I stepped out of our car and squinted up at the sleek, tall building. It seemed more like a tech company, or a global banking institution, or the corporate headquarters of something really important.
Not a furniture store.
Francis and I hiked across what seemed like acres of parking lot toward the enormous entrance with its gliding automatic doors and gleaming blue “Cardi’s Furniture” sign. We stopped inside and stared, mouths agape, at the massive lobby before us.
The ceiling soared five stories overhead. Outdoor furniture was everywhere – wicker, teak, canvas and cotton stripe. Ahead, criss-crossing escalators chugged hoards of shoppers up and down to floors filled with furniture displays.
“How can I help you?” a salesman said, appearing out of nowhere. He was balding and wore a lilac open-collared shirt, a silver pinky ring, and grey slacks. I avoid hard-sales pitches, but Francis can’t resist the opportunity to have someone’s undivided attention. He widened his stance, crossed his arms and began.
“Thanks for your help, uh,” he squinted at the name tag on the man’s lilac shirt, “Joe. My name is Francis, and I just retired after 28 years in the Navy. My wife Lisa and I are …”
“Well, thank you for your service,” Joe schmoozed, glancing at both of us.
“I appreciate that, Joe. Truthfully, it was my honor. When I showed up for Aviation Officer Candidate’s School down in Pensacola back in 1988, I never imagined that I’d end up making military service a career. But I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Even my last deployment to …”
“Joe,” I interrupted, “do you have mattresses?”
Francis took the hint, and fast-forwarded his life story to the end. “Our last military move is next month, Joe, and we need a new bed.”
“Right this way,” Joe said. He led us to the elevator doors and said, “Press three.”
The third floor displayed mattresses as far as the eye could see. We didn’t know where to begin. For the first half of our marriage, we used low-budget mattresses from the military PX. Then, in 2011, we found a Sears clearance center in Jacksonville, Florida, where we bought a slightly scuffed, queen-sized pillow-top that was leaning against a wall between a scratch-and-dent refrigerator and a reconditioned lawn mower.
“How can I help you today?” Another salesman appeared magically. This one was named Pete. He had comb-lines in his hair and wore a blue open-collared shirt, a gold pinky ring, and black slacks. Francis widened his stance and squinted at Pete’s name tag.
Here we go again.
After Francis finished his life story, Pete led us through the sea of quilted polyester. Like Vanna White, he motioned for us to lie down on the first luxurious king-sized bed.
“Which side do you prefer?” he asked me. It seemed odd, exposing my bedtime preferences to a complete stranger, but I took the left side, and Francis flopped onto my right, groaning loudly with pleasure.
“Oh, yeah, Pete, that’s what I’m talking about!”
Pete showed us three more models, each time hovering over us, asking intimate questions. “Do move around a lot? Do you get sweaty? Do you like to have your legs raised? Do you prefer soft or firm?”
I felt cheap and violated, but I noticed other couples testing mattresses too — bouncing around, spooning, and flopping from side to side. I decided I was being silly, and finally surrendered to the process.
Mind over mattress, I told myself.
“I like this one,” I announced, “so how much does it cost?”
Pete gestured to a felt flap over the end of the bed. Like Vanna revealing the Wheel of Fortune Bonus Puzzle, he flipped the cover to reveal the price.
I nearly choked on my uvula.
Pete tried to snap us out of our sticker shock by offering 60-month no-interest financing. This weekend only, of course. When this didn’t work, he led us directly to the economy section, where we spooned and flopped until we found a decent mattress in our price range.
I guess you could say, we slept our way to the bottom.