This is a mattress story. And why shouldn’t it be? I’ve written about tampons, tables, and tainted water. I’ve mused over fitness and shoeboxes. Doesn’t one of the most important inventions of modern times deserve it’s 1,346 words of fame? Life demands the right mattress.
A few weeks ago a current expat in India contacted my wife. As luck would have it, they departed for India without the standard pre-arrival checklist. Had they been briefed prior to undertaking a migration to the great subcontinent, they would have known three simple truths about mattresses in India: (1) Most are hard as stone, (2) the one’s that aren’t hard as stone—the imported ones—are insanely expensive and nearly impossible to find, and (3) it’s best to bring your own, because there are few things as terrifying as an expat who wakes up in India having spent the night on an Indian mattress.
The right mattress doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good night’s sleep. There are many variables contributing to sleep quality—mattress sound, white noise, jet lag, alcohol and food consumption, exercise, your roommate snoring all night until you find yourself standing over them with a pillow wondering if the jury would consider the buzz saw in the next bed a mitigating factor during deliberations. The mattress isn’t the only consideration, but it is an important one.
I’ve slept on all sorts of mattress-free surfaces with varying degrees of slumber success. In Iceland I slept in both a box and on a concrete slab. In both cases we were playing war games and working excessive hours launching aircraft at a fevered pace to stave off a Russian invasion. I was on EOR (end of runway) where we ensure the safeties are removed and the jets are ready to slug it out with the bears—something you’ll will never see in a Super Bowl as long as you live. During a lull I spied a large box just big enough to fit a freezing Airman in dire need of a windless, winter nap. During another exercise I slept on a slab above a running F-15 at two in the morning—not as comfortable but a good deal warmer. Uncomfortable? Yes. Did I sleep well? Yes. But extreme exhaustion has a way of mitigating the need for a mattress.
Another memorable sleeping adventure was in Guatemala. My sister-in-law pulled out all the stops, aired up her finest mattress, laid it in the middle of the 400 square foot, over-water sail and boat repair loft where her boat was moored, draped a fine mesh net about the whole rig to keep out the critters, and left us to it. Easily the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had on an air mattress perched above a a river in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle surrounded by things solely intent on sucking the life out of me.
The lack of a mattress is doable, but a bad mattress is not. It’s simple psychology. There are some sleeping situations in which we expect to be uncomfortable—hammocks on a beach, the ground beneath a tarp, countless airline seats, the top deck of a houseboat, a tent on the Inca Trail, a sleeping bag on a mid-river sand bar in the middle of winter where the only thing between you and a frozen grave is the Australian Shepherd you’ve tucked into the foot of your sleeping bag—trust me when I say me and the dog slept better that night. Accepting our uncomfortable fate allows us to sleep through the night in ignorant bliss.
The same cannot be said when there’s a mattress available. Mattresses conjure visions of sugar plums and euphoric hibernation, nights nestled in a pillowy warm embrace, roaring fires and pleasant dreams. They are the end of a long day and the beginning of a restful night. When we see a bed we expect a good nights sleep. Even now I’m looking at the bed in the B&B where we’re staying and anticipating more “Zs” than the zombie apocalypse—and I haven’t even touched the mattress, yet. History has programmed us to anticipate the best from our mattress.
We’ve been conditioned over time to embrace—dare I say it, love—the mattress. Once upon a time, people slept on the ground. Eventually we moved to boards, mats, and if we were lucky we might kill something furry before it killed us and sleep on a small pile of rabbit pelts—rabbits being about the only thing we weren’t afraid of back then. But most of the early years were spent sleepless.
Then around the beginning of the thirteenth century two important and life-changing things happened. First, people grew tired of back and neck pain resulting from sleeping on uncomfortable surfaces—thousands of years will do that to a species. Second, Europeans discovered that Arabs seemed happier, healthier, and well rested because they slept on cushions instead of slabs of wood—unfortunately, it took the Crusades for Europeans to make this discovery. Since then everyone from George Washington to my great uncle Bob has used mattresses with great success, sleeping a combined 187,632 years. The mattress became a household name and with it our expectation for a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is not the only thing we use a mattress for—there is of course, fornication. But sleep is by far the most important thing. We can fornicate anywhere—something humans have proven time and again on airplanes, in pub bathrooms, and thrice in the back seat of a 66 Chevy Caprice in Laurel Canyon. We can make the sweet, sweet love on just about any surface, but we cannot sleep comfortably on any mattress.
Like most Americans, I’ve slept on mattresses for pretty much my entire life. My mom would throw a mattress in the back of a truck for road trips when we were kids—before Americans became enlightened with the thought of possibly killing our children in an unbuckled fiery crash ruined the experience for everyone. When I knocked myself unconscious by miscalculating the height of a tree branch at the ripe young, intoxicated age of 16, it was a sofa mattress on which my friends lay me to die. Then there’s our current mattress, a queen-size Tempur-Pedic, the most comfortable mattress in the solar system. (I know it’s the most comfortable in the solar system because during a recent attempted alien abduction the aliens, who were attempting to drag me from my bed, commented to each other, “Damn, boo, this is the most comfortable mattress in the universe.”) Sleeping on the right mattress is the equivalent of hiking the Pacific Coast Trail in the right boots—it’s akin to picking the right band for your wedding. Nobody remembers the bed frame, but we all remember the crappy music.
Which brings us to India and our sleep-deprived expats. It was too late to smuggle a Casper mattress into India in their household goods shipment—which is what we did, all 80 pounds of it. Order online? Just the thought of ordering a decent mattress online for delivery to India costs more than the national debt of most small to mid-size countries. There are always expats leaving and willing to sell a mattress, but who wants to sleep where other people have been doing what other people do in bed? What’s a well meaning couple to do?
As it turns out, there was a company in Hyderabad selling a Westin Heavenly Bed—or possibly a knockoff, I’ve never been quite sure. What I can say is it’s the most comfortable, US-standard size mattress you’ll find in the ‘Bad and it’s worth every penny. So we sent them the mattress name, the name of the store, and a contact where they can have furniture custom made, to include a bed frame to accommodate the mattress—there is no such thing as a mattress standard in India. Two other expats did the same for us when we needed a second bed.
Life demands the right mattress—and good karma earned by paying if forward. Sleep well.
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