“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 22, 2010

Chapter 19: Sex and the Single Undergrad

Is That What You’re Wearing?
The humid summer weather came back to campus at the end of the month.  Temperatures were in the low 80s by noon.  Ben walked out of Spanish class and was trying to tie his jacket around his waist with little luck when he spotted Jeremy, in his Lycra shorts, sitting on the wall by the Fine Arts Center reflecting pool (empty as always due to leaks). 
“Well hey,” Ben said.  “Are you heading to the gym?”
Jeremy gave him a puzzled look. “No, why?”
“Never mind.”
Jeremy, Ben had learned, took things seriously and didn’t get sarcasm.  But then, you’d need to be serious with Arturo as a boyfriend.  Ben had learned that Arturo wasn’t just being friendly when he’d seek out the new kid in the room. There was an inappropriate hand on the ass, or brush against the crotch, usually followed by a “just kidding.” But Arturo wasn’t always kidding. Apparently that monogamy didn’t exclude groping green undergrads, but Jeremy never acknowledged if he saw anything. 
Jeremy kept his distance from most of the other guys his age. Ben had yet to see him acknowledge either Richard or Tobe.
“So where are you off to?” Jeremy asked him.
“To the fabulous dining hall,” Ben said. Stop with the adjectives, you sound like an idiot. “Are you on the meal plan?”
“I am, but I ate.  I’ve got to study for a chemistry test.”
“Hard sciences, ugh,” Ben said. 
Jeremy didn’t react. “Are you going to the party Saturday?” he asked.
“No where? Here on campus?”
“No, in Hampstead at Josh and Sharon’s.  Have you met either one?”
“I’m not sure; I’ve been introduced to so many people so far…”
“Josh has a ponytail, he’s Richard’s boyfriend?”
“I don’t know Richard all that well.”
Sharon is short, shaved head,” Jeremy continued. “About two hundred pounds …”
Ben had definitely seen her in the UGLBA office.  She’d struck Ben as being unfriendly and moody. 
“What time does it start?”
“No idea. I figure Arturo and I will get there at about nine or so, but call me and I’ll give you directions.  I’d go with you, but Arturo and I are going to see La Femme Nikita beforehand. Hold out your hand …” 
Ben stuck out his hand, palm up. Jeremy turned it over. “You won’t sweat it off on this side,” he said, taking out a pen. He wrote his number down.  It occurred to Ben too late that he could have just used a piece of notebook paper, but it was nice to have Jeremy holding his arm.  The pen tickled.
“I’ll write it down as soon as I get back to the dorm,” Ben said. “Thanks.”
“You should go.  A lot of us will be there, and it’s easy to get to.”
“But the buses?” Ben asked.  The idea of going to a party alone made him uneasy. 
“What about the buses?” Jeremy asked.
“I can barely afford a can of soda at the snack store, how much does it cost?”
“You are new.  Dummy, during the school year, all the buses are free,” Jeremy started walking backwards, still talking. “Call me tonight.”
Ben nodded.  He looked down at the number on his hand.  Jeremy had nice handwriting.  

Sex and the Single Undergrad
“I think I ought to be paid extra just to put up with Sabra leering at my tits the entire time,” Julia said.
“You don’t have tits,” Maria said.
“That’s what makes it extra annoying.”
“Does she mentally undress you with her eyes?”
“She does everything. I must turn her on.  She’s always, always nervous when I talk to her, she looks away, she stammers …” Julia said.  She was exaggerating.  Sabra had barely glanced her way most of the time but she needed to keep Maria amused.  They didn’t have much to say unless they tried to outdo one another. 
Working at the Center was proving to be as fun as a dirt nap.   Macon Brigham was ineffective.   He’d developed a nervous tic that made him blink and wince as though somebody invisible was constantly throwing a punch at him.  He had also been claiming to have the highest IQ recorded.  Carlos, the lone grad student employee, was convinced that Macon had lied about his car accident to make people feel sorry for him but Carlos was another story.
When Sabra was in the office, Carlos made a show of huddling over the file cabinet.  When Sabra was out, Carlos sat on the couch reading old issues of The Advocate that would be missing the pull-out personal ads by the time they went back on the shelf.
Julia had only worked with Ben that first day he was there; she had no idea of his work ethic. 
“The newsletter comes out once a month, so I barely ever have to be there, but I still get keys to the office so I can use the office whenever I want, to use the computer or whatever after hours.”  Not that she planned one spending too much time in a University office that had been converted from a resident director’s apartment. 
Maria snubbed her cigarette out on the steps. “Cedrick fucked me in the ass the other night,” she said. 
Julia wasn’t sure how she was supposed to respond to that. “And how is Cedrick?”
“He’s great,” Maria said. “You should definitely meet him, maybe Jonah could come too.”
“Jonah’s so busy DJing that I barely see him,” Julia said. “So you’ve been dating Cedrick nearly three weeks?  A new record.”
“Going to some fancy restaurant in Hampstead to celebrate that you can’t afford?”
“There’s no such thing as a fancy restaurant in Hampstead,” Maria reached for her cigarette case and opened it. “Empty.”  She threw the back in her bag, then continued to stare into it frowning. “Oh wait, wait, I have something to show you, did you read this one today …” Maria pulled a copy of The Patriot out.
“Why do you read that shit?” Julia asked. 
“I don’t, but I bumped into Terri in the Student Union and she was on the warpath,” Maria said. “It’s here in their editorials.”
“The entire paper is an editorial, it’s a lame paper run by stupid white men,” Julia said. “The Young Conservatives suck.”
“It’s still more amusing than The Daily Centaur, and it only comes out once a month.” Maria unfolded the paper, and read the headline. “’Gays begin annual recruiting drive’ and look, there’s a photo of Ryan and Macon at the table.” 
Julia took the paper from her.
“Oh damn, I just missed having my picture taken that day and I was looking so pretty.  I can pretty much figure out what the article says.”
“You should respond to it in that newsletter you’re working on,” Maria said.
“Maybe. I have some pretty definite ideas of what I’ll do, but I don’t want the newsletter to give these idiots any more publicity.”  Which was somewhat untrue; Julia would have loved to respond, but Sabra was making it clear that she had the ultimate veto power and had said she didn’t want to be caught in the “petty battles” between student groups. 
Julia was sick of thinking about Sabra. Time to change the subject. “So, how well did Cedrick fit inside your butt?”

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