their anguish was Kafkaesque. Despite the melancholy our decisions inspired in them, they somehow fixed the bathroom without any casualties. We moved on to the kitchen. But you want a cast-iron sink? Igor lamented. Solzhenitsyn’s cellmate couldn’t have sounded more hopeless.

Yet the next morning Igor—pale and depressed as ever—showed up again. While I was out sweeping the sidewalk, he confided in me that his wife had “lost her ovaries.” Before I could ask where she had last seen them, he told me about his digestive problems. Apparently the desserrrt wine was a little rrrrough on his stomach.

Igor drove me in his new car to buy tiles for the backsplash. He talked about SUVs and I listened. Whenever I tried to change the subject, Igor rapidly reined me in. “But back to the karrr,” he would continue. I learned that it was mainly the vomit-beige color that had attracted his wife, and that this model was the only one in which Igor, a hulking man over six feet tall, could sit up straight.

When I explained that I wanted the blue backsplash in the kitchen to swerve out and onto the wall like a wave, he reacted as if I had slapped him. His eyes narrowed. He demanded his money upfront, in cash and at once. For the bathroom job my husband had been allowed to drop off the money in person “at his convenience,” and he was even rewarded with a plate of homemade cheese cookies. But for this particular request, a trip to the bank was required before work could begin. And I had to do the tile wave myself. After I finished, Markus, a devout Catholic and the most cheerful of Igor’s crew, asked me if I could help him install the cabinet doors. He screwed while I held door and level. After each door—and there were many—he said, eyes glistening, “You arrre a verrry nice lady!”

“And you, Markus, are a very nice man. Hand me the next door.”

 

Three months later winter arrived and the heat failed to come on. We decided not to call Bob, our first plumber, who had fixed a leaking pipe Mr. and Mrs. Lau, the previous owners, had tried to keep from us. Bob was boiling mad. “MY TIME IS AS VALUABLE AS YOURS,” he screamed whenever I asked him a question. Our relationship didn’t last long. (It was Bob who recommended Bruno, the electrician. We quickly discovered that he shared Bob’s hostile attitude. After I complained that $2,400 for two days of work seemed exorbitant, Bruno said flatly, “My work is much more difficult than yours.” When I stared at him perplexed, he asked, “What is it that you do again?”)

Igor suggested we contact Dimitri for our plumbing needs instead. This should have been warning enough, but we were easy prey. When Dimitri’s crew finally managed to turn the heat back on—apparently Mr. Lau had snipped an electricity line that led to the boiler—we looked to him with trust. He told us that the company that made our boiler had gone bankrupt 30 years ago and our model was about to kick the bucket as well. $5,000 later we had a new boiler. That night we were awakened by loud hammering from inside the pipes and radiators. Our pets ran in circles in terror. The noise was followed by fountains of water spurting from the vents. My husband ran in circles in terror. Additionally, the boiler’s gauge glass filled past the safe level. Dimitri mulled over many fascinating theories about what might be causing the problem, and I spent hours with him on the phone, dutifully jotting down his suggestions. My husband should unscrew this top over there and pour some acid down the hole. When this didn’t work, Dimitri suggested he drain and refill and drain the boiler for eight hours straight. Eventually my husband began to resent Dimitri’s inhuman experiments.

This is when we began to buy books on plumbing. A Pocket Full of Steam Problems advised us to pitch the radiators with wooden shims and exchange the valves. The cover of We Got Steam Heat—A Homeowner’s Guide to Peaceful Coexistence featured the millionaire from Monopoly punching a radiator in a fit of fury. I would now sometimes find my husband, normally hidden behind a book about the history of color field painting, punching metal things in fits of fury. All of a sudden our relationship hinged on one big, cracked, leaking structure. It cracked and developed leaks of its own.

We decided to call a plumber recommended by a neighbor. (Bear with me, I’m only seconds from giving this one the boot.) After installing all the safety features that Dimitri had failed to install, Joe the plumber put a level on one of the pipes and concluded that it wasn’t pitched properly, which was causing steam and condensing water to collide. I noticed that he was holding the level upside down, and questioned his logic. “These people don’t want to spend any fucking money,” he barked at his co-worker. So long, Joe!

It took Billharz Plumbing, located two blocks from us, two hours to get to our house. A plumber who looked like Stone Cold Steve Austin charged us $150 for a 30-minute speech about “the science of plumbing.” Stone Cold had his secretary write up an estimate of $1,500, and when I called to have the estimate broken down into hours of labor and parts, I was told, “A lawyer doesn’t do that either.” Tell it to the judge, Steve!

We were desperate. Upon the advice of a madwoman we met at a party, we called another local outfit. An hour after the agreed upon time, Larry arrived wearing a T-shirt that read The Fastest Wrench in the East!!! He chewed gum, had muscles and a mullet. He ooh’ed and ahh’ed at every single pipe, as if each were a rare species he’d just discovered. What made me trust him was that he admitted his helplessness. If he had to take an educated guess, he said—emphasizing the word educated—it was the way this thing over here connected to that thing over there. He could give it a try and, to make it worth my money, his people would also exchange the radiators valves that had begun leaking.

A few days later Larry’s crew arrived. Within seconds, one of the guys had disconnected the living room radiator and dragged it halfway across the hardwood floor, leaving a long, deep scratch. “Wait!” I cried. “How about protecting the floor?” The helper growled something and disappeared. When I came back into the living room, the floor was protected with assorted pieces from an infant’s wardrobe: onesies, baby hats, little socks, an embroidered jacket and tiny dresses with pastel flower prints. I hoped that wherever the baby was, it was warm.

When Larry came by to check on the work, I snapped. He growled back quietly, and it was this clammed up growl that made me understand his trials and tribulations. It’s hard work to mediate between a gang of brutes who are fast with their wrenches but drag radiators across newly finished hardwood floors and hysterical first-time homeowners who are desperate to keep their new roof from collapsing. In that sense, Larry was not only a plumber, but also a marriage counselor. His strategy was to tackle the problems as they appeared. Don’t wallow in resentment because of previous mistakes. Perfection doesn’t exist. There will always be complications, just remain flexible and keep working on them.

Miraculously, Larry’s “educated guess” proved correct. After his crew replaced “this thing with that thing,” the banging stopped. The house became warm and quiet again. Our bond was sealed.

Because things keep breaking and leaking, my husband and I continue to see Larry on a regular basis. The most recent crisis occurred when heavy rains forced sewer water to shoot out of the basement toilet like a geyser. The situation was so dire that I called 911. When the firefighters arrived they found my husband kneeling in the basement bathroom with one fist in the toilet and the other one on top of the bathtub drain. His lower legs were submerged in water and his glasses were foggy.

“There’s nothing we can do but wait,” the firefighters said serenely.

“Don’t you have pumps?” I asked and, referring to my home country, I added, “In Germany, the firefighters pump out the basements when it floods.” While I’ve lost most of my faith in Germany, I still believe in anything relating to its golden standards of plumbing or, as it’s known colloquially, Gaswasserschweisse: gas-water-shit.

The firemen laughed at my suggestion as they cheerfully inspected the disaster of our basement while loping through the water in their knee-high boots.

When Larry came by the next business day to discuss possible methods of preventing future floods, he didn’t make fun of us for pouring cement down the toilet to stop a second Poseidon Adventure. If anything, he seemed to think it was a reasonable response.

I think I’ve become calmer with each crisis because Larry becomes more generous with his time. He also satisfies my writerly needs. His “characters” are irreplaceable. After I wailed about the absurdity of the previous owners using the basement as a living room, Larry told me that his Italian grandmother had also served breakfast, lunch and dinner in her basement.

“You know Italians,” he continued. “The upstairs like a morgue! Furniture that no one ever sits on.”

“Plastic covered couches?” I asked.

“Plastic covered couches.”

“I never saw plastic covered couches in Europe,” I said.

“When you come to America things change,” Larry continued, his voice carrying some deep knowledge of immigrant life.

The morning after I emailed Larry’s secretary Irene to ask for the estimate to have the basement toilet removed, I received a frantic phone call.

“I need your email address so I can email you back,” Irene said breathlessly.

Why didn’t she just hit reply?

“I’d have to go to the other computer,” she said, annoyed at my stupidity.

I had to spell my email address three times before Irene got it right. But as Larry taught us, there will always be complications. Just remain flexible and keep working on them.

The names of the contractors and plumbers have been changed. Reluctantly.

 

I. Where Past, Present and Future Collide

The first “psychic” reading I got some 12 years ago was involuntary. A shoddily clad heroin addict in Hamburg screamed my future at me: “YOU WILL DIE WITHIN THE NEXT THREE YEARS!” Pressing my face against the subway window I quietly started sobbing.

The next day I went to the doctor. He couldn’t find anything wrong, but suggested I go see a therapist.

Part I

Like new lovers, my husband and I were blind to flaws. And even if we had seen them, we wouldn’t have cared. Sunnyside, Queens, had us smitten. Rows of dollhouses rested in the shade of old English Plane trees. White wooden porches, hidden courtyards and raccoons. I almost expected an army of garden gnomes to slide down the slated roof, singing. I would interrupt their silly chatter and usher them to the heirloom rosebush, where my husband would be waiting amidst bunnies and blue birds to have his picture taken.

What lay beneath the colorful bricks and the pitched slate roof? Where was the skeleton, where the closet?

When we arrived for the showing, the owner, an Asian man the height of a 10-year-old was nipping at the hedge in the front yard with nail scissors. This made him appear neat, honest and trustworthy. Mr. Lau waved us into the house. He wore a broad smile, but didn’t speak any English. He didn’t understand our questions: Why was he selling the house? When did he buy it? What are those earth mounds in the backyard? Mr. Lau would grunt, smile and point to his wife, Mrs. Lau.

Mrs. Lau, small and round, sat in the kitchen in front of several bottles of pills and a ticking wall clock wrapped in plastic and grease. She explained in broken English that they were old and helpless, and that after living in the house for 30 years they were moving in with their daughter in Orange County, California. She pointed at the mysterious earth mounds in the backyard and said, “Potatoes!”

Even though I was about to blow my entire inheritance, the day of the closing I bought the Laus chocolate truffles to ease their pain. Poor Mr. and Mrs. Lau, we thought. It must be hard to leave behind a home like that.

Our inner weeping stopped abruptly when we began to discover what Mr. Lau had done to our house. For the next few months, he managed to surprise us daily.

Mr. Lau’s main skill lay in his versatile use of plaster, silicon, tar and other building materials designed for purposes he willfully ignored. As if his caulk pistol had a loose trigger, he smothered whole rows of tiles with thick layers of goo. When we tried to remove the caulk, the tiles came right off with it.

So what if all the tiles were to fall off? Who cares! I was in love. If the house had collapsed on top of us, I would have chimed, “Honey, let me get the broom!”

The dollhouse windows were covered with years of grime. They just need a good wash, I thought. But after hours of scrubbing and buffing, I saw that the glass was fogged between the panes.

One night we tried to turn on the heat. Mysteriously, the boiler, which had worked the day of the inspection, seemed to be broken. After hours and hours of trying to find out the gist of the problem, the plumber informed us that the electricity line, hidden behind the yellowing ceiling tiles, had been “snipped.”

Mr. Lau was “a joker,” “a jogger” and “a passionate gambler,” the neighbors told us. And apparently, he spoke English passably well.

Behind the hedges in the bushes we found innumerable old broomsticks. It turned out that Mr. Lau had used them to build modernist supports for fast-growing plants. My archeological findings revealed another facet of Mr. Lau’s extraordinary creativity: he bundled the sticks together with rubber bands, wire, string, telephone cables, and, in a personal twist, Mrs. Lau’s old tights.

Mr. Lau’s gifts could have made him a fortune on Etsy, but instead he devoted his talents to his house.


One day, anguished black clouds appeared. The first hurricane hit the northeast since 1903, and New York’s streets turned into rivers. Heavy winds and rainwater whipped our dollhouse. When just before dark two old friends arrived for a visit, I took them up to the wood paneled attic. We joked that its crawlspaces that lead nowhere were home to Mr. Lau’s grandmother. If I stuffed my ears with Mrs. Lau’s old tights, I could almost hear Grandma Lau boss the gnomes around.

It turned out instead that the attic was haunted by Mr. Lau himself. As my friends and I stood marveling at the dark wood paneling, the rain hammered onto the slate roof. The dim light bulb flickered. Through the foggy windows pointing out to the yard I could see how the spaces between the “potato” earth mounds filled with water and how the water crept closer and closer to the house.

“What are those mounds in the backyard?” My friend asked.

“There is a long waiting list for those burial plots,” my husband joked. I turned around and noticed a thin, continuous strand of dark water running down the wooden walls behind him. A metallic taste filled my mouth—the first sign of an oncoming panic attack. I must have visibly blanched because my friend immediately tried to calm me. “I’m sure it’s just a small hole in the roof,” she said. “Probably right by the chimney. They would have noticed if the hole was big.”

“The chimney,” I said, my voice shaking, “is on the other side.”

My friends tried to distract me. “Wasn’t there something you wanted to show us?” they asked. I had told them that Mr. Lau had decorated the basement in the style of a 1970s porno. He had paneled the space in light brown wood, hiding pipes and electric wiring behind yellowing ceiling panels. One room was divided off from the rest and featured an inexplicable, rectangular peephole.

I led my visitors to the basement bathroom that Mr. Lau had designed. The colors! A beige toilet confronted a pink shower curtain. The amorphous, bile green and fecal brown floor tiles battled the square, baby blue wall tiles. This was nausea. This was art. Or something. It suddenly struck me that it didn’t look so much like the set for a porno as much as a snuff film. Were these shocks planned? Was Mr. Lau watching us from the comfort of his new living room in Orange County?

Taped to a wall in the basement was a thick, 10-feet long bamboo rod whose purpose we couldn’t guess. Had Mr. Lau used the rod as a push pole during floods? But where was the boat? Had he used one of the several doors stacked against the wall as a raft? Then I noticed the puddles on the ground. Water!

“It might not be much,” my optimistic friends tried. “You might just need someone to snake your drains.”

The four of us tried to determine where the isolated puddles came from. Maybe a pipe was leaking? I took off a ceiling panel. A mousetrap garnished with a desiccated rodent fell on my head. Behind the doors that Mr. Lau had left us, I discovered a sewer drain with a missing screw cap. The old towel decorated with Disney characters that Mr. Lau had stuffed into the hole in lieu of the cap was saturated and had begun to release a slow but steady stream of water. Due to physics, gravity or something equally unfathomable to me, the water had accumulated where the foundation lay deepest without leaving any trace of its path.

The waters were rising, and we needed help.

To be continued…

Jesse had brought a rock-hard, stained futon mattress into the marriage. It took me two years to convince him to buy a new one. In what proved to be a last attempt to save our crumbling marriage, one Saturday morning we found ourselves at one of Bushwick’s few furniture stores. Next to the elevated railroad tracks on Myrtle Avenue, across the street from where the MTA once left 50 poisoned rats to decompose on the sidewalk, royal red polyester couches competed with golden vanity tables and rococo bed frames. As we curved our way past particleboard TV stands, a beer-bellied man with a comb over approached us. The salesman swiftly led us to a mattress adorned with a royal golden pattern against a shiny black background. He praised the mattress as if it were his first-born son. There’s no better quality for the price! It’ll last ten years at least! Maybe 15, he added, sensing my doubt. A special! A real special! Just as I wondered if he was paying for the mattress to go to college, I noticed that it had inner springs.

In Germany, innersprings went out with the Kaiser, or whenever it was that they invented foam. The last time I slept on an inner spring mattress was as a child at my grandmother’s house, and the bed still reeked of mustard gas from World War I. The springs poked my back and my chest was weighed down by a two-foot thick down blanket, so heavy with feathers that I felt like Leda gang-raped by a flock of swans. My Nazi grandmother put me up in her guestroom, a large, dark, wood-paneled space cold as a morgue. After tucking me in under the suffocating blankets, she sang Guten Abend, Gute Nacht, a lullaby based on a German folk poem. Provided with roses / Covered with flowers / Studded with nails / Slip under the blanket / In the morning, God willing / You will wake again.

Despite its funereal overtones, I requested the song frequently. I felt that if I considered the possibility of never waking back up, death might spare me. Catastrophes don’t happen if cautiously considered. If I only continued obsessing about the possibility of death—my own and the death of the people around me—I might be let off the hook.

Twenty years later at the furniture store in Bushwick, Jesse and I helplessly decided on the black innerspring mattress with the golden flower pattern, the one the salesman had called his best. I can’t claim that the mattress hastened the end of my marriage, but it certainly didn’t help.

After only three months the mattress began to sag, and for the two years that followed I slept on an incline with a continuously increasing slope. At first my left leg was wedged against the wall, only one inch higher than my right leg. But over the course of the next few years, the slope’s angle gradually increased to 20 degrees. With the advancing pitch, my marriage declined.

After Jesse finally moved out, I decided to buy a new mattress, opting for a larger one this time. If I got screwed again and the mattress sagged after only a few months, at least I would have enough space to disappear into it with my future boyfriend. But disappear where, exactly? Never again between innersprings. Coils and box springs are for losers. It’s the 21st century! When I think of coils and box springs, I think of straw and fluffy little baby chicks covered with potato sacks; I think of barns and alternating sleeping shifts.

Tempurpedic™ and its Swedish, (but puzzlingly) NASA-designed memory foam technology had caught my attention long before I considered buying a new mattress. Staying up late on my saggy incline while Jesse was out getting drunk, I felt oddly reassured by Tempurpedic’s infomercials. I still felt like hanging myself, but knew that one day in the future, I would be able to rest in peace.

According to Tempurpedic™, the mattress’s visco-elastic foam completely adapts to your body contours, releasing pressure from your spine and the heavier parts of your body. “This phenomenon,” Tempurpedic™ explains, “is similar to pushing your hand into the surface of a bowl of water and feeling the water flow to fill every contour and curve of your hand, then return to its original shape once your hand is removed.” Sounded like a dream to me. Never saggy, never sore! Completely resistant to permanent change! My heavy heart floating in a bowl of water—what could be better?

I knew I couldn’t afford a $2000 Tempurpedic™ mattress, so I tried to satisfy myself by taking the announcer’s advice and calling for an information kit. The package that arrived a few days later contained a video—which I never watched—and a memory foam sample the size of a teeny-tiny pillow, just big enough for my cat to rest her teeny-tiny head on. I briefly considered ordering enough 10 square inch foam samples to build my own mattress, but abandoned the idea after Tempurpedic™ kept bombarding me with intimidating brochures. The envelopes read like little death threats: “Open this envelope right now, Sabine Heinlein! This is your last chance!” What would’ve happened if I had ordered a few hundred samples! (Or if I wouldn’t have opened the envelope.) Covered with flowers, Studded with nails, Slip under the blanket… I wanted to burn those thick brochures, but instead started to use them to line my pet rabbit’s litter box.

Mr. Rabbit has certain preferences when it comes to his litter: It mustn’t be too soft, it has to be highly absorbent, and God forbid if I don’t arrange it neatly. My rabbit and I had both come to appreciate the thickness of the Sunday Times, but we were thankful for the little extra absorbance the generous mailings from the Tempurpedic™ folks provided. That is, until he began acting a little nervous. Was it the aggressive tone of their pitches? Or dreams of drowning in space-age foam? Whatever the case, I went back to using just the Times.

Rather than purchasing the Tempurpedic™ with funds I clearly don’t have, I decided to follow a more modest route and visit Sleepy’s. I entered my first Sleepy’s in Midtown Manhattan through an elevator that took me up to the show room on the second floor. Strangely, the worst thing about buying a new mattress isn’t the wealth of choices; it is the mattress salesmen.

Of all the salesmen I encountered on my mattress crusade, I liked this first one the very best. He did the store’s name some credit for he was actually asleep when I arrived. If he had been peacefully snoozing on one of the memory foam mattresses it would have clenched my choice. Unfortunately it was his office chair he was snoring on. Being a considerate shopper, I sneaked back out of the store on tippy toes. From there I went to another Sleepy’s just a few blocks down.

“Welcome to Sleepy’s! My name is Steve,” a wide-awake young professional greeted me. He asked what I was looking for and swiftly led me to one of his cheaper memory foam mattresses. He urged me to lie down. But naptime was over when I told him that I didn’t need a foundation because I already had one. “How high is your foundation?” he wanted to know. I pointed about three feet off the ground. His eyes widened with incredulity

“Noooo! That’s too high!”

“It’s worked for me so far,” I responded.

“But how you gonna get up there?” What did he mean by that? I’m not obese, I wasn’t using crutches. My feet and hands are beautifully shaped, if I may say so.

“I jump,” I said. He shook his head in disbelief and asked what I was keeping under my bed, a question I found a bit inappropriate. Who knows what some people keep underneath their mattresses? The space under one’s bed is nobody’s business. It is reserved for nightmarish creatures, undeclared earnings, useless crap and sometimes bunny rabbits. Before I could respond he added, “Drawers?”

“No drawers,” I said. “It is a hollow wooden structure. I store things underneath. Anything I don’t need on a daily basis. Suitcases, my ironing board, a surfboard.” I lied. I don’t have an ironing board or a surfboard, but I wanted to say something that made me sound neat and athletic. I also wanted to spare him the details about a rabbit who considers that space his own kingdom and turns into a monster if anyone reaches under the bed without knocking first. I proudly added: “I built it myself,” which clearly had the opposite effect I intended. I detected pity and deep sympathy in his eyes.

I quickly realized that it was hard to endure any mattress salesman for more than 10 minutes at a time. I decided to expand my research territory. After all, like 7-11’s in the rest of the country, Sleepy’s lurks on every corner in New York.

But before I moved on I noted down the first three conclusions as follows:

1. There are numerous companies producing memory foam mattresses for less than $2000, and they all have slightly incestuous names like Posturepedic, Therapedic, Posturetemp, etc. etc.

2. What the memory foam does is always the same; what varies is its thickness and the thickness of the supporting conventional foam layer underneath.

3. Mattress salesmen are curious people, sometimes asleep, sometimes awake.

The next Sleepy’s was located only a couple of blocks west. Again, a clean-cut gentleman rushed towards. “Welcome to Sleepy’s. My name is Jerry. How can I help you?” I briefly explained my situation, and he unexpectedly informed me that it was Father’s Day. “Really?” I said wondering what that had to do with my choice of mattress. He continued, “For our Father’s Day Sale everything is 30% off.” Father’s Day Sale! Noticing my skepticism, Jerry added, “And since you are my first customer today, you can get this mattress here for—” He punched the big keys of his old-fashioned calculator. “For $750, taxes and delivery included.” He looked up from his calculations with the eagerness of a child at Christmas. His excitement lessened when he saw that I was still not completely convinced. Where was I? On a souk in Marrakech? I was once forced to buy a carpet on a street market there. What started as a friendly negotiation ended with a knife on my ex-boyfriend’s neck. Ever since then, special, special offers make me very, very suspicious. But the mattress salesman had another trick up his sleeve: “If you leave a $25 deposit today, we will hold this offer for you for 60 days. Your $25 are fully refundable if you decide not to buy the mattress.”

Every day is Father’s Day for a measly $25! Or at least for the next 60 days. And of course after that there will be Easter, then Chanukah, then Labor Day, then Christmas, then Memorial Day, then Mother’s Day, then Kwanza and then, once again, Father’s Day (not necessarily in that order, though). What it boils down to is that you could be getting your fucking mattress any day for a reasonable price; and on those rare days that celebrate no special occasion you would be paying far too much.

After some fretting from me and some reassuring talk from Jerry, I laid down the deposit and decided to sleep on it. My old coils and the mattress salesmen had worn me out, and I simply didn’t have the patience left to make a choice. The next day I returned to Sleepy’s, where I encountered yet another mattress salesman. Where did Jerry go? “I laid down a deposit for a mattress, but I have one more question…” I started. “Yeah, what is it?” the new salesman growled as he pulled up my file. “Oh, nothing.” I gave up and handed my credit card over. The man, who never introduced himself, continued to sigh and moan.

I felt appropriately sleepy when I got back home.

There was a voicemail waiting for me from Sleepy’s. “Hi!” the salesman said cheerfully. “My name is Paul. I wanted to thank you for shopping with Sleepy’s, the mattress professionals. If you have a moment give me a call back and let me know how you experienced shopping at Sleepy’s.”

I apologize for not calling you back, Paul, but your mattress professionals exhausted me. But if you must know, Paul, I really like my new mattress. It is as comfy as a bowl of water, as a cloud, as… I’m sorry, but I’ve run out of metaphors for the moment. I need to lie down and rest.

Epilogue: Paul wasn’t the only one who made an effort to keep in touch. A few days into my new mattress experience I received more mail from Tempurpedic™. Hesitantly, I opened the envelope. “I hope you’ll understand why I’m so disappointed,” Dany began despairingly. (Dany made it sound like I had promised her love but then, with no warning, kicked her out of bed.) Evidently she is so disappointed because I have not yet bought my Tempurpedic™ mattress. She helpfully lists what might be jeopardizing our once promising relationship:

1. Inadequate description of the advantages of Tempurpedic™ mattresses.

2. Misunderstanding over the money-back-guaranty.

3. Insufficient communication about Tempurpedic™’s real affordability.

A fourth possibility never occurred to her: I had been cuckolding her with some mattress salesmen.

Mattress professionals are eloquent, utterly persistent, yet vulnerable people. Dany, Paul, Jerry and Steve, this is to all of you: Live your life on or under your own mattress, be it visco-elastic, box spring or latex. As for me, I have to go find the right pillow to rest my tired head on.

Whenever my father and I clash, he shrugs and says, “Artists and writers are difficult people. What can you do?” Being my father’s daughter, I just shrugged when I came upon the following question in the reference form for the MacDowell Colony, the prestigious residency program in New Hampshire.