“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.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chapter 17: Egg Toss

Egg Toss
Sabra Gould didn’t notice that the Diversity Center had been egged until she got up to the front steps.  She looked around as though the perpetrators were hiding somewhere, but that was ridiculous.  This was definitely a middle of the night prank.
“Fucking assholes,” she muttered. Not  9 a.m. and I’m already pissed off.
She put down the two heavy boxes containing the October newsletter she’d been carrying and fumbled in her jeans pocket for her keys.  College students or not,  Dickinson residents or not, ignorance was no excuse for this happening again.  Since the Center had been established in this residential area, there had been broken windows, nasty phone calls, most of it originating from drunken frat boys but there were never any witnesses.  The attacks were often on weekends, and were never discovered until much later, usually by Sabra. 
“There’s nothing we can do except report it,” the campus cop had said the day the overhead window above the couch in the main room had been kicked in. The cop appeared uncomfortable and once he looked around, he went back and stood in the doorway. “We’ll never be able to find whoever did it.”
“But this isn’t the first time,” Sabra said.
“That’s not a homophobic incident, most likely,” the cop had said. “The sidewalk is up the slope from here. That just looks like a basement window from where they walk by, they most likely kicked it in because it was there. Drunken antics.”  It may not have been a homophobic incident, but the problem was that the cops downplayed everything.  They may as well have been on the side of the aggressors.  What the fuck, it’s a state school, Sabra thought, it's not like any rich parents were withholding endowments in lieu of things being swept under the rug.
A report was completed, the glass was replaced, the University “looked into it” and that was it. 
Sabra wouldn’t call the cops about the egging; they didn’t respond kindly to calls about events of this small magnitude.   Sandy the grouchy maintenance woman could clean up the egg when she came to empty the wastebaskets at noon. Sandy wouldn’t be happy but unlike the cops, Sandy on occasion showed a little bit of sympathy.  
Sabra opened the front door to the office slowly.  There was no draft of air; nothing was open or broken but the sliding patio doors had all been egged as well, every last one.   If somebody had been at the office when it happened, they could have recorded it in the incident book.  Sabra had created the book herself and encouraged any students to report homophobic encounters in it.  The incidents recorded were one more thing for the end of year report Sabra would submit to prove the campus was a hostile environment, and that it was necessary to give the Center more funding in the next go-round.
Two minutes past nine.  Another day.  Turn on the coffeemaker, turn on the lights, put lunch in the fridge, and get it together without losing your mind. 
Shit, I left the boxes on the steps.
She walked out of the small kitchenette and jumped. Somebody was standing outside on the patio.  It was Julia Wood. 
Sabra pushed the eggy glass door open. “Why are you standing out here?”
Julia slid in past Sabra. “I forgot my key and nobody ever hears me when I knock on the door,” she said, throwing her bag in the nearest chair.  Julia walked into the kitchen and opened the top cabinet looking for teabags. “That’s a nice present they left for us out there.”
“You didn’t lose your key did you?”
Julia pulled out a box and put in on the counter. “No, I just misplaced it.  I’ll find it.  Do you think we’ll have time to talk about the newsletter today?” 
Julia had been hired last week; admitting in the interview that it was only the third time she’d ever come over to the Center, but she wanted to use her work study money for the undergraduate PR job.  Basically, PR for the Center amounted to working on the newsletter.  Carlos, a grad student getting his MFA, handled most of the press releases when he wasn’t hung over.
 “I don’t know, maybe this afternoon,” Sabra said. “There’s a new work study student named Ben starting later this morning that I need to train. Do you know him?”
 “Tall guy?”
“Yeah, he’s pretty tall.  If you’re here when he arrives, welcome him, don’t scare him off…”
Julia looked mock offended. “Never!” she said. “And then will you have time to sit down with me?”
“Maybe,” Sabra said.  “I have a lot of things to get together.”
“How many undergrads are you going to hire?”
Sabra shrugged. “You, Macon Brigham and Ben.  I think that’s it. I don’t have to pay you, so it doesn’t matter to me.”   And thank god. Undergrads were just a waste of time anyway, but it was good to pass the shit-work off on them.
Sabra went out to get the boxes. When she came back in, Julia was on the phone at the front desk.  Sabra deposited the boxes on the desk. “Thanks for the help.” 
“Don’t mention it,” Julia picked up the newsletter and looked at it frowning.
“So, do you think you can do a better job on that this year?”
“Oh definitely,” Julia said. “It’ll be like going from a church bulletin to The New Yorker.”
Sabra, who had been producing the newsletter from the start, glared at her. 
Cocky bitch.

Encounter at The Blue Book
“Todd, right?”  Ben something-or-other stood by the table holding a cup of coffee and his bright red backpack. 
“Yes,” Todd said, not thrilled at being interrupted. “And you’re Ben?”
“Yeah.  I’ve been seeing you everywhere,” Ben said. “So I wanted to introduce myself.”  Ben stood there smiling, waiting for the invite to sit down. 
Todd sighed inwardly.   So much for being alone.  “Sit down if you want,” Todd said. “I’m just studying.  I have a big test.”  Which was a lie. 
Ben threw his backpack in an empty chair.  The table wiggled and the coffee splashed out of Ben’s cup onto the table. “Damn,” Ben said. “Do you have an extra napkin?”
Todd handed him one.
“Hot chocolate,” Ben explained. “I’m too much of a wimp for coffee.”
 “Keeps you up?” Todd asked.
“That and I just never acquired a taste for it,” Ben said. “If I’m bothering you I’ll leave. I just wanted to say hi.”
Todd looked at him again.  Ben seemed normal enough.  Plus, Darin was the only person he’d gotten to know so far, and that was already going to shit.  Time to meet new people.
“No, go ahead, stay,” Todd said. “I’ll be here for a while anyway.”  He pushed his book to the side.  He’d been trying to write a sentence for the last ten minutes and he still couldn’t make it sound right. “You’re new here too, right?  It’s big, huh?”
“It’s not as big as I’d expected it to be,” Ben said. “Just different. I transferred here from another school. I’ve been coming here to the Blue Book at night to be around people.  The dorm room is suffocating.”
“Oh god, you don’t know suffocation until you’ve been in my room,” Todd said.
“How so?”
“It’s a long story.”
 “You’re roommates with Darin?” Ben asked. “You don’t get along?”
“It’s not a good sign when it’s not yet October and I’m ready to kill him.  I’ve tried to do something about the situation but nothing’s helped.”  
“What’s he done?”
“Do you want a list?”
Ben sat back with a puzzled expression. “I thought you guys were boyfriends.”
Todd sighed. “No, we fooled around but we weren’t boyfriends.  I’m beginning to regret I ever did anything with him.  Does everybody think that?”  That would make the next coffee social uncomfortable.
“I haven’t taken a survey, but people know you hooked up.”
“Great.” Word had traveled. “No, we’re definitely not boyfriends.  I don’t think we’re even friends.”
Ben shook his head. “How they can expect people to get along in a room the size of a postage stamp is something only they know.”
 “I’m glad I’m not going out with him anyway,” Todd said. “There are too many cute guys here.”
“At school or here at the Blue Book?”
“Both, don’t you think so?”
“Yeah … yeah,” Ben said. “And I can’t believe I’m talking about it so openly with somebody.  I’m still new at all this stuff.  I got a job at the Center as the staff librarian.  It sounds better than it is.”
“They have a library there?”
“Small one,” Ben said. “But it’s good.  You should check it out.”
 “Maybe.  I’m new to all of this too,” Todd said. “For the most part.”  Do family members count?
Ben glanced over at what Todd was working on; it didn’t look like an assignment, but a letter.  There was an addressed envelope half-hidden under a notebook but Ben made out the city.
It was addressed to Buffalo.

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