For a few months at the end of 1973 I rented a furnished room in a big, shabby Victorian near the beach in Santa Cruz. The principal piece of furniture was a king size bed. The mattress appeared on the evidence of visible residuum to have been the site, times past, of every life process imaginable. At the foot of the thing this tag had been affixed: “Sanitized for your protection at Bud’s Secondhand Warehouse – Santa Cruz, California – January 1958.”

Mind you, from my perspective at twenty-one, January 1958—I was then five years old—might as well have been the Crimean War, so distant did my early childhood appear from that vantage (more distant, in a way, than twenty-one appears from here). My contemporaries when I related the story were suitably amused and appalled as they would not be today were I to relate a story of a mattress “sanitized” in 2006.

(Incidentally, in certain parts of California I have run across strip malls with three or four different mattress retailers within a hundred yard radius. Apparently this sort of thing is not uncommon. Well, eventually more grist for Bud’s mill, I suppose.)