For a moment Bryce just stared at Damon, his mouth once again agape. Damn! I've got to quit acting like some kind of idiot every time I encountered this guy. Then the absurdity of what Damon said sunk in, and Bryce broke out in loud guffaws.
"That is NOT the reaction I need right now!" Damon said forcefully.
"Sorry," Bryce sort of apologized. "It just struck me how absurd you are, asking where I've been, when all yesterday afternoon and evening and earlier this morning I tried to contact you, and you were either out or asleep all the time."
"You did? I mean, I was? I mean .... Oh, fuck! Everything's a fuck up!" Damon proclaimed as he dramatically threw himself down on Bryce's bed.
"Okay, just calm down. Take a deep breath. Then, in some kind of order, tell me what's got you so agitated," Bryce instructed his neighbor.
Damon looked at Bryce, assessing him. "You're good at this calm and orderly bit, aren't you?"
"I guess. Seems to get things done," Bryce replied.
"Well, I'm not. I get too emotional about things. I know that. It's just the way I am. Okay. Calm and orderly. I'll try." Sitting up, Damon took a few moments more to gather his wits. "After we got back from lunch yesterday, I took a nap. That's going to be a problem once classes start, I guess. I stay up too late, then want to sleep in the morning. When I can't, I need my beauty sleep in the afternoon. Where did you go?"
Bryce shook his head. "No. I'll tell you later, but for now stick to why you were so agitated a few minutes ago."
"Slave driver!" Damon sighed. "Okay. There's this organization on campus called BSO - that's Black Student Organization to you honkies. We didn't have a BSO in my high school. Hell, almost everybody there was black, including half the Hispanics. Why is it that Hispanics are a separate category? Why can't there by white Hispanics who are honkies like you, and black Hispanics who are brothers like me?"
"Back to the topic, Damon," Bryce insisted.
Damon glared at him, then sighed again and continued, "Okay, so there was a meeting of some sort announced on a flyer stuck under my door. IMPORTANT! Start the Semester Right! Check in with the BSO for Orientation before Classes Begin!" Damon was demonstrating the capitalization and punctuation with hand gestures, which greatly amused Bryce, but he decided to try not to laugh this time.
"So, I decide to go take in this IMPORTANT meeting at Lewis Hall. That's where the Black Studies Program is housed and where the BSO has an office. There's a plaque in the entrance, by the way, saying the building is named for Oliver Lewis. Who's Oliver Lewis?"
"I don't know," Bryce stated, "and you're wandering again."
Damon returned to his narrative. "Okay, so I find out the meeting is in this auditorium, not at the BSO office, and there are, like, a hundred brothers and sisters there. Maybe two hundred. Maybe fifty. Shit! I don't know how many, but the room was kind of full."
"Not crowded, but lots of people, okay? So I talk to a few brothers and try to find out what the big meeting is all about, and why it's so important to be there before classes begin, but nobody seems to know any more than I do. Then, this brother in clothes like you wear, all nice and neat and with ritzy labels – it says Aeropostale on his tee right across his chest – gets up and pounds a gavel. Yes! He actually has a gavel, and he starts pounding on the podium at the head of the room. Everybody gets quiet, and he starts off. At first, it's all great stuff, about how we should not be ashamed of our heritage and should prove to the world that we are as capable as anyone else. We can do any job, enter any profession. You know, all the ... what do you call it? ... booster type stuff. Hype. That sounds good, right? I mean, that's why I'm here, right?. I'm going to show the world I can be a hot shot lawyer, and make a difference, and never have to go back to the projects ever!"
"But then, Mr. Aeropostale ... by the way, why is French air mail so special?"
Bryce simply mouthed the word "topic."
Damon paused. He gave Bryce another exasperated look. "Some day, when I'm a hot shot lawyer, I'll fly over to France and find out. Anyway, Our Beloved Leader up there starts in on just how us new students are supposed to show our black pride. Sign up for the BSO. That's expected. Take Black Studies courses for electives, no matter what your major. Okay, not much to object to in that. But then – join a black fraternity or sorority. Only date other blacks. Ask for a transfer to the black wing of a dorm if you're not in a black Greek house. Eat at the black tables in the student cafeterias. And on and on. Shit man! It's like the projects all over again! Whatever happened to integration? Didn't people like the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior spend their lives and die so we didn't have to associate only with other blacks? I want out of the projects! I want to experience the whole fucking world! I want out!!!" Damon dropped his head into his hands and began to sob.
Bryce was astounded at Damon's distraught condition. He was not sure how to react, but empathy for his neighbor's distress overrode any hesitations he might feel. He sat down next to Damon on the side of his bed, and put his arm around the other guy's shoulder. He didn't say anything, but just squeezed a bit to let him know he cared.
It took at least five minutes for Damon to regain his composure.
"What did you do?" Bryce then asked.
"Well, I looked around. A couple of the brothers and sisters looked like they were no more enthralled by all this than I was, but there was a whole army of jocks hooting and hollering in support of everything Mr. Aeropostale said. It reminded me of a couple of so-called community meetings back in the projects, where the bosses came in with their goons just to make sure the people democratically voted the way they wanted. After about thirty minutes or so, I ducked out."
"But you were gone all evening. Like I said, I checked. I heard you come in. You woke me up bashing about in the bathroom about two o'clock."
"I'm sorry. I was drunk. Me and two others left that meeting together, and headed to this place off campus where they're not too careful about checking IDs. We sat and griped about the BSO all evening until the place closed, then went to one of the brother's room and finished his six pack. I didn't realize I was making so much noise."
Bryce waved away the apology. "No big deal. I'm sure I'll do the same to you before the semester's out."
"Not if Mr. Aeropostale has his way," Damon said bitterly.
"Oh, yeah. He wants you to move to the black wing. I didn't know there was a black wing in this dorm," Bryce said.
"As a matter of fact, there isn't in this dorm. That was something else Our Glorious Leader complained about. Seems it's rampant racism not to put all the black brothers off in one area by ourselves. Go figure! Oh, yeah. And he claims one of the goals of the BSO for the year is to get the name of this dorm changed."
"Why is that?"
"Seems we live in housing named for one of those dead white dudes you are so fond of, a slave owner name of Henry Clay, and that's demeaning to the brothers."
Bryce laughed. "Your Mr. Aeropostale doesn't know his American history very well, or his campus history, either."
"What do you mean?" Damon asked hopefully.
"First of all, it's true Henry Clay was a slave holder, but he was a moderate, favoring gradual emancipation," Bryce explained.
Damon moaned. "Oh, that's no good. Those moderates and gradualists are just playing into the hands of the racists. That's the party line."
"But," Bryce insisted, "this building is not named for Henry Clay."
"It's not?" There was definite interest there.
"Nope. According to the campus catalogue and web site, it's named for his second cousin, Cassius Marcellus Clay, who was an avid abolitionist," Bryce announced in triumph.
"Hoo boy! You sure of this? Just wait til I get a chance to rub their noses in this! You really sure?" Damon demanded.
"Sure, I'm sure. Here, look," Bryce said, retrieving his copy of the university catalogue from its place on his shelves, and flipping to the early part about the campus layout, a section seldom carefully perused by students or prospective students. There it was under 'student housing, male:' Clay Hall, a modern dormitory offering the latest amenities to today's young men, is fully equipped with hook-ups for all electronic devices. Dedicated in 2002, and named for famed diplomat and abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay (1810-1903), Clay Hall is located on the site of a previous structure donated by the Clay family. Bryce then turned on his computer and went to the campus web site, where he found essentially the same information.
Damon was ecstatic. "Dumb middle class ignorant bastards! Typical! Like everything else they do. Never spent a day in the projects in their lives. Their idea of helping the downtrodden black masses is to launch a campaign to change the name of a building, and they even fuck that up. If they really want to help, there's a soup kitchen and a home for battered women in the black section of Clifton. I know that, and I've only been here three days. I bet they don't even know they exist." Damon's disdain for the BSO leadership was vitriolic.
Bryce thought it would be better to lead his neighbor away from such disturbing topics, at least for a while. Casting about for some topic to engage Damon's interest, he remembered the SAT party on Friday.
"While you were out getting smashed, I was making friends with a guy I met at the gym. Seems he's a high muckety-muck at one of the fraternities here, so we're invited to a party on Friday."
"Did you say we, white man?" Damon mugged.
"Yeah. I told him you were a pretty cool guy, so he said to bring you along. I tried to tell you, but you were otherwise engaged yesterday evening. And, it's not a black fraternity."
"Didn't think it would be, you racist, fascist pig," Damon kidded, his spirits definitely rising with the prospect of a party. "Which fraternity?"
"Sigma Alpha Tau."
"Oh, man! According to Our Glorious Leader, that's a hotbed of barely concealed racism. I quote, 'a hotbed of barely concealed racism.' This is proven by the fact that only a select few blacks get invited to pledge. According to one of the guys I was drinking with later, it's also the fraternity which rejected Mr. Aeropostale two years ago when he tried to join." Damon was chortling with glee. "Man, wouldn't I love to get in that frat."
"Well, Curtis, the guy I mentioned, said they're having open house, and then rush before long. Why not try it?" Bryce asked. "But don't call it a frat. Curtis said that was a no-no."
"Oh, okay," Damon said distractedly. "You don't suppose they're really racist, do you?" he asked with some anxiety.
"Naw. Well, maybe one guy," Bryce said, and proceeded to relate the story of his run-in with Bick. He concluded, "but Curtis says Bick's a senior who won't be around next year, and he won't be having much to do with the pledge class anyway. Curtis is Pledge Master."
"You do get right in with the big wheels, don't you," Damon said, with a touch of admiration. "But," he sighed, "I don't imagine I'll be pledging any fraternity, black or white or in between. That costs money, which is a commodity I have very little of."
"Shame," Bryce commiserated, "but that's no reason to miss the party on Friday."
"None at all!" Damon emphatically agreed.
But Damon's high spirits did not survive the next topic, which was questioning Bryce about his schedule of classes. Suspecting his volatile neighbor might be upset by such a comparison, Bryce attempted to answer in generalities. When pressed, he handed out the positive news.
"I'll be in the same Biology and Freshman Orientation classes you're in. I don't expect much from the FO class, though. Professor Dickinson said if you can find the classroom, and do the assignments, this class is a waste of time."
"Don't they tell you little tricks for passing classes and the like?" Damon asked.
"Did you have any trouble passing classes in high school?" Bryce answered that question with a question of his own.
"Only one, and that's because the pervert who taught it wanted to fuck my ass, and I wouldn't give him the satisfaction," Damon declared heatedly.
Bryce quickly decided to steer away from that topic. "Well, I don't expect you to run into that here. If you did well in school before, you should continue to do well."
"Isn't college harder?"
"Sure. But aren't you smarter?"
Damon laughed at that. "Damn straight! But, hey! How about the rest of your classes?"
"I tried getting in your Political Science class, but it was full," Bryce temporized.
"What about History. That's your thing, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Well, I'm in a history class, sure."
"Let me see that," Damon said, unexpectedly seizing the schedule of classes from Bryce's hand. "What's this? History 355? How the hell do you rate an upper division class? And English 434? And French 311? How the hell do you skip all the basic classes?"
"Well, uh, it's, you know, AP and like that," Bryce mumbled.
"What the hell is AP? That's some more white racist stuff, right?" Damon was only half joking, as he leapt up and began pacing.
"Calm down, Damon. Cool it. I'll try to explain, but only if you calm down," Bryce insisted.
Damon was still pacing back and forth. He tried sitting, but hopped up again almost immediately. "Just tell me. Then you can ream me out about calming down."
"Okay. It works like this. In a lot of high schools, if you're a really good student, you get your graduation requirements out of the way early, and in your senior year you can take college level courses. That's called Advanced Placement, or AP. Then, when you get to college, you don't have to take those courses, and can go directly into more advanced courses. So, I got AP in history, so Dr. Dickinson said I could sign up for his class in the Stuart Period, for example," Bryce explained. "Didn't they have AP courses at your high school?"
That was the wrong question to ask. Damon launched into a tirade against the school, the teachers, the principal, the school board, and the whole system which kept kids from the projects stuck in the projects. Everything was shabby and second hand. The teachers were the ones which could not cope in the schools in affluent neighborhoods. Busing was a joke. Only the jocks got bussed, so the better schools could have a winning football team. That diatribe went on for nearly half an hour before Damon wound down. Bryce was not sure how much of it was true, and how much sour grapes. He had no way of finding out, at least not now. Finally, Damon collapsed on Bryce's bed, having worn himself out with his ranting.
"What you need is a release of tensions," Bryce declared. "Get your lazy ass up off my bed, and grab your gym things. We have time for a good workout before supper, and it'll whet our appetites."
Damon opened one eye, and looked at him as though he had two heads, but Bryce was adamant. "No more talk about racism, or Mr. Aeropostale, or AP courses. The program now is sweat. Come on, hop to it!"
For the next hour and a half, Bryce and Damon worked out in the gym. They were fortunate in that Bick did not put in an appearance. Bryce did meet another SAT, however, who repeated the invitation to the party on Friday, and explicitly included Damon. That certainly sat well with Damon's conflicted psyche.
Bryce's inner conflicts were not helped at all, however. If he had been attracted by the mere sight of Damon the day before, the sight of him working out, muscles straining against the sleeveless tee he wore, powerful legs emerging from loose shorts, and the odor of masculine sweat, all turned Bryce on in ways he found profoundly disturbing. A truly embarrassing moment came as Damon was spotting Bryce, who was flat on his back on the bench, pressing iron. Right in the middle of his count, Bryce looked up and saw Damon's package only inches from his face as the other boy leaned forward to assist. Not only did this totally destroy his concentration, causing him to flub the lift, but he sprang a boner which was so obvious it could not be missed. Bryce abruptly left Damon with the weights, fleeing to the locker room.
There, he stripped away his clothes, and jumped into the showers, turning on only cold water. He was facing away from the door to the showers, eyes closed. He heard the door open and close. Another shower came on. Then there was Damon's voice.
"Shit, man! You're turning this whole place into an ice box."
That did it. That broke the tension. Bryce broke out laughing, and could not stop. Laughter had always been his escape whenever he was in an awkward situation, and this was about as awkward as it got, but Damon's remark removed the sting. Still laughing, Bryce relented, and turned off his shower. Then, without looking at Damon's sculpted body, Bryce left the showers and, following the pattern established by Curtis, climbed into the hot tub. Not looking at Damon in the showers did no good, as a moment later he appeared at the hot tub, stark naked, of course, and climbed in. He looked at Bryce and grinned. Bryce flushed red, but found Damon still grinning at him. Once again, he broke out laughing. After some ten minutes in the churning hot waters, Bryce announced that it was time for the hot room. As he climbed out, Damon swatted his ass. Hard.
"Damn! I never realized hot tubs were such dangerous places. Yesterday Curtis tried to drown me, and today you assault me," Bryce teased, having regained his composure.
He managed the dry heat of the sauna without embarrassing himself. He wondered what Damon made of all that, but did not dare ask. After leaving the gym, the boys returned to the dorm only long enough to change into street clothes, then headed out to grab something to eat.
Over pizza, Damon calmly and studiously delivered his assessment of the afternoon. "When I get excited, I run off at the mouth. When you get excited, you get a boner."
That caused Bryce to choke on his pizza, and get a boner. Now it was Damon's turn to laugh. "You white guys are so funny, it ain't funny," he declared, and calmly took another bite of his pizza.
As they wound up their supper, Damon asked, "You got anything on tap for right now?"
"I'd like to use your fancy computer to check something."
"Sure. No problem. Any time," Bryce promised.
Back in Bryce's room, he fired up his computer, then stepped aside, allowing Damon to take control. It was soon obvious that the lad knew his computers.
"I thought you had only second hand equipment at your school. How'd you get so good at computers," he asked.
"Us students got second hand equipment, but the principal's office had the latest stuff. Since I didn't waste my time hanging out in a gang, I had to stay out of sight and do something with my evenings. I used to break in, and play with Mr. Johnson's equipment," Damon said, rolling his eyes to emphasize the double entendre.
Bryce laughed. "What are you up to now?"
"Checking out Mr. Aeropostale. I'll bet he got some of those AP courses you were bragging about."
"I wasn't bragging," Bryce protested. "Besides, you can't get into the University computer system."
"Want to bet? I learned a few things not in the usual instruction manuals. There was a guy in the projects who worked at a computer center downtown. He taught me a few tricks."
"What's a computer technician doing in the projects?" Bryce asked.
"He wasn't exactly a computer technician. No degrees or anything. He just worked in the back solving problems. He had a feel for things. I don't think he knew himself why he did things, but what he did seemed to work. Oh, and he's not in the projects any more. He's in Stateville."
"Huh? What's Stateville?"
"State prison. Seems my friend used his special knowledge in ways the government did not approve. One thing I learned from him was to keep your eyes open. Like when I was at the housing office on Sunday, and completing registration on Monday. Amazing what you can learn looking over the shoulders of a secretary."
Damon had been busy typing while discoursing, and now he exclaimed, "Ha! Here we are! Mr. Aeropostale. Let's see what he has on his record."
Of course, the BSO spokesman was not really named Aeropostale, but rather Robert Blanton. In fact, Robert Lincoln Blanton III, Bryce noted. Damon perused his academic record, finding, as he expected, graduation from a suburban high school with AP credits. He also noted no black studies courses his freshman year, and only three in the next two years. He was a Business/Pre-Law major, and his overall g.p.a. was an unimpressive 2.88. Damon chortled as he downloaded this record.
"Thanks, Bryce. This, and the information about that other Clay guy, is enough to make up for not being here when I wanted you earlier," Damon condescended to impart.
"Fuck you," Bryce replied.
Damon smiled. "Not now. I might want to use your computer some other time. Peace." With that, he kissed Bryce on the lips, and disappeared before his neighbor could react. When he regained composure, Bryce realized he was hard again.