Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bed Bath and Beyond Rock Bottom

The other day I was trying to think of the creepiest question I’ve ever been asked. It’s never just the question, there’s not necessarily anything frightening about stringing words together. It’s more about the circumstances in which it arose, who the asker was, and my own personal mental and physical state that creates the fear factor. Try as I did, I couldn't place my finger on one, single moment in time.

But the other day, I found my answer in the pillow section of a Bed, Bath and Beyond.

In my home, there is an on-going joke, that’s isn’t really a joke, that attributes getting older with bodily injuries occurring under increasingly dull circumstances. It’s a joke in a sense that we were destined to get older every day, regardless of how we injure ourselves. The part that’s not a joke is how often we prove the theory to be true.

February 2014: I threw out my back while putting on my socks.

March 2014: My roommate broke her toe while walking around the apartment.

May 2014: I pinched a nerve in my neck while attempting to towel-dry my hair.

While injuries like these are more of a nuisance than anything else, they do manage to serve as a constant, throbbing reminder that you are a fallible, fragile human being who, at any moment, could literally just fall apart and die. My roommate, we’ll call her Alice as that is her actual name and I don’t care about her privacy, takes the stress of it in stride. Didn’t miss a single day of work. Didn’t complain. Just lived through the pain until it fixed itself.  

Personally, I took a different path. Rather than suffering in silence, I became a whimpering mess of self-pity, on the war path to blame everything around me for the injustice I had suffered at the hands of anatomy. Yes, I still went to work, wet hair and all, but I left early, and immediately upon returning home, I collapsed on my bed, too pathetic to even take off my shoes.

Closing my eyes, I hoped to take solace in my Tempurpedic haven. But I couldn’t find a comfortable position for my head to rest; my temples throbbed from exhaustion as my shoulder muscles tried to overcompensate for my neck’s inability to do its one job. My pain turned to anguish, which turned to hate, and then I turned on my pillows. Pillows, I raged, curse your inevitable betrayal.

It’s surprising how easy it is to ignore choices you’ve made that inescapably direct you down a path of no return like purchasing bad pillows. When I bought the pillows in 2009, I found the concept of spending any amount of money on pillows truly obscene. Money wasn’t for pillows – it was for necessities like coffee and rent and pizza rolls. I went to Target and spent a grand total of $10.49 on two flat, lifeless containers of cotton-like fluff, and thought eh, it’ll be fine. Even at point of purchase, I knew it wouldn't actually be fine. So five years later, when that $11 investment finally did the damage it was destined to do, the only pain that rivaled my aching neck was the crushing agony of personal defeat.

It was the acceptance of that life-failure, fueled by the desire to have a pivot joint that once again pivoted, that landed me at the threshold of that Bed Bath and Beyond.

And that’s when things got bad.

Bed, Bath and Beyond is a strange, mystical land. Instantly upon arriving, I am able to call to mind at least five household items I desperately need, but can’t, for the life of me, think of what I went there for in the first place. And that's exactly how I ended up in front of a peg-board wall covered with non-stick frying pans, and nowhere near the pillows. Do I really need a 12” pan? I wondered. Wouldn’t a 10” suffice? What size is the one I have at home? Is a stainless steel pan better than these other ones? If not stainless steel, what are these other ones even made of? What IS stainless steel?

Stainless steel is a steel alloy with about 10.5% chromium. I know, because I googled it. Right there, in the middle of the cookware section of the BB&B. And it was about halfway down the Wikipedia page for stainless steel that I remembered I wasn’t even here to buy a non-stick pan. And that it really didn’t matter what it was made of because all I needed was a pan to make eggs that wouldn’t annihilate the sun of my sunny-side up masterpieces, and that ultimately my decision, like every decision before it, would be based off of how much the item costs, and not much else. 

So, with an “under $40 kind” of non-stick frying pan grasped tightly in my hand, I made my way over to the pillow department.

Pillow technology has come a long way since the last time I shopped around. Expecting to read descriptions like “firm” or “not so firm,” I was entirely overwhelmed by “hypoallergenic ISO-cool microfiber standard bed pillow.” With ceiling-high displays of what seemed to be at least 175 different kinds of pillow, I was at a loss with how to begin to make a decision. I walked around the section, pretending to read the labels by occasionally pausing and nodding, and discreetly poked at the display models. Oh, that one seems nice. No, that one’s too squishy. Well, this one could work – IT’S HOW MUCH? While I understood that I would have to spend more than $10 dollars, I was still not emotionally prepared to spend $100.

There were goose feather pillows and memory foam pillows. There were memory foam pillows that lived inside of goose feather pillows. There were pillows for pregnant women and tall men. Probably pillows for people with early onset diabetes, too. I had returned to the center of the aisle, the non-stick frying pan wielded like a machete in my left hand, when a man sidled up next to me.

“There certainly are a lot of choices,” he said. I turned to look at him, prepared to acknowledge that he was a friendly, caring customer service representative of the BB&B who was only doing his job.

Then I saw he was not.

I said nothing, though my social reflexes forced me into a half-hearted shrug, feeling the need to at least recognize that he had spoken. This was, of course, a mistake. My one-shoulder shrug had unintentionally given him the green light on continuing to talk.

“I’m just trying to figure it all out. It’s an important decision, you know?”

OH MY GOD, go away, I thought. Go away forever. Go away so far. My neck ached, my head hurt, I was tired, it was hot; all I wanted was a pillow and to go home.

“Because we spend eight hours a day sleeping, right? So that’s a lot of time…”

“Yeah,” I replied, emphatically. I took a step forward towards the Brookstone BioSense display, putting him out of my peripheral line of sight.

“Say,” he said, taking a step forward and towards me, “are you a side-sleeper, or do you sleep on your back?”

This was the moment in time when two completely distinct, but equally fatal notions occurred to me. The first being that I was surely about to be murdered. Having just recently fallen asleep to a documentary on Jeffrey Dahmer, I knew that serial killers could have unusual criteria for their chosen victims. It was possible that for this man, the way I would be sleeping when he broke into my house to stab me repeatedly and leave a Shakespearean sonnet on the wall written in my blood, could be enough. I glanced at him again before answering.

“Both,” I said before taking another step away. My grip on the frying pan tightened.

The other possibility that occurred to me was that I was being hit on. This was similarly awful in a somewhat different way. All I wanted was a new pillow. I wanted to buy my pillow and return to my empty house to watch six hours of “Merlin” on Netflix and maybe get a burrito from the taco truck. That’s what I wanted for my day. Some of you will defend him, some of you will say, but he was just being friendly! Or you’ll say, you never know when you’ll find the right one!

And to that I say, it won’t be in a Bed, Bath and Beyond, and he won’t be asking me creepy-ass questions about how I sleep.

I grabbed a box that I hoped contained a decent pillow, and I booked it out of the department. Upon recounting this story to a friend, her first question was “Well, was he cute?”

“I don’t know,” I answered, honestly. “He had red hair, was approximately 5’9”, medium build with no visible tattoos or scars. His shirt was green.”

“That's not an answer - that sounds like a police sketch.”

“Yes. I know. That's the point.”

Sometimes moments happen like dominos, and each event crashes into the next event until you’re left with a huge mess to clean up at the end. Maybe my assumption that Alice would have to call the coroner to retrieve my mutilated body was merely an accumulation of all the other negative things that had happened to me that day. Or maybe I dodged a metaphorical, and quite literal bullet. Hopefully I will never truly know. What I am quite certain of, however, is that even surrounded by all the modern comforts of Bed, of Bath and of whatever lies Beyond those things, a person can still fear for her life, and also be tempted to stab first.

Tell me something," I could say. "Would you like to be placed in the coffin on your back, or are you a side-sleeper?”