“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 11: Pastabilities

Ponderances Over Pasta
A girl with bright blue hair the shade of Cookie Monster was waving at Ben from the dining hall steps.  Ben had no idea who she was, but he lifted his hand to wave back when a woman behind him ran up and embraced her.
“Oh my god, I love your hair,” the second girl exclaimed. “When did you get it done?”
“Oh my god, you mean that’s not real???” came an exclamation.   Ben looked over in the direction of the last speaker.   The guy who had spoken was heavy, with his hair up in a modified pompadour; he was wearing a large silver ring on a string around his neck.  He gestured to the blue-haired girl and rolled his eyes.  Ben laughed.  The guy grinned back and went into the vegetarian cafeteria.
Ben handed his swipe card to the woman sitting by the cafeteria door. The room was packed with students; now he’d have to spend time searching the crowd to see if Dave had arrived.   Ben sighed.  The days so far had been shapeless, and the crowds more annoying than overwhelming.  He’d waited in the add-drop line for four hours that day only to find that most of the classes he’d wanted weren’t available. There had been a warning to get in line at 5 a.m., but Ben had dismissed that as an exaggeration: it wasn’t.  One woman in front of him in line had taken out her knitting. Her ball of yarn had taken the form of a sweater by the time they’d reached the front. 
The morning before his first classes, his mother had called to wish him luck (“Mom, I’m a junior,” he’d told her) and had asked him pick up the schedule of Masses for the Neumann Center.  That wasn’t going to happen. 
First day classes were over in fifteen minutes; professors just handed out the syllabi and dismissed everybody so Ben had spent most of his free time wandering around. There were people everywhere he went.  Ben was curious if the guy from orientation had indeed gotten laid within five minutes. 
Ben finally spotted Dave at a table over in the far corner.  It was the first time they’d seen one another since move-in day.
“So?” Dave asked. “How are things going?”
Ben shrugged. “Bit of a slow start, and you?”
“The same,” Dave pushed the food- over cooked pasta in watery red sauce- around on his plate.  “This is gross.”
“This is the best you’re going to get in college,” Ben said. “Eat up.”
“It’s just not like mommy makes,” Dave complained. “I think I’m done with dinner tonight.” He put down his fork and peered at Ben.  “So, it’s Thursday, you’re going to that gay thing you told me about on the phone, right?”
Ben took a swallow of the watery red punch. “The movie,” he said. “I don’t know.  I keep thinking maybe I won’t go, but then I know that I’ve been bitching to you for so long about meeting ‘my kind,’ so I should go.  But it’s over in the Dickinson residential area, at a place called The Diversity Center.  That’s code for ‘gay’ apparently.  That’s too obscure to remember and it’s pretty far.  Maybe I’ll just go to the ‘coffee social’ at the campus center tomorrow.” 
“And then you’ll make some excuse to avoid that.  If you don’t want to go, don’t,” Dave said. “But I also don’t ever want you to complain again. Ever. You have your chance now to make the change you’ve been dying for. What’s the movie?”
Torch Song Trilogy,” Ben said. “I am so torn.” 
“Oh quit whining and go,” Dave said. “If you don’t, I’ll force you.”
“You can’t do that,” Ben said. “I’m much bigger than you.”
“I know,” Dave said. “When is it?”
Dave looked at his watch. “You have forty-five minutes.  You’ll eat, then I’ll walk you outside and send you on your way.”
“Such a gentleman,” Ben said. “You sure you don’t want to go with me?”
“Positive,” Dave said. “You have to take this journey without me.”
Ben sighed.  “I knew you’d say that but it was worth a try.”

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