Monday, December 7, 2009

The Sleep Consultant

“I’m looking for a twin bed,” I say, hesitating in the doorway, “… for my son,” I add, not wanting to signal ‘Given Up On Relationships’ (which my flat shoes and lack of make-up probably already have).

Before me stretch acres of showroom, empty except for the salesman who is bounding towards me in a lurid tie. I must be the only person who makes big-ticket purchases three days before Black Friday – but my error doesn’t hit me until later.

“We have these three models,” he gestures to the beds immediately in front of me, “and then there’s our own brand,” he says, pointing to a Papa, Mama and Baby Bear set up. He notes the look of confusion on my face that is introduced every time I have to make purchasing decisions. I hate shopping. I hate even more the decision-making process, which will ultimately result in a sleepless night wondering if I made the right choice. “Why don’t you try them?” he hints, like a kindergarten teacher giving gentle cues. I tentatively sit on the first bed. “No, you can’t test a bed that way,” he says, sounding a mite less patient but still smiling, “You have to lie down.”

Now I know that extras in Sit ‘n Sleep commercials do it all the time, the woman lying down in her high-heels and matching purse and the husband turning towards her, smiling and nodding as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to be replicating your moments of greatest privacy for the viewing public. But I’m all alone and the salesman is hovering over the end of the bed like a mad scientist getting ready to fit me with electrodes. “Very comfortable,” I say primly from my reclining position and spring back to my feet.
“But does he sleep on his back, or does he sleep on his side or his tummy?” the salesman asks, exasperated by my unwillingness to play the extra game.
“His side,” I admit warily, unready to assume the fetal position in a vast showroom like a babe burrowing under the dry leaves of the proverbial woods. He senses my hesitation.
“Well, I’ll leave you to try them out!” he says, plastering back the smile. “My name’s Douglas, Doug, and I’ll be right over there.” He points to a desk at the side of the showroom as if I’m a child who needs to be reassured. But wait! I’m about to be left floundering in a sea of beds with no discernible difference between them, and only unintelligible signs declaring things like ‘Hb&F extra’ to guide me.
“But what about all the other beds?” I ask, gesturing to the pillow tops stretching to the horizon.
“Oh, I showed you the three cheapest ones,” says Doug. “They get more expensive as you go further back in the showroom.”
“Well, you sure pegged my demographic quickly,” I joke.
“I’m a salesman, it’s what we do,” he says proudly.
I am suddenly incensed that a balding man with a badge that says ‘Sleep Consultant’ and a fat tie with the photograph of two children on it (probably not even his own) should have written me off so quickly.
“I come from a very wealthy family in England, you know!” It’s out of my mouth before I can stop myself. (A lie, but being the ancestral kings of Suffolk has to count for something.)
“And I’m a neurosurgeon,” he says with a straight face.
“Really?” Times are hard.

I whip out my credit card. “I’ll take the most expensive of the three you showed me.” (It’s my mother’s money anyway. Compared to my own finances, I wasn’t lying about my family’s wealth.)

I leave the showroom a chastened woman. All my years in social programs, working hard to dispel the impression of being the privileged white woman, I’ve obviously become too good at it! But the saddest thing is that somewhere deep in my European psyche I believed that ‘good breeding will always show,’ that I can dress in clothes from discount stores and still retain an aura of ‘genteel poverty.’ Oh, how we deceive ourselves. Dissed by Doug the Sleep Consultant.

© 2009 Louise Godbold

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