Dana, Diane, and the Outdated, Lumpy, and Unattractively Stained Pillows[1]

August 29, 2001

I went to bed a couple of hours after my wife, and when I did, I tried my best not to disturb her sleep. The door creaked as I opened it, the wooden floor creaked and I padded to my side of the bed, and the bed itself creaked as I slowly got in. Still, she slept.

I knew my efforts were all in vain as soon as I lay my head down on my pillow. Perhaps I should rephrase that.

I knew my efforts were all in vain as soon as I lay my head down on a pillow.

You see, it wasn’t my pillow. My pillow is soft and feathery and comfortable. Diane’s pillow has the consistency of dried sea sponge. My pillow embraces and soothes the head; Di’s pillow is a relic of the Spanish Inquisition. I could not sleep on her pillow. I tried for 20 minutes, then sat up in bed and eyed Diane, faintly illuminated by our streetlight, curled up on her side, her head resting on my pillow. My comfy pillow. My downy, lovely pillow.

I wasn’t exactly sure how I would retrieve my pillow without waking her; however, the without waking her part of the plan was of secondary concern. I needed my pillow.

“And why didn’t she have the good pillow to begin with, you selfish, insensitive clod?” you ask.

“I can do without the selfish, insensitive clod bit,” I respond, before launching into the compelling tale of Dana, Diane, and the Outdated, Lumpy, and Unattractively Stained Pillows.

When we got married, Diane and I combined our belongings, turning what was once Mine and Hers into Ours, so that my ancient, scummy pillows and her misshapen, smelly pillows became our ancient, scummy, misshapen, smelly pillows. They were in such a state of obsolescence that we often employed two pillowcases per pillow to hide their sins.

The worst pillow I contributed to our collection was a feather-stuffed blue-and-white ticking sack. The feathers had long since been matted into oblivion, so that the pillow’s contours brought to mind (and to any head unfortunate enough to rest upon it) a scattering of sticks. I would try fluffing it, but the end result would be a fluffed-up jumble of sticks. The blue-and-white ticking could no longer be called blue and white, the white having fled months before Elvis first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. To this day, I have yet to determine how the ticking acquired its unique pattern of stains.

Diane brought into the marriage a skanky pink-and-white, foam-filled pillow that appears to have been a prop on The Brady Bunch (Episode #46). With the thickness of a Portland telephone directory, the pillow has no give, and tilts one’s head at such an angle as to preempt any serious attempts at deep sleep. And while I have not sniffed the pillow recently, I am convinced it smells.

For years, each night’s sleep would be preceded by a game of Musical Pillows. Of the four to six pillows congregating at the head of the bed, two would be selected by Diane and me for u se. We’d fluff them, beat them, flip them around, and test them, praying that somehow, since last we slept, they had become endowed with the gift of comfort. Many were the times one said to the other, “We’ve got to buy some real pillows.” But we didn’t.

Until this winter. That’s when I picked up The Pillow to End All Pillows at L.L. Bean’s as a birthday present for Diane. It was relatively expensive (relative to not buying one at all), and I figured she’d love it, and that if I loved it, too, I’d get one for myself eventually.

She didn’t love it. It was too fluffy, reportedly letting her head sink in so much she felt enclosed and claustrophobic. She preferred the dried sea sponge. I told her she was insane; this pillow ruled. But she wouldn’t be convinced.

Rather than getting a great pillow eventually, I got one that day. And I fell in love.

So, the other night, when my beloved spouse accidentally swiped my pillow, and I unsuccessfully tried sleeping with the Brady Bunch prop, I knew what I had to do.

In the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones carefully removes a priceless treasure from its resting place in a cave, quickly replacing it with a bag of sand so as not to trigger any booby traps. OK. Now substitute a bedroom for the cave, a nice pillow for the treasure, and a crappy pillow for the bag of sand, and me for Harrison Ford (taxing on the imagination, I know, but try anyway). All set? Good.

The results were not nearly as disastrous as in the movie, and involved fewer poisonous darts; however, I did manage to wake my slumbering wife, which was not surprising, since I replaced the priceless treasure she was resting on with a bag of sand.

The next morning, Diane complained of a stiff neck, and blamed her pillow, saying, “That new one is nice.”

It’s back to Bean’s.


[1] This is one of those original headlines that were too long to fit in the paper; I believe it was published as The Tale of the Outdated, Lumpy Pillows.  By being presenting now with the Unattractively Stained part, the column finally reaches its well-deserved status as a work of high literary merit.

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