The Sham of It


We’ve just paid $3,000 for a new mattress.

“It’s not a mattress,” the salesman sniffed. “It’s a sleeping system.” His accent

is unmistakably Yiddish and he’s kind of elderly, so I don’t want to be too disrespectful. I mean, my parents spoke Yiddish, too — mostly when they wanted to talk dirty. But still, three grand for a mattress?

“For $3,000,” I said, prying open my checkbook with a crowbar, “I could buy a car.”

“But you can’t gey shlofen in it.”

Little he knows. I’ve slept in cars, on park benches, on hardwood floors, through graduate school, you name it. But never on a $3,000 sleeping system. When did a bed become a sleeping system?

“The frame is made of triple-kiln dried maple,” he told me.

“Does that mean if I buy it, you’ll throw in some syrup for breakfast in bed?”

He looks at me like I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Well, I did. So what? I even voted for Jerry Brown when I found out he slept on the floor!

“Triple-kiln dried maple,” I said. “Is that good?”

“You vant it or vhat?” he demanded.

Three Gs and he wouldn’t even kibitz with me.

“Triple-kiln dried maple,” I repeat. “Is that good?”

“It’s the best you can get, unless….”

“Unless what?”

He eyed me up and down.

“There’s the queen’s bed,” he whispered.

“We want California king,” I tell him. He gives me a look that says schmuck.

“Come with me,” he whispered, and moments later we stood before a bed in the far corner of the showroom, a bed that looked like all the others.

“The queen’s bed,” he repeated, softly.

“Which queen?” I asked. “Queen Latifah?”

“The queen of England,” he said with pride. “Totally custom-made, each spring wound by hand, hundreds of craftsmen involved, finest fabric.”

He shot a look at my better half. “You like, shaineh maidel? $13,000.”

One look at the expression on my lover’s face and I threw open my checkbook. “Gimme a pen,” I begged.

As he snatched the check, he looked me in the eyes.

“The queen sleeps alone,” he whispered, like he knows. “She’s very royal.”

“She’s very ugly,” I told him, still holding onto the check. “That’s why she sleeps alone.”

He laughed. Finally, we’re getting somewhere. Now’s my chance. “How about a discount,” I suggested. “I’m a bar mitzvah mensch.” We stood there still both holding onto the check, a tug-of-war between an old Yiddish man and one somewhat younger who wanted nothing more than a good night’s rest.

“Three-thousand dollars for you, billik,” he sniffed. “It’s nothing. You’re a successful man.”

Flattery will get you everywhere, so I let go of the check. By the next afternoon, the bed is all set up. The delivery guys weren’t gone three minutes when I heard, “Now let’s go to Bed, Bath and Bankrupt and get sheets.”

“We have sheets!”

“We can’t put old sheets on a new bed,” she said.

“Is this a law? Did the Congress, in the dead of night, pass a constitutional amendment making it illegal to….”

“Let’s go!” my darling commanded, and one hour later I’m out of another $600 and my mind. We bought sheets, new pillows, pillowcases, duvets and a goose down comforter. I now had more invested in my sleeping system than Social Security.

“Aren’t the shams lovely,” she said, admiring some weird stuff surrounding a pillow.

“Oh,” I said, “we got shammed all right!”

My simple, innocent comment lead to a rebuttal, followed by a vehement retort, resulting in an ultimatum that ended with my winding up on the exterior side of a locked front door.

“When you can appreciate our new bed, you can sleep in it,” she said through the mail slot.

“Threw you out, huh?” said my friend Marty, another salesman.

“Just for the night,” I said. “She’ll get over it.”

“She’ll get over it? You’re the one with no bed. Why don’t you buy a fine pre-owned automobile from me?” he said. “You can sleep in it.”

“You’re not Yiddish, are you, Marty?”

“I have a sweet Camry for you,” he said, “only three grand.”

“Three grand?” I sniffed. “For three grand, I can buy a sleeping system.”

Wildman Weiner is credentialed teacher of older adults.