“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 8: Meanwhile, Across the Concourse...

Meanwhile, Across the Concourse…
Summer and all its wonderful freedoms felt so far away and classes hadn’t even begun, Maria Levett mused.  Classes starting up again was too big a price to pay for the luxury of free local buses. 
Once Min had delivered the news about the smoking lounges, Maria grew increasingly annoyed and walked out on the meeting.  She ended up at the Campus Center.  She looked at the items for sale, considered buying a “Thelma and Louise” poster but decided against it as she didn’t feel like defending the movie to people accused it of “man hating.”  She bypassed the student group tables, the credit card companies and the academic freak show for a sofa in a dark corner.
Maria asked herself the same questions every year:  Why had she moved back into the dorms?  Why was she even attending this school?  During the summer, Maria had lived in a nice apartment in town, could smoke whatever and whenever she wanted, her roommates were never there - which was good considering who some of her overnight guests had been.  The dorms sucked with their stupid, archaic rules.  Fuck Min.  He was just an RA.  There was no need to act like a damn cop over the smoking. 
The campus center resembled an airplane hangar and it also sucked, but at least she could still smoke there – or had that changed?   When she’d been dating Laertes -great name, small dick- across town at Alden College (and how long did that relationship last, one week, two?) the Alden campus center in all its moneyed glory depressed her and Maria decided there would be no more dating anybody in the area who went to a better school, men or women.  It was too depressing to see all the amenities offered at the other local schools.  A Green Tree Women’s College student – all the students at Green Trees pronounced the entire name of the school- she’d hooked up with at a dance once told her that their students were served milk and cookies in their dorms every night. That didn’t appeal to Maria. It was too goodie-goodie.  But at least the other schools in the area got something besides more and more repressive rules.
Maria had only herself to blame for being here, and that pissed her off the most.  She wasn’t an in-state student. Maria was from western Pennsylvania, the middle of nowhere.  When she was five, her father lost his teaching job, and they had moved in with his mother in the leafy Riverdale district of The Bronx.  Maria remembered that as being one of the better times of her life.  After two years, they moved back to Pennsylvania, her parents divorced and the grandmother died shortly thereafter.  Maria had never returned to The Bronx.  But on this hick campus, all Maria had to say was that she’d lived in The Bronx, and everybody got the idea that the half-Dominican/half-Jewish girl had been raised on the streets.  It was an impression Maria didn’t bother to correct.
Maria had been lured to the University by the Hotel and Restaurant Management program but lost interest after a semester and declared a History major.  That had also been a mistake.  But it was almost over.  Maria was, at long last, a senior.
“Got another one?” a voice said.  Maria looked up.
Julia Wood.
Julia who was smart enough to live off-campus in a large two-storey house with other on-campus housing refugees dubbed “The Queer Ghetto.”  Julia with the hot black DJ boyfriend who let her do whatever she wanted.  Julia from the well-off family only Maria knew about.   Julia always got the better deal. 
“What are you doing here? Classes don’t start until Wednesday,” Maria fumbled in her for a cigarette in its silver case.  Butterfingers. She fished one out and handed it over.  Julia took out her silver lighter emblazoned with her initials.
“Oh, I’ve got shit to do; I was just visiting the guys,” Julia pointed in the direction of the table.  Ryan still looked glum and Macon was talking to some students at the Poetry Club table next to theirs. “Thank god they put them as far away from the Young Conservatives as possible this year.”
“Oh, yeah, right,” Maria said. 
“I’m here because I need to locate my chem. professor and beg to make up an incomplete. There’s a rumor he’s on campus today and I need to trap him,” Julia said. “He made me wait all summer until he returned my phone call, so I’m not letting him off easy. Asshole.” 
“You still have incompletes too, huh?” Maria asked. “I have two that I’ve never bothered to try and finish. Now I need to so I can graduate and get out of here. Yay me.”
Maria watched Julia smoke.  If Maria had anything on her, it was that Julia wasn’t beautiful, barely attractive at first glance. Julia was tall, pasty, limp hair, dark, horn-rimmed glasses, but she still managed to have charm.  When Maria had joined the UGLBA her sophomore year, figuring a three week fling with the girl in the dorm room next to hers enhanced her eligibility, she and Julia had been wary of one another, both sensing that the other was vying for the title of “center of attention.”  Julia had been in the group longer and didn’t like it when anybody took the spotlight away from her.  Eventually, the women decided that the best thing to do was to form an alliance.  And that included sharing some secrets, like the fact that Julia didn’t consider herself a lesbian or even bi.  Maria asked Julia why she would pretend that but Julia pointed out that she’d never pretended to be anything. Nobody had ever asked.  Maria thought it was strange, but didn’t pursue it.  Julia had a way of twisting language and reason around to always get her way.
 “Get this,” Maria said. “The dorm smoking rules are being restricted.  People have complained it was too smoky in the smoking lounges.”
“Lame,” Julia said. “And starting this week, nobody can smoke in the UGLBA office anymore either.” 
Julia and Maria had both voted to keep the smoking in the office, despite the walls turning gray over time, but they were overruled.  Maria had threatened to never set foot in the office again, but a week later she’d been back, having nowhere else to hang out that she found even semi-tolerable.
 “You should have taken the upstairs apartment with Terri like I told you to,” Julia said. “But you waited too long; Colleen and Geordie have it.  You shouldn’t have gone back to campus housing.” 
 “How is life in the ghetto?” Maria asked. 
Julia grimaced. “We’ve been there three weeks.  Terri and Heather have broken up, and now Heather is talking about moving out.  It’s made things interesting.”
“At least they’re in separate apartments,” Maria said.
“Thanks god for small favors, but if Heather leaves mid-semester, Richard and I are screwed on rent.  Terri keeps her roommates.”
“And how’s living with Richard?”
“Fine.  He and Tobe and Ryan are out all the time,” Julia dropped the cigarette on the stone floor and stomped it out. “Okay, I need to get the fuck out of here and hunt down Professor Langley. And before I forget…” Julia took several fliers out of her purse. “Put these on the bulletin board on your floor to entice the newbies.”
Maria looked at the fliers. “These are ugly.  Did some queen design these from his hospital…”
“I already made that joke,” Julia said. “It didn’t go over well.”

No comments:

Post a Comment