St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
It was Christmas break 1961, and Jim was fortunate enough to find a part time
job during the holidays. Papas was a friend who lived in the neighborhood, and told Jim
that United Parcel hired part time help during the Christmas holidays. Papas was a year
older than Jim. He was a tackle on the varsity football team at Mission High School. He
was six-three, weighted 245, and he was a good athlete. He also played baseball as a
catcher and was a forward on the basketball team. Papas was agile for a big man. They
had met in soph/frosh football, battled all day, and later became friends. They went to
the UPS Distribution Center at 16th and Potrero. It was located in one of the poorer
neighborhoods of San Francisco. They were a little nervous because it was Bart territory.
Barts always traveled in gangs ten to twenty guys with knives and chains. They used the
chain as a belt, and whipped it out when a fight began. If a Bart lost a fight he would come
back that night with a large group of guys to get even. Barts were very macho, and very
chicken shit. Fifty against two was no match. Other gangs like the Chariots or Argyles
acknowledged the unwritten laws of street fighting. If two guys squared off, it was their
fight. No one interfered. When one guy gave up or could not get up, the fight was over.
The winner walked away. If you beat up a guy on his turf, you left quickly. Never brag,
because next time it might be you on the ground not walking away.
Jim and Papas applied for Christmas jobs, and were hired because of their strength.
They met at six in the morning at 23rd and Church each day, took the J trolley to 18th
street and transferred to the 33 Collingwood bus, got off at Potrero Street, and walked to
16th Street. They loaded and unload trucks all day for $2.75 per hour. It was a good wage
because they were members of Teamster Local 15. Union dues were taken from their
paychecks and the shop steward got "grease." If one needed the shop steward to do
something, one needed grease to make things go smoothly. If the shop steward needed a
weekend crew, that paid double time on Saturday and triple time on Sunday, the shop
steward was given consideration, grease, at $1.00 per hour worked. The shop steward
liked pies, cakes and tickets to baseball games. He was absolute God. He was the one
who determined if your children went to Catholic school, or if you bought a new car, or
stayed on the job. His name was Tony Cerrutti. The workers called him Tony Pull,
because he pulled all of the strings. Papas and Jim worked there only three weeks, but it
seemed like three months. Papas was Greek, and his mother believed that her growing
boy needed to eat well. Papas ate French bread sandwiches that had to held with two
hands so that all of the meat wouldn’t fall out. He drank a quart of milk, had a piece of
fruit, and a slice of homemade cake or pie. Quickly, Tony Pull discovered how good Mrs.
Papas’ pies and cakes tasted. Papas had more than enough grease for Tony Pull.
After a couple days they became familiar with the routine and who to trust.
The trucks docked at unloading bays that had a hole with a slide were the packages were
thrown into, and slid down to be routed in the basement. An old timer was called a Temo.
The new men were called Lumpers, and did all of the heavy work. They unloaded trucks
and carried boxes weighting 50-70 pounds. A couple of wise guys told them to spend all
day in the hole routing packages. The lads found out that they rotated crews every two
hours because of the roar of the conveyer machinery. The next day Tony Pull noticed
Papas with a huge piece of chocolate cake. Papas gave half to Tony Pull. Each day
Papas brought a brown bag with cake, pie, or Greek pastries for Tony Pull. Papas started
working light duty, driving a forklift. On Fridays Papas brought two brown bags. He gave
one to Tony Pull and one for Jim to give to Tony, so Jim could work overtime on the
weekends. Papas was a true friend, and his mother was a saint. After a week, they were
transferred to swing shift and they were paid ten percent more per hour differential. They
December 23rd was their last night working swing shift. The 24th they worked half a
day and were paid for a full days work. Christmas was more grease. Everyone brought
Tony Pull bottles of whiskey and Papas brought a chocolate cake. Jim bought a bottle of
Jack Daniels from Chen Fong. Tony Pull asked Papas if he was interested in working the
summer at UPS. Papas said yes and asked if Jim could sign on. Tony remembered the
large bottle of Jack Daniels Jim gave him, and said, "Sure, why not."
"Man, three bucks an hour. Fat city, here we come," said Jim and shook hands with
Papas, then Tony Pull.
They left work feeling pretty good. The old timers gave Papas and Jim a couple
of boilermakers to help them get into the Christmas spirit : pints of ale with two-ounce
jiggers of 100 proof Wild Turkey whiskey. The lads got on the bus with red faces and a
bad case of the giggles. Papas thought a high school girl was interested in him because
she couldn’t stop staring at him. It wasn’t his good looks that intrigued the girl, his zipper
was undone exposing his red Pokka dot shorts. Papas was trendsetter and a heartbreaker.
When they got off the J trolley, there was a crowd, policemen, and two ambulances
in front of Shoey's house. One of the ambulances was from the Coroner's Office. Two men
were carrying a black body bag. Then a stretcher followed with someone in convulsions
strapped with belts and shaking wildly. Jim asked a neighbor what had happened. They
were told that Shoey and Leroy Kick had been drinking. They had put one bullet in a gun
and were playing Russian roulette. Leroy ran out of luck when he put the gun in his mouth
and blew a hole out of the back of his head. Shoey went berserk. Leroy was his best
friend and both were certifiably crazy. They had experimented with drugs and alcohol. This
time Leroy and Shoey had taken a new drug that they were not familiar with called LSD. It
was Christmas Eve and someone had to tell Mrs. Kick that her son wasn’t coming home.
Someone had to tell Leroy's pregnant girl friend that she was a single mother. Leroy and
Shoey were destined for tragedy.
Jim hated Shoey and hoped he would roast in Hell. Shoey had jumped Jim once
with five other guys. They threw Jim into a phone booth and took turns hitting and kicking
him. Then Shoey walked into the phone booth. He grabbed Jim with one hand and put a
switchblade knife to his face. Shoey enjoyed watching Jim sweat. He laughed like a crazy
man and motioned like he was going to cut his throat. He was so wired from drugs, Jim
thought his eyes would explode out of his head. Shoey was in overdrive and took a crap
in his pants. He didn’t care that he stunk up the tiny phone booth. The smell was bad
adding to Jim’s misery. He never forgot that night, and he wanted to get even. Shoey’s
mind had snapped, and he was sent to a metal hospital in Napa in the wine country of
California where he spent the rest of his life talking to Leroy and Jesus Christ. He resided
in a black hole in Hell and never saw the light of day.
Christmas passed and the neighbors were still talking about Leroy and Shoey. On
New Years Day there was a story in the newspaper about a man who was hit by the trolley
at Dolores and 20th New Years Eve. As youngsters Jim and the neighborhood kids always
walked along the trolley tracks and stood in the middle when two trolleys passed on either
side. They thought that was fun scaring the hell out of the conductor. A man had been
beaten and robbed. He staggered to get off the tracks, but was too weak and passed
out. The J Church was traveling down hill into a quick right turn. It was too late. The man
sat up as the trolley hit him and dragged him forty feet before it stopped. Tragedy
had struck again during the holidays.
A couple of weeks passed and a bum turned in the dead man's wallet, thinking
that he would get a reward. The bum was resting in bushes at Dolores Park when he
heard some high school boys approaching. The victim was waiting for the trolley when the
three boys demanded his wallet. The man refused. The two tall boys began hitting the
man. He fell to the ground and the two boys kicked him several times. The man lay
moaning in pain and semi conscience. The younger boy yelled, “Stop it!" The husky boy
took the man’s wallet. He told the younger boy to shut up and raised his hand towards the
younger boy. The younger boy looked scared. “Don’t hit my brother,” said the slender tall
The husky boy starred at the slender tall boy. The man lay motionless at their feet.
The Husky boy opened the wallet and found $3.00. “Shit!” This pissed off the two tall boys
who were drunk. The man half dazed started to get up. The two tall boys began kicking the
man again in frustration, yelling, “Three fuckin’ dollars. Shit !”
The man fell, hitting his head on the rail of the track. The older boy took the $3.00
and threw the wallet into the bushes. The younger boy wanted to help the man off the
tracks. “Leave ’em,” said the husky boy.
The two older boys started to walk away. The younger boy looked at the man laying
on the tracks and felt guilty. The inbound J trolley was approaching, so the boys ran away.
They had to find a liquor store to buy more beer to drown a botched attempt with their first
The bum saw the man get up and began walking. He didn’t see the man collapse
further up the tracks, where there are quick downhill turns. The bum continued enjoying his
bottle of Muscatel wine. Later he heard the screech of the brakes from the outbound
trolley. There was a full moon. The bum looked at his watch. It was 11:30PM. He walked
to the next corner and saw a sight he will never forget. The man had been dragged for
forty feet and was slumped in a crumpled bloody ball at the base of the trolley. The Police
came and began to investigate the accident. The bum went back to his special place in
Dolores Park to hide. The next morning the bum found the dead mans wallet in the
bushes. There was a picture of the dead man's wife and son. Behind the drivers license
was a folded twenty-dollar bill, two weeks of Muscatel wine. The twenty dollars was drunk
in a week. The bum sobered up and was consumed with guilt, so he went to the Police
Station on 18th and Valencia streets.
The Police got a description of the three boys. The bum explained that two of the
boys wore red jackets with white leather sleeves, maybe a Catholic high school jacket. The
younger boy played basketball at the park often. The bum had seen him two days ago
standing at the trolley stop, not taking the trolley when it came.
The Police observed the park and trolley stop. A week later the younger boy came
after school to play basketball. The bum was with the Police and identified the boy. As the
Police approached the younger boy, he panicked and began to run. An undercover
Policeman wearing old clothes caught him. The younger boy was taken to Juvenile Hall for
questioning. He told the Police that his name was Kevin. He could no longer hold the guilt,
fear, and anxiety that had been bottled up in him for almost three weeks. He burst with
emotion and began to cry. He had difficulty talking. Kevin finally explained that his brother
and the other guy were the ones who had beaten up the man and taken his wallet. When
they left they saw the man get up and walk away. He was just tagging along and wasn’t
drinking like the other two. He was a sophomore at Saint Ignatius and on the honor roll.
He had spent a year at St. Joseph's Seminary to see if he really had a calling to become a
priest. His brother, Pat was a junior at Saint Ignatius and also on the honor roll. All three
were altar boys at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church on 18th and Collingwood Streets. The
Husky boy Chris was a junior at Saint Ignatius and an All-City baseball player who was
being considered for an athletic scholarship at the University of California, at Berkeley. Pat
and Kevin were the sons of Mrs. Kenny. Her husband was a fireman, who had died
fighting a chemical warehouse fire. She was very proud of her two boys and how well she
had raised them on her own. Now the past no longer mattered. Only God knew the future.
The three boys were tried as adults and were found guilty of manslaughter. The
two older boys were sentenced to twenty years at the Vacaville facility. The younger boy
was sentenced to ten years at the Chino facility as an accessory to a felony. The bum was
sentenced to three month in county jail for withholding evidence. He didn’t mind. It was
three meals a day and a bed during winter. The man who was killed had been having an
affair for about a year with another woman. Earlier that evening he had explained to the
other lady that he would leave his wife and join her New Years Eve. This all came to light
when two ladies claimed the dead man's body.
In one quick moment, coming out of a blind turn, the J trolley eradicated four lives
and the dreams of two women. The three boys dropped out of Saint Ignatius, never to
graduate from the elite Jesuit high school. Their lives scarred as felons, never achieving
their dreams as a businessman, a lawyer, and possible pro baseball player. The other
lady expecting a new life only to find out that it had vanished. And Mrs. Kenny, the proud
Irish lady who had two sons at S.I. on the Dean's Academic List had dreams when one son
would become a lawyer and the other a banker. When Jim was twelve years old, he
delivered the afternoon newspaper to the Kenny's and others along Castro Street. Her
sons always gave Jim a bad time when he delivered newspapers on their block. They had
an attitude that they were better.
Life was a gift one moment and a memory the next. There was a balance to life,
some on the upside and others on the downside, always-changing position. Was there
any place in the world that was less tragic? When Jim turned on the television and saw the
daily horror of Vietnam, he though, "Be thankful that you have today. Be thankful for what
you have." Jim had seen a dead young Vietnamese boy on television with his dog licking
his face, hoping that the boy would awake from his sleep. The boy was maybe seven
years old, a victim of a war that did not pertain to him. Jim sometimes wondered about
God. How could God allow such tragedy and suffering? How could God be a God of love?
Was it wrong for Jim to doubt God? Would God punish him for doubting him? Did these
victims doubt God and were therefore punished? There were too many thoughts filling his
head. He wondered why he just couldn’t accept fate as others. Why would he always
question things and not accept things at face value? Was there some tragedy lurking in
Jim’s future? Only God knows.
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