The first apartment my boyfriend and I rented as a couple was more than we could afford. We were juniors in college. I had little concept of money, or that we were in a particular “station” in life, or what renting an apartment actually entailed. I was naïve; idealistic, and because the blurb in the apartment rental magazine made me desperately want that particular apartment, for better or worse, we decided to go for it.
The apartment consisted of two bedrooms with a kitchenette, LR, and dining “room” area. It had a balcony, hardwood floors and it was pretty roomy. It also had a garbage disposal, something new and marvelous to me. I’d never seen one, so I spent my first few days after moving in to the apartment sticking pieces of dried spaghetti noodles down it and grinding them up. Magic!
The apartment was right near the Military Circle Mall, which I loved. I’d had very little experience with malls, and everything about Military Circle was bright, shiny and exotic. All the shop girls were chic and every possible thing I could ever imagine wanting was for sale, conveniently, under one roof. To me, the mall exemplified “America.”
Old Dominion University, where we were starting that fall was about a 20-minute car commute away— Never mind that Bill and I didn’t have a car or job. I had found “my” apartment, and by golly, I was going to have it!
We blissfully signed our lives away—barely skimming through the long contract. We were young, ambitious and ready to adult— We’d just transferred from the University of Maryland, Munich and were getting married in December. If we could just make it till then, hopefully, we’d get a few wedding gifts like toasters or coffee makers or table linens—or silver sets and tea services–we just had to survive till then.
That summer we lived in the unfurnished apartment with only a mattress on the floor, (which we had bought used, by the way), a cheap not-even-quite-a-futon couch, a second-hand kitchen table and a couple of chairs. We needed lamps and bookcases, but also had to eat—and to have some fun—so we came up with some creative solutions. At a hardware store we found a “lamp making-kit” and after finishing the contents of a fifth of rum and a fifth of vodka, we made lamps out of the bottles! I strung some discounted Christmas tree lights through dryer duct and hung the duct on a big branch, creating a light “sculpture.” A couple of plastic milk crates and boards made passible book cases—things were looking up! Our place was becoming a home in a funky, eclectic way.
That summer started out awesome—Bill got a job on the evening shift the at the Burger King up the road; I did, too– dayshift. But, I soon found myself unemployed because I wasn’t a good fast-food worker. First of all, I was too slow; second of all, I attempted to recreate what the pictures of Whoppers portrayed, and that made me not only slow, but subject to ridicule. After moving me from burgers, to fries, to cashier, BK admitted defeat—I wasn’t trainable, so I was let go.
I was fine with that; fast food was not my thing–but—Bill—not so much! How could we afford rent? Get groceries? Ever buy a car?
Secretly, I was relieved I’d been terminated—Bill and I had worked different shifts. It was stressful; we hardly saw each other, and when we did, we argued. It was miserable.
I was pretty sure I’d find an awesome job and things would work out. I’d read the classifieds and find a well-paying, perfect-for-me job. Bill was not so sure, and started rereading the lease. Maybe there was an escape clause.
It’s sometimes better to not read a lease–or any other contract for that matter–because there may be something you’d rather not know—this was the case for us. In it, the lease stated that 80% of the hardwood floors had to be covered with carpets. There didn’t seem to be any wiggle room or exceptions.
Our cozy two-bedroom place suddenly seemed to grow larger. There were acres of floor to cover.
We went over to the mall to see if there were any affordable throw rugs for sale. (There weren’t.) We were very discouraged.
That weekend Bill’s brother came to visit. He lived in Williamsburg and attended William and Mary College. He had a VW Beetle, so we were looking forward to his visit. With a car, we could stock up on groceries, or maybe get out and explore our new city! The possibilities were endless.
But there still was the nagging problem about carpeting the place…
While Bill and his brother caught up on things, I excused myself and walked back over to the mall. Maybe I could find a job; maybe I would find some cheap carpet. Maybe a talent agent would see me and offer me a million-dollar contract!
As I walked through the mall feeling very sorry for myself, looking at things I could never, ever afford, I noticed that a shoe store was replacing its flooring. There was a gigantic roll of old carpet off to one side of the store. It must have been 15 feet long!
In a daze, I walked into the store and asked to speak to the manger. 15 minutes later, I was the proud owner of a huge roll of carpet. Better yet, the owner of FREE carpet! All I had to do was get it home. Tonight.
I dashed back to the apartment, rousted Bill and his brother from their beers and persuaded them to drive the VW over to the mall. It was dark and the mall would soon close.
At the shoe store, the manager had gotten the carpet out to the loading dock. The three of us tried to fold the rug into the car, but it was too big. It was a hot, sticky night, and after a few minutes, the guys were not interested in trying to get the carpet into the car any more. They wanted to go home. I didn’t want to give up so fast. We needed to cover the floors and now we could—this couldn’t stop us.
I had an idea! What if we put the roll of carpet OVER the car, and drove it home like that? It literally was only through the parking lot and down a tiny street, more like an alley. If we went very slowly, we could do it.
The guys had had just enough beer to think it would maybe work, so we all hefted the big roll over the car. It covered most of the windshield but the driver could see a little bit off to the side.
Here’s where I can’t remember exactly what happened. In my memory, I sat on the carpet on the front of the car, while the boys each held onto the carpet from the window. Bill thinks I couldn’t possibly have. But, since it’s my story, I’m remembering it my way.
So…we navigated through the mostly empty mall parking lot and down a couple of small streets. It was both exciting and terrifying for me, and I am sure for the guys too, especially the one who was driving. I kept a sharp lookout for the police. Luckily, we made it home okay.
Once back in the apartment, we unrolled the rug. It was way too big for our space, but that was okay. We could buy a box cutter and trim it to size. We also noticed that the rug wasn’t as clean as it had looked in the store. There were many stains and layers of dirt in the fibers. Back then we didn’t know or care much about germs or viruses—all we cared about was that we had carpet and were now in compliance with the lease. A big win!
Settling down on our newly acquired carpet, we opened another beer and toasted our ingenuity. We were young, resourceful and going to go far in life!
A side note-decades later I found the apartment complex on the internet. Either it had not aged well, or now that I have better taste, I see it for what it was-an inexpensive apartment complex which catered to largely to transitory military families.
While I was attending Kaiserslautern American High School, I decided to get involved in student government, just for scholarships, college applications etc. For my Senior class treasurer campaign, I had a poster of a large blown up photo of me streaking with my trademark hat on.
I placed a piece of tape with a dollar sign over the strategic area the slogan was “Streak to the Polls to vote for John Paul Jones”.
Well by first period everyone was talking about it, by second period, I was headed to the Principal’s office, there the Principal, the VP, and our Senior Class Advisor waited for me. I was shown a chair (the Senior Class advisor was trying to without much success to look stern), and then the poster was produced, of course some yahoo had scrapped the tape off, revealing me in all my splendor.
I was asked to explain this. I ventured with a shrug that I took after my Dad. The Advisor let out a guffaw, and smiles cracked the others’ faces. I then pointed out that I had made it safe for viewing, until someone disfigured my poster, if anyone should be punished, they should. The principal hemmed and said “well let’s just keep this one here in my office where it won’t do any more harm, can’t have the freshman easily shocked now.
My advisor quickly steered me out trying to quiet her chuckles. BTW, I won in a landslide. Interestingly, our class raised a record amount of money and I can now confess, that what we raised, we only declared half of it. The other half went into a separate account. From that account we, and by we I mean I, set up a truly massive Senior Party, rented the field, bribed the Major and Police, bought LOTS of German beer kegs, German wine bottles, had grills and wursts, chickens, brotchen.
At the last minute, I was again called into the office….again!! Someone had squealed! I remained mute, finally the Principal pleaded that would I please get some chaperones and he would personally write me a shining recommendation, not that I needed it at that point, I agreed. I arranged for one of my pilot friends to have his squadron mates who were going TDY to Spain the next morning. Their wives operated the grills. Now fighter pilots playing at chaperones at a major drinking event– and well, you know –Party!!!
It was epic. That was my contribution to Student Government.
John Paul Jones
As a follow-up for Schooling with Uncle Sam, the museum is seeking submissions for its next anthology: Host Nation Hospitality.
The book will focus on personal memories–what it was like to work or study overseas and the unique opportunities we had – the mundane, funny, or tragic events and interactions that made for a memorable experience. Stories can be about a certain time, event, or memory. Where did you hang out? What new foods did you try? What do you remember best about exploring your new duty station? What amazing friendships did you make?
We are looking for stories about living, working, or attending school around the world.
Authors included in the anthology will receive a free copy of the book in lieu of payment. You may submit up to 3 pieces for consideration. Deadline: 1 June 2022
All stories become the property of the Museum of the American Military Family Special Collections Library. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to help the Museum continue to bring exhibits and programming to the community—and to preserve your incredibly unique history.
For more information or to submit a story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.