After I managed to evacuate up to Virginia, there was a period of time where I was just confused on what to do next. I spent days watching CNN and just worried about my future. I had things planned. Felt like it was all plotted out for the future…and then it was just falling apart.
Sometime after they national guard managed to finally evacuate New Orleans, the command came down from Tulane: You could go to any college in your home state. They worked out some deal where universities US-wide would take in Tulane students as long as they were a resident. Whatever state was on your drivers license. So, I had friends at Harvard, Yale, etc.
I ended up at the only option. LSU. There were both practical and academic reasons for this. Academically: it had the best program outside of Tulane. I knew some of those credits would care over, and it offered a class that Tulane required to graduate, but didn’t offer.
Practically, Swole and Karate Explosion were there. I can’t remember all the specifics of who offered who or what was said, but it was organic. I was going to stay in their condo with them.
So, a week and change after I evacuated, I packed my shit and headed to Baton Rouge.
Karate Explosion picked me up at the airport and immediately goes “I have had the fuel light for 2 days now. We are going find gas.”
We stop at a few stations, and eventually find a station that didn’t have gas, but let us know the tanker truck would be there in 30 min. So, we got some slurpee’s and sat on the hood of his car, waiting for gas.
I made it out of New Orleans with one pair of jeans, 3 shirts, a laptop, the tower to my desktop PC, and that’s it. I got some FEMA money and used that to buy on sale peripherals at a COMPUSA and some outlet clothes on the hella cheap. Groceries in that era was done either at 5am right when any of the grocery stores opened or the second LSU kicked-off. Eventually, I settled with doing my groceries during the LSU game.
In fact, that’s a good way to do anything in Baton Rouge. Want to do groceries? Rob houses? Shit on the floor? Do it once LSU kicks off. No one will be around.
Figuring out classes at LSU was a nightmare. Supposedly they were on a take a number system but that was abandoned. I eventually got on the phone with some Tulane staff, and they directed me to LSU staff who helped me register.
They had some kind of fund going for kids from New Orleans schools to get books, so I got mine. I walked out of the student union and ended up at the legendary smoker’s wall. Frog happened to be there. Frog was one of the friends of my high school friends that I met over my travels. His first words were “I want to see it. Let me see it.”
To this day, I don’t know how I knew, but I handed him my LSU ID.
He looked at it for a long time, and he said, “This is the most depressing fucking thing I have seen today.”
Looking back on it (and discussing with him years later), he knew I needed to be in New Orleans. He was right.
My accommodations, as free as they were, did have one flaw. Karate Explosion and Swole lived in one of those new (at the time) condo complexes that were being built up and down I-10 across Baton Rouge. And the designer must have been one of those people that actually likes things like outside and the sun.
It had this like 2 story giant window down the middle, pointed straight toward the sunrise. So you would have the sun boil your brain at 5:30am.
So, the original plan of just sleeping on their couch for a semester wasn’t going to work.
But, I found a solution. A solution NO ONE living in that condo approved of.
There was a closet under the stairs. About 10 feet long, but only 5 ft tall at its tallest point. And it’s door was only like 2 feet wide by 3 feet tall.. BUT, it was completely blacked out. So, I bought a bunch of egg crates and stacked them up to fake a mattress. And voila.
Karate Explosion went to work ahead of class. So he would always see me wake up. I think I freaked him out a couple of times. A full grown fuck walking out of this tiny door.
It didn’t take long for me to fall into a rhythm. And that rhythm…survival.
First off, I did not like their approach to my major. Everything felt very…prescribed. Inorganic. Like being cut into a mold. For example, I never took a test that wasn’t on a scantron. Whereas I can count the number of scantron tests I took at Tulane during my entire time there on one hand.
Second, I really did not like the actual practice of living in Baton Rouge. It’s a fine place to visit friends, but when the gravitational pull of a town is a football stadium at the college…its tough for someone who hates football to enjoy.
Lastly, I spent most of my time trying to set up the things for when I got back. Whether it was internships, adjusting my course load so I could graduate on time, finding a new apartment in New Orleans (the whole apartment flooded out. Story for another day), I was never “present in the moment” as the hippies say. I was most definitely some where else.
It got to the point where I was cashed out. I didn’t care. I stopped studying. Don’t get me wrong, I did just fine and kept up my grades and shit, but I was cashed out. Spent a ton of time playing WoW just to pull myself out of that.
Let me encapsulate all that with a story. I was sitting waiting for class in the hallway. One of those, have to wait for the other class to end, type of deals. I’m reading a book. Bothering no one.
I hear someone getting my attention, and I look up and its a group of four. Split between guys and girls. I know none of them. They weren’t even in my class. The girl on the right pipes up, “What’s your lottery number?”
And I say, “Lottery number?”
And she says, “The football lottery.”
And I say, “What is a football lottery?”
Apparently, LSU has so many people trying to see their football games that they have a lottery system to be assigned seats. I was not aware of such things.
So, I say, “Oh no no. I don’t like football.”
The four of them looked at me like I was a fucking Martian. Like they stood there an uncomfortable amount of time. Before just walking away.
To be 1000% clear, it definitely wasn’t all bad. The HIGHLIGHT was living with Karate Explosion and Swole. I hadn’t spent that much time around those guys since high school. And we had some good fucking times. Mostly just regular old hanging out. We did have one big party, but nothing too insane from that.
Fuckin had dope ass Chinese food at least once a week from a place on the other side of town. Got damn I will miss Red Flower for the rest of my days. A couple ran that place and made the best fucking Chinese food I had in Louisiana. Alas, nothing gold can stay, and Red Flower is long since gone.
I went to see a bunch of local bands cause I had nothing else going on.
In fact, my favorite memory from that time was a punk rock show at someone’s house. That was when I first found out that Miller High Life was my punk rock beer. Was most definitely the best punk rock show from my college era. And plus it was like a giant hang. Like 100 people plus the band crammed into this house just rockin out to bands that was all of our friends. It felt like a Japandroids song.
The end of that fall was far less dramatic than the beginning. I had all my exams before the start of the exam period, so I was already done with that.
I remember my parents came up to Baton Rouge to eat. My dad told me my diploma needed to be 1/12th LSU as a result of the Katrina semester. I pulled my LSU ID and flicked it at him. “Keep it.”
The aforementioned party was right after exams ended. I had just found a place in New Orleans, so I had packed what few belongings I had in my car. Party occurred. The next morning I got in my car, while everyone else slept, and drove back to New Orleans.
All in all, I am glad I went through that time in my life. It’s one of these things you have to live through to understand. In my freshman year, I had some of my friends try to have me transfer to LSU for reasons that seem trivial then and have only become worse with age.
I leave it with the last memory I have of that time. That bitter cold morning and that drive back to New Orleans. The sun was rising. It was quiet. It felt like moving on.