We were warned in the days before the Hurricane struck that Rutgers never closed. Early on September 16th, a Thursday, the school canceled classes for the day, and eventually the school would cancel classes for Friday.
I woke up in mid-morning to torrential rain beating the screen on the dormitory window. I was living on the Piscataway campus across the Raritan River from New Brunswick. The friends I had made in those first weeks at Rutgers all lived on the College Avenue campus, in New Brunswick, the Raritan River. A high school friend had moved to Brett Hall, and when we first went off to college, I wound up knocking on his door within a few hours of moving to campus. I inevitably ended up befriending everyone in that dorm rather than bothering to know anyone where I actually lived. I became a fixture of Brett Hall so much so that many people believed I Brett was my dormitory.
When the Hurricane hit, I thought nothing of venturing out to New Brunswick since everyone I knew at college lived there. The rain was heavy, and I got wet, but I knew that eventually I would dry out.
By nightfall, the torrents had dissipated. The night was a crisp and clear night, a remarkably beautiful evening considering what, earlier, I had trudged through. More importantly, the following day’s classes had been canceled. The four day weekend as now official. Just three weeks into school, we had little work to do, and the party that began early that afternoon swung into a full out bash.
We drank mostly from giant plastic bottles of vodka or gin or rum, mixed with fruit punch or cola playing games that encouraged drinking. With little experience drinking before college, I was still an amateur. I had only drank eighteen times before: once before heading off to college, and then every night of the last seventeen since arriving at school. So I was well inebriated. We were drinking quickly and heavily, because we had nothing better to do, playing card games and being silly.
As midnight rolled around, I had achieved a marvelously stunning level of intoxication. We were loud. There was dancing in the hallways. Then I stumbled on the cleaning staff’s supply cart, left out that afternoon in the lounge. The cart was stocked with toilet paper. Seeing all that toilet, and of course because of the level of intoxication I had achieved, I made the obvious realization that during this wonderful four day weekend, the dormitory bathrooms were going to run out of toilet paper. The cleaning staff only worked on weekdays–and only restocked the toilet paper when they worked. In the normal course of a weekend, the bathrooms ran short of the magical paper, and many Sunday evenings were spent wandering from stall to stall seraching for one that was properly stocked. I knew that with four days without cleaning staff, we were almost certainly doomed to run out of paper.
I immediately grab as many rolls of paper as I can possible hold. “We need to stock up!” I shouted. I felt like I was living out in real life the news footage of riotuous grocery stores in the hours before a hurricane or the start of a great disaster movie. I started distributing rolls of paper to friends. “Take this, you’ll need it by Saturday!” I declare, “No really, you’ll want to have this by the end of the weekend!” I yelled. I went through the dorm chucking rolls into open dorm doors, yelling for people to take a roll before the supply ran out.
I made my way through half the dorm when I came to the door of Betsy Stein. There was her dry erase board, I thought to my drunken self. My first three weeks of college were marked by an unfounded crush on Betsy. I wasn’t likely to ever say anything to her in real life, and certainly not while I was sober. But now that I had consumed enough plastic bottle vodka to put down a small horse, I was confident she would fall in love with me right there. I knocked on the door, still holding several rolls of toilet paper.
Well then, I thought, I’ll just leave a message for her on this dry erase board. This will end well, I thought. The message went something like this:
Dear Betsy, I think you are a great girl and I really like you and I thought you should know because you are nice and I like you.
Brilliant, I thought, she’ll obviously fall in love with me as soon as she comes back to the room and finds the message. I’m all set now! Of course the words at the bottom of the message were illegibly small as I attempted to squeeze more and more into the love note. Thankfully, I signed my name extra large, so it was obvious that I had left the message. I then went about my business distributing rolls of toilet paper.
The last person I offered a roll of toilet paper to was the floor’s resident adviser; she was not amused. “What are you doing?” she asked me in the sort of tone that suggested she didn’t appreciate wiping herself clean with her own personal roll of toilet paper.
I tried to reason with her, that we were obviously going to run out of toilet paper by the end of the weekend.
“We are not going to run out of paper,” she said.
Luckily I had become an institution in this dorm. I was not one of her residents, but I also wasn’t a stranger, a random somebody in he dorm. She knew my dorm was over in Piscataway, and suggested I return there.
“Fine, but I’m taking the toilet paper with me,” I said, marching off toward the stairwell.
I scampered on out to the bus stop where the campus bus would pick me up. I left at a little before 1 in the morning. An hour later the river rose above the highway bridge, bisecting the campuses for the next thirty-six hours.
The following morning I woke to find myself stranded in Piscatawy. The water had risen over all the roads connecting the campuses, and the university shut down the bus system keeping us linked together. This was the first day that semester that I had not gone to Brett Hall. That afternoon’s lunch was the first meal I ever ate at the dining hall on the Piscataway campus. Afterward, I wandered down to the edge of campus were the river had swallowed up the road and stared longingly toward College Avenue. I would be back there the next day, though that seemed an eternity.
The message I left for Betsy was found later in the night after I had left. Nothing came of it, except for a few snickers, and a sweet “thanks, but not thanks” sort of expression from her. I wasn’t totally convinced I had even left the message until someone, having immortalized forever my note, developed a roll of film a few weeks later.
As for the toilet paper, I was right. The bathrooms had run dry by Saturday afternoon. The rolls I had distributed kept things civilized until Monday. Of course, the maid’s cart with the toilet paper was still sitting in the lounge, so I suppose anyone could have gotten their supply from there. But I’d like to think I saved us all from an unsanitary weekend.