Tanner is buying a new mattress on Labor Day because his job ruins his back. His back is ruined because the table he cuts meat on is a very low table, forcing him to hunch for several hours a day. The table is low because somewhere up the line of bosses there lies a belligerent sadist. No other reason. There are plenty of taller stainless steel tables in the world that would solve this problem for nearly zero cost. He can’t put anything under the table to hoist it up because it would violate dozens of state and federal laws. His boss will not buy a higher table. His employees backs are being destroyed. Tanner is stumbling into this demented coliseum, this ginormous warehouse of people-sized blocks of latex with a single shifty eyed psychopath in the middle who’s desperately trying to scam you into buying one, using money made from a job that ruins his back to buy a new expensive mattress to help ease the pain from his ruined back.
The mattress store is lit like a porno. Top down fluorescence. Off in the extremely far distance a man stares at us from behind a small counter. The room is breathtakingly large. We wave at each other, each conceding the fact that we are too far physically separated for audible communication to be an option. I point at the mattress as if to say “I’m here for one of these.” Buying a mattress is a lot like life in this way, in that it’s mostly incoherent chaos.
We’re squeezing various pieces of foam. Tanner is holding his lower back and doubting the process, suspicious, cornered, exhausted, never particularly smart nor talented. Reading the asinine drivel of whatever slack-jawed ghoul writes the “Cool-Tek Breeze XTRA-Stretch Latex MICro-BUBBLE Support” copy, completely inscrutable nonsense, we’re accidentally summoning otherworld beings while trying to pronounce them, a small village in Taiwan is exploding into obsidian hellfire.
“Hell fucking yes.” I’m using a remote control to vibrate an entire mattress. The speed is increasing. Through the fog, I see the man hurriedly approaching, the sound of his footsteps have yet to reach me. He is impossibly far away.
The logic of a physical mattress store in an increasingly digital age is that you need to test the mattresses first. People usually like to test run anything that separates them from the ground. Trying out a mattress is particularly horrific in that you’ll be spending approximately a third of your life on this thing. Laying down, fully clothed, flat on your back under horrendous pornographic lighting, laying in a way you have never laid in your life, in a way you never ever intend on laying again, in a situation where you would never achieve sleep, a deep panic sets in. “How would this feel to rest on every night for a couple decades?” God is laughing hysterically, because what feels pillowy and cushy right now might comprehensively destroy the bottom half of your spine after a single night. What feels firm and supportive might slowly disintegrate your shoulder blades, paralyzing your arms. Perhaps the plastics will toxify your brain chemistry. Who’s to say. All you can do is check your pulse while meandering from mattress to mattress, horizontal, vertical, horizontal, vertical, which we do. Laying down on a mattress made of some newly invented element, I see a fly whose wings have become ensnared in a loose thread. Delicately, I free him. There but flies a brother.
A low thumping in the distance. Squinting, I see the man is growing closer. His arms are swinging in a hefty stride.
Incredible to think that people used to sleep on hay and the bones of their dead parents for thousands of years. They didn’t need scientists to invent new elemental particles to sink their body into each night because they could probably make their tables taller. They also didn’t work nearly 40 hours a week and didn’t need to extract every ounce of physical rehabilitation from their sleep. They could just have sex and then lay down for a while and hallucinate in their sex juices. How pathetic and housebroken we are. What a farce. Maybe we will murder this man.
An echo rings—“I see you’ve found our Queen Master 7. She’s a beauty, big seller, terrific!” In the middle distance a humped old man is cupping his hands around his mouth. I’m imagining shooting a poison dart into this man’s jugular from the roughly 400 yards away he is. Me and Tanner walk up and slash his throat, blood spewing up to the ceiling. In one last act of generosity, we place him on his favorite bed as he gurgles himself to death. We walk out with bags of money, bags of money that we burn in front of the Capitol, poisoning the birds above with its noxious fumes, becoming political prisoners (heroes???) for life. I’m 80. I’m collecting the love letters and fan mail at the prison. I’m winking at the guards, tipping an invisible hat, pissing them off. They’re gently patting their batons in their palms and shaking their head, I am unfazed, I am jacking off to my love letters, a hero.
The Labor Day Mattress Sale takes place once a year for roughly two months, starting sometime in August, and has a marketing budget only barely outmatched by the Olympic Games. Urban legends abound of salesman who were driven into deep, eldritch madness due to the sheer scale of the savings and discounts during the LDMS. These fabled men forget their name, invent a new one that no parent anywhere would even think of naming a child, and live the rest of their lives in a permanent mania, only able to temporarily quench the gnawing psychic horror by selling even further discounted mattresses. It is a vampiric tradition, the blood is being kept somewhere…
We’re at the counter, the man is up close, and he’s screaming. A series of numbers, decimals, APR (???), fiscal something-or-other, none of it makes sense.
“For sure.” Tanner is signing hundreds of documents. Nodding his head. Maneuvering a little card in weird ways. The card and this machine are fucking! I am thunderstruck by the raw, jungle energy of this man. You can nearly hear the cartilage sizzling off of his joints each time he breathes. A face tattoo, it says RANCID, old and blue and creased into paper skin. A strong scent of feed. His spine is probably the consistency of oatmeal at this point. This man is in agony too. The man hasn’t made a friend since he was 14 and he is surely long dead. I hope he has a dog. God if you’re up there please let this man and his dog die at the exact same moment, together in a warm sunray, buried together forever. I love this man.
Today is the Labor Day Mattress Sale. The Earth has stopped spinning, I can sense the decreasing magnetism.
I’m in a Porsche full of cocaine driving across the border. I’m in a hut making fake passports for murderers using melted crayons and old gift cards.
We walk out, empty handed. We didn’t even give him anything, and he gave us nothing other than a cryptic promise that wheels were turning, things were happening in the background. Nothing was exchanged. The mattress was promised to arrive at Tanners apartment within the year, between 3-7am on his favorite weekend. The violence, in its final cruelness, has left no mark. I want to tell him it’s ok, we will kill the people who are doing this to him, once we identify them. I’m thinking about Tanner 25 years ago, all pink and small and stupid, spine all fresh and new.
[This piece was selected by Rachel Wild. Read Leland’s interview]