It was so hot my tube top began to melt. I was fed up with weekends at Hechinger's. It was time to hit the beach.

"Where are we gonna stay?" my husband asked, puffing his pipe and looking concerned. I had checked the classified ads under "SEASHORE RENTALS." Ocean City? No, too crowded. Too many teenagers with beer cans. Rehoboth Beach? Naaw. He had gone there once before and it had rained the whole weekend. We got sick eating salt water taffy.

I settled on Virginia Beach. It had no boadwalk. It was close -- 3 1/2 hours from Washington -- and it had "beach" in the title.

"Hello, I'd like to find out about your apartment, 60 yards from the ocean. Is it available this weekend?"

The woman's voice on the other end was friendly and polite. Yes, as luck would have it, the apartment just happened to be available. I asked what it looked like. "Oh, it's just darling," she said. "You'll love it."

The price was $75 a night, with the money to be delivered in advance. No checks.

My husband asked me about the apartment.

Well, for starters, it was supposed to be darling. For $75 a night, I imagined white wicker furniture, a chaise in the bedroom, a screened-in porch overlooking the pounding surf. There would be red geraniums in the window boxes. A straw mat from Haiti on the floor. Tasteful Gaugin reprints on the whitewashed walls. Maybe even a box of Godiva chocolates on the lace pillow.

We woke up early that morining and headed south.

He wanted to stop at a barbeque pit for lunch. I cringed. When we could dine on the screened-in porch overlooking the ocean? Sipping white wine and nibbling Brie? We drove straight through, past Fredericksburg, past Richmond, past Winnebagos.

By early afternoon we drove into Virginia Beach and went straight to the realty office to pick up the key to our darling apartment.

"I just know it's going to be great," I said. "You'll see."

We raced back up the highway and turned into the appointed street. "This must be it," my husband said, pulling up to a large brown-shingled house on the corner.

On th front Lawn, stiff with parched brown grass, a man was pounding a sign into the ground. It said "FOR SALE." He swung the huge metal mallet two or thre times without looking up.

"Hello," I called out. "We're here to rent the apartment." He looked up, grunted and pointed to the side of the house -- the side nearest the street and farthest from the sea.

We lugged our bags to the door and pushed it open.

On the left was a big round hole in the wall. On the right was a musty-smelling bedroom the size of a moving crate. Ahead was a dark, dank living room furnished with one card table and four plastic dinette chairs. On the windows were broken bamboo shades.

"That's the ugliest lamp I've ever seen," my husband said in amazement, pointing to a tall orange ceramic fixture.

The kitchenette smelled of sour milk and bananas -- old bananas. The bathroom smelled of old Odor Eaters.

"We can't stay here," my husband said.

"What are we going to do?" I said, dropping our bags on the dirt-encrusted linoleum floor. I was afraid we'd need rabies shots to sit down.

No screened-in porch. No white wicker. No geraniums and no chocolates.

The man who had been pounding the sign into the brown front lawn came to the door. "Whatza matta, you don't like it?" he asked.

"No, we don't like it."

"It's, not good enuf for you?"

"That's right. It's not good enough for us."

On the way back to return the keys, I was plagued with guilt.

"It was stupid idea," I said.

"No it wasn't," my husband said.

"Yes it was. It was a stupid idea and it's my fault."

We dropped off the keys. It was the middle of the afternoon.

Now what do we do? Sleep on the beach? We're too old and I'm fraid of sand crabs. Drive back to Washington?

"Ok, how about this place?" my husband said, pulling up to a sleek modern white concrete highrise on the ocean. I sank into the seat, overcome by visions of rust-colored shag carpeting and oil paintings of puppy dogs. I felt spoiled. What was the point of going to the beach and staying in a skyscraper? I wanted charm. I wanted bohemian barefoot. I wanted darling.

We decided to get two tuna subs. We found another place to stay. We got too sunburned and the woman at the first place wouldn't give us our money back.

Last weekend, we decided to stay in town. So we bought a hose. It's darling.