Blog Fanatic: New Orleans, 1994

Everyone remembers how they initially got hooked on”cardboard crack”, and today Ben shares his story of the initial hit from everyone’s favorite addiction.

It all started with Neil and Dave.

I received a full scholarship in 1993 to attend Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana. This was in no small part due to my work at the Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Institute for three years, under the tutelage of Dr. Zhao. Dr. Zhao had come over to the United States from China, and had brought his family along with him. I attended the Dwight School in New York City (also known as the Dumb White Idiots Getting High Together School – and while I can say that I certainly didn’t fit that stereotype, it was a well-deserved one judging from many of my classmates) where, along with four to five other students, we would go twice a week to learn about cancer research from Dr. Zhao. One day a week would be for a lecture, and a second day of the week would be for laboratory work.

There were three problems with this. Dr. Zhao could barely speak English, so the lectures were a mess. He did try his best, and he made frequent handouts with numerous illustrations and shorthand that helped to bridge the language gap. Unfortunately, it was not enough. He would often reference "Wee High" cells. And by often, I mean every other phrase out of his mouth was "Wee High cells." To this day I could not tell you what he was trying to tell us, but obviously it was important. Did he mean Hemoglobin cells? Cancer cells? White blood cells? No matter, because out of those of us who went to study under Dr. Zhao, only I and Rick (who will one day be an evil republican senator) really cared to learn about cancer research – the other people would goof off and were basically using this opportunity to pad their college resumes.

The third problem was that Dr. Zhao wasn’t caught up with all the modern equipment afforded in the United States. The incident which stands out the most in my mind was his method of euthanasia. There were special machines designed to kill the (literal) lab rats – you’d put the mice into a neck brace, and this machine would quickly break their necks. Dr. Zhao wasn’t quite aware of these machines before we point them out to him, because on our first lab day he took a rat out of a cage, grabbed it by the tail, and started swinging it as hard as he could against the edge of the metal lab table until it stopped twitching.

Thanks in no small part to Dr. Zhao, I ended up with the aforementioned scholarship. Also thanks in no small part to Dr. Zhao, I immediately changed my major from Biology to English the second I got to Tulane. My first year there brought an addiction into my life which took a long time to shake. I would play with other people all the time, and it affected my grades and social life. This, of course, was Doom.

I remember that I, Mike Ostling, Brandon Downey and others sat in Mark Bray’s dorm room waiting for the initial shareware version of Doom to show up on Mark’s favorite BBS. It took three hours to download (we didn’t get it done until 3am), but we spent many of the next few weeks blasting demons fifteen to twenty hours a day. When we weren’t playing Doom, we would load up Star Control 2 and run melees against one another (I was a master with the Androsynth). I’d also mud a ton on Carrion Fields with Brandon, Mike, Pam Knowles, Scott Shull, and others.

Freshman year came and went in an orgy of primitive online gaming. We were outfitted with Ethernet connections the second semester of my freshman year, and things went from bad to worse by the end of the year. The stories about school network administers threatening entire student bodies about taking up mass bandwidth on Doom are true; I know that we were almost shut down on many occasions, but eventually struck a bargain that we could play as much as we wanted, as long as it wasn’t between 12pm-3pm and 8pm-10pm (prime hours for campus internet usage).

Note that in that year, September of 1993 to June of 1994, there was a certain other game equally addictive that had not yet entered the orbit of my life. That first year in Zemurray Dorm was a haven for all the honors students under Dean Jean Danielson (the head of the honors program and one of the most intelligent and compassionate human beings on the planet. If you are a Tulane Student and were in the honors program, she treated you like one of her children and always made time for you. Thank you Dean Jean!).

Zemurray dorm was laid out on three floors. The first floor contained male honors students, the second floor were female honors students, and the third floor had more male honors students. Upperclassmen were interspersed liberally on the three floors, and we had a common room on the first floor called the Steam Room where we’d get together many a night for some Dungeon and Dragons or TV watching or random whatever. The floors were laid out as straight hallways, so if you were on the third floor, you could see the entire rest of the third floor by looking to the right or the left, just outside your door. This led to a real community spirit, since anyone was basically accessible to anyone else, and you could always find something to do/people to talk to just by looking down the hallway.

Sophomore year brought change: the honors dorm was moved to Butler Hall, which had a traditional hallway around a square building. It also reached up to eight floors, five more than Zemurray. This led to much more segregation, and less opportunity to just run into people randomly doing geeky, fun things. I lived on the third floor of both buildings, but unlike at Zemurray, most of my friends were on the fifth floor in Butler dorm. This meant frequent trips up the elevator (or as Brandon used to say: “It costs $30,000 a year to attend Tulane. If they’re charging that much, I’m taking the damn elevator, even if it’s one floor.”). One feature of Butler was that almost every floor had a common area, and that common area was directly opposite the elevators. And wouldn’t you know it, one day I saw two guys really into this card game, playing in the common area as I was about to head to someone’s room on the fifth floor of Butler.

It all started with Neil and Dave.

Tomorrow: The tentative first steps.