“On Todd Salazar’s first day of college, while his belongings were still in neatly labeled boxes on the dorm room floor, he had sex with his new roommate Darin.”

From the first line of the first page of Semesters, a loopy, original novel about gay life at a large New England state university during the early ‘90s, it's clear that the people populating this novel certainly are more interesting that those saintly, asexual members of the class of 10 percent portrayed in heterosexual college novels. Set against an era when gay marriage is a pipe dream and being “out” is still a precarious choice, the students of Semesters feel safe enough in their campus microcosm to be Here and Queer—so get used to it! They have sex, do drugs, have sex again, make all the wrong decisions, wage war against their conservative enemies, bum cigarettes, have more sex, all the while struggling with questions universal to young Americans. The writing is breezy and the drama generous. You'll encounter scandalous revelations, parties out of bounds, back stabbing, and an unforgettable, topsy-turvy final confrontation. Has it been mentioned that there is sex? Lots of it!

The protagonists are three gay men: BEN BRISTOL, the transfer student looking for sex or love, whichever comes first, TODD SALAZAR, the freshman who already has quite the track record but is looking for new conquests, and DARIN BURKETT, Todd’s whiny and underhanded first semester roommate, the self-appointed perpetual victim.

Ben Bristol is the heart of the novel. After two years of living closeted at home and attending a local community college to save money, Ben has high expectations for his junior year. But despite having a hot, straight British roommate who has a habit of walking around in his underwear, Ben’s only affections are from a fedora-wearing Trekker named EDGAR whom he met during orientation. Undeterred, Ben joins the University Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Alliance (UGLBA), writes a column for a newsletter, and falls hard for a guy who barely knows he exists—and that’s only in the first month of school. We follow the uninitiated Ben as he discovers the thrill of off-campus parties, drinks bad sangria and goes to the UGLBA-sponsored dances. Finally an active member of a gay community is Ben happy? And what if his quest for love ends with Ben in the arms of somebody he’d never expected?

Among Ben’s new college friends are: JULIA, a fellow member of the UGLBA whose claims of bisexuality are suspect; JEREMY and ARTURO, who are at a crisis point in their relationship, which Arturo relieves by hitting on other men in front of Jeremy, oblivious to Jeremy’s growing attraction to a sexy TA; TOBE, the self-appointed DJ who plays music nobody requests and refuses to wear weight-appropriate clothing; and TERRI, the beleaguered leader of the UGLBA who discovers her ex-girlfriend is in an abusive relationship and finds herself thrust into a brutal life or death situation.

Countering Ben’s cautious and naive romantic tendencies, Todd Salazar is all magnetic sexual appeal. Todd can’t help but oblige the men who line up the moment he steps on campus in September. In addition to sleeping with his roommate, Darin, Todd seduces super-senior RICHARD, who already has a boyfriend. No matter. After Richard, there’s KIRK, a golden boy from California, who has his own apartment. But Todd is carrying a dark secret about a taboo relationship he had over the summer. There’s a problem with secrets, though ... they have a funny way of being exposed at just the wrong times.

And then there’s Darin Burkett, a weaselly freshman from the suburbs of Boston not thrilled to be stuck in a provincial western Massachusetts state school. The relationship between roommates Darin and Todd, at first full of passion, quickly dissolves as Darin’s inconsiderate habits drive anal retentive Todd crazy; Darin doesn’t make his bed, breaks Todd’s lamp [gasp!], smokes in the dorm room, and has people in at all hours, notably MARIA, the cynical fellow UGLBA member who lives down the hall. Together, Darin and Maria bring their own half-baked brand of stoner politics to a campus that Darin feels is too complacent. Eventually Darin takes up with the mysterious revolutionary and begins a prank campaign against the Young Conservatives Club. Darin also manages to acquire a boyfriend, the sexy LARS, a former swim team member with a great tan line who doesn’t seem to know why he's dating Darin. Tensions between Darin and Todd explode into a nasty fist fight which ends the first semester with a bang and sets the tone for an even larger confrontation just before Spring Break, the ramifications of which send shock waves through the campus.

So take a study break, wring out your wet Speedo and grab a cup of coffee and peanut butter chocolate chip cookie at the Blue Book Café. Semesters demonstrates how much fun college can be when you’re not attending class.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chapter 14: The Gathering

The Gathering
The group at the Center had been small, maybe fifteen people total.  Ben wondered if this was the total amount of out people on campus. When he’d walked into the office, Ryan had started introducing him around.  There was a guy in Lycra shorts named Jeremy who was there with his boyfriend Arturo. They were the first gay couple Ben ever met.  Ryan moved Ben on across the room to a handsome guy sitting on a couch talking to a woman with a big nose and wearing a large, flowered hat.
“Richard, this is Ben,” Ryan said. “He’s new…”
Richard barely smiled. Ben stuck out his hand.  They shook.
Weak handshake.
“And this is Julia.” 
Julia looked up from her reclined position. Her ridiculous hat obscured her eyes. “Hello Ben,” Julia said. “Freshman?”
“Junior,” Ben said. “I transferred.” 
Julia nodded, then turned back to Richard.  Ben drifted over to Jeremy and Arturo and sat with them for the duration of the movie.
Once the movie was over, the room emptied so quickly that Ben didn’t have time to introduce himself to anybody else. Richard and Ryan left before the lights had been turned back on.
“They’re going to the bars,” Jeremy said.
“Around here?”
“Hampstead,” Jeremy said. “There are no gay bars in Alden.  Are you heading back home?”
“I think so,” Ben said.
“Come and walk with us,” Jeremy said. “We’re heading in the same direction as you.”
Arturo had ridden his bike to the Center office and wheeled it alongside them as they walked up the avenue.  Arturo was quiet and let Jeremy do the talking.  Jeremy carried a large wicker chair upside down over his head.
“It’s easier to carry this way,” Jeremy said. “Did you like the movie?”
 “Yeah,” Ben said.  “I didn’t see it when it was released.”
“Enjoy it,” Jeremy said. “They show the same movies over and over every Thursday night.  You have this, Parting Glances, Longtime Companion, and My Beautiful Launderette.  That’s about it for the men.  The women have it worse, they only have Desert Hearts.  The good news is they usually show the films in a room at the campus center so you won’t have to trek out here every week.”
“Yeah,” Ben asked. “I’m surprised the UGLBA office is so far out of the way.”
“No,” Jeremy said from underneath his wicker helmet. “The UGLBA is a student group, the office is in the Student Union.  That’s where everybody hangs out. This place is administrative. Sabra Gould runs it.  She lobbied for it after some homophobic incidents a few years back.”
“I’d always assumed this school was more tolerant,” Ben said.
“A myth,” Jeremy said. “The same shit happens here as everywhere else.  Things grew worse since AIDS.”
“Straight people,” Arturo muttered.  Arturo was from Argentina and his face was heavily lined.  He looked older than 26.
“Stop,” Jeremy said.
“You’ve said the same thing,” Arturo responded.  Jeremy shot him a look and Arturo was quiet.
“Do you have work-study?” Jeremy asked.
 “Yeah, I do,” Ben said. “I’ve been trying to find a job all week.  Do you have one to offer?”
“Sabra hires work study students at the Center, you should apply,” Jeremy said.  “It’s better than the usual work study shit like working the library circulation desk until midnight or washing dishes.”
“Maybe,” Ben said. “It’s an idea.”
 “Do it,” Jeremy said.  His face was covered by the chair now.  Ben took the opportunity to look down at Jeremy’s lower half; he had nice legs. “It won’t be too hard of a job.”
“Here comes the bus,” Arturo said.
 Jeremy took the chair off his head. “You’ll come to the social tomorrow?  That’s when you’ll really get to meet everybody,” Jeremy said. “Tonight was just a prelude.”
“I’ll try to be there,” Ben said.
“You’d better. Ninth floor of the Campus Center at three,” Jeremy said. “See you.” He turned the chair sideways through the narrow door and walked in. Arturo waved as he struggled to pull the bike up the narrow bus stairwell.
Ben watched the bus pull away and continued walking down the road back to the dorm.  He had to call Dave as soon as he got home. 

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