To provide housing for its medical students in downtown New Orleans, Tulane purchased the old Jung Hotel on Canal Street, just a two block walk from the medical school, and converted it to one bedroom apartments, each one furnished with a couch in the living room that separated from the kitchenette by a Formica table with built-in bookcase over its top. This table also doubled as a study desk, in addition to a small student desk in the living room. Whoever designed the units made efficient use of the available space, building a shelf over the entrance door for more storage space. A bathroom with a shower opened from the bedroom that just barely fit two single beds, and shared a wall with the kitchen area. The building was renamed Hawthorne Hall, and was home for my first two years in the city.
During Mardi Gras, the big parades all turned below our windows on Canal Street, so we had grandstand seats for the festivities, whether we wanted them or not. Across the small side street where many of our windows faced, there was a local dive bar that played loud music until 4 AM each morning, much to the chagrin of those of us trying to study. Not infrequently, some of the drunks would spill out on the street below us, shouting profanities at each other. I lived on the 10th floor of the 14 story building. One night, when the drunks were particularly loud and obnoxious, my roommate, after yelling down several times to have them curtail the noise, got fed up and dumped a large wastebasket of water out the window on the crowd below. One of the drunks started screaming in response, “I’m gonna kick your ass, you s.o.b., I know where you are! You’re at one, two, three, four…You’re at one, two, three, four…You’re at one, two, three, four…” We were saved, either by his alcohol level, or inability to count beyond four.
The building had one of those old elevators that required an operator with a lever to make the stops on each floor. The flat rooftop provided space for some folding chairs and a couple of chaise lounges for us to get rays, weather permitting. Of the twenty of us on my floor, none had any cooking skills, and since I was hard strapped for money, I offered them a deal. I would cook for us if they would pay for and buy the food (lacking a car, and having no supermarket within walking distance was a problem for me.) I never told them I had never cooked, and I bluffed eight of the twenty on my floor into taking me up on the deal. My mom and my grandmother were both excellent cooks. I knew what good food was supposed to taste and look like, and I had enough chemistry to know how to follow a recipe. I would call home and obtain a week’s worth of recipes, then give a shopping list to our nightly dinner group, who procured the necessary items. I not only learned to cook this way, but also discovered I enjoyed the process. An unexpected benefit was my status as the chef gave me a level of popularity I hadn’t previously enjoyed. My only disaster occurred the first time I cooked rice. I couldn’t believe that the amount of rice the recipe called for was so small, so I added more. It took me a long time to clean up the mess!
Most of the people in my class did not know each other before the start of school, and we had no local connections or much free time to meet people. One of the sororities on the main campus posted a flyer offering to fix up any medical student with a date for the upcoming Tulane football game. Many of us, including me, signed up for this opportunity. I called the young woman who was to be my blind date, and arranged to meet her at the sorority house prior to the game. She had a sweet voice, and I looked forward to meeting her. My room-mate wasn’t going, though he reminded me that in the South the dress code for football games included a sport coat and a tie. I thought he was pulling my leg, as I found him to be quite a joker, but other class members confirmed his advice.
My date turned out to be a young sophomore, and I spent a good part of the not very exciting game (Tulane was getting shellacked) trying to find topics to keep the conversation moving. The one interest we seemed to share was food. She told me she knew a good place to eat that wasn’t very expensive not far from Hawthorne Hall, and offered to drive us there after the game. She told me that I would be way overdressed in a tie and jacket, and suggested we stop back for me to change. I called my roommate to tell him we were coming by, as I didn’t want to surprise him with unexpected company. When we got back to my room, I tried to open the door, and found the security chain had been deployed. I knocked, yelling for him to come and open the door. He comes, opens up, and stands in the doorway wearing an apron, his hands on his hips, “Where have you been? I’ve been slaving over this dinner” he simpered, and then looking at my date, his eyes aghast, he yells, “You brought a WOMAN into our house?” and storms off into the bedroom. Meanwhile, this young girl who just met me is standing there, her mouth agape, not believing the scene. “You guys obviously have some things to work out,” she stammered and ran down the hall to the elevator, never to be seen or heard from again. Meanwhile, my supposed friend is now in hysterics. “You should have seen your faces,” he cackles.
He pulled several other pranks on me as well as our other classmates during our time together, including the occasion when we had a double date for a movie, after which we stopped back at our place for a drink. After a few minutes, he excused himself to go the “boy’s room” while we sat chatting. The walls of the building are very thin, and we could hear the unmistakable noise of a man urinating into the toilet. We politely ignored it for the first minute, looked at each other sheepishly after the second minute, but by the fifth minute, all conversation had stopped, while the noise of liquid emptying continued. Eventually, he came back to the room, grinning, saying “Sorry guys, but I really had to go!” Unknown to me, he had taken the garbage can earlier, filled it up with water, and slowly poured it into the toilet over the course of more than five minutes. While he was entertaining to have around, I felt myself noticeably more relaxed after he moved out to live with his girlfriend.
Having most of the first year medical students share housing definitely provided a bonding experience for our class, and gave support during the very arduous period of intense study and challenges that all freshmen in medical school face.