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  • I don’t know what ever happened to that pocket knife. It had a bright yellow plastic handle and it was elegantly curved in a shallow S shape when folded closed. It opened to approximately eight inches in length so the blade was relatively half that. All of the kids said it was longer than the legal size for a pocket knife. If the cops caught me with it they’d break the blade off and throw it away, but in those days I always carried it anyway, for self defense.

    Everyone called it a fish knife back then and it had a tiny metal shield or scroll riveted to the handle. I had always wondered about those two facts. First, I had never heard of anybody fishing, or scaling fish with that kind of knife, and second, I couldn’t imagine what that little piece of metal on the haft was for. My reasoning, “It’s probably some idiot’s idea of a cool decoration to stick on a fishing knife.”

    It was a completely impractical knife. The plastic handle was slick, and the knife didn’t really have enough length for deep penetration. But when I bought it at Tony’s corner drug store I didn’t really plan on stabbing anybody anyway. I just wanted to frighten Butch a little. I just wanted to scare him so he wouldn’t jump me and beat me up anymore.

    I must have been 12 or 13 years old and I figured that Butch must have been my punishment for some sin. Maybe god wanted to punish me for constantly thinking about girls. Well, I didn’t really see Butch as a punishment for impure thoughts. No matter how many times I used that excuse in the confessional I still couldn’t believe that thinking was a sin. However, I conceded that perhaps the angry god they taught us about in the catholic school had meted out this plague, this pestilence, this curse, this scourge of the neighborhood that was Butch.

    I grew up on the east side of Kansas City, Missouri and as I grew up our neighborhood grew progressively tougher. It had been a safe, lower middle class area but by the time I was in 5th grade it had become a high-crime area and could occasionally be dangerous.

    Well, I guess maybe this guy Butch was one of those dangers, or maybe I was just an easy target as I was a small kid, a late bloomer, kind of a runt. Butch was older than I was, maybe 16, and he was a big, tough athletic type and I think he started beating me up regularly for fun when I was about 12.

    The first time, we were playing a pick-up game of basketball in the church parking lot on 39th St. He fouled me, I got mad, and I told him that Butch was a stupid name for a black guy and that in fact it sounded more like a redneck name. He hit me a couple of times and I dragged myself home.

    After some time I don’t believe that Butch remembered why he had beat me up that day but it became a game for him, a habit. Two or three years of running and sneaking home from school and getting jumped and beaten on a regular basis was not fun. I was getting really tired of old Butch. That’s when I bought the knife.

    A couple of days after I bought that knife I walked home from school and I didn’t bother to sneak through the back yards, alleys and driveways to try to avoid Butch though that had become my regular tactic. That day I walked right down the middle of the sidewalk and I knew that Butch would be coming my way.

    He went to Central, the public high school on Linwood Blvd and Indiana Avenue and I went to Blessed Sacrament, the Catholic elementary school over on 39th and Agnes. Actually, the nuns who taught there were worse than Butch, and in my experience he didn’t punch as hard as Sister Rose Angela, but that’s another story. So, Butch and I were destined to cross paths that day on Bales Avenue when we walked home from school. That day, at that time, that was my street.

    When the day came it was about 3:30 in the afternoon and I was nearing the bus turn-around on 39th and Bales when I saw Butch walking in my direction on the other side of the street. I opened up the knife but held it hidden in my coat pocket. Of course Butch crossed the street and came walking right at me. I knew he wouldn’t just let me pass and he didn’t disappoint. He was almost on top of me when he suddenly hit me in the chest - hard. I was expecting it. That was one of Butch’s favorite places to hit me. Maybe it didn’t hurt his hand as much as when he hit me in the head, and once he had cut a knuckle on my tooth.

    At any rate, when he hit me I pulled out the knife and raked it down the inside of his arm. He was wearing a coat and sweater so it didn’t do any real damage. However, I had sharpened the knife diligently so it got through his clothes and did cut his arm. Although it wasn’t a serious wound it was bleeding quite a bit so old Butch went running down the street toward his house holding his arm and yelling, “He cut me! That white boy cut me!”

    He didn’t bother me as much after that. He would still yell at me and make fun of me with his friends, but always from a distance. He never did beat me up again. I don’t know whatever happened to that knife, but for a year or two it held a sentimental value for me.
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