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Memories and Mysteries of a Friend Dead at 40

Bill came to our school from a western-New York school in his junior year—1969-1970. I was in the class below his. I became aware of him as someone very cool. He made the varsity basketball team and soon won glory as a starting guard. He had strawberry-blond hair, an athletic build that he carried very nonchalantly, a winning grin.

He also — right away — found his social niche among the “bad” boys. I have no idea how it is now, but in those days a good many of the athletes in our school and the surrounding ones were “bad.” They drank and smoked a lot, roamed the streets at night in small, malicious groups, sometimes engaged in vandalism and theft. In my eyes Bill’s easy meshing with that crowd made him all the more cool.

As a tenth grader, a member of the JV basketball team who spent more time on the bench than on the court, I didn’t see myself as a likely candidate to be friends with someone like Bill. It happened through another friend of mine, Scott (not his real name), who was a varsity basketball teammate of Bill’s though not quite as good a player. I knew Scott from childhood because our fathers were good friends.

So by, I believe, the spring of that year — the spring of 1970 — I found myself roaming in those groups with Scott, Bill, and others. Swilling beer, engaging in gruff, lurid talk about girls, exuding menace; me being given an equal status with older guys who were better athletes. I was thrilled.