St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
It was Thursday 11:18 in the morning, November 22nd, 1963, and the world
stopped spinning. The seniors had just walked into the cafeteria, and an announcement
came over the public address system, “The President of the United States was shot in
Dallas, Texas, this morning.” There was shock and denial. “No. Oh my God.” There
was silence for an eternity. No one moved or spoke. No one ate or cared to be served.
The ladies who worked in the cafeteria began to cry. Brother Malkey said, ”Let us pray.”
They forgot about lunch and started saying the rosary. Then the public address system
was broadcasting the news from KCBS radio in San Francisco. Walter Cronkite spoke
and they listened to Camelot dissolve. Everyone had lost something precious that day,
a dream they had, a vision of what they believed America would become. Then the
announcement that confirmed their worst fears: the President was dead. Horror sunk in,
and fear grabbed them for a moment. What would happen next? Was this the beginning of
world war? Jim wanted to be with Lupe. Brother Justin made an announcement and told
everyone to go home. There would be no class on Friday. St. Nick's last football game
against Balboa was canceled. The championship game on Thanksgiving Day, the plans
that Lupe and Jim had made, and life as they knew was a blur on the horizon. If there was
a war, Jim would join the Marine Corps. The world had stopped spinning and everything
had fallen into a black hole in space.
Jim left school, and went to Mission Dolores High School. Lupe had left, so he
walked to her apartment. She opened the door and said,” He’s dead. They shot him.”
They hugged, then they walked into the living room.
"I never liked guns. After the shooting at Pete’s, and today, he hated guns even
more,” said Jim. Lupe and Jim sat by the television in disbelief. She watched and could
not top crying. Jim called his mother and told her he was with Lupe. An hour later Rosa
came home, and they just sat and watched in horror. It was too depressing for Jim, so he
went for a walk. The sudden lack of control in his life bothered him and the idea that he
that he might have to quit school and go to war scared him.
Jim went to the Alley and sat with some of the guys. He needed something and
smoked a cigarette, and that eased the pain a little. He drank a couple of beers with the
guys, and they talked about joining the Marines or the Army. Bordi, Calfas, and Jim
got in Cowens’ car and drove around the city. It was quiet. There were a few cars on
the streets, and fewer people. It was like the movie On the Beach, the last days of life,
because of nuclear war. The movie depicted loneliness and doom. San Francisco was
loneliness and doom that Thursday afternoon. Uncertainty hug in the air.
That night Jim lay in bed and realized that he had no control of his life. His
parents had gone through the same experience with World War II and the Depression.
Brother Mathew was right. Time was not motion, but change. This was a radical change
for him. The next morning he stayed at home with his mother. The news said that one
man had killed the President. A lone gunman had assassinated their dreams and hopes.
Jim went to see Lupe in the afternoon. He told her that it appeared that there wouldn’t be
a threat of war. One man had terminated Camelot. The television stations kept showing
footage of John Kennedy when he was alive. It was sad watching the young President
playing with his young children. It was hard to accept that The President was dead. Like a
candle being extinguished, their prayers and hopes went like smoke to heaven. Life had a
cruel way of reminding them how frail they were. Life seemed like a flickering candle flame
that slowly became a glimmer, then extinguished into the cold black remnants of a wick.
On Sunday Lupe and Jim went to St. James Church to attend a High Mass at 10:30
for the repose of the soul of the President. They prayed for strength and guidance for their
country and new President, Lyndon Johnson. Jim signed up with Catholic Charities to
work as a volunteer with Lupe and Rosa. Monday night they went to Safeway and
collected bread, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables. Then they divided the goods into boxes
with cans of vegetables, beans, fruit, and soups. Wednesday they would go to United
Grocers and collect more cans of food. Everyone worked hard, never stopped for a coffee
break, and enjoyed working for Catholic Charities. When Papas and Jim worked at UPS
during Christmas, all of the workers did as little as possible. Jim wasn’t impressed with
union workers or the rules of work. He quickly learned that the best and the worst were
paid the same with a union. He was with his two favorite ladies doing charitable work, and
that’s all that mattered.
Coach Kepen told the team that next Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, they would play
S.I. at Kezar Stadium for the city championship. When Jim heard the news he had that
cold feeling in his stomach again, similar to when he first considered the possibility of
going to war. Ice water flowed through his guts. 10,000 Apache Indians ran up and
down his intestines, yelling and screaming. It was War Week for the last time. This would
be the biggest game he would ever play, for the city championship, the elusive dream that
the team had chased for four years.
More next week...