St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
Two of San Francisco’s finest were Foxy Gannon and C.J. O’Gredy. They ruled
the golden triangle from Market and Van Ness to Geary Streets called the Tenderloin.
Finnius "Foxie" Gannon was six feet tall, weighed about two hundred pounds, had a ruddy
complexion from high blood pressure, and had penetrating steel gray eyes. Foxy had
earned his nickname for being clever and quick thinking. He could talk his way out of any
situation. Clarence Joseph "C.J." O’Gredy was six foot two, weighed about two hundred
twenty pounds, and had short black hair that he cut with a comb and a razor. C.J. was
Marine during the war in the Pacific and was hit with grenade fragments. He had a jagged
scar on the right side of his face that ran from below his eye to his chin. Part of his right
eyebrow was missing, and his right arm had been peppered with fragments. When you
saw C.J. the first time, you never forgot his face. Before he joined the police department he
had been a guard at Alcatraz.
The boys were on the take, and squeezed every hooker, pimp, player, pusher, and
snitch that lived or crawled in the alleys, flophouses, and bars of the forgotten part of the
city. The good fathers looked the other way because it was a necessary evil for sailors and
the slime of society. It was the low rent district where alcoholics, addicts, and hooker
roamed a jungle of crime and filth, with forgotten people living in oblivion. The boys made
the rounds every Monday morning and collected payment for looking the other way. The
bribe was called juice and collecting the money was called leaning or putting the touch on
a mark, the person getting squeezed. The lads put the money in safe deposit boxes
for their retirement. If one died in the line of duty, the survivor took all. It would be difficult
explaining to the widow that it was a bonus, and the police department would question
the money. They planned to open a bar with the money to supplement their pensions when
they retired in their fifties.
Their sons were in Jim’s class. St. Nick’s was on the fringe of the Tenderloin
district. Foxie and C.J. knew about Brother Joseph’s Friday night adventures as Joe the
English teacher. A couple of times the boys caught Joe before he fell into a compromising
position. Joe had a curiosity for black ladies. He would buy the ladies a few drinks, dance
and have a few laughs with them. One night a very attractive black lady entered the Blue
Note and sat alone. Joe was hypnotized. She smiled. He bought a drink and had the
bartender bring it to the lady. She smiled and offered a toast to him. He approached
her table. She smiled and offered Joe a seat. She said she was from Chicago, and her
name was Bobbie. She was a very feminine, had a nice figure, and beautiful eyes that
smiled. Joe bought a two rounds of drinks. The mysterious lady enjoyed his dancing and
his sense of humor. After a while Joe had had several drinks and was in overdrive. The
Queen of Spades invited Joe to her place, so they could get to know each other much
better. They arrived at her apartment on O’ Farrell Street. Bobbie’s perfume and sexy
body were erotic. Joe’s excitement grew with great expectations. They had a few more
drinks, and after long passionate kissing and touching, Joe discovered that she had the
same equipment as he. He was romancing a transvestite called the African Queen form
Hollywood. Not only was Joe shocked that she was a he, but that he realize the
embarrassment that he had fallen into. He sobered up quickly and was gathering his
clothes. He was about to leave the apartment when Foxie and C.J pounded on the door
and entered. They told Joe not to worry. The boys would take care of him and the black
fag. Foxie escorted Joe to the squad car. C.J. paid the queen fifty bucks and thanked her /
him for putting the hook in Joe. Their sons were getting by at school, and Brother Joseph
was an insurance policy if their sons had academic problems. They specialized in setting
up suckers. Brother Joseph and others were a collection of cards that Foxie and C.J.
arranged and played like their Saturday night poker games. They preyed on the weak.
Rich people owned most of the flophouses that the hookers used. A few were
owned by Judges. Foxie and C.J. kept records of who frequented the hookers. There
were bath houses where gay men met and made loved. A prominent supervisor at City
Hall enjoyed young Asian boys. Heroine was the drug most used to escape reality.
Musicians, Blacks, and anyone who could afford the price for a ticket to escape shot up.
Marijuana was starting to become popular. Servicemen and musicians smoked Panama
Red or Acapulco Gold. The pimps were starting to grow the stuff in their backyards. The
college crowd was discovering weed. It was an enterprising time for Foxie and C.J.. They
thought that if they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity someone else would. They
referred to it as ripe for the picking. Foxie always told the mark that his secret was safe
with them. It was comforting to know that the local police, who were stealing and extorting,
were honorable men.
Foxie was married, and his saintly Irish mother Colleen lived with him in the
basement of his house. He took good care of his family and went to church on Sunday
when he could. Foxie never paid for sex. He believed that any hooker on his beat was his
personal property. This upset the pimps who had a john on hold while Foxie was
banging the trick. Foxie enjoyed pissing off the pimps. There was a Black pimp who
was a weightlifter that Foxie called Hercules. A Black baseball player for the San
Francisco Giants was fond of blondes, one in particular called Marilyn. Hercules had a
stable of fillies who were named after movie stars. Foxie was costing Hercules money
and pissing off the athlete who was getting impatient. Hercules threw Foxie out of the
flophouse half-naked. Foxie got the license plate number of the 1963 red El Dorado
Cadillac and dressed in the alley.
The next day Foxie went to visit the athlete. The following week Foxie had box
seats to opening day for the Giants baseball game. Foxie arranged for the athlete to
donate tickets for Saturday afternoon bleacher seats for the Boy’s Club on South of
Market. The Boy’s Club spent the summer watching ball games.
C.J. was married, and had a boy and a girl. His wife was Protestant and raised
her daughter as a Protestant. C.J. was Catholic and raised Ed as one, but never went to
church. Sundays were days to recuperate after a long Saturday night poker game with
the guys at Station Ten. They would play cards from six at night to sunrise on Sunday. The
local bar that they squeezed provided roast beef sandwiches, beer and cigars. The other
guys knew what Foxie and C.J. were doing. These Officers had squeezed a few marks as
well. The cops had a code of silence. Most of these men had served in the Marine Corps
and considered themselves above the law. They performed a service protecting society
from the crud that lived down there. C.J. despised the filth that he encountered. It
bothered him that Foxie frequented the hookers. Foxie was also a partner with some of the
drug lords in Chinatown, cultivating the new drug of choice, marijuana.
There was a vacant lot across the street from the police station that Foxie and the
drug lords used it to grow marijuana. Most folks didn’t know about marijuana or what the
plant looked like. Foxie convinced the chief that poor Chinese were growing the plants for
herbal medicine. It was good community relations with Chinatown, and Foxie got a citation
for his community service. This made C.J. very uncomfortable. They had a good thing
going, and Foxie was getting sloppy. He told C.J. that he would be careful. Foxie visited
the baseball player again, and was able to get jobs for his son Ted and C.J.’s son Ed
selling programs at Candlestick Park when the baseball season began in April of 63. C.J.
no longer enjoyed a policeman’s adventurous life like Foxie. C.J. lived quietly and
Foxie enjoyed the good things in life. He was the first in the neighborhood to buy a
color television. Foxie drove a Buick when everyone else drove a Ford or Chevrolet.
Ted and Ed always had money and nice clothes. During Ed’s first two years at St. Nick’s
he sold beer, cigarettes and firecrackers with John and Lonnie. Things always came easy
for Ted and Ed. C.J bought a new set of Ludwig drums at Christmas for Ed. Ted, Ed, Mike
O’Brien and Jack Lawson started a band. Surfing music was popular in the early sixties.
The lads had dreams of being like the Beach Boys. Ed played drums, Ted played bass
guitar, Mike played rhythm guitar, and Jack played lead guitar. They couldn’t think of a
name for the band. Finally they agreed to call themselves "The Uncalled Four." They
started playing at the same time, but during the song Ed played faster, then slower. Jack
never played any song the same way twice. After a month Foxie’s mother complained
about the noise in the basement. They started playing in Ed’s basement. C.J. did not
appreciate the noise on Sunday mornings while nursing a hangover. After two months the
band broke up because they had no place to practice, and they never agreed who was the
leader of the band. A five hundred dollar set of drums sat in Ed’s basement collecting dust.
Ed was a friend of Jim’s and hung out on 23rd Street. Ted hung out with the guys
at Upper Douglas and was a casual friend in Jim’s class. The Irish were close and didn’t
trust others. Jim always liked Foxie because he was friendly and looked out for the
neighborhood. He found lost bicycles, and always had extra tickets to baseball games.
Foxie volunteered for church benefits and helped with the summer bazaar. There was a
vacant lot behind the neighborhood homes. Sometime a neighbor had problems with
gophers in his backyard. Foxie would sit by the gopher hole with a beer and his 45-caliber
gun. He enjoyed the way the gopher’s head exploded when it was shot. C.J. spent most of
his time sitting alone in the living room watching television and drinking Coor’s beer. C.J.’s
wife and daughter spent little time with him. He never smiled and was comfortable by
himself with a Coors. When you looked as bad as he did it was hard to smile.
Most of Jim’s friends thought less of him because he had a Mexican girl friend. They
kept their distance from him at school and in the neighborhood. St. Philip’s parish was Irish
and Italian. St. James’ Parish was predominately Mexican. If Jim took Lupe to St. Philip’s
Church, she would notice the cold and unwelcome treatment by the others. Jim no longer
needed shallow friends. He considered Papas a good friend. He occasionally visited the
guys in the Alley. Most of his time was spent with Lupe.
He though that if he wrote a poem on parchment paper and gave it to her for
Valentine’s Day, she would appreciate the effort. All he had to do was write a poem. He
needed help. The next Monday Jim went to City of Paris to visit Mr. Crenshaw. He was
friendly and helpful to Jim. He bought a fountain pen, a bottle of blue ink, and five sheets
of parchment paper. Mr. Crenshaw asked him to pick out a Valentine’s card. If the day
before Valentine’s Day he hadn’t written a poem, he could give Lupe the card. If Jim wrote
a poem, he could enclose it in the card. Those guys from UCLA were smart.
While Jim was at the City of Paris he noticed a new collection of cordial glasses
imported from Italy. They were tiny three ounce glasses made of lead crystal for after
dinner Liqueur. The glasses had long slender stems with round bottoms. They were
handmade and each was slightly different than the others. The tops of the glasses were
decorated in gold leaf. They were ornate and came in a set of six. Mr. Crenshaw bought
the glasses for Jim's mother’s birthday in April and saved twenty-five percent. Mr.
Crenshaw offered to hold the glasses until the end of March. Mary collected tiny cups
and saucers. The glasses would look good in her china cabinet. Jim bought Valentine’s
Day cards for his mother, Rosa, and Lupe just in case. All Jim needed was inspiration.
More next week...