Friday, March 21, 2008

Requiem For A Waterbed

I've slept on a waterbed for eight years, since the summer of 2000. Most people have reacted with surprise or even dismay when they learn this fact: do they still make those? Isn't it uncomfortable? How often do you attend key parties while listening to Grand Funk Railroad on your eight-track player? Etc, etc.

Waterbeds are in fact extremely comfortable, as long as you buy the right kind. Unfortunately, they don't really make them anymore - or at least, you have to go out of your way to find them. The last time I needed a patch kit for my mattress I had to order it online, because none of the furniture stores in my vicinity carried waterbeds or waterbed accessories. I imagine in a few years they'll come back into vogue. Everything is cyclical, not just in comics.

But for the last six years, I've slept on an extremely uncomfortable waterbed. The traditional waterbed consists of a single bladder, but my bed had two bladders, side by side running up and down the bed. The theory behind this design - and I stress "theory", as this is not actually how it ever worked - is that two people lying side by side can adjust their sides of the mattress to fit their preferences. Hence, the person on the right side of the bed fills their bladder with more water for a firmer surface, the person on the left, less water for a softer surface. In practice, it doesn't work like that. If there is any pressure differential at all between the two sides of the bed, what happens is that the person on the firmer side inevitably rolls off that side and onto whatever side is softer. Furthermore, not only do they roll off the sides of the bed but they roll into the rut at the exact center of the bed created by the crease between the two bladders. So, instead of a relaxing waterbed experience, you basically end up huddled in a ditch, with all the weight of your body pushing down on the small of your back.

Now, the problem with a bad bed is that you usually don't figure out that it's bad until long after the fact, way too late to actually do anything about it. In our case, my ex-wife and I weren't in any position to replace it for a while (I don't think she disliked it as much as I did, in any event). When we separated, I kept the bed, and again, I was in no immediate position to replace it. But finally, there came a time when the stars aligned and I was able to make the sizeable capital investment in a new bed. (I'm cheap for most everything, but a bed is one of those things where spending the money to get a good one pays off in the long run.) And this meant that the old bed had to go.

Usually, filling and emptying waterbeds isn't very difficult. If you've done it a few times, it's actually pretty simple. In order to drain the mattress, you need to hook up a garden hose and a small PVC gadget to the kitchen faucet, in such a way that you can create an airtight siphon with the faucet, pulling the water out of the bed, through the hose and into the sink. It's essentially the same idea as siphoning gasoline from a car, only your own lung power is nowhere near strong enough to pull all those gallons out of a water mattress, so you use the force of water leaving a faucet.

In theory, as long as all the hose connections are airtight, it should be a breeze. But when I went to dismantle my bad last night - for the final time - it didn't work quite so easily. I fixed the hose, checked for air leaks, tried and retried the faucet at least a dozen times. Nothing was working. Every time I could see the siphon process beginning, something would happen to throw it off. Eventually, I reasoned that the water pressure coming out of my apartment faucet just wasn't strong enough to create enough suction. In the course of this (well over an hour spent trying to get the siphon to work), I even succeeded in filling the mattress with a sizeable amount of additional water which hadn't been there when I started. If I hadn't known better, I would have sworn that the mattress knew full well it was being put out to pasture. It was being stubborn. It didn't want to go.

And then, the situation went from bad to worse. Any time I'm doing anything even remotely interesting around the house, it becomes a source of utter fascination for Janet. Under normal circumstances, this would be immaterial; however, when you're dealing with a rubber bladder holding many, many gallons of water, you do not want the cat to be testing her claws thereupon. Do you see where this is going? I was already at my wits' end trying to get the damn mattress to siphon. I had been pushing the cat off the bed all evening to prevent just such a catastrophe from occurring (before you ask, I couldn't close the door because the hose was running between the rooms). I turned my back, she leaped on the bed and kneaded the bladder, and in a moment an awkward situation became a crisis.

Well, there was nothing for it: whereas before I had been planning on giving the mattress away, probably on Craigslist, now there was no choice: I had to get rid of this thing. The fix was in. The bed had to die.

So, I emptied the mattress by hand, carrying buckets of water from the bedroom and emptying them in the kitchen sink. When I had drained enough water to be able to move the mattress, I pulled it off the bed, across the kitchen floor and into the bathtub, where it could drain properly. Even with over half of the water removed, the bladder was still incredibly heavy. Water makes up between 45 and 75% of human body weight: it was not difficult to imagine that the weight of the rubber bladder dragging across the floor was almost exactly that of a human body. In this light, there was something pitiful about the mattress in these final moments, bleeding from multiple orifices, knowing full well that it was dying.

The second bladder took much less time than the first. I knew what needed to be done, and there weren't any unfortunate holes in the mattress caused by malicious bystanders. The bed didn't have anything left to throw at me. It was over. I wadded the two bladders up into a garbage bag and threw them into the building dumpster, an unceremonious end for a most obdurate piece of furniture.

Changing beds is not something that most people do very frequently. Dismantling my old bed brought back a raft of old memories - the circumstances behind the end of the previous bed (actually a funny story, but not mine to tell), the many moves, the good times and the bad. There is absolutely no reason to get emotionally attached to a piece of furniture, but at the same time it's still a piece of my life: I slept on that bed for longer than I was married, for goodness' sake. I've been divorced for a few years now but there are still bits and pieces of my marriage that bob up to the surface of my life now and again. With the passing of the waterbed, there's one less concrete tie to those years of my life. It's not a bad thing by any means - I hated that bed, after all, and am happy to see it out of my life - but not without an ever-so-slightly bittersweet flavor. One last trip down memory lane, as my dad is wont to say.

Oh well, enough of that maudlin shit. I used my tax refund to by a king size memory foam mattress - less than half-price because it was on clearance, but still not cheap. I've always wanted a king size bed.

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