“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 22: After Party

The Ride Home
“I hate this fucking granola valley,” Tobe said. “Tonight sucked.”
“You’re just in a bad mood,” Julia said. “Let it go.” 
Julia was giving Tobe a ride back to Alden.  Julia was going to offer a ride to Ben and his friend but she didn’t see them when she was getting ready to leave.  Or Richard.
Tobe fumed.  Julia just stared ahead.
 “Would you be happier if we went to McManus’s for a sandwich?” Julia asked.
Tobe shook his head. “No, not after I heard what goes into their food.  I just want to get home and sleep.  I need to study tomorrow.”
“But will you?”
“Hell no, I’ll go to the beer bash in Hartford.  And you?”                 
“I need to get a mock-up of the newsletter ready to present to Sabra some next week.”
“And will you do that?”
“No.  Jonah needs the car, we’ll hang out.  I was going to stay there tonight but I can’t reach him.”
“That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to ask you…” No, Julia thought, please don’t ask. “Do you think Jonah would be interested in DJing with me? Together, as a duo?”
“I’ll ask him,” Julia said. “But he’s been so busy.”
“Just ask,” Tobe pouted. “You know I had a bad night.”
“Nathan wimped out.”
“Yes, again.  He said he’d be there, and he didn’t show.”
“Maybe he and Ryan got lost together,” Julia said.
“Unlikely.”  Tobe leaned against the seat and sulked.  Nathan Fischer was graduating in the spring; Tobe didn’t have much time left to convince him that they were right for one another.
“Chicken,” Julia said.
“I said, I think the drive thru is 24 hours at Kentucky Fried Chicken, do you want to go?”  Tobe felt the chafing of Richard’s discarded hot pants against his thighs.  If I just lost ten pounds
“Sure, what the hell,” he said. “I’ll become a vegetarian again tomorrow.”

Oak Room Confidential
Despite it still being sunny out at 6 pm, the Oak Room was dark.
“Sit by the windows,” Ben told Dave. “I can’t see in here.”
“You still have your sunglasses on is why,” Dave said.
Ben took the glasses off and put them in his front pocket.  “My mind’s in a million directions today,” Ben said. “And I think I’m a little hung over.”
 “This is what … the second time in your life?”  Dave asked.
Ben shook his head. “Third.  I got drunk this summer too.” 
“Big man,” Dave said.
“That’s me,” Ben said.  They put their trays on an empty table. “I didn’t get the sausage today, last week I bit into something I couldn’t identify.” 
The woman sitting over at the next table glared at him. “Thanks a lot,” she said. 
“I’m such a dick,” Ben said.
“Speaking of …” Dave said. 
“No, and no, Big Ben did not get lucky, but…”
“Remember the couple I told you about?  The South American guy and the other one my age?  Arturo and Jeremy?”
“The lights went out and,” Ben leaned over the table and lowered his voice, “Arturo felt me up.”
Dave was quiet for a moment.  “Jesus, why can’t I go to one of those parties?” 
“You want a guy to stick his hands down your pants?”
“You know what I mean.  I spent the night watching TV with Zack. I may as well be back home,” Dave said. “Was the Star Trek guy there?”
 “Edgar?  No, he wasn’t.  I haven’t seen him anywhere and haven’t heard from him since I blew him off,” Ben said.  Thank God.
“And how’s your friend Todd?” Dave asked.
“He didn’t make it back to campus with me, lucky jerk,” Ben said.  He’d call Todd later for details. “Oh, and speaking of …”
 Dave turned around toward the area of the room where Ben was staring. “What, is he here?”
“No, but his roommate’s right over there in the smoking area,” Ben said. “See him, that kid who looks a little weaselly? That’s Darin, and the woman with him with the bobbed hair?  That’s Maria.  They’re always hanging out together.”
“Are they nice?”
“I don’t know.  She’s funny when I’ve talked to her, and she’s cool, but Todd doesn’t think too highly of them. I guess I wouldn’t either if they were always hanging around my room when I was trying to study or sleep.”  There was something about Darin’s overbite that Ben didn’t like.
“So, you want to come hang out by the pond after we eat?” Dave asked. “I’m going to read for a while longer.” He indicated the copy of Misery in his front pocket.
“I didn’t get any studying done today and I need to.  I need to start a paper which, by the way, is great because working at the Center allows me to have a key and I can use it in the off hours,” Ben said. “I can do all my papers there and not have to worry about the computer labs.”
“Come on,” Dave said. “Hang out for an hour. It may be one of the last nice days.”
“You said that last weekend also.”
“Well, it may have been, we didn’t know did we?”
Ben thought a minute.  “All right, I’ll go.  Maybe I’ll get lucky by the pond.” 
“And there goes Todd’s little friend Ben … Benny … Bennaboo,” Darin said. “Why are we eating here anyway?  You said you hate the Oak Room.” 
Maria took a drag of her cigarette. “Don’t question me,” she blew the smoke away from Darin. “And I hate the weekdays here, not weekends.  Why isn’t Lars here, wasn’t he supposed to stay over last night?”
“He was, but he said he wasn’t feeling well and he went home.” Which was bullshit. Lars just didn’t want to fool around.  He was so moody. “I’ll fuck him tonight.”
“But Todd will be home,” Maria said.
“So what?  Maybe he ended up going home with somebody like Jeffrey Dahmer,” Darin said.
“Well, that’s morbid,” Maria looked around. “I have to get off campus soon; I can’t stand looking at these kids anymore.  Let’s go shopping anywhere that’s open.” She stubbed her cigarette out in the remains of her ziti.
“On the bus?” Darin asked
“I’ll drive,” Maria said, pulling set of keys out of her pocket and dangling them in Darin’s face. “We’ll find something.”
“Since when do you have a car?” he asked.
“Since always,” Maria said. “I don’t let many people know because I don’t want to be a taxi.” 
“Then I’ll definitely go,” Darin said. “I’m ready.”
“Then get ready to walk because unfortunately I’m stuck in the D-lot and we need to trek almost a mile to get there.” 

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