St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
It was Saturday, the day after Valentine's Day and Jim's mother Mary was washing
the stairs. Jim was walking up Sanchez Street towards their house.
"Go through the garage. The stairs are wet. You got a phone call from a Mr.
Anconi. He's an accordion teacher. He left his phone number.. You aren't thinking of
playing the accordion again?" asked a perplexed Mary.
"Heck no, Mom. Three years was enough," said a surprised Jim.
Jim walked through the garage and up the back stairs to the porch. He
opened the screen door and entered the kitchen. He got a coke from the refrigerator,
and sat down at the oak kitchen table. He thought,” Why would an accordion teacher
want to talk to me?” A note on the table had a name and a phone number: Mr. Anconi,
Cortland 5-2720. Jim dialed the number. It rang three times. Then an old man’s voice
spoke slowly with a strong Italian accent.
“Hello, Mr. Anconi?”
“My name is Jim Ciaffi. You called?”
“Ya. I’m member of da Sons of Italy. You aska about a scholarship. No?”
“Yes, I did.”
“You come by my place on Mission and Cortland. We’ll talk…..four o’clock
“Sure. I’ll see you at four tomorrow. What’s the address?”
“You go Mission and Cortland, on the corner, Anconi’s Accordions. okay.”
“Okay. Goo by.”
“Good-bye, Mr. Anconi.”
Jim’s mother walked into the kitchen. “Who was that?"
“Mr. Anconi. He’s with the Sons of Italy and he has information about a scholarship.
I have to meet him tomorrow after school at his store on Mission and Cortland.”
“Is this a student loan?”
“No. It’s a gift. They give scholarships to those who qualify with grade average,
citizenship, and an essay about why you think you qualify.”
Thursday dinners were pasta with a salad and during dinner Jim explained to his
parents that he had a chance to go to Santa Clara. He told them about Henry at the
drugstore offering his help to get an athletic scholarship. The tuition at Santa Clara was
$1,000 a year, plus books and other fees. Jim had saved $7,000 from his summer
fishing job, and he could pay for Santa Clara, but he wanted to save the money for a down
payment on a house when he graduated from college and married Lupe. It was the
competition for the scholarship that aroused him. If he could get a free ride at Santa
Clara, that would be as good as a championship. He would trade his varsity
championships in football and baseball for a year at Santa Clara.
“You have the money to pay for college. Don’t you think that money should go to
someone who really needs it?” asked Joe.
“I might get an athletic scholarship, Dad.”
“Are you good enough for one? You were all-city as a fullback, but baseball is
“I’m going to lose some weight and spend time running. I can hit, I didn’t make
many errors last year, and I’ve got a good arm. I need to get in baseball shape start
“Well, son, your mom and I wish you good luck. Remember, we will help you with
your college expenses. Are you going to buy a car to drive to college? What kind of a
car are you thinking of getting?”
“I was thinking of getting a Volkswagen.”
“There so small. A strong wind will blow you off the road,” said Mary with a
“Well, if you ever run out of gas, you can always carry it to the nearest gas station,”
said Joe with a smile.
“Brand new they’re less than $1800. A used one, say four years old, might sell for
about $900. I just need something to go to school and back, nothing fancy,” said Jim.
“Tell ya what, if you get the scholarship to Santa Clara, we pay for the car. Deal?”
After dinner Jim walked to Lupe’s house. She greeted him with a loving hug. They
sat in the living room. Jim was filled with good news and he quickly began telling her all of
the details of the day’s events.
“How’s my Angel?”
“Fine, Cookie. How’s my guy?”
“Great. I got a phone call from a member of the Sons of Italy. His name is Mr.
Anconi, an accordion teacher. I’ll see him tomorrow at four. When I’m finished I’ll meet
you at City of Paris,” said Jim quickly.
“Slow down, Cookie. What’s it all about?”
“I’m going to see Mr. Anconi about information for a scholarship for Santa Clara.
When I’m finished I’ll meet you and we’ll talk.”
Lupe could see that Jim was excited and she hoped that he wouldn’t get
disappointed if things didn’t go his way.
“This really means a lot to you, doesn’t it?”
“I’m starting to believe that I can go there on my grades and SAT. If I can qualify for
a scholarship, that would be great.”
“It’s about academics, it’s about being smart enough, good enough, it’s…..”
Lupe interrupted. “It’s about Sister Rose. You are still trying to prove her wrong.
One of the reasons you made it this far is because you believed that you weren’t good
enough. You were outlaws. When will you stop thinking like an outlaw? When do you
become good enough? When does it end?” asked Lupe.
“I don't know. I’ll always try to improve. If I can go to Santa Clara and graduate,
then the next challenge will be getting a good job.” He was upset that Lupe had mentioned
“You said that you could walk away from football. Can you walk away from Sister
Rose and the Outlaws? Do you realize that they’re in the past now? I’m here now, and
in your future.”
“That’s all I want Angel. I’ve been lost lately. Thanks for finding me. Thanks for
always being there. I love you more than I can say. I just want the best for us.”
They sat in silence. Jim held Lupe and thought that he had had good news. Since
Valentine’s Day Lupe had been puncturing his dreams about Santa Clara. One thing that
Lupe said was true. When would he put Sister Rose to rest? Jim had spent all his life
trying to prove that he would be good enough some day. It was time to go forward with his
life with Lupe. It wasn’t that complicated, just take care of the one person who loved and
believed in him.
Luphe looked at Jim, smiled, and said softly, “I love you today and every day that I
have spent with you. I love you today and every day that I will spend with you in the
future. That’s all I have, my love for only you.”
“It’s more than I deserve.”
They were interrupted when they heard scratching on the porch door. “Is that you
Scraps?” Lupe got up and left Jim sitting on the sofa. She opened the porch door and a
large wooly ball fell in at her feet. Scraps was a stray cat that knew who to visit when it
was dinner time. He stretched his body with his tail pointing straight up and began to
stretch his paws as if clawing and pushing. He rubbed against Lupe’s legs and started to
purr. “Hello, Scraps. Are you glad to see me?” Lupe petted the cat ‘s head. Scraps fell to
the ground and lay on his back. Lupe rubbed his tummy and Scraps was floating to kitty
heaven. Jim walked in and saw a lucky cat. Lupe had two bowls, one for water and one
with leftovers, rice with beans and some vegetables.
“No chili sauce ?” asked Jim.
“I never thought of that.” She splashed a couple of drops of red Mexican fire and
mixed it into the vegetables. Scraps dove in proving that he was truly a Mexican cat. Jim
had met his match. Scraps could handle hot sauce better than he could.
When Scraps finished the meal he thanked Lupe by rubbing against her legs and
purring. He looked like he was prancing. Then he scratched on the porch door. Lupe
opened the door. Scraps turned, licked his mouth, and said, “Adios,” and jumped the
fence looking for adventure.
“How long have you been feeding him?”
“About six months. He comes by at five each night and eats scraps.”
“If he knows when it’s five, I’d call him Timex, not Scraps.”
“You’re jealous because he can eat hot sauce and you can’t.” They laughed.
An hour passed and Rosa came home from visiting her elderly lady friend. Jim
said good night to both of his special ladies. He walked up Liberty Street and turned on
Sanchez, and walked down the hill to his home. When he arrived at Alvarado Street he
saw the house that Lucy had once lived in and wondered how she was doing in Los
Angeles. He crossed the street and passed the bushes by Mrs. Fox’s home where he
hid his clothes the night of the fight on Vicksberg Street.
Jim sat on his stairs for a while filled with memories. He opened his wallet and
removed an old wrinkled piece of paper that he had carried it in his wallet for five and a
half years. It was a note from Sister Rose to Jim’s parents written in the seventh grade to
inform Jim’s parents that he was not doing well in school and that Jim’s parents should
consider transferring him to a trade school because he would never make it through high
school. Jim’s parents never saw the note because he had forged his mother’s name and
gave the note to Sister Rose, who was satisfied that she had given her opinion and
thought that the note was signed by Jim’s mother. Sister Rose had told Jim, “I can throw
away this signed note, and know that I was right, or you can take it, and some day give it
to me, proving me wrong.” Jim had taken the note and had made a vow to prove her
wrong. He now realized that it no longer mattered what Sister Rose thought. Jim threw
away the note in the garbage can by the side of his house. He felt free of the past, the
lonely days of hurt, and all of the days he had silently suffering from her cruel treatment.
Her ghost had departed and he sat on the stairs for a while. The door opened. “Are you
okay? It’s dinner time,” said Mary.
“Yeah Mom, I was just looking at all of the stars in the sky. Brother Daniel said
that each star might be a galaxy. It’s hard to believed that there are other solar systems
besides ours. We’re just a grain of sand on a large beach,” said Jim
Jim went in and ate dinner with his parents. After dinner Joe read the newspaper
while Mary washed the dishes. Later they watched television. Jim did his homework and
saw some television before going to bed. He lay awake thinking of the vastness of the
galaxy. He felt as insignificant as a grain of sand on the beach of life. It hurt Jim to see
Lupe cry. It was time to be a man, the man that Lupe loved and believed in. It was time to
take care of his lady.
The next afternoon when Jim left school he was preoccupied with what Lupe and he
had discussed. Jim walked down the hill on Ellis Street to Van Ness and wondered if he
would have to surrender Santa Clara while he waited for the 47 bus. He had to know if he
was good enough to go to the University of Santa Clara. If he graduated from Santa Clara,
it would benefit Lupe and him and in time she would understand. Jim got on the bus and
transferred to the 14 bus at Mission Street. He arrived at Mission and Cortland and the
bus drove off. Anconi's Accordions was a faded storefront with old withered blinds and
sagging curtains that hung in a slouch. Jim walked cross the street, and stared at the
accordions on display, and recalled the three years that he played the accordion
beginning when he was eight.
Jim's grandfather had played the concertina and his dad would have liked to play
the accordion, so Jim was elected to play for both. He played songs like “Under the
Double Eagle March”, “Peg of My Heart”, and “Vieni Su Mar: Come to the Sea”, a
traditional Italian song. Each Tuesday night Jim had gone to Mr. Paginelli's home for a
one-hour lesson. Jim played a Scanolli made in Italy with four octaves. It weight about 25
pounds, and was red with gold trim with white and black ivory keys. Mercifully when Jim
discovered baseball and rock n’ roll, his accordion days faded away. When Jim asked Mr.
Paginelli for the sheet music for “Hound Dog”, that put a bullet right between the eyes of
An old man stood by the door admiring Jim looking at the accordions. Jim noticed
the old man offering to open the door and approached the doorway. Mr. Anconi was in his
late sixties, and had a white mustache. He was bald on top, with short white hair on the
sides, and wore spectacles. Mr. Anconi opened the door.
‘“A’low. Come in.” said Mr. Anconi.
“Nice to meet you Mr. Anconi,” said Jim politely. He extended his hand and Mr.
Anconi gave a weak hand shake.
“Setasi qui, sit here.” Mr. Anconi sat by his desk and Jim sat facing him.
“Thank you. I used to play the accordion once.”
“I know. I taught Paginelli how to play the accordion, long time ago. 1954 you
played at the Sons of Italy Hall on Columbus. I was there. I see you play. You good for a
Jim looked surprised. “That was ten years ago. I came in fourth place. No red
“I liked the way you played the old Italian songs.”
“Thanks. My Grandfather helped me.”
“You wanta go to college?”
“Yes, Mr. Anconi.”
“What you going to study?”
“Finance and Business Law.”
Mr. Anconi stopped talking and looked at him for awhile. Jim started to feel
uncomfortable. It seemed like a long minute passed, then Mr. Anconi continued, “I know
you grandpa, Luigi.”
“You did? How?”
“We came from Torbigo. I knew Tilio. We worked in coal mines in Illinois...”
Mr. Anconi paused, then continued “ …for ten years. I knew you grandma first, but she
married Luigi. My lungs got bad from the coal dust, so I quit. I went California. I teach
the accordion. Four years later I see you grandpa at the Italian Club on Columbus.”
“How do you know about me?”
“You grandma, grandpa, and me were friends until 1956 when she died.”
“I don’t remember you at the funeral.”
“I didn’t go. I loved you grandma, but didn’t show my feelings. She liked me, but
you grandpa asked for marriage first. After they married, I went to San Francisco. When
she die, I didn’t visit Luigi no more.”
“Did you marry?”
“But how do you know about me?”
“I saw pictures of you at their house. Then I saw you at the Sons of Italy. Now I
see you all-city football in the newspaper. You did okay.”
“Thank you, Mr. Anconi.”
“I sponsor you, like Confirmation. I’ll stand for you. You apply, write essay why
you want to go to college, what you going to do for the Italian community. They pick two,
one guy who’s poor and one guy who’s good in sports, like you.”
“Where do I go to get the application, Mr. Anconi?”
Mr. Anconi pulled the middle drawer open from his desk and got a large tan
envelope and handed it to Jim. “You read and answer it, then bring it back next Friday.
Same time. We’ll talk, okay?”
“Sure Mr. Anconi. I’ll see you next Friday, same time. Thanks. Thanks a lot,”
Jim said with excitement. He shook Mr. Anconi’s hand and jarred his spectacles. Mr.
Anconi smiled and rearranged his glasses.
Jim got on the 14 bus and sat in the back. He opened the tan envelope that had a
three page application for a scholarship with the Sons of Italy. He read the instructions
and almost missed his stop to get the 22 Hoffman bus. Jim got off at Dolores Street and
walked to Liberty Street. He sat on the steps at Lupe’s apartment and waited for her to
come home from her saleslady job at City of Paris. It was about 6:30 and Jim was numb
with joy and surprise. He had a good chance to get the scholarship with Mr. Anconi’s help.
What a coincidence that Mr. Anconi and his grandpa were friends, and knew Jim’s family.
Events were starting to come together and Jim had to seize the moment and capture his
More next week...