If you have the luxury of choosing where to be a student and poor, you can’t do much worse than Lincoln. The town is, by any honest appraisal, a college town, and as such, everything that a student needs is close to campus, including grocery stores, gas stations, and cheap housing. It's great for bikers, too, since there are only a few hills, and those that exist are generally out of the way, and an extensive trail system is available, although it is only really good for recreation.

Summers are quite nice, overall, not too warm, and winters are bearable with the exception of a couple days where the snow might get to be too much for the road crews. Cost of living isn’t too bad at all, especially if you’re willing to rough it a little. There are plenty of places to go on a weekend evening, plenty of places to work that can accommodate a student’s schedule, and plenty of young people to bum rides off of.

That last one gets to be quite handy.

I graduated last May from the University with a degree not even worth the paper it was printed on – although I can’t say I expected much more from a Bachelor of Music from the state school. I was broke, I mean, who isn’t after five years of full-time school, so I didn’t have a lot of living or working options. I worked something out with one of my friends, Joel, who was renting a house that had a spacious unfurnished basement I could camp out in. I could stay there until I found another place, and I could help with rent once I found a job.

When I left school, I thought it’d be easy to find a perfect job. I applied online to a bunch of places, and sent my resume off to a few places downtown, to no avail. A couple weeks of that, and I applied at a Russ’s supermarket just a couple blocks from Joel’s, just to have something to “tide me over.” It’s been a year now, and I still work there, checking groceries. I’ve had a couple raises, I think.

On Mondays, Joel and our other housemates, Nick and Angela, go to campus together and come home together. They’re all still in school, Joel in his last year, Nick and Angela in their third. I hear them enter noisily above while I’m reading 1984 under a lamp I found at the Salvation Army downtown. I have the day off, and have been enjoying the peace after a long, party-filled weekend. It was Nick’s birthday yesterday. His 21st. Thankfully, I was able to contain the celebration upstairs, mostly, except for the couple that made its way to my bed.

I can’t make out what they’re saying, but I can tell by the quick back-and-forth and volume that they’re arguing about something, Nick and Angela are, which isn’t unusual. Nick tends to be laid-back, Angela, uptight. They’re probably arguing about the house car, which they jointly maintain and own. The transmission went out recently, and it was Nick’s turn to shoulder most of the burden, but he was fired a couple weeks ago, so last I knew, he was asking Angela to help him out, who claims she has no money, which isn’t quite true, we all know how she saves money and spends next to nothing if she can help it. The only thing I can say I know about Nick and Angela’s fights is that it’s best to stay out of them. Someone knocks at the basement door.

Entrez-vous,” I shout, still sitting at my desk, 1984 open before me, but I'm not really reading. Joel opens the door and walks down a few steps.

“You want to help me with something?” he asks.

“Sure,” I say, shutting off my lamp and turning the book over so as to save my spot. I walk to the stairs and climb them to the kitchen, where I see Joel walking through the living room, then outside. Nick and Angela are still bickering, quieter now.

“...I don’t know who broke it. No clue. But you know I can’t afford to replace it,” Nick is saying.

“Nick, I’m an English major, I need my keyboard. And I swear it was working before your dumb stoner friends –"

“They’re not stoners. They’re English majors just like you."

“You know, whatever,” Angela said. “You owe me a keyboard. I’ll just try to find a way to do all my work at school, somehow. You’ll have to give me rides."


I left the two to their bickering, to find Joel at the “family” station wagon, parked out front, with the back hatch slightly ajar and secured with rope. It precariously held a large roll of apparently used carpet. Joel was busy undoing the many knots holding the door half-shut.

“What’s this?” I ask.

Joel, bent over the knots, looks up without stopping, “This is what Nick and Angie are arguing over.”

“It sounded like they were arguing over a keyboard to me.”

Joel laughs. “You know how they are. This is what started it. All the way home, Angela was like, ‘How do you know there aren’t ticks in it?’ and so on. She actually wanted me to stop over at a Walgreen’s and get some tick-killer or something."

“So... why do we have a roll of carpet in the car?”

Joel undoes the last knot, letting the strained door spring open under the carpet’s pressure. “Nick got it from some kid at school. I think they met at the party."

He props the door fully open and grabs hold of one end of the roll. He nods to me, and I come up to the car, ready to grab the other end as he pulls it out. “But what do we need with a carpet? The whole house has carpet."

“Not the basement,” Joel says, smiling.

It takes me a moment, then I laugh. “Ohhhhh, I see. It’s a gift!"

“Yep. Hope you like burnt orange."

“Whatever works,” I say, grabbing hold of the other end of the carpet roll. “You know, I'm so used to the cold concrete underfoot, I think this might be a little strange to have."

We walk the roll out of the car, and I slam the door shut with my foot. We walk the carpet up the stairs and into the house, where Nick and Angela have apparently gone to their separate rooms, and with some careful maneuvering, we get the roll through the kitchen and into the basement.

After securing the roll against an unadorned wall of the foundation, Joel dusts off his hands, and looks at me. “So,” he says, “what’s for dinner, Mom?"

I roll my eyes. I had forgotten that it’s my "Mom" night tonight. I haven’t even thought about dinner yet.