St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
It was Jim's first day as a junior, September 4, 1962, and a time to reflect. Duke,
Augie, and Jim were sitting on one of the wooden benches in the courtyard watching the
parade of dazed freshmen. Garcia and Jensen joined them.
"Hey, guys, how ya doing," asked Jensen.
"Did you see the new batch of freshman dorks. I saw one Plebe that could open
a can of beer with his nose," said Garcia.
"Was it a beak? asked Jim.
"Did we look that bad then?" asked Augie.
The guys agreed they hadn’t looked like dorks when they were freshmen, and
watched the new plebes wandering, confused and lost. The guys had forgotten what it
was like when they began their first day. The guys gave their condolences regarding Bob.
Jim thanked them, and went to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. He sat at the same table
that he had shared with Steinway for two years. He felt lonely and remembered all of the
fun they had in lower division with the eight guys who were cut. He recalled the week to
week competition just to make it to the junior year. He could hear the voices and laughter
of eighty ghosts, who now roamed the halls and classrooms.
By the first week of May 1962, the guys on the bubble had a good idea if they
would survive, or get cut. The last six weeks of school before finals were difficult times
for the students because all had friends in D and E classes. Forty friends would get cut.
Most of the guys in A, B, and C classes were confident, as college prep students, that
they would survive the cut. They consistently remained in the top 120. It was difficult for a
student in D class to move up to C class because they had not taken the same classes. As
freshmen the guys in college prep studied Latin and Algebra, while the guys in D, E, and F
studied Spanish and Business Math. As sophomore the guys in college prep studied
Geometry. The guys in D and E studied Algebra as sophomore. The guys in F class had
been cut. There was implied discrimination between the guys in college prep and the
others. The brothers referred to it as distinguishing one self from the others. Jim thought it
separated the two groups. There was nothing distinguishing about treating a friend in F
class as inferior.
Hell week was tough, and Jim saw the fear in their eyes. He knew most of the
guys in D and E classes from playing sports. Each student said good morning to each
other, but it wasn’t a good morning now. They casually wished each other good luck during
hell week, but this time Jim really meant it. The last day of the sophomore year was
comp testing. Bad Ass referred to it as "Rounding third and running home. Is the runner
safe or out?" Bad Ass must have tortured cats as a boy, then heard a higher calling. The
students finished the comp test. Some felt relieved while others felt despair. Jim felt
sorry for the students who knew they failed. They hung their heads in shame when
leaving class for the last time. They would have to go to public school, face their parents
and friends with the stigma that they had done something wrong. Most of them hadn’t.
They were victims of the numbers game that the Brothers played. Jim watched the guys
in D and E get their books from their lockers for the last time. It was like watching them
from shore while they slowly sank into a black sea, then vanishing into the deep. These
eighty guys were the sacrifice that each student knew would happen from the first day as
freshman. This was what the Brothers referred to the St. Nick’s experience. It was sport for
the Brothers, like a horse race. Sometimes Jim thought that the Brothers placed bets to
see who would fail.
Jim missed Steinway. He missed the fun they had together. The playful way
Steinway treated close friends. The pranks Steinway and he had played on each other.
The first time they became friends was the time Steinway needed a second. It was their
first week as freshmen. Jim was waiting at the bus stop for the 47 Van Ness bus. Steinway
ran up to Jim with a desperate look in his eyes, and asked him for a favor. "I really needed
your help man," said Steinway. Jim thought he had lost something. They ran two blocks to
Tommy's Joint. There were two girls, one very pretty and the other plain. As they
approached the girls, Steinway said, "I needed a second."
"You need to rest?" asked Jim.
"No man, I need a second body. You see those two girls. I need you to
accompany the plain looking one. That fox is my next mark. She wouldn’t go anywhere
without her friend.”
Steinway referred to himself as Prince Charming. Close friends called him PC. Jim
was introduced to Elizabeth, the plain girl. Jim told Elizabeth, "I am honored to meet a
lovely Chinese lady." Elizabeth Chang was slender and wore glasses. She blushed and
Steinway suddenly realized that he might have competition.
"Way to go, Lover boy," said Steinway.
Elizabeth continued to blush. Jim thought that he had nothing to lose. He was doing
a buddy a favor. Both ladies went to St. Vincent's High School for girls. Liz and Jim joined
PC and his next challenge for a walk in the park. Liz told Jim that he was the first guy to go
for a walk with her. Jim told Liz that she was the first lady that he went for a walk with.
Liz and Jim were friends for a year. They saw each other at dances and
occasionally met at the park after school. A week before Christmas Liz invited Jim to
meet her parents. Her father was not very friendly and her mother tried gracefully to be
pleasant. Her father asked Jim what college he planned to attend. Jim replied, "I have
not given it much thought, sir." Elizabeth's father made the comment that he didn’t
mind his daughter having white friends. Mort Saul once described a dinner date with a
dud as: "We sat for dinner at seven and two hours later it was seven-thirty." Mercifully,
the meeting ended. The next time Liz met Jim at the park, she asked him not to call her
at home. He understood and was friendly to her when he saw her. Jim asked a Chinese
friend in class if he had done some thing wrong. Nelson said, "You don’t have the three
C's: Chinese, College, and Career." Jim and Liz danced and chatted at the school dances,
but the intensity was extinguished after Christmas. Liz gradually drifted away. Jim
realized that it was not meant to be. There would be other girls.
Steinway and Jim sat along side each other in class. They had agreed that on
test day they would flash questions and answers by writing on small pieces of paper
held in the palm of their hand. Steinway asked most of the time and Jim answered most
of the time. It worked better than the feeble attempts by others. Rico once wrote the
answers for a Latin test on the bottom of his shoe. He walked into class limping on his
left heel. By the time he took the test most of the answers were worn away from walking.
Scully had a pen with a clear plastic jacket that advertised the name and address of a
company that was printed and inserted on a tiny piece of paper. Scully wrote the answers
on the backside of the tiny paper in fine print. He inserted the tiny paper back into the pen.
When Scully began the test he discovered that he had difficulty reading the fine print.
Brother Michael noticed Scully's difficulty with the pen. He approached Scully, exchanged
pens, smiled, and said, "Glad to help." Brother Michael never looked at Scully's pen and
threw it away. During the World Series Steinway brought a small transistor radio with an
earphone. The cord from the radio ran from his shirt pocket, under his shirt, through his
sleeve, up his arm and out of his sleeve and into his ear. He sat with his head resting
against his hand covering his ear, and flashed scores. Steinway was the one who spiked
Mr. McTee's coffee with saltpeter. At lunchtime, Steinway charmed the ladies who worked
in the cafeteria, and got larger portions. Jim missed Steinway almost as much as he
missed Bob. It was Steinway who first said,
"Farewell to forty. Farewell to Romero."
Farewell Steinway. Farewell PC.
Farewell to eighty guys who could have been, but never were.
Brother Philip was their homeroom Bother for class 11C in Room 303. All of their
classes were on the third and fourth floors. Brother Philip told the class that Brother
Joseph had died of a heart attack July 26. The students signed a condolence card and
sent it to the retreat in Imperial Valley where Brother Joseph had spent his finals days.
Brother Philip still had breath that was lethal. Each time Brother B.O. opened his mouth
a green fog crawled out and hung in the air. He handed out the schedule of classes,
with room numbers and class times. First class was English with Brother Zachary, then
Advanced Algebra with Brother Philip, and Mr. Mazetti taught U.S. History. Lunch was
11:15 to 12:00, then Religion with Brother Tim, Literature and Speech with Brother
Matthew, and last was Chemistry with Brother Daniel.
Brother Zachary was a former Golden Gloves boxer before joining the Christian
Brothers. The students called him Brother Knuckles. Knuckles had a loud voice and
woke everyone up during first period. Brother Philip had taught the guys Algebra as
freshmen. They knew the workload, and how difficult his exams were. Some days when
Brother Philip walked into class he would leave a trail of stench from not bathing or
changing his underwear. Flies fell dead as he passed. He rarely brushed his teeth.
Occasionally while solving a math problem on the blackboard he would turn, and like a
blow gun shoot the remaining chunks from breakfast into the trash can-- ping. You never
wanted to ask him a question, ever. Brother "B.O.” was a mystery. How could the other
Brothers tolerate him, and the green fog?
Mr. Mazetti was very animated when teaching history and his lectures were verbal
battles of hand to hand combat. Mr. Mazetti was a husky man: two hundred and ten
pounds, about six feet tall. He wore glasses with thick black frames. He waved his arms
while lecturing re-enacting each scene of history . Brother Tim still fluttered while teaching
Religion, and hoped to receive another rose from his secret admirer. Brother Matthew
mumbled, and was the Literature and Speech teacher. He was very knowledgeable on the
topic of writers and poets of the 19th century. Brother Mumbles looked like Elmer Fudd.
The lads always wondered how a speech teacher could mumble. Brother Daniel had a
large poster of the surface of the moon hanging on the wall in the chemistry lab. It
graphically depicted the surface with craters. His hobby was astronomy. Brother Daniel
had a pock-marked face that resembled the surface of the moon, hence Brother Crater.
Brother Crater didn’t pronounce the letter L in the word "only." He would say, "Ony
chemistry teaches the mysteries of the universe." The afternoon classes were exceptional
with Brother Butterfly, Brother Mumbles and Brother Crater. Mornings weren't so bad with
Brother Knuckles, Brother B.O., and "Boom-Boom Mazetti." There were days when school
was so entertaining that it was a shame to go home.
It was lunchtime and the juniors quickly found out that seniors didn’t wait in line.
They stepped in front and said, "Seniors rule." There was a stand up piano on wheels in
the corner. Two seniors took turns playing during lunch. Marcus and Braxton were from
Alabama and had been exposed to Baptist gospel singing by their grandparents. They
learned to play the piano and sing gospel at the local Baptist Church in Huntsville. Both
were baptized Catholics. When they moved to San Francisco they attended Epiphany
Catholic Church and grammar school. They were practicing Catholics who enjoyed the
rousing music of a southern Baptist revival. Most young black ladies were Baptist, not
Catholic. They attended the Baptist Church to meet young ladies and to play the piano.
They enjoyed playing Rock and Roll music. During lunch they played songs from Jerry
Lee Louis, Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Coasters, The Drifters, and any other group that was
popular. Braxton was the better singer and Marcus was the better piano player. They
began all the pep rallies, and got the student body in good spirit. When Chubby Checker
became popular, they started calling Braxton Chubby. Braxton didn't miss many meals
and was a good twister. Braxton was Chubby Checker and Marcus was Ray Charles at
lunchtime. Most of the Brothers enjoyed the piano playing at lunchtime, but there were a
few Brothers who considered it blasphemy. They did not appreciate Braxton's
interpretation of "rock and roll with soul" singing.
At the same time there was a white duo called "The Righteous Brothers who had
hits like “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and “Let the Go Times Roll.” Braxton and Marcus had a
similar sound. Initially it was thought the Righteous Brothers were black singers. When
it was found out that they were white, all were surprised. Sports and music transcended all
barriers of discrimination. When Marcus played the piano and Braxton sang at a pep rally,
the student body was united. Sometimes Brother Malkey; joined Marcus and Braxton
during lunch and sang Elvis songs. Moonface would make the King jealous with his moves
and the way he held the microphone. There were days when Moonface was far out,
groovy, and out of sight.
It was fun being a junior. Jim looked forward to being a senior. He wished he could
share the good feeling with Bob and Steinway. He now understood why the brothers put
them through the drill of attrition in lower division. Upper division was earned. He thought
that if all the students began in college prep and those who completed the requirements
with a 2.0 grade average or higher graduated.
The brothers designed the journey to focus forward. Don't spend today thinking
about yesterday, when you should be using today to prepare for tomorrow. It was their way
of saying onward, charge. Don't look to see who has fallen, just continue the charge.
Football was teamwork, but this was every man for himself. It was a contradiction of what
Coach Kepen was trying to achieve on the football field. Something was wrong with the
Brother's philosophy. The Brothers had run the students through a minefield, and now the
juniors should thank God that they had survived. It was the same philosophy the nuns
used: fear of failure and fear of damnation.
The nuns and brothers failed to realize that it was not a game of musical chairs.
The students were real people who were damaged for life. The attrition was human, and
the suffering was real. Jim thought that all of the students were teammates, like in sports.
That's what being a good man was all about, helping one another, not distinguishing one
self from the others. That implied that he was better than his friends in D, E, and F classes.
The more he learned about life, there remained unanswered questions. He wondered why
it was difficult for him to follow the crowd. Now he said hello to face instead of friends. His
teammates acted differently off the football field. They were consumed with self, going to
college, and girlfriends.
St. Nick’s inviting the ladies from St. Vincent’s to welcome back dance. The theme
was Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, “Sherry and Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Jim didn’t go
and said that he was sick. He didn’t belong with them because he didn’t have a girlfriend.
The rage that he had as a freshman was again growing inside of him again. He released
some of the rage playing sports, but there remained a smoldering fire inside of him. Jim
was on that island again. He did not choose to be there, but he was there again.
More next week...