Short Story: Butch and the Kitchen Buck

This piece is true to the last period, the last dotted “i,” the last cross of the “t.” It is about my old friend, Clyde “Butch” Murray, who always placed competition high on his list for nourishing our relationship. And it did just that even though I almost always won…

My buddy, Butch, was not the town bully, as are so many who carry that vindictive sounding nickname. Quite the contrary. Butch was (and still is!) a pussycat with regard to demeanor, moods and manner and he has the distinct honor of being my dear friend. That, however, may be difficult to determine for anyone who observes us together or for anyone who overhears our often heated and violent conversations. In reality, it’s all of a perfectly harmless nature? Butch and I are friends and a better one than Butch cannot be had…

However, I should admit we’ve probably come very close to getting physical with each other more than once, I think?

Butch was so called because his given first name is Clyde. You know? Like the scraggly-haired orangutan in the infamous Clint Eastwood film, “Every Which Way But Loose.” He held on, tenaciously, to Butch, even in later years, after the hair had gone to graying, and simply because he wasn’t all that appreciative about having the same name as an orangutan. Better, an arboreal anthropoid ape. Better still? A BIG monkey!

Apparently, the novel association bothered my buddy, Butch. Me? I feel the name is almost perfectly appropriate, a descriptive proper noun – Clyde, that is. But still, I always displayed undaunted respect and referred to him as Butch when talking with anyone, and called him Butch when anyone was within earshot…

Even though, today, Butch and I live better than 200-miles apart, we still share many mutual dreams and each of us has serious heart problems so they’re unlikely to be realized? We dream of faraway, log cabins where we can go to hunt, hide, fish and laugh at the rains and not be bothered by the chaos of civilization. We dream of checking accounts we need never balance, that is, one we know has enough money to cover any check amount we may write which, most likely, would be written for something directly related to flyfishing?

My friendship with Butch is precious to me, for indeed, a man may suffer through an entire lifetime and never have one like that which Butch and I share – still, today. I truly wish everyone could have a “Butch” of their own to enjoy, harass, and torture. Unshared, all to themselves. A friend like this is a blessing, certainly, and to me? A very special one, for often, I wonder whether anyone else would tolerate my torturous, harassing ways? Doubtful; so if you have a “Butch” of your own, Mister, hang onto him for dear life, for friends like this are few and yes, far between!

Butch and I could spend hours on end talking; of fancy, customized deer rifles, flytying methods, souped-up handloads, high-mountain western trout streams and the like. We spoke too, of dreams, even though we both knew they would remain just that – dreams. But, we did it anyway. Perhaps feeling dreams are the only wealth for poor men? Our only riches were in the form of those dreams and our enjoyment of one another’s company. At least most of the time. The rest of this story may provide explanation enough?

In our former community, I was “recognized” for my writing, my outdoor columns grossly adorned with my photo at the header. I felt the photo provided me much needed justice but, as Butch put it, “Joe, if that photo wasn’t there, people might even read it from time to time…” Butch: always quick with the unique compliment for his best buddy…

Now crafty old Butch on the other hand was noted for his unparalleled abilities to make just about anything even remotely related to hunting and fishing. Picture-perfect flies, so pretty a guy was reluctant to wet them, was just one of his countless talents. Butch is one of those mechanical intellects who could build a match-quality target rifle from a length of galvanized pipe and a two-by-four.

I envied Butch, still do, for his many skills, most of which I didn’t possess in my meager, pedestrian repertoire. I have trouble with a simple overhand knot and for quite some time, I felt Butch befriended me out of sheer pity? Not the case, however, according to the neighborhood rumors? Butch secretly envied me for my “talent” and “abilities” with the pen, the written word. This then, was the foundation and lifeblood of our longtime friendship, and we made memories together I wouldn’t trade for a crate full of custom rifles or an entire settlement of faraway log cabins. Butch was (and is!) my very own orangutan and I was (and am!) his personal “Clint Eastwood.” Although I doubt he’d readily agree with this particular analogy?

Butch always praised me for my ability with the long gun, although it’s simply a matter of my loving them and it shows via my shooting. In other words, my rifle shooting has little to do with “ability” but a great deal to do with my love of the sport of shooting – period!

One time, long ago, Butch phoned me a few days prior to the opening of buck season. He’d just returned from the Claysville, Pennsylvania shooting range where he’d gone to sight-in his beloved Winchester Model 70 in .308 caliber. His voice reminiscent of a cat with its tail caught in a door: “Joe!” He squealed, “I can’t get my three-0-eight to group at all! What am I gonna do?”

Me in my ornery way: “Just stay home, Butch!” He found that ridiculous, better, obnoxious!

“That’s not funny, Joe! You know darned well I’d rather die than miss opening day!”

“Then, Butchie-Me-Boy, why not use one of your other two-dozen or so rifles?”

“None of ‘em are ready to go, either, and besides, you know how much I love my old model seventy!”

“All of mine are shooting right on the money, Butch. Wanna use one of mine? How’s about my old, four-fifty-eight Winchester magnum? Why a guy can miss and still kill ‘em with that baby!”

“No thanks,” he said, “I just wouldn’t feel right not using one of my own. You know what I mean.”

“Okay then, Butch. Bring over the .308 and your targets. We’ll see if we can’t figure it out. By the way, Butch, what was the smallest group you shot with it, today?”

There was a “dead line” for the longest time, then he asked, “The smallest group?”

“Yes, Butch, the best of the morning?” Another lengthy time of long silence.

“Well, Joe, the best three-shot group measured just over twenty-two inches!” With that
information I simply couldn’t help myself and laughed so hard Butch finally hung up on me.

Loyal pal that I am, I immediately phoned him back. “Hello, Butch?”

“Joe,” he squealed again, “if you laugh one more time I swear I’ll not tie you another fly. Ever! Not for trout season or any season and I’ll make sure the world hears about how you let your new fishin’ boat get away from you and you had to cast out a line full of treble hooks and weights to get it back to shore!”

Good old Butch had me there! Being a “pillar” of the community and “respected” outdoor writer, that caliber of news could ruin me, cause my reputation irreparable damage! “Okay, Butch. Come on over and let’s try to figure out your rifle problem.”

Butch arrived moments later, his lips brightly ringed with spaghetti sauce stain. “Hey, Butch! Why there’s your problem!”

Butch scrutinized his .308, Model 70, up then down and all around. “Where? Where’s the problem?” he asked.

“Not with the rifle, dummy, your face! Been eatin’ spaghetti again, ain’t ya?” You see, Butch has this almost insane propensity for spaghetti drenched with tomato sauce and usually eats enough at one sitting to feed a regiment of Italian soldiers; and I’m the Italian?

He answers like a child guilty of just raiding the old cookie jar. “Yeah, why I had me a plate for lunch?”

“Well, Butch, I just think it’s finally happened. The excessive acid consumption from eating so much tomato sauce has caused your eyes to cross, thus, the poor groups!”

“C’mon, Joe, this is serious business!”

“Butch, trust me. I’m quite serious. Too much tomato sauce which is chock-full of acid, in a man’s system, has been medically proven to cause the eyeballs to re-situate themselves! Why I once heard of a guy in Puree, Pennsylvania, who ate so much tomato sauce his eyeballs turned around completely in the sockets! Story goes, he had to have some pretty hi-tech surgery done to get things corrected, at least as best they could.”

“Joe, you’re fulla beans! Surgery for what?”

“Well, Butch, as I understood it, they had to drill two viewing holes in the back of his head since that’s the way his eyeballs were turned. Eyes, according to this report, they said, are too delicate to fool with, so rather than jeopardize his vision, they bored the two holes. Reckon the poor guy had to walk backwards the rest of his life, too, because that would be the only way he could see to get around? Yep, Butch, I’m convinced that’s your problem, alright, too much doggone sauce! But hey, Buddy, look at it this way. When you go deer huntin’, they won’t know whether you’re comin’ or goin’ and that could be quite an edge in the whitetail woods? Don’t ya think, Butchie?”

“Okay Mr. Outdoor Writer, cut the drab comedy and let’s get to work on m’rifle, okay?”

As it turned out, the old Model 70 had a severe nick down in the muzzle crowning and that was causing his bullets to fly erratically. Thus Butch was reduced to using his old 35-Remington lever action. “Reduced,” being his word, not mine…

Friends that we are, we hunted deer separately. Different counties altogether, his favorite spot being a farm in Greene county, Pennsylvania, while mine was a farm owned by my dear friend, Gene Georgetti, in Washington county, PA.

Sunday, the day prior to the opening of buck season, I walked over to Butch’s house to wish him luck. “Howdy, Butch! What’s that you’re eating? Looks like old Mount Pasta!” Butch sat in front of the largest platter of number eight pasta I’d ever seen – and he was watching TV!

“Don’t be cute, Shorty!” He said.

I proceeded to question him as to just why he wasn’t facing the television. “Why ya sittin’ sideways, Butch?”

“Joe, it’s pretty obvious, if I sat directly behind this plate of spaghetti, I wouldn’t be able to see the TV!”

“Where,” I asked, “did you ever find such an elaborate, mobile eating cart, Butch?”

“Made it. So I wouldn’t have to lug these heavy plates of spaghetti from the kitchen to the living room. Thing’s more like a dolly!” Both of us laughed at that and Butch continued to labor over the massive mound of pasta. The wheels on The Cart were nearly as large as those on my son’s ’78 Chevette!

“You ready to go, Butch?” I asked, watching him curl a forkful of spaghetti around his fork.

“Yeah, I suppose. Not too happy about having to use that doggone thirty-five, though.”

“Butch, you finish off that mountain of pasta in front of you, you won’t be able to see to drive, let alone hunt!”

“Don’t worry about me! You’re the macho outdoor writer! You almost have to get your buck to preserve your so-called image. I’d laugh myself silly if ya got skunked!”

“You wouldn’t need but a little giggle to do that, Butchie! And don’t ya be fretting over little Joe here and his expertise in the deer woods, Butch. I’ll do just fine. In fact, let’s indulge in a little wagering. You get the biggest buck, I’ll treat you to a fine, spaghetti dinner at Angelo’s Italian Restaurant. If I get the biggest, you tie me up say, fifty flies for trout season. Deal?”

Butch looked over at me, smiled and said confindently, “Deal!”

By the middle of the second week, I hadn’t seen an antlered deer except for the “Corkscrew Spike” Butch shot the first day. A spike with antlers that looked as though they were intended for removing the cork from a wine bottle! They were progressively twisted from perdicel to antler tip and hideously ugly! In fact, when Butch called over to appraise his “trophy,” I laughed until my eyes watered – profusely. “Butch,” I said, “that is the ugliest buck I’ve ever laid eyes upon! Too bad his antlers are twisted like that, you don’t even drink wine! Wouldn’t it have been convenient if his antlers had shaper edges, you know like one of those old-fashioned can openers? Then you could open up tomato sauce cans instead?”

“Go ahead and laugh!” He said. “You’re gonna get skunked anyways and right now this little spike is lookin’ pretty doggone good and might very well win that bet, Mr. Outdoor Writer. Why you ain’t even seen a legal horn yet, Hotshot!”

Butch nearly drove me crazy up to the evening before the last day, phoning me each time I came in from the Georgetti farm. And each time he phoned, he began our conversation the same way: “Looks like my spaghetti dinner is in the old bag!” I hoped the next evening’s conversation would be a little different? And it turned out to be just that.

I’d hunted extremely hard that last morning. Still-hunting what seemed like miles of the Georgetti farm. And for nothing until about 2:30 p.m. when I heard shots close by. Then hoofbeats and twigs breaking, I knelt for a better view of the woods and within seconds I spotted several deer moving quickly through the sparse trees. One was a buck, a large-bodied eight pointer which I anticlimactically dumped in short order. Field work done, I headed for the “barn.”

On the way home, I phoned my wife Linda, telling her not to turn on the outside floods for me. She asked, “Why not?” I avoided answering her, telling her I had to hurry.

“Gotta go, someone waiting here to use the phone. See ya in fifteen minutes.”

Butch had this nosey habit of peeking out his window when he heard my truck pulling in. This time, I wanted to conceal my buck and have some fun with him…

Sure enough, as soon as I hit the kitchen through our back door, Butch phones. “Hello, Joe! Angelo’s Restaurant is having a special on spaghetti dinners tonight. Shall we attend?”

“Okay, Killer of Corkscrew Spikes, come on over! And Butch, just come on in through the kitchen door. I’ll be in the living room, I’m pretty tired.”

“Okay,” Butch said, his happiness vividly evident by his tone of voice. He added some insult (he thought!) to injury with, “Ahhh, victory is bliss!” I simply hung up on him.

I hurried outside, grabbed the fat, 8-point by the antler and dragged him across the porch and into the kitchen. I then left him just in front of the door in the darkness of the room.

About 10 minutes went by when I heard the back door in the kitchen creaking as it opened. It took all the will power I could muster to hold back my laughter, for I knew it was good old Butch. Just seconds after the door had opened, a horrendous thumping could be heard as Butch crashed to the tile floor. My wife, son and I ran to the kitchen where I quickly turned on the light. There lay Butch! Dressed to the proverbial “T,” in his Sunday-Go-To-Meeting clothes. All ready for his free meal at Angelo’s and right then, straddled atop my big eight-pointer!

“Butch, if you’re planning on riding him, forget it, he’s dead. I shot him just after three this afternoon.” Butch looked up at me through what I felt were admiring childlike eyes, and said, “Ya know, I said a bunch of little prayers for your good luck, Joe. Musta worked! And besides, with deer season bein’ over and all, tying your fifty flies will keep me occupied and save me from the deadly doldrums.”

We laughed, as we always did when we were together. Whether at one another or just laughing together, it’s something we simply enjoyed doing and forever found ways to do it. We enjoyed a unique friendship and nurtured it through some pretty lean years; it was our personal “wealth.” Butch is my friend and his friendship comes to me (and vice-versa) unconditionally which is what deems it so very special.

As we drove to Angelo’s Restaurant later that evening, I asked Butch, “Why not just this once, Butch, have something other than spaghetti. Just tonight for your buddy, Joe?”

“Tell ya what,” he said, “I’ll have me some veal parmesan if you’ll promise never to tell anyone about my almost insane fetish for spaghetti or the ugly corkscrew spike I shot? What do you say?”

“Butch,” I said sympathetically, “you have my solemn word. I won’t tell anyone.” And you know, I never did. Not a living soul…until now, Butch. Forgive me buddy…

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