“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 15: Coffee Talk

Since the incident with the milk, she'd been sure to check it every day.  If the carton was less than a quarter full, she’d buy a new one.  No point in going through that nonsense again.  But since the milk situation was resolved, there were still other things that she’d done wrong.  Nothing was ever right in the apartment.
Just this evening, as she’d been doing the dishes, making sure everything was perfectly clean, the door had slammed.  That signaled that something had gotten their nose out of joint.  She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer, even though she hadn’t prayed in years.
“School’s open,” they said when they came into the kitchen.  She didn’t look up, just concentrated on the dishes. “You’re not going to head over there and see everybody, are you?”
“No,” she said. “I’m not.”
“Because if you did, there’d be a problem.”
“I don’t have any plans to go there.”
“Okay.  I just wanted to make sure.”  They stomped out of the kitchen, leaving her alone again..
She looked out the window over the sink.  Only a thin screen separated her from the street, but they were on the second floor, and it was a high second floor.  Not that it mattered.  Any escape, no matter how dangerous, was preferable.

Coffee Talk
“See that dumpy girl over there?” Maria Levett took Darin Burkett by the shoulder and pointed to a heavyset girl with long, black ropy hair and a nose ring. “That’s Ada. She doesn’t go to school here, she attends Alden High but she hangs out here more than she goes to school.  She’s an emancipated minor and her toenails are all fungussy. We call her the spooky girl. Don’t talk to her.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Darin said.
The first person Darin ran into at the coffee social was Maria. They recognized one another from the floor meeting; Maria took it upon herself to show him around. 
“I have no idea who the fuck that is,” Maria said, gesturing at a tall guy sitting quietly in the corner. “New guy, I guess.  That couple over there – the woman who’s tall as an Amazon and big as a planet and the short guy next to her?  That’s Karen and Bug.  They’re a couple, but they ‘play.’” 
“Yeah, if they ask you, just decline,” Maria warned. “Others haven’t been as lucky.  When’s your roommate coming?”
“In a minute, I guess” Darin said. 
“That’s so wild about you two.”
Julia Wood sauntered over.  “Corrupting them so early?” she asked.   Julia’s hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail.  It drew attention to her angular jaw, Maria noted.  Very unflattering.
“Never too early,” Maria said. “Julia, this is Darin, who also lives in my dorm; my fucking, non-smoking, fucking dorm.   He’s had an adventure or two already.  Wait until he tells you…”
“Hello, Darin. Freshman?” Julia interrupted. “Or do they make you call yourselves first-year students now?”
Darin nodded.  “I’m brand new.”
“Welcome to the Happy Valley,” she turned to Maria. “Do you have a cigarette?”
“You’re going to start getting your own my dear, I’m running out.”
Maria had smoked more than her usual allotment last night after bringing Cedrick back to her room. They spent half the night fucking on the floor.  It was best sex she’d had in a while.  After that, they’d gone through an entire pack of cigarettes.  One of her suitemates- the ever annoying Krista - had complained to her about the smell this morning.
Todd walked in, carrying his book bag over his shoulder.  His face was red as he made a beeline for Darin.  “What the hell?” Todd said. “I waited fifteen minutes for you at the elevator.”
“Sorry,” Darin answered. “I just wanted to get up here.  Maria, this is Todd.  My roommate.” 
Maria’s eyes lit up. “Ah, this is your little fuck buddy.  I should have realized he was your roommate.”  Maria gave Todd a wink.
Todd’s smile stayed on his face longer than seemed natural. Maria didn’t notice; she’d turned away and directed Darin’s attention across the room to two men who were now talking to the guy in the corner.
“That’s Jeremy and Arturo. Jeremy’s boring and Arturo’s a total sleaze.  He thinks that being loyal to Jeremy means not sleeping with anybody else, so he feels every guy up instead.  I still don’t know who that guy in the chair is and I usually know everybody.” Maria sighed. “I’ve been at this school too damn long.  Do you smoke?”
Darin shook his head.
“Come on out to the hall with me anyway,” she grabbed Darin by his forearm and steered him out of the room.  Darin gave Todd a half wave as he exited.
Todd ended up alone in the middle of the room.
“This is the worst lemonade I’ve ever had,” Ben said.
“The coffee’s worse; it’s a tradition,” Jeremy said. “I’m glad you showed up.  Refresh my memory, you’re from Litchfield?”
Springfield,” Ben answered.
“I’ve never been to Springfield,” Jeremy said.
“There’s no reason to go.” Jeremy’s crotch was at Ben’s eye-level.  Jeremy wore Lycra running shorts and from what Ben could make out, no underwear. Ben thought it was a little tacky but at the same time, it turned him on.
Arturo wandered away. 
Ben had arrived at the coffee social promptly at three.  That had been a mistake.  He’d been the third to arrive.  Two women, one with a short, asymmetrical haircut and the other shaved nearly bald were standing by the windows, chatting quietly.  They gave Ben a polite smile, and then resumed their conversation. 
The guy with the pompadour from the dining hall had walked in with Ryan and Richard a few minutes after.
I’m not surprised to see HIM at a gathering like this, Ben thought before catching himself: he was also at a gathering “like this.”  Pompadour guy’s name was Tobe Beals, and from what Ben could see, Tobe loved attention.  Tobe and Julia had done an impromptu waltz around the room when she arrived.
Fascinated by the stream of arrivals, Ben hadn’t been paying attention and spilled lemonade down the front of his shirt.  Nobody noticed, but Ben exiled himself to a chair over in the corner where he stayed until Jeremy and Arturo had shown up.
 “How long have you been with Arturo?”  Ben had never asked a guy about his boyfriend before. 
“I’d been here for two weeks my freshman year when we met; that’s two years so far,” Jeremy said. “It’s worked out well.” 
Lucky you.
Arturo came back with his arm around the shoulders of an extremely cute kid with brown hair and dark brown eyes. The guy was so impeccably dressed and neat that his jeans had a crease in them.  Ben noted his own shirt was still wet with lemonade, and was glad it was a dark fabric so nothing would show.
“I’ve found another one,” Arturo said. “This is Todd.” 
Todd looked lost.   Ben noticed Arturo’s hand was placed down low Todd’s back, but Jeremy didn’t appear to care.  Once Jeremy and Arturo turned their attention to Todd, Ben was forgotten.  He decided to wander. 
The room was full.  Last night’s gathering had been puny in comparison.  Near the windows sat somebody who didn’t look fully male or female.  At first Ben had assumed it was a lesbian, but after getting a second look he thought maybe it was a guy.  He moved closer to see if he could hear the person’s voice and figure it out.
Ben turned around.  The first thing he saw was a fedora, then the guy wearing a beard underneath it.
Edgar was here, in the room, wearing what looked like the same beat up outfit he’d been sporting at orientation.
 God, that hat must stink.
“Hey,” Ben said.
“So, here we are,” Edgar said. “I was wondering if I’d run into you.” 
“Surprise,” Ben said.
“How are you finding life here so far?”
“It’s a little boring, to be honest,” Ben said. “But it’s the first week, so you know how it is.  Where did you end up getting housing?” 
“I got stuck way up the hill in Hillside,” Edgar said. “It’s not so bad, my roommate says he works every weekend and goes home a lot.  What about you?”
“Northeast,” Ben said. “My roommate’s from England and leaves food out all over the place but if that’s the worst of it, it’s okay.”  The Star Trek insignia pin was still on Edgar’s lapel, next to his pink triangle button.  
They stood there for a moment, nodding at one another.
Don’t ask me out, Ben prayed.
Edgar looked at his watch.
“I need to catch a bus, it’s been good to see you,” Edgar said. “Take care.”
“You too, Edgar,” Ben said, grateful that he’d stopped himself from telling Edgar the name of the dorm.  Ben turned back to the room. 
So many people yet to know.
Ben walked over to Tobe, who was standing by the door and looking down the hallway with an anxious look.  He was still wearing the large silver ring necklace.
“Seen any blue-haired girls lately?” Ben asked.
Tobe gave him a funny look. “Excuse me?”
“The girl outside the dining hall, with the blue hair…”
Ben was losing him. “Yesterday…” he said
“Oh, that girl,” Tobe said. “Yeah, I remember her.  Sorry, I’m not myself today.  I’m waiting for somebody who’s late.” Tobe sighed.  “What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Ben,” Tobe said. “I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.”  He turned away and looked down the hallway again.
The room started to empty out around 4:30.  Maria and Darin sat in the smoking area, watching people head for the elevators.
“I’m starving.  Are you on the meal plan?” Maria asked.
“Two meals a day,” Darin said. “I don’t know if I’d be able to eat more than that.”
“Some cafeterias have better food than others.  Avoid the Oak Room; all they have at night is ‘pastabilities’ and it’s just sauce out of can.  The Veggie cafeteria is a no-no. We’ll go to the Barracks after I finish this,” Maria said. “Should we ask your roommate?”
“No. Todd can do his own thing for dinner,” Darin said.
“I think it’s so wild that you hooked up with your roommate,” Maria said. “That could only happen here.”
“He’s growing clingy,” Darin said. “It’s annoying.”
Todd wasn’t clingy, but Darin didn’t want him joining them. Todd could find his own friends.
An attractive woman with blonde hair walked by.  Maria stared after her. “That’s Colleen.  We dated for a month last semester.  She’s no longer talking to me.”
“Who are you dating now?” Darin asked.
Maria exhaled. “Nobody, though I did somebody last night,” she looked down the hallway.  “Okay, Colleen’s gone, let’s go.” She grabbed her purse. “You sure you don’t want to ask your roommate?”
“No,” Darin said. “Let’s go.”
The elevator doors opened, and a short woman with a brightly-colored kerchief over her head rushed out. “God, I can’t believe I’m so late,” she said, out of breath. “Is anybody left in there, Maria?”
“A few,” Maria said. “But the cool people are leaving.  See you later.”
The woman ran down the hall, her backpack bouncing behind her.
“That’s Terri Friedmann, the head of the UGLBA steering committee,” Maria said. “She’s going to be late to her own funeral.”

No comments:

Post a Comment