Originally published in January 2009 issue of Military Spouse Magazine
Who could have guessed my husband’s deployment would push me into a life of civil disobedience? Let me explain. I love a good bargain, and I never pass up an opportunity to flash my military id to get that little extra discount. The situation changed though after my husband deployed. It seemed that every time I showed my military id outside of base it was like an open invitation for strangers to ask all kinds of questions about my personal life. It became so frequent that I limited my off base shopping just to avoid stranger’s comments. One night I had a craving for popcorn and had to take the risk of shopping off base because the commissary was closed. I just wanted some innocent jiffy pop, surely I would not run into any nosey people in the express lane. I was so naive.
At the checkout an older woman behind me in line saw the military id. I saw the now familiar glint in her eye; pity. I tried to avoid eye contact with her but there was no escaping! She started the usual barrage of questions, “Your husband isn’t a Marine is he? He isn’t over THERE is he? He is not in combat is he? ” The faster the questions came the more the lady began to panic. I answered her quickly and quietly, hoping to get my change and be able to scoot out the door. It was too late. She already had tears flowing down her cheeks. I looked at her dumbfounded. She stared at me crying and said, “Honey? Are you ok? ” And I am thinking, “Lady, are YOU ok? This total stranger then went in for the bear hug. I allowed her to embrace me all the while thinking, “I have not been laid in over five months but this lady is the one needing a hug? ” I know she meant well, but I was tired of comforting civilians when I was the one going through the emotional roller coaster of my husband’s deployment.
My neighbor suggested a way that I could bargain shop while at the same time avoiding the well intentioned but still annoying “sympathy smother”. She called it, “Base Housing Shopping. ” Basically when we took our nightly walks we would find out who was PCSing out of the neighborhood, and go take things out of their yards. To the untrained ear, this may sound like stealing. All though unconventional, it is not the traditional five finger discount. In military life when you are moving every four years many of your belongings do not make the cut. Those items get put out in the front yard for the trashman (or any one who gets to it first). Hint: the higher ranking the house, the better the front yard booty. I am not below cruising other neighborhoods on base during peak PCS months to find the best deals. In a month I had scored a highchair, stroller, and pack and play. All practically brand new! It did not matter that I did not have kids yet, these items were in pristine condition. Note: please make sure when you take items out of someone’s yard that they are actually PCSing, especially if you plan to sell such items later at your own yard sale. I have heard it can be embarrassing if someone sees their missing items for sale in your front yard.
The best score I made while base housing shopping was a five hundred-dollar ammo crate. Some one had tossed it right out on the sidewalk close to my house. I thought that with a little paint it would make an excellent coffee table for my outside patio. My neighbor stood guard over my treasure while I ran home to get my car so we could load it up. In my excitement and fear that someone may walk by and snatch my find from me, I squealed wheels as I backed my car out of the driveway. My mind already imagining the glorious potential of my soon to be rustic armoire, I promptly slammed into my neighbor’s car parked on the other side of the street. Even with my bumper dragging behind me I still managed to roll 100 more feet down the block to seize my prize. The total damaged to both vehicles came to $500 hence the name of my now infamous piece of lawn furniture.
When my husband called from Iraq, I told him about my new way to get a true military discount by shopping on base. To my great surprise he was not as impressed with my shopping ingenuity as I was. I tried to tell him that these yard treasure were parting gifts from our PCSing neighbors. He informed me that it could be illegal and at the very least it was below his moral expectation of me. He also did not think that an old beat up ammo crate was worth five hundred dollars. I had to explain the true reason behind the five hundred-dollar cost. I could feel the steam coming out of his ears through the ear piece on the phone. He told me to get a grip and go back to shopping at Wal-Mart. I discovered the hard way that facing stranger’s questions might be easier than facing my husband’s wrath. But sometimes in the far reaches of the night, I still catch myself in strange neighborhoods cruising for discarded loveseats.