Robert Hoare is a Canadian musician, lyricist and writer. He is a York University and Humber College (Toronto, Canada) graduate. Over the last 24 years he has collaborated on over 45 albums for major and independent record labels. His music and lyrics have been performed at festivals in Canada and Europe. His first book, Music Basics was published in 2017. Currently, he is a teacher for English in Music Media and songwriting at The University of the Popular Arts in Berlin.
might even be
a better place,
if there was a lot more
is all around us,
but we don’t see it.
We don’t see it
because it's empty.
That makes us feel better
The back line, the bottom line
There's no exceptions made here
A line which is drawn
From one end to the other
Going back past your mother
A line leaving no trace
Which is far beyond time and space
Is it crooked or curved
Thick, thin or straight through
A line stretching directly from me to you
Lines are joining, some never meet
Front lines or on the side
Borderlines are there between us too
Broken lines and those of fire
There are lines of duty and desire
The party line, red, white and blue
Maybe powered, fine and clean
Getting in or out of line
Read carefully in between
That's the yellow line
Waist, water and air
Lines spreading above your feet
Bee lines and tree lines
Lines to communicate through
Piped like water and oil
Coastal and global lines measured in soil
Headlines and deadlines
Lines to tow and go through
All those lines out there
Getting a line on you
Packing my tool bag, I checked the weather again. The television in the kitchen ran a news and weather station. Tightly packed onto one little screen was an endless stream of human misery, ad nauseam. The big story was that after too much alcohol two teenage girls decided it was a good idea to throw a chair off a high rise balcony onto the highway below. They posted a video of the act on social media. Nothing surprised me any more.
The cold snap would continue and there was more snow on the way. Mountains of snow and ice already clogged the streets and it was nearly impossible to park anywhere. Rule number one for a mattress inspector was never to park in a customer's driveway. It seemed absurd, but it wasn't about courtesy, it was about liability and responsibility.
I found the mattress inspector job online. The job posting claimed it was possible to make a couple
of hundred dollars for six or seven inspections per week. One bold sentence really caught my eye. It stated, "You might say, our responsibility is to take no responsibility." I thought, "Wow, that's a job for me!" As it turned out, being a mattress inspector was going to be a little more involved than I initially bargained for. Aside from things like punctuality, appearance and company protocol, there were also repair techniques and a list special names for mattress defects that I needed to learn.
Filling out inspection reports was half the job.
My first time out was a training run with another inspector. She worked outside my 25 kilometer work radius, so I had to drive to the east end of the city. There I found tight little Victorian row houses hidden behind the snowplow icebergs. The sidewalks squeaked under my feet, mocking me with each step.
Jamie was in her late twenties and spoke with a hint of a Caribbean accent. She was all smiles and happy to help me learn the ropes. As we marched up to a wooden porch, she began to explain how she did the inspections. She emphasized, it was best to place your work bag and tools strategically, somewhere that blocked the customer from getting too close to the bed and to you. I was soon to discover the wisdom of her method. A grey haired man in his sixties answered. He was scrawny, unshaven, wearing a half-open flannel shirt. He began talking the second we were in the door and it was clear that he wasn't going to stop. Before we had our boots off we knew all about his knee operation, his working wife and their daughter who lived on the other side of the country. He was a real chatterbox.
The three of us hobbled up a cramped staircase to the bedroom. It was a claustrophobic space with the musty smell of grandmother's closet. As soon as we were in the bedroom, Jamie handed the customer a waiver to sign and then placed her tools and level between him and the bed. The waiver was important. It stated that no matter what happened M&M Mattress Company inspectors had absolutely no influence over the outcome of the inspection. Her tool placement method didn't work. The customer squeezed by and stood at the foot of the bed. Jamie did her job throughly, but the customer's tireless banter was making it difficult for her to concentrate while explaining to me, what she was doing. We both wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, but everything about the mattress needed to be documented. It was best, she said, to always take the pictures in the same order. This made sorting them out for the online documentation more manageable. She checked the mattress labels, measured depressions, inspected the frames and the floor. She also checked with a flashlight for ‘soilage’. A mattress that was soiled meant that any warranty claim was null and void. In this case, company policy was straight forward. It dictated that inspectors should take a few photographs and then get out. Inspectors were also advised to not mention this policy to the customer. It could end in lengthy discussions and time was money.
As we moved the mattress aside and off the frame, dust bunnies under the bed started dancing. The customer decided this was a great opportunity to clean up under there. Out came a broom and clouds of dust spun up into the air. I thought I'd choke to death.
Once outside Jamie filled me in on what actually happened in there. The customer claimed that the mattress was sagging on the sides and it was bulging in the middle. This was called 'crowning'. It's typical for king-sized mattresses. Sales personnel rarely mention this little detail and surprised customers watched a hill growing down the middle of their mattress with no claim for a new one. It turns out every mattress tells a story.
My area covered a vast and desolate piece of suburban real estate. The region was once a lowland plain with drumlins, moraines and broad leaf forests where First Nation peoples roamed. Those forests were cleared for farming and orchards and now in turn they were being leveled for a sprawling suburban city. Bulldozed flat, the land was featureless and navigating the streets was like driving on a plate of cooked spaghetti. Most of the homes were cookie-cutter style, built on small treeless lots. This was the promise of a new life for the flood immigrants who were being welcomed to come and spend their hard earned savings. Some of the neighbourhoods were so new that there were not accurate street maps. My area boasted of over a million of mattresses. There would be no shortage of work. My appointments were in the late afternoon or early evening hours, sometimes on the weekends.
How I introduced myself when I called to set them up was carefully orchestrated. I had a script to follow. Before calling I'd rehearse every sentence. Often, the phone was answered by someone who didn't have a clue what I was talking about. They'd shout some name over their shoulder, "Hey, there's someone here on the phone about a mattress."
My first solo run was on a bitter cold afternoon. The car had to warm up for ten minutes before I
could clear the ice off the windshield. I had three inspections and I organized them into one big 60 kilometer circle. I headed north through rush hour traffic. Rush hour was all day long and people drove as if thirty seconds would change their lives. Watching the daily news feed, I knew that sometimes it did.
I arrived at a small cluster of high rise apartment buildings set within a triangle of highway intersections. The view from the top of the building would have looked like salt crystal snakes stretching out over a sea of snowy strip malls and vacant land. My customer was a regular and when I called to make the appointment, she inquired about my predecessor using his first name. She seemed sad that he'd left the company. She owned a therapeutic bed with a hydraulic system and she thought it was making a funny a noise. Her apartment was small with one bedroom and an open kitchenette. It didn't feel overcrowded, but there was a single pathway around the sofa, coffee table and armchair. On a shelf, there were photos of a young woman and a dog. With the television running in the background, she told me she'd retired early because of an injury. I began inspecting the hydraulic frame, but I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Trying to look good, I pulled out my manual and went through the electronics checklist. I was new on the job, but she didn't care about any of that. My predecessor had been there often enough that she could tell me how to get the covers off the hydraulic cylinders. My visit was the highlight of her day. She was pleased to have someone to talk to for a hour or so. As we talked, her voice was even and calm. It was as if her words were coming from a far away place. She told me that she'd suffered some kind of a breakdown she spent time in a clinic.
After removing the hydraulic covers and raising and lowering both ends of the bed several times, I decided that the faint grating sound was the Velcro-Fasteners slipping over the mattress covers. I assured her that the bed was in perfect working order. As I stood in the front room filling out the inspection report, she began telling me about her dog. It had passed away only a few weeks earlier and had been her companion for fifteen years. Her eyes welled up with tears. I put the report down and listened, it was heart-breaking. I would have liked to stay longer, I liked her. As I laced up my boots, her lips flattened to a smile, but her eyes reflected the formless days with a faint glimmer of hope that something might change.
My next inspection was further north into a tangle of streets with white brick homes sitting on square lots. They looked expensive, but they were all the same, stretching just high enough to block out the grey horizon. I parked as close as I could and skated up the driveway. A well-groomed, middle-aged man answered the door, He welcomed me into a large entrance hall. It was ornate, but a little austere. An oak staircase was at the other end and our small talk about the icy weather continued as we mounted them towards the bedroom. Upstairs sat his pregnant wife and he was concerned about her. It was an unexpected late pregnancy and her doctors demanded she get plenty of bed rest. The sagging mattress was was killing her lower back. He asked me to lie on it and see for myself. In the politest possible way, I explained that company policy forbid me from lying on a customer's mattress, but I could test it with my hand. With a slight amount of pressure my fist felt as if it was sinking into wet dough. I handed him the waiver to sign and began the inspection. The mattress looked new and I threw the plumb line across it. Our measuring device was a plastic ruler mounted on a circular plastic disk. I could see right away that the natural depressions would not be deep enough for a claim. His wife watched, sitting in her armchair with her feet raised. She was dressed in an orange saris and her hair showed traces of grey. She looked uncomfortable. I placed the plumb line at either end so that the weights rested on a higher point in the mattress. This increased the depression measurements a little. After that, I removed the mattress from the bed frame and checked it. The floor was level. It all checked out.
I explained that I had no influence over the results of the inspection. The company I worked for had nothing to do with the mattress retailer. In a way, that was a pile of baloney because the company that sold him the mattress paid for the inspections. I told him I'd pass on their complains, but I couldn't say what would happen. I knew that a middle-aged immigrant was an easy mark for a smooth talking mattress salesman looking for a commission. He thanked me in the kindest way as we went back downstairs.
I sat in the car for a few minutes, lost in empathy. It had started to snow again and I just wanted to
get back home. I had one more run in a a less affluent area of my region. The houses were smaller and squeezed together for maximum usage of space. In twenty years the area would be a ghetto, I thought.
It was dark by the time I arrived and the porch light was on. The walkway hadn't been shoveled since the last snowfall and now the snow was matted down into uneven footprints of ice. My feet crushed the sharp edges. A woman answered the door in a state of confusion. Her hair looked as if she's had her head in a blender. She was probably in her mid-thirties, but she could have easily passed for someone ten years older. I was not expected. "Mattress?" she said, she didn't know what I was talking about. She was getting ready to close the door, "Ah wait, my husband. Come in, come
I stepped into a narrow space. It was full of shoes, boots and winter garments. The floors and walls were smudged and caked with dirt. She started on about how she'd just got home from work and she was trying to get dinner ready. I heard a child's voice and the woman barked back over her shoulder. Once beyond the threshold, I was in an open space living room and kitchen area. There was stuff scattered everywhere, toys, clothing and scraps of paper. The little girl was sitting on the floor with streaks from dried tears on her grimy little face. She glared at me and then started whining for attention as her mother apologized for the mess. We went up a staircase to a small rectangular room and then she went back downstairs. There was no furniture, but there were children's clothes and paper tissues all over the floor. It was impossible to enter without stepping on something. Two mattresses were on the floor. They were both filthy and soiled in large patches and left little to the imagination. There was no claim here. I just followed the mattress man manual. I took a few photos for proof and then stood there for several minutes looking down at a child's belongings.
I didn't know what to do and it felt like an eternity. I could hear the television downstairs and I remembered the job posting sentence that caught my eye, "our responsibility is to take no responsibility." I walked downstairs and handed her the waiver to sign, then I quoted the manual. When I got home, I watched the news and the young woman who threw the chair over the balcony had turned herself in. A spokesperson for the police said she showed no remorse for her actions. The next morning, I started looking for a new job.