(This column first ran in the June 10, 2018 editions of The Times and The News Star.)
Hutcheson is a four-store dormitory (I’m counting the unforgiving basement) on the Louisiana Tech campus that is now the shell of its former self, and not a minute too soon.
It is being torn down, something time and the elements and how we who “lived” there treated it was well on its way to happening without help from the huge crunching backhoe that is taking chunks out of it by the hour. She’ll be leveled by week’s end.
It was my home for three years, beginning in August of 1978, but all sentiment is gone, as gone as this giant petri dish of testosterone will soon be. Knowing all I know now that I didn’t know then, I wouldn’t go inside this long-condemned dormitory we once affectionately called ‘The Hut’ even after three tetanus shots and wearing seven hazmat suits. And enclosed in a clear germ-free bubble.
The Hut is the middle “U” in the horseshoe of five male dormitories, the dorm most distant from Tech Drive, probably for safety’s sake. Two of the five dorms were recently torn down, the Hut — germ by germ — is disappearing. LED-lit intramural fields and parking will take their place. It will be clean, something the Hut hasn’t been for at least 40 years. Or since I moved in.
At that time, it had become the dorm for male athletes, which I was not. I was the football manager, the washer of clothes and fixer of helmets and keeper of secrets for both players and coaches. For this I was awarded a full scholarship after my second quarter of school, a seat at the training table, and a room at the Hut.
In fairness to it, the Hut housed more All-Americans and All-Conference players in its history than any other building on campus. It was a loyal and workmanlike companion. At least two Hall of Famers, Fred Dean of the NFL and Karl Malone, the NBA’s second-highest scorer ever, hung their hats here. Fred may or may not have driven his truck up the steps and onto the Hut’s patio one night, no small feat. Fred was and is no small man. Nobody said anything. If that even happened.
When I arrived, I felt it was the Waldorf Astoria. It is a long story for another time, but two weeks before, I’d been working at Beacon Gas Plant between Homer and Minden, with no thought of college. Then on a Tuesday night in late August, I was the only one in the Hut. It was me and some clothes, the sheets and pillow I’d brought, and my record player and my Gene Watson “Reflections” album, which featured “Farewell Party” and “Mama Sold Roses,” and those tunes hummed up and down the halls of the empty — except for me — Hut. Then at dawn I was at Aillet Fieldhouse learning how to put a face mask on a football helmet.
Life is funny.
But again, at the end of the day, it was just me and the Hut. Clean sheets. No noise. Just me and Gene and “One Sided Conversation With A Narrow Minded Wall” and “I Don’t Know How To Tell Her She Don’t Love Me Anymore.” Life was good. And then …
… 70 of my closest friends who I’d never met showed up. It became a bit of a different ballgame.
There is no use denying it: terrible things happened there. At the time, setting a guy’s door on fire was just another day at the office. Every time I drive by it I feel like I need to take a shower. Just not in there. Please. Ever again.
The golf and baseball and basketball and track and field guys on the other floors were saner, but not by much. Call it a photo finish.
It was a different time. Now Tech and other universities have townhouses on campuses. Suites. Commons areas. Order. It’s no longer “Animal House” on steroids.
Definitely, there were good times. In a lot of ways, we were living the dream. Lots of card games and laughs and towel-poppin’. But there’s not enough Lysol in the world to scrub clean the memory or what that many young men all crammed together on one floor of terror are capable of.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But except for those nights with Gene, I wouldn’t go back either. Not without a nurse, penicillin, and a lawyer.
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