As a boy, I never crossed paths with Dicky Tapp. But I heard all about him.

Dicky Tapp didn’t go to school. He smoked, swore, spat, opened pop bottles with his teeth and liked to fight. I even heard that he carved his name onto his arm. That’s how tough he was — or so I heard.

According to the story, he spent his days terrorizing kids as they walked home from class or to the store. We heard that Dicky Tapp had associates.

He didn’t live in our neighborhood but was west of 28th Avenue. The Kerns and Buckman neighborhoods were a place where you could get beat up, or have your bicycle stolen by cigarette-smoking hoodlums.

But all along that border street were essentials: Two competing pharmacies, one with a soda fountain, where neighbors picked up their prescriptions and paid their utility bills; two competing barbers, one a union shop the other nonunion and cheaper; the Laurelhurst Theater where schoolkids went to matinees; a toy shop; HW Flack Bicycle, Radio and Television Repair; Martin’s Hardware; Holman’s Bar; Fleming’s Coffee Shop and Café; Sun and Rosie’s Chinese Restaurant and Woodyard Brothers supermarket.

Across Burnside Street from Woodyard Brothers was the Chancery Office of the Archdiocese of Portland. There you always felt secure with priests walking in and out of the place, carrying briefcases. There was the gregarious Italian Father Pio Ridi, the methodical Dutch Father Price and the always humble, always smiling Chinese Father Wong. Those three gentlemen were among the spiritual mainstays of the sometimes unstable neighborhood of juvenile delinquents.

My mom much preferred that we do our business at the Easy Shop Market in Laurelhurst proper. It was across from the Greek Orthodox Church, a block and a half from our house. She wanted us to keep out of the 28th Avenue area, adding, “You go down there alone on a Saturday and you might just be asking for trouble. There are all sorts of characters down there!”

It was a dark chasm that divided our world from that of Dicky Tapp. At that point in my life, I knew few people who lived in apartment buildings as Dickey Tapp did. I heard that his flat was a really bad place.

The urban folklore, the stories abounding of Dicky Tapp, continued growing like a dirty snowball rolling downhill. Dicky Tapp reportedly had four girlfriends, and to me, an eight-year-old boy who was afraid of girls, that was creepy. We heard the list of how many tough kids Dicky Tapp beat up, all the casualties he left behind.

Most of the time, I was pretty much insulated from the terror and likes of Dicky Tapp, as none of his kind could be found at All Saints School.

One morning, a mere few blocks from our house, a telephone pole was knocked over. The story got around that Dicky Tapp got angry the night before and pushed it over. We were aghast, wondering when and where Dicky Tapp would strike again.

A few days later, we heard a different story. A girl from the neighborhood, someone we knew to be real, had punched Dicky Tapp in the stomach and he had cried.

I had imagined Dicky Tapp as a six-foot giant. You can imagine my surprise when I learned that he was just a little guy, not much taller than I was then. He must have just had a really good promoter.

From that day forward, we never heard of Dicky Tapp again.

Van der Hout, a graduate of All Saints School, lives in Southeast Portland.