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Not since my late teen years, when I journaled every feeling, have I written this many words about 20 underwhelming minutes in a strange bed. The following experience can be yours gratis, through Sunday, courtesy of the mattress company Casper, which will let you book online a 30-minute time slot to nap in one of their beds. They’ve set up a “pop-up experience,” The Snooze Bar, in a warehouse space in Cady’s Alley. Before you congratulate Casper for doing such a neighborly thing for the good people of D.C., just remember this is all a very elaborate plan to sell you a mattress that arrives at your home rolled up in a box. The reader should note here that I didn’t come away from this experience with a mattress, and in fact I don’t think I really napped. But maybe I did? I can’t tell where waking ends and dreaming begins.

I walk into the mostly-empty building tucked away on a quiet side-street in Georgetown, and a woman in a striped uniform greets me, takes my shoes, and hands me a thin pair of slippers. This is exactly how I imagine Martha Stewart was processed into white-collar prison, so I’m pleased with how celeb this feels, already. My smiling chaperone or sleep-helper or guard Becca then ushers me upstairs into a large open space that contains several vignettes—a little living room! canvas tents! a vodka-laden bar! a silent film projected onto a mattress on the wall!—which all suddenly give me a sort of Vanilla Sky feeling, like I’ve fallen into a surreal dream state (already!) without really knowing how I got there. Were I on acid, the face-clawing freakout would start right about now. 

Becca gamely points out the many waking activities available to me, including drinking cocktails, eating waffles, obtaining a free screen-printed pillowcase, or sitting in some expensive-looking armchairs drinking coffee. All this awake stuff is probably on offer because it’s notoriously tricky to sell someone a mattress if they’re truly asleep, but I’m not here to screw around. With Becca trailing behind me, I beeline to a sleeping tent.

We step inside to find a bed and some surfaces decorated in the style of Neutral Pinterest, which is so say some crystals, some air plants, and some books that look very pretty but are actually unreadably boring (Do Less and I Want to Be Calm). I eye the sheets nervously—because I’m a germaphobe with bedbug-related PTSD, getting into this bed is starting to look like it could be a very real psychological challenge. I ask Becca if they change the sheets between visits (yes) and how often she’s had to kick people out for having sex in here.

“Hahahaha!” says Becca. She turns red. “I’ve never seen anything that crazy in here.” She quickly hands me the Sleep Menu before I can ask what slightly less crazy things have transpired, then closes the flaps of the tent so that I have all the privacy of a very large hat, which is to say none at all. No one in their right mind could have sex in this tent. I inch closer to the bed. I scan for bedbugs or suspicious lint activity (none) and lay down with the relaxed air of a two-by-four slowly tipping over. My eyes drift over the contents of my tent: a tied bundle of dried lavender on a rustic wooden table, a cluster of purple crystals, a tiny cactus in a glass display case. I try to imagine my tent is pitched in an empty part of the desert outside of Sedona at sunset. Floorboards creak.

The thing about sleeping in a tent is you’re not actually separated from the world outside. It’s just fabric. The walls are an illusion. The thrill of camping is knowing that all that stands between you and a marauding bear or a swarm of Africanized bees is a pane of taut nylon. And so it’s the same at the Snooze Bar—the wild animals outside your sleep tent carry on screen-printing, waffling, cocktailing, photographing, and pour-overing. One could conceivably fall asleep in a Snooze Bar tent with a head injury or massive dose of barbiturates, but otherwise this is Simulated Sleeping. The overall vibe is suggestive of sleep—it has all the trappings of sleep as an enjoyable activity—but Casper goes to great lengths to keep you alert. Mindfully present, if you will.

So instead, I lay there with my little reporter’s notebook, fully clothed, peering over my complimentary slippers at the 12-inch gap between the tent flaps through which I catch glimpses of the smiling white women in their pajama tops and the serious-faced white men in their canvas aprons and vests—Casper employees—as they mill around the room. Their eyes dart over to my tent and away again, and I can feel the attention on me, The Sleeper. The dream is closing in around me. I try to focus on my Sleep Menu selection—a projection of space-like animations on the ceiling of the tent. A coffee grinder wails in the wildness outside.

Do I feel like buying a mattress? This one is pretty good, but… no. I don’t get a hard sell on a new mattress, either. I ask Becca about the goods ostensibly on display and am told that they’re latex and memory foam, but the conversation moves quickly to waffles. And to the guy who, Becca tells me in low, conspiratorial tones, once brought his own sheets just to try out a mattress. We arch our brows to say, “How weird, how totally weird!”

I swing by the stacks of pillowcases for a complimentary screen-printed souvenir from a bearded man in a canvas apron. He fires up the contraption and says he’ll meet me by the pour-over station when it’s done. “FIVE MORE MINUTES,” reads my pillowcase, which is still warm from the press when he lays it in my arms. Now there’s a coffee in my hand. Becca and I talk about how badly we want all this leather and beechwood furniture in our own tiny, shared apartments. FIVE MORE MINUTES later and I’m still there in my slippers, but now I’m admiring the matching pajama tops everybody is wearing, and I feel no urgency whatsoever to go anywhere but back into my tent of crystals and lavender to read Do Less.

Photo by Emily Q. Hazzard