In eighth grade, Billy sat in front of me in English class, or sat  sleeping with his head on the desk. He always smelled a little of cigarettes and something undefinable: It was before I started drinking , so I wouldn’t have recognized the scent of someone’s liver telegraphing the unmistakable fruity ketone signal of  “Christ will someone tell this poor fucker to give it a decent rest?” I didn’t know that he was experimenting at the time with various household solvents, the extensive trove of  benzodiazepenes in his parents’ medicine chest, their liquor cabinet, and beginning to smoke whatever trash the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels in tandem with the thoroughly corrupt Durham Vice squad was passing off to kids as pot. He seemed bright enough, and engaged in the class for the most part: Particularly on those rare occasions where we were allowed a small measure of independence and creativity. He was a freak for Alice Cooper. When you’re in eighth grade and huffing lawn mower gas,  Cooper is the man.

And when there’s the rare occurrence of snow and subzero weather, you take the initiative, and organize the kids in your neighborhood to strategically locate their parent’s garden hoses and focus the output of several laboring hot water heaters on the sloping grade in front of their houses, and take advantage of the city water mains that had been put in the previous summer to create a sheet of ice two or three inches thick.

They disabled about four police cars on a 3/4 mile stretch of road. As a female classmate of mine recently noted, “It wasn’t until I had kids that I realized our parents were goddamned zombies. I’m surprised none of us killed anybody.”

Well, dear, it wasn’t for want of effort.

But in terms of neglect, Billy’s folks were cutting edge. It’s not that they were  innocently deceiving themselves,  or waiting for the big fuckup to lock the household down and reassert their authority. It’s more that they were incredible hopheads in their own right, of the aboveboard sort. Fairly well to do,  positioned in sweet corporate sinecures that would be unthinkable now, except for the wealthiest brigands in Connecticut or Manhattan. They’d hit the links at Duke or Croasdaile in the morning,  the clubhouse at eleven, then home by noon to pass out in the garage, trying to wrestle the  golf bags out of the station wagon. Billy told one of our mutual acquaintances  that one Saturday his mom absently dragged her golf bag into the kitchen before she passed out cold. Billy and his brother made some Tuna Helper while they made a series of Polaroids.

I never knew Billy was gay until well into senior year in high school. Girls seemed to like him.  He was willowy, had good hair , and played drums. Another thing I didn’t know is his incredibly wealthy boyfriend had purchased the drums for him. A double bass Pearl kit with Rototoms, redundant crash and ride cymbals and a gong. I never encountered a professional drummer who could afford to even contemplate a gong until I was forty.

Billy eventually told me he liked women sexually, but he preferred men for regular sex and company. This was after he began taking steroids and looked like a miniature horse. He’d always had skin problems, but the steroids seemed to deepen the pits and scars in his face. Still, he looked like a guy who could lift a truck out of a snowbank, and he probably would have gone out of his way to do it.At that point I was growing despondent about Reagan waking up one day and deciding to put the torch to the whole planet without so much as a fuck you all. Billy’s boyfriend bought an old warehouse in Durham and turned it into a gay nightclub: It added to the already prodigious fortune his mother left him, just to spite his god-awful angry father.