Betting on Better Bed-Buying

Few industries are more full of customer confusion, deception and trickery than bedding sales.  We try to venture into a mattress store as little as possible.  In fact, when last we visited one it was for a “Y2K” sale. January 1, 2000 found us buying a mattress to replace a waterbed that had sprung leaks thanks to the claws of an aggressive and somewhat mean-spirited cat.
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Despite advertised so-called sales, on that first day of new millennium we needed a new mattress and felt the sharp salesman had far too much of the upper hand.  The terminology required an insider’s knowledge to ferret fact from fiction, the names of the manufacturers all sounded similar (they all started with “S” like “sleep”) and up-selling and other pressurizing tactics ruled the day.  We swore we would never buy a mattress again.
2000
Nearly 18 years later, we slowly reasoned that our now-aging Triple-S-Sensual-Sleep-Slumberland-Supreme no longer owed us anything.  For one thing, it no longer seemed all that rectangular, in part because we may have been lazy about occasionally flipping it as suggested. We recalled our foreboding sense of “gotcha” at the mattress store two decades previously and reasoned there had to be a better way.
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Consumer Reports (which covers only cars more extensively than mattresses) affirmed the accuracy of our worst nightmares: trickery, thievery and buyer deception abound in a yesteryear industry chock full of sharp, commissioned salespeople desperate to hit the quota that qualifies them for the cruise (or whatever). Comparison shopping on price, store-to-store, is all but impossible because model names and numbers change for the deliberate purpose of thwarting such efforts.  Worse, many times the mattress one picks on the showroom floor and the one that arrives at your home differ in materials, workmanship, durability, feel, etc. (with no way to prove it).

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Consumer Reports also advised that it is both possible and increasingly popular to buy bedding online.  Before you say “How can I buy a bed without flopping myself onto it in the mattress store,” rarely do you get the time to really experience how it might be, the mattresses on the showroom floor may differ from the ones delivered to your home, and at the store you have the salesman pressure as well as the press of other customers hurry your decision.  Trying it in the store simply does not provide the objective insight one thinks.
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Online direct-to-consumer manufacturers also can provide a higher-quality mattress at less cost because the costs of floor planning inventory, bricks-and-mortar rent, on-premises sales staff and the like are not built into the price. There are many, and the reviews are right-on-top-of-one-another, scores-wise. After much research online, we came to select the Ghost Bed Luxe.
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Now why there are competing on-line brands “Ghost Bed” and “Casper” (as in the “friendly ghost”) is something it probably takes an industry insider to know; my patience stopped before researching this unlikely coincidence. Later I learned that several of the e-commerce bedding manufacturers have been warring with one another legally – see Casper Sues the Friendly Ghost? No matter, three days after completing the online purchase (with the very helpful chat box person, who steered me to certain unpublished promotions which lessened the cost some $150), our Ghost Bed arrived.

ghost bed

Though Queen Bed in size, somehow the air within its memory foam had been evacuated for shipping.  It came in a box (an 89 pound box) about the size of two cases of office copy paper.  Inside the box was the bed, tightly wrapped in much heavy plastic.  We positioned the bed where it would be (atop our existing box spring), cut the plastic wrapping and watched a miraculous re-inflation process (now I know how those under-seat life preservers work on airplanes). In a minute or two, the mattress was 8 or 10 times its volume, within an hour it was over 95% full size, and in less than 24 hours was full size and firmness.  Looking at it, sitting, lying or sleeping on it, you simply never would know it was shipped compressed like that.
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A few nights ago, our Ghost Bed had its maiden voyage. We are total fans. Summer will tell whether its embedded cooling gel makes it cooler to sleep on, but we believe the advertising.  So yes, you can safely and confidently buy bedding online. Total fan; overslept as evidence. We heartily recommend Ghost Bed (both Luxe model and not) if you are in the market for a new mattress. The pillows (made of the same synthetic marshmallow-like fluff) are outstanding too.

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Big Brother is Selling All Day, Every Day

The internet truly is a wondrous invention; nearly all of us owe a continuing debt to Al Gore for having invented it in the first place.

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Many of us realize that not only is it a means to research and gather information about news, interests, activities and hobbies, but also it is handy for any distraction from shopping to reading books, magazines, editorials and (as was the case for me yesterday), everything from a curiosity about what happened to the venerable hotels of the “Borscht Belt” in the Catskills  – some have reopened as religious retreats – , to whether the F-14 Tomcat of “Top Gun” fame still is in active service as a military jet fighter (overseas yes, but here, no).

tomcat So at some point yesterday afternoon, I was Googling reviews of Broadway shows.  Specifically, one called “On Your Feet” which is supposed to be a biographical musical of Gloria Estefan. Not so much a fan the first time around, her music captivated me as the background soundtrack to one of my favorite all-time Disney World attractions; the Enchanted Tiki Room (which I understand now to be gone). The whole skit by the Tiki Bird animatronic puppets was set to her music, including Conga, One-Two-Three, Turn the Beat Around, etc.   It was a special time-and-place for this then 43-year-old little boy.

tiki

So “On Your Feet” is coming to the Kennedy Center, and thought about getting tickets.  However, I wanted to read a review of the show. I clicked through from my Google search, onto a review of the Broadway version of the show, on the New York Times web site, from two years ago.  Well, one of those “the internet is not as free as you were led to believe” things happened, and my review-reading was interrupted by a splash screen asking me to subscribe to the New York Times. Hmm…
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Now I knew that I could dump my cookies and clear my cache and restart that NYT cookie counter, but doing so usually is a pain because you have to log back into some half dozen or whatever web pages I use regularly (WordPress, here, among them).  So while contemplating whether to bother going through all of that, I read the Times advertising come-on, which presented the following subscription options:

  1. I could pay $8 per month for a basic NYT subscription, which would entitle me to articles and whatnot, but not their crossword puzzle or recipes.  Already I am a paid subscriber to online Washington Post (also $8 per month or so) and enjoy it; I also believe that people who work at the paper deserve a roof over their heads and the capability to pay for housing. So I knew $8 was not out of line, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted the puzzle and recipes too, so I read on.
  2. I ALSO could spend only $8 a month and get the puzzles and recipes included.  This was the NYT “Black Friday Special”, which came with its very own asterisk.  I was intrigued for a moment, as this seemed like a better value. Of course, I also knew that asterisks can be bad, as anyone who ever has read a car dealership ad knows.  So I searched for the asterisk and its fine print.  I found that $8/month would balloon to $27 a month, automatically and without telling me, once a year (at $8 per month) was complete.  Of course, I could “cancel anytime”, if I remembered to and figured out how.

bait and switch

It did not take long to feel that I hated gimmicky intro ads. What I quickly realized too, was that I simply expected more from the New York Times than such a transparent call-to-action. I was reminded of the Columbia House record club, for which I always had distaste.
columbia house
Never having even begun to place an online order (no user name, password, email address, etc.), and I closed that tab and left the web site of the New York Times, my purpose (to read their review of “On Your Feet” unfulfilled). I thought that the episode of my being marketed to by the Old Gray Lady of the news media was concluded the moment I closed that tab in Chrome.  I was, um, wrong.

gray lady

Wouldn’t you know it, but bright and early this morning I was greeted with an unsolicited email from the circulation and subscription desk of the New York Times.  Seems they noticed that I had an “uncompleted order” and they were here (in cyberspace) to help separate me from my money via email, online chat or telephone.

Mind you, once again, I offered no self-identification or contact information of any sort.  They just “knew” it was me. Um, I should not really be surprised, but still, wow.

buy now

I believe that my active Google account must be the culprit, but its too inconvenient to spend my life in incognito mode, online.  So I have acquiesced to the reality that every time I touch a button or click on a link, 192,463 different guys (no doubt all living in someplace like Mumbai and all named Patel) are adding me to yet another database they then endeavor to sell to companies worldwide for 5,000,000 names per rupee (2,200,000 per rupee if accompanied by a live email address).  Sadly, it’s either to accept this uncomfortable reality than to actively fight against it.

I never did read that review.  But I still think On Your Feet might be a good one to see.

conga

Being Raised With, and By, Television

boy

When I was a baby, my parents very dutifully documented every occurrence in my life and the world around me, in a rag-tag scrapbook they called a “baby book.”  There are lots of black-and-white snapshots documenting those early days, weeks, months and years (in logarithmic fashion, as my Dad tired of being the family photographer). Some of these have stood the test of time well, but many of them less so as the stains from poorly manufactured, yellowed Scotch tape will attest.
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There are newspaper clippings about the Orioles (they had pennant aspirations in 1961 with a crew of young pitchers called the “Baby Birds), popular cars (the Ford Thunderbird seemed to catch my Dad’s fancy), fashions (have some plaid with your plaid) and technology’s impact on everyday life.  As Dad documented, “Well, it looks like both air conditioning and television are here to stay.”Television.

baby bird

As the years have gone by, what I have come to cherish the most about this homespun photo-journalistic effort is the narrative written in my Dad’s longhand.  He wrote about television a little bit, and the shows he said we watched together.  I vaguely recall watching Dragnet, The FBI, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  Yep, Dad and I were all about the ABC lineup on Sunday nights.

 

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old tv

The earliest television set (they were called that then) I can recall was a piece of furniture on legs, finished in blondish wood with a round, greenish screen a little larger than a dinner plate.  Manufactured by a long-since-defunct Baltimore company, it had four-detente channel positions:  2, 11, 13 and off.  UHF channels (14 and above) did not yet exist and the TVs of that era did not have the capacity to pull in stations from far-away locales such as Washington DC. Three channels, beaming from the “Candelabra” tower I could see from our driveway, provided more than all the electronic entertainment I ever could want.  Or so I thought.
tower
The television set itself had peculiarities of interest to little boys, not the least of which was learning the magic behind just how they worked.  Mind you, I was the kid who dismantled his etch-a-sketch and got that silver powder all over the floor, in a quest for technical understanding.  The living room television set had an odd backing made of heavy cardboard with little round air holes for ventilation, but the holes were not big enough to see through clearly.  The TV had vacuum tubes and took awhile to warm up, and during that time something magical clearly was happening behind those little round air holes, but the time of being old enough to understand how to remove the screws holding the cardboard in place also meant that I was old enough to read and understand “Electrical shock hazard.  Death may occur…”  I did open the back for many an inspection, but never touched anything.
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I vaguely recall that television stations in the early and mid 60s would not necessarily broadcast all day. They would go dark overnight and sometimes even over the mid-day hours.  “Pete the Pirate” would begin the afternoon telecasts on WMAR for example, which did not broadcast between about 10AM and 3PM because, one supposed, that station managers judged that not enough people would be watching to justify the expense.  Yes, it’s true.  Imagine.
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By the mid 60s, the big three Baltimore VHF television stations were on the air from roughly 6AM to midnight, and I would be up at 5:30 or 5:45 watching the test pattern, waiting for the Star Spangled Banner and perhaps thereafter, agricultural reports or something called Sunrise Semester.  It did not matter what and little was aimed at a kid audience – I was hooked.
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Despite this childhood fascination, for most families of my peers the television occupied a position of even greater prominence than in my house.  My parents were decidedly not TV-addicted.  They eschewed mainstream televised entertainment for being insufficiently erudite and lacking in overall artistic value and sophistication.  They generally saw the value of news, public affairs programming and once it came along in the 1970s, public television.  My Dad did have a soft spot for cop procedural dramas; Hawaii Five-O was a weekly staple in our house for that reason.
hawaii five-0
As I got a little older it was cartoons, and then standard-fare network-offered sitcoms and dramas. For me the best part of childhood and teenage television watching was the late afternoon daily airing of a Star Trek rerun. Total escapism for teenage boys. Also, staying home from school for a sick day offered an interesting and rare window of TV reruns from about a decade before my personal awareness: sitcoms and dramas from the 1950s and very early 1960s. No matter what was on, the basic kid TV-watching experience was unchanged: few choices, commercials every 15 minutes or so, and one basically did not do anything else while watching TV. It’s how and my generation still remembers ad jingles of the era, unless the commercial afforded a bathroom break.
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In the 60s and early 70s, regularly programmed television could be preempted for large news events.  How I came to be a “fan” of NASA and the space program was through preemption of whatever else I was watching for launches, splashdowns, historical achievements and other “special reports.”  Similarly, even through still a pre-teen, television helped make me aware of the Vietnam War, politics and other world events. I remember cartoons being preempted for the JFK funeral and I remember my Mom glued to the set for the Watergate hearings.  Though I now consider myself politically astute and knowledgeable, at the age of 12 nothing was more boring than senatorial hearings on Nixon’s wrongdoings. But nothing else was on.
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I became the household expert at various technological skills lost on the present generation such as the vertical and horizontal hold knobs, aiming and tuning VHF and UHF antennae, and most of all, the deft surgical touch needed to tune in narrow-bandwidth UHF channels including the tight beam of the often-evasive but kid-friendly Channel 45. And, of course, if something went wrong, there was that daunting cardboard backing with the little round air holes.
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During my teen years my house had two televisions and still relied on over-the-air broadcasts.  The “big TV” was a 19-inch black-and-white in our living room, that had to be watched with the volume low because Dad ran his home-based real-estate business from the adjacent dining room and often would be on the phone with clients. In my parents’ bedroom upstairs was a 12-inch black-and-white set, on which I can recall watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon at an hour otherwise past my bedtime.
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Ultimately and sometime during college, I came home for spring break and found that my parents had lost all control of their anti-TV erudite sensibilities and tumbled hard into the late 20th century, television-wise.  There was a 25-inch color television where the 19-inch black-and-white had been, and there was a channel controller on a long black cord that emanated from a cable box on the floor under the TV.  There also was a new piece of furniture for the TV, for the one on its own legs was gone.  I gamely turned it on, spun the dial, found MTV and my television-watching life instantly had changed forever.
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Martha Quinn. Rock music. Color TV. Television had grown up and I had too.
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