“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 29, 2010

Chapter 21: Party Like It's 1991

Meanwhile, at the Harwood Mall …
Two buses heading to Hampstead had come and gone but Todd hadn’t shown up.  Maybe Todd didn’t realize the Harwood Mall was the open area by the Fine Arts Center?  He was just fifteen minutes late but Ben, always on time for everything, felt the evening slipping away. He had nightmares of walking into an empty apartment and being told the party was over.  
Two blonde girls stood next to Ben at the bus shelter; they looked boring and their conversation was boring.   One of the women turned to him. “Is that you wearing the Drakkar Noir?” she asked.
“Yeah, I am,” Ben said. “Why?  Did I put on too much?”
“The trick,” the girl said, “is to dab a little behind each ear and on the neck.  Don’t bathe in it.”
“Thanks,” Ben said.  The girl nodded and went back to her friend.  He waited for them to start giggling, but they didn’t; they just resumed their boring conversation.
Another bus was pulling up and Todd still wasn’t there; Ben looked around to see if Todd was approaching from any direction.  I’ll just wait a little while longer and then I’ll go on my own.  But when he turned back to the bus, he was surprised to see Todd right next to him.
“Hey!” Todd said. “Is this our bus already?”
 “Yes it is,” Ben said.

The Eastern Block
The Eastern Block was a long row of shabby stone row-houses on
Eastern Avenue
in Hampstead.  The crumbling facades and low rents made them popular among the university students escaping on-campus housing and quiet Alden for a more exciting town.  Josh and Sharon shared an apartment on the upper floors of one of the houses on the middle of the street.  Julia Wood arrived at 9:10 wearing her fox fur (fake if anybody asked, but it wasn’t – it had belonged to her grandmother) and a large, crimped wig she’d bought on
Newbury Street
in Boston.  Barely anybody else had yet arrived, and Julia didn’t recognize anybody in the living room.  In the kitchen, she found Terri Friedmann standing at the center of a small group.  There was music coming from another room but Julia couldn’t figure out where.
“Where the fuck is everybody?” Julia asked.
“The evening’s young,” Terri said. “Get yourself a drink.”
“Did Tobe bring his sangria?” Julia said.  “I so hope not.  The last batch he made tasted like rancid Kool-Aid.”  Terri waved her away.  Julia wandered back into the living room. 
“Julia, what the fuck!” Sharon came running over.  She was wearing a baseball cap that covered her shaved head and purple-tinted granny glasses.  
Sharon… it’s been forever darling!” It had been less than 24 hours.  Sharon and Julia had a mostly amicable relationship that had been tested at times.  Last semester, Sharon had an outburst at in the office that there were no self-identified lesbians left in the group except for her and Guinevere Blue and that it hardly made sense that so many female members of the UGLBA were dating men.  After the last statement, Sharon had cut Julia a quick glance.  Later, Julia had been told that Sharon had gone around questioning Julia’s bisexual identity.  Julia would have called Sharon on that, but Sharon started coming to the office less and less, eventually even giving up her position on the steering committee, so there was no point.  Whenever the two of them met now, things were polite but rarely went beyond surface talk.
The music started thumping through the walls. 
“Ah, techno,” Julia said. “Tobe’s new love.  It’s too early for this.” 
Sharon shrugged. “He volunteered.”
“Volunteerism is overrated.” 
“It’s too bad your boyfriend wasn’t available to DJ,” Sharon said.  Julia ignored the emphasis Sharon gave to the word. 
Too bad Jonah couldn’t do it for free, you mean. 
Josh and Richard walked over, holding hands. Josh kissed Julia on both cheeks.
“Julia, you look divine,” Josh said.
“And I know! Hello Richard.”  Richard nodded.   He had a look in his eyes that said “shut your mouth.”  Last night, Richard had argued on the phone with Josh for two hours, and then spent another hour sitting at the table in the kitchen telling Julia how he was going to break it off with Josh. Yet tonight they were back to holding hands.  Fags.
Julia wasn't interested in saying anything to Josh, but it was enjoyable to make Richard uncomfortable. If she could make Tobe stop DJing and making his sangria, things would be even better.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round
There were barely any seats left.  Todd and Ben had to sit close to the back of the coach, near the two blonde women who were still talking.  They hadn’t had a break in their conversation the entire time. 
 “Do your folks know?” Todd asked.
 “Nobody in my family knows,” Ben said, “I’m not ready to tell them. You?”
“No,” said Todd, except for Craig.  Todd’s stomach tightened; there hadn’t had any correspondence or connection since Craig had left.  He’d started to write Craig a letter the night he met Ben, but had torn it up afterward.  Todd had started drifting off in biology yesterday, thinking about Craig and it took all his energy to try and focus back on the class.  He’s out having sex with every guy in Buffalo anyway. “You’re a virgin?”
Ben blushed, “Tell the world!” he whispered. “But yeah, I am.  What’s your story?  Was Darin the first guy you’ve slept with?”
“No… but I don’t want to get into that now.  It was a relationship that didn’t end up so happily.”  Half a lie, but Ben didn’t need to know that.  Not many people would understand. “And I wish I could forget about Darin.” 
“I feel like I’m the only gay virgin on the entire campus,” Ben said
 “I’ll bet you’re not,” Todd said.  “Is there anybody you like on campus now?”
Ben nodded. “Yeah, and I think he’ll be there tonight.” he said.
“I won’t say,” Ben said. “He’s involved with somebody else, so there’s no point.  I went to a fortune teller this past summer, as a joke, and she said that I would meet somebody and they’d be involved with somebody else, and they wouldn’t be the right person.”
“You believed her?” Todd said.
“It gave me some hope, so I figured I would.”
“We’re  keeping secrets tonight, aren’t we?” Todd said.
“Yeah,” Ben said. “Okay, it’s Jeremy.”
“Who’s Jeremy?  The guy you like?”
“Jeremy is the one who always wears those shorts?”
Ben laughed. “Yep.”
“Hmm,” Todd looked over and stared out the window.  Jeremy’s boring.  “I think we’re almost there.” 
“Now that I’ve told you mine, will you tell me yours?”
“Someday,” Todd said. “When I know you better.”

Pleased Don’t Shoot the DJ
I’m pissed off, and the party’s barely started, Tobe Beals thought
Julia had been in the room twice asking him for a new sound besides techno and Josh and Sharon had helpfully suggested some other songs.  Too bad.  His music was too good for the people in the Valley; if they couldn’t appreciate the music from Boston, too bad.  It’s not like Tobe was being paid for this gig and he did bring the sangria which, he noted, was going pretty quickly.  Fuck ‘em.  This was a real party, not some campus approved function and they were going to listen to real music.   Now, if Nathan Fischer were to show up, things would be perfect.  Tobe touched his pompadour to make sure it was staying up, and pulled at the crotch of his denim hot pants.  They were sweaty and chafing.   He’d deal.  He’d dealt when he ran away from home, he’d dealt the month he slept in ATM vestibules and friend’s couches and he’d deal with his friends annoying him tonight, wanting their nice, safe music.  Screw it.
Richard sauntered over, his eyelids at their usual half-mast.  It was a look a lot of guys went for, but not Tobe.  Tobe nodded and held up his finger while he put on the next record.
“So, how are things with Josh today?” Tobe asked.
“Today is fine.  Last night was drama.  It’s too much.”
“Did you have any sangria?” Tobe asked.
“I did,” Richard said.  He held up a glass bottle.  “But I’ll stick to beer tonight just the same.” 
“Do you have any idea who that is?”  Richard asked, pointing at a young dark-haired guy who’d just entered the room.
“I’ve seen him,” Tobe said. “He’s the one who had sex with his roommate. He’s a cutie.”
“Mmm hmm,” Richard said. 
Tobe stared at him. “Oh come on, you just made up with Josh last night.  It’s his party!” 
“I’m going to say hello,” Richard said. “I’m acting on the behalf of the steering committee. I hate seeing cute guys all by themselves.  And maybe I’ll be doing him a favor by getting to him before Arturo.”  Richard started to walk away, but then he turned back “If I were you,” he said. “I’d start to playing the music Sharon asked you to or she’s threatening to have Betsy DJ the rest of the party.”
“Betsy’s here?” Tobe asked, looking around.
“Juts follow the lesbian haircuts …” Richard said, and went straight for the new guy.
The record on the turntable was coming to an end. Tobe looked at the records in the milk crate and pulled out a Blondie album.  He didn’t feel like he was selling out when he played Blondie. Downtown and disco, it was bearable.  Fucking people, I give up.   The people in the living room were starting to spill into the room where Tobe was set up, but no Nathan.  Where was he?

Not Quite a Chorus Line
By eleven the line to the bathroom was halfway down the second floor staircase.  Ben was on his second trip, standing behind a straight couple who kept making out.  The guy was hot.  Todd had been lost to the wilds of the party almost an hour before. No big deal.  They didn’t come to hang out together the entire time.  Ben had spent almost an hour in the kitchen with Terri and Josh.  God, if his parents saw him at this party…  They’d have never expected him to be at a place like this, thinking he was at the Neumann Center playing Bingo.  There was a beautiful black woman with her head shaved completely bald; she looked better bald than that Sharon person.  Two guys whom Ben would have thought were straight making out over in the corner.  One of them was apparently one of the Hampstead cops, off-duty.
The line moved forward a little.  The straight guy started making out with his girlfriend again and Ben looked away.  Somebody poked Ben’s shoulder from behind and he turned around.  Jeremy.
“You made it!” Jeremy said. “So the buses weren't an impediment to your enjoyment after all, were they?” 
Ben felt himself grow warm.  “No, not at all.”
For a change, Jeremy wasn’t wearing his biking shorts after all but a wearing a black button-down shirt and black pants.  He looked like a waiter, “Where’s Arturo?”
“He’s in the living room talking to Tobe,” Jeremy said.  “We’re having a tiff.”
“What about?” Ben asked.
“We were on the bus over here and he started panicking because I had put my hand on his shoulder and then he spotted one of the students from the class he TAs.  He made us get off and wait twenty minutes for the next bus though I told him that, most likely, there’d be somebody else on that bus that he knew,” Jeremy said. “It was stupid.  But I’m glad you’re here, hopefully happier than I am.”
“Thanks,” Ben said. “I think I’m going to be here for a while.  This line isn’t moving.”
“You’d better hope they have matches in there,” Jeremy said. “All the vegetarian food they eat in this town, it takes a toll on the system.”  Jeremy looked down the staircase. “I should go find Arturo.  Come on down and talk later, we’ll be around.”
“Thanks,” Ben said and watched Jeremy head back down into the party.   Todd came up the stairs holding two red paper cups.
“Here,” he handed a cup to Ben. “Are you enjoying this?”
“I’ll be having more fun once the line starts moving.”
Todd nodded and held up one of the cups. “Have you tried the sangria?”
“No, any good?” 
“You tell me.” 
Ben took the cup and sipped.  His throat burned.
“Jesus, is this how it’s supposed to taste?  That’s disgusting.”  Ben wasn’t much of a drinker and sangria was not one of the drinks he would have tried, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to taste like shit. “Who made this?”
“The DJ.  His friend Richard told me to try it.”
“This is bad,” Ben took another sip; it was still awful. “Tobe’s the DJ, right?”
“I think he should find entirely different fields of interest altogether.  So … I know we weren’t supposed to talk about it, but Jeremy’s here.  Have you seen him?” 
“You just missed him.”
“And he’s not wearing his shorts.”
Ben shook his head. “For a change, no.  So, you’ve been talking to Richard?”
Todd grinned. “Yep.”
At 11:30, Josh came stomping into the kitchen, looking like he was going to cry.   Terri, Ben and Arturo turned to look at him.  “Asshole, he’s such a fucking shit.”
 “What’s wrong?” Terri asked.
“We made up last night,” Josh said. “Last fucking night! And now he’s out there flirting with some kid right in front of me.” 
“What kid?”
“This new kid … him –HIM, see him?”  Josh pointed out into the living room and they all looked over.
“Todd?” Ben said. 
“You know him?” Josh said.
“Yeah, we came together, he’s pretty nice …”
“I don’t care if he’s nice, Richard and I made up last night…”
“Josh, look at me,” Terri said, pulling him over to her and out of the sight range of Richard. “He’s just talking to him. Now see, they’re walking away from one another.” 
Josh wiped his eyes. “I’m going outside,” he said and went out the kitchen door.  
As if on cue, Richard walked into the kitchen.  He opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer. “Have you seen Josh?”
“He’s on the porch,” Terri said. “He’s not happy.” 
Richard waved his hand in the air. “Oh, Christ.  He does this every party.”
“Richard Varner…” Terri said.
Richard shook his head. “This is why we had the fight in the first place,” he sighed. “I should go out there.” He grabbed a second bottle from the fridge and walked outside. 
“This happens every week,” Terri explained to Ben. “They just need to break up for good and get it over with.  I think I like Heather better now than I did when we were seeing one another.”
“They’ve done this before?” Ben asked. 
Terri nodded. “You heard Richard, this is a regular thing,” Terri said. “The semester just started and I think this must be about their fifth break-up, right Arturo?” 
Arturo nodded.  “Not like me and Jeremy.” Arturo grabbed Jeremy and started kissing his neck.  Ben saw Arturo’s hand rest on Jeremy’s crotch before Jeremy pushed it away.  Ben noticed for the first time that they were dressed in identical outfits.
“Oh lord,” Terri said. “Come out in the living room with me, Ben. I’ll introduce you to some more people.”
“I’ll be out in a minute,” Ben said. 
The music grew louder and the tempo picked up.  The partiers in the living room shouted and started jumping up and down.
“They sure like this song,” Ben said.
Jeremy shrugged. “This isn’t my kind of music.”
The stomping grew louder until the entire house started shaking. Abruptly, the power went out and everything went black.  The few lit candles provided very little illumination.
Sharon was a small, black shape running into the kitchen. “That fucking super. Hold on everyone!” A flashlight turned on about three feet off the floor and she ran out again.
The door from the porch opened and Josh stuck his head in. “What happened?” he asked.
“The super’s pissed,” Jeremy said.
A hand groped Ben’s crotch.  Ben stood there for a moment, sure somebody would realize they’d made a mistake and move it off.  He assumed at first that it was Arturo reaching for Jeremy, but Jeremy was in the middle of the room talking to Josh.  It was Arturo’s hand though,  he was standing in front of Ben with his back to him.  Arturo fumbled with Ben’s zipper for a moment and then lifted his hand and reached down Ben’s waistband, past his underwear and started feeling his dick.  Ben started to get hard. Arturo played with him a little more, breathing lightly.  The lights came back on, the music resumed and Arturo yanked his hand out of Ben’s in one motion. 
Ben left his shirt untucked for the next hour. 
Julia was on the phone with Maria when the lights went out.
“What was all that noise?” Maria asked.
“A bunch of queers jumping up and down,” Julia answered. “So, why didn’t you come?”
“I felt like staying in with Cedrick,” Maria said. “And Darin and his boyfriend Lars are here.”
Lars looked up from where he and Darin were lying on the floor. He didn’t consider him and Darin to be boyfriends.
“And what’s so exciting in the dorms?” Julia asked.
“Well, Sharon isn’t here for one thing,” Maria said. “And let me guess, Tobe’s pissed because nobody likes his music.”
“Yeah, that’s about right,” Julia said. “I’ll be cutting out of here soon, anyhow.  I’m staying at Jonah’s tonight.  I think Richard might bring Josh home and I don’t want to deal with their shit tonight.  They’re about to have another fight.  I’ll talk to you later.”
“See you,” Maria said and hung up.  Cedrick handed her the joint. “We are missing nothing,” she said.
“Good, this is more fun,” Darin said. 
Not really, Lars thought as he looked at Maria and Cedrick sprawled on the bed and Darin with bloodshot eyes on the floor, not even close.
Julia wasn’t as bored as she had made out to Maria, but she couldn’t act as though she were enjoying it.  Maria was missing a fairly decent time.   Richard and Josh were now entwined on the couch when just an hour earlier, they had been at one another’s throats.  Richard was predictable. Todd was young and cute and that was exactly what Richard went for; Richard had been shooting Todd looks behind Josh’s back all night.   This semester already, Richard had brought two guys home, sweeping them past Julia and Heather on their march through the kitchen.  Poor Josh and his monogamous fantasy.  Monogamy’s a pipedream.
Arturo walked by, talking to some guy who went to Williams.  There was another example.  Jeremy and Arturo claimed monogamy, but Arturo spent all his time feeling up half the guys who walked into the room. Whenever Arturo was confronted, he pleaded innocent and talked about how loyal he was to Jeremy.  How many guys had Jeremy put on his shit list now?  Arturo wasn’t that hot of a commodity that made the guys flock to him, but Jeremy refused to see that.
Julia looked over.  It was Ben, looking sloshed.
“Well hello there Ben, how are you?”  
“Good, this is fun.”
“You’ve been drinking too much sangria,” Julia said, adjusting her wig.
“Maybe.  I kept drinking it thinking it would taste better,” he said.  “It didn’t.”
Richard, done consoling Josh, came up behind Julia, pulled off her wig and put it on his own head. “Now I’m the pretty one,” he said, flipping his hair back. 
“Goober,” Julia said. “Richard, you’ve met Ben?”
“Oh yes,” Richard said, sticking out his hand and shaking weakly.
“Where’s Josh?” Julia asked.
Richard gestured upstairs. “Oh, he’s off showing somebody his art, he’ll be up there for a while,” he said.  “Is that ‘Walking on Sunshine’?  Tobe’s flipped.”  Richard turned to Ben. “Did you see those hot pants Tobe’s wearing?”
“Yeah, I couldn’t help but notice,” Ben said. The pants fit Tobe like a second skin and barely covered his ass.  Ben had wondered earlier how Tobe could walk in them.
“Those were mine,” Richard said. “I was throwing them out because they were too small on me and Tobe wanted them.”   
“Tobe’s in a bad mood; leave him alone,” Julia said.
“Nathan didn’t show?” Richard asked.
Richard chuckled and sipped on his beer. “He doesn’t give up easily.  I wish Ryan had showed up, I wanted a ride home.” He pulled off the wig and threw it on Ben’s head. “Your turn.  I’m going dancing.”
“Ta-ta,” Julia said.  She turned to Ben. “That wig looks better on you than it does on me.”
The loser bus rolled out of Hampstead back to Alden at 1:45 am, filled with all the guys who left Green Tree Women’s College without scoring a lay.  It was already half full after only the first stop.  Ben didn’t tell Todd about what had happened when the lights had gone out as they headed to the bus stop.  There wasn’t much more to say anyway. When the power had been restored, Arturo had run over to Jeremy and Ben didn’t see them again the rest of the night. 
“I’m only going halfway back tonight,” Todd said as they walked to the bus stop.
“What do you mean?”  Todd had scored?  That would figure.  “So, who is he?  Where is he?” Ben made sure he sounded more easygoing than he felt.
Lucky prick.
“He’s waiting at the bus stop, he wanted to leave separately.” When they reached the post office on
Main Street
, a guy stepped out of the small crowd of waiting students.
Todd walked over to him. “Hi there.”
“Hello yourself,” Richard said.

No comments:

Post a Comment