Blame Bertha. Or thank her. Or both. Bertha Berman patented the fitted bed sheet in 1959, which means this is the 60th anniversary of Not Getting the %*#)#$ Sheet Oriented Properly the First Time.
The first time you put on a fitted sheet, it's always wrong, and you have to take it off and do it again. The wider the bed, the more difficult it is to eyeball the sheet and deduce the proper orientation. Adding to the challenge: If you are doing it by yourself, one corner inevitably pops off, which makes another corner come off.
Why does this matter today? I saw a tweet about a local retailer announcing that its house-brand fitted sheets would have helpful labels to help users orient them for application. Alas, I can't find the tweet now, which suggests that I dreamed the whole thing.
Leaving aside how this suggests a stunning failure of my nocturnal imagination, it is a fact that many companies don't label their sheets. Why? Blame the American Fitted Sheet Council ("Wincing about spoonerisms since 1959"). The board of directors' meeting probably goes like this:
Everyone stands, puts their hand on their heart, faces a portrait of Bertha Berman, and recites the council's pledge:
"I pledge allegiance to the Sheet / And to the Mattress it tucks under / Four corners, and rectangular / With laundry-day frustration for all."
The president speaks. "Be seated. As you know, the council is under great pressure to make changes in the fitted sheet."
(Grumbles of outrage around the table.) "Is this about the top and side labels again?" a board member says. "How long do we have to deal with these idiots? How hard can it be?"
"We've run the numbers," another says. "It would cost 6 cents per sheet to add labels, and it wouldn't increase sales at all. People still buy them. It's just one of those things you learn to live with, like chronic dental pain."
The president intervenes, "I understand. But the pressure is growing strong, and there may be congressional action on the matter. I believe we have the answer, and that is the Smart Sheet. If you'll look in the folders that my assistant is passing out, it describes a premium app-based product with internet connectivity. The user simply points a phone at the sheet, and the app connects with wires embedded in the elastic to indicate the proper orientation."
A board member asks: "How much will this cost us?"
"About $2 a sheet, but it will allow us to charge $9.99 more for the sheet, and of course there will be a subscription model so the sheets can send alerts to our customers' phones to tell them when to wash them. There will be a social media component so people can share their properly fitted sheets, and a major ad campaign for Twitter: #isheetthebed."
Silence, then general murmurs of approval. One board member speaks up: "Will this high-tech sheet with smartphone integration make it easier to fold a fitted sheet?"
"This isn't science fiction, you know."
As long as they're solving the pettiest of petty problems, may I suggest another: Duvet covers also are in need of directions. Putting that thing on is like trying to stuff a dead body into a sleeping bag. Or so I hear. No, that doesn't sound right, either. Or so I imagine. Not that I imagine it; that would be disturbing. It was just the first analogy that came to mind. How about this: like trying to put an unconscious dog in a pillowcase.
"What's the matter with the dog?" you say. "Shouldn't you be taking it to the vet?"
"Well, yes. The pillowcase just makes it easier to carry him. No, wait! My dog is fine. Can you stop second-guessing everything I'm doing about the duvet? That's my wife's job."
See, the duvet cover is not quilted, but the thing you stuff in the duvet cover is. It is 10 panels long and eight panels wide. So you have to count to make sure the right end is going in, and then you have to do up all the buttons on the end, because the buttons are classy and timeless, unlike those newfangled "zippers" all the youths are raving about.
There's no solution for that, and I don't care, because now I'm wondering why the duvet is the whole thing, but the duvet cover is a separate thing. What do you call the thing you put in a duvet, then? I think we stopped calling them "comforters" because you could be sued for false advertising. "I expected this rectangular fabric to allay my concerns about the geopolitical situation and the loss of public trust, and it did nothing!"
It's hard to tell which way is up these days, and if you're expected to learn that from your sheets — well, if Bertha was around she might say you've got bigger problems.