Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I’m not much for “tell all” memoirs. I don’t think that I have the right to invade others’ privacy to any great extent, and the diligent reader will observe that most of the times when I’ve mentioned other people in these essays, I’ve either obscured the names or tried to paint the others in a good light.

But there is the matter of how to treat those who are dead, those who can neither grant or deny permission. I can see both sides to the argument there, so it’s inevitably a case by case basis. In this case, I think that Barry would not mind, and besides, I think he deserves some sort of eulogy from me, the sort that I could not deliver at his actual memorial service, because there were friends and family there who might have been wounded by some of the details.

Barry was a drug dealer. He began peddling marijuana in the early 1970s, and had graduated to cocaine by the time I met him in the early 80s. He was, when I met him, at something of a low ebb. A while before he’d planned on giving up the trade, getting married, the whole bit, then his fiancé ran off with someone he’d thought was his best friend, and then a series of ill-advised deals went sour, rendering him, if not impoverished, at least less able to finance the sybaritic life style that it turned out most of his other “friends” were interested in. So he was struggling to keep from foundering financially, a struggle made much more difficult by the lure of the product that he was back to peddling.

We met through a mutual friend, and Barry and I became friends. I won’t say that there weren’t drugs involved, because at that time, if you were around Barry, drugs were usually involved. However, we also joined a bowling team together, went to concerts, parties, etc. Barry was an amateur theater person, so I went to some of his performances, and he was interested in standup comedy. I never saw him perform, but we did go to see various comics he was interested in, and the SF comedy scene has had a lot of talent pass through.

When I started to feel the effects of “the Lurgy,” the maybe-it-was-chronic-fatigue-syndrome that I got in the mid-80s, drugs were one of the first things I gave up (with the occasional lapses, of course; I’m not some sort of iron-willed paragon). But Barry remained a friend, one of those who was willing to help with those minor things that sick people need, like the occasional trip out to a restaurant when I just couldn’t get it together to feed myself.

Barry got busted in the late 80s, but he was only holding grass at the time, the dealers’ paranoia serving him well enough that he didn’t take any coke to that particular meeting. The prosecutors tried to get him to set up his own suppliers (just as he’d been set up), but Barry was having none of that. While awaiting trial he dumped the rest of the business, cleaned up his act, and took a job as a night security guard. He sufficiently impressed the arresting officer that the man recommended straight parole, no jail time, and that was that for Barry as dope dealer.

Still, Barry was ever the entrepreneur, making frequent trips to Bali, to buy artwork that he then sold when he returned home. And he’d always been a comics collector, so he ramped that up as a small business as well.

Barry had an occasional girlfriend, whom I’ll call Di. It turned out that Di had lived near RPI during my time there, as a place called “The Farm” (did every college in the early 1970s have a “Farm” associated with it?). She’d been involved at that time with a guy I put in the acknowledgements to SunSmoke, Jim Nagy, who’d played McMurphy in the RPI Players production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and had been given tepid reviews because he obviously hadn’t been acting, just playing himself. Which is to say that Nagy had major charisma, and I had the unfortunate task of telling Di that Jim had died in the mid-80s. He’d lived an amphetamine fueled life for years and had cleaned up too late, apparently, the damage having been done, and something critical finally gave out.

It can be a small world in the fast lane, even if you’re usually just a passenger.

After I married Amy, she and I had dinner a few times with Barry and Di. Amy told me after one of them that, during a time when I’d left the table to go to the restroom, Di had confided to her, “If ever any man looks at me the way he looks at you, I’m his forever.”

Barry quit the drugs, but he kept his Corvette, and that was what did it for him. He was on Highway 101 in Northern California, a twisty turny stretch that shrinks to two lanes for periods, and he was behind a camper and he was always impatient. He tried to pass when he couldn’t see far enough ahead, and someone was coming.

I developed a theory about the illegal drug business back when I had a better vantage point for observation. It seemed to me that the nature of it was primal, stark, a world of black and white. There is no legal system to enforce contracts and the regular criminal justice system is often deliberately manipulated by criminals to their own advantage, creating situations where the police and the law was the instrument of injustice, rather than of justice. And it looked to me like the tradesmen were either snakes or honorable men, with a great gulf between the two.

A friend of Barry’s told me he saw the highway patrol report of the accident, and it suggested that Barry deliberately went through a railing and down a steep embankment, rather than hitting the oncoming car. I believe it, because that was Barry, always taking risks, but trying his damnedest to confine the damage to himself.