St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
The forty days before Easter Sunday are referred to by the Catholic Church as
Lent. It is a solemn time to reflect, repent, and prepare for the spiritual coming of Jesus
Christ on Easter Sunday morning. The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday. Prior to the
sacrifice of Lent there are celebrations like Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Rio
de Janeiro, Brazil. They celebrate knowing that the next forty days are days of fast and
prayer. The word Carnival is from the Latin carni, meaning meat, referring to the last meat
until Easter Sunday. It’s like going on a binge before a diet. Ash Wednesday signifies that
all of God’s creatures die and become ashes once again. In the Middle Ages, holy men
wore sack gowns and cover themselves with ashes to signify repentance. Ash Wednesday
is a humble way to begin forty days of fast and prayer with the priest rubbing ashes on the
forehead of the faithful with his thumb. The faithful go to mass every day for forty days.
The nuns in grammar school and the brothers in high school demanded 100% attendance
at mass during Lent. Any student who missed a day at mass spent two days in jug. Any
student who was late for mass, spent one day in jug. Every Friday from two until three
o'clock in the afternoon it was the Stations of the Cross, consisting of prayer, singing, and
recalling the suffering Christ endured while carrying his cross prior to his crucifixion.
Lent was a demanding time of the year. School began at eight, but during Lent
the students met at seven, then walk two blocks to St. Mary's Cathedral for mass at
seven-fifteen. Mass lasted forty-five minutes and by eight-fifteen they were back in
homeroom. Breakfast was served during the ten minutes of homeroom. While Brother
Joseph was mumbling about coming events, the students ate a hot cross bun and drank
cartons of cold milk. They were reminded that Lent was a time of sacrifice. The more they
sacrificed the higher their place attained in heaven. Somehow that sounded like there
was discrimination in heaven. What would happen if one attained a lower place in
heaven? Possibly when a soul arrived in heaven, there was an angel who acted as an
agent to assist the soul in doing extra prayer so in time the less than soul could attain its
rightful place in heaven. Maybe that was why folks save Holy Cards. On the back of the
Holy Card was a Plenary Indulgence, a holy prayer said while alive that accrued grace
that was applied upon death to attain that higher loft in Heaven. It was like frequent
praying miles. It rained almost every day in March when the students walked to church.
Jim left for school earlier to attend mass and didn’t see Lucy beautiful smile.
Jim didn’t drink, smoke, or have the curiosity that others had for the opposite sex.
He started spending more time studying and lifting weights because of the constant rain
during March. He didn’t spend much time with the guys at Pete's Smoke Shop. He
enjoyed being by myself. He didn’t need someone to talk or have fun with. He began
reading about other religions and philosophies. Jim never believed that Catholics were the
only ones worthy of heaven. There were too many people believing in the Moslem,
Buddhist, and Hindu faiths. The Japanese religion was Shinto. Zen was a way of life that
Jim respected. The Catholic Church was a giant with great wealth, but in poor countries
like Mexico, they didn’t give humanitarian help. As kids in grammar school, they were
taught that all over the world there were pagan babies. The students gave their nickels and
dimes to help feed the pagan babies of the world. Now Jim was a sophomore and it
seemed that the plight of the pagan babies was getting worse. Something was wrong.
Each Sunday the priest asked for money. There was never enough money. Jim
was intimidated to fear God. He never felt like rejoicing as other friends who belonged to
other religions. John Carmack was a good friend of Jim’s who went to a public school.
John was a Baptist, and he invited Jim to his church. At first Jim felt intimidated by all of
the singing and fellowship. When the congregation left church they seemed so happy.
They were friendly to Jim though he was a stranger. A couple of weeks later at the
grocery store one of the young ladies from the Baptist church saw Jim and said hello. She
asked if he would consider going to her church again. Jim said he would, and she smiled.
She seemed so genuine, not like the freeze-dried virgins from teen club. Why was it a sin
to go to the service of another faith.
Jim felt that he was being pulled in different directions. His body was growing in
strength, and his mind was growing with knowledge. He felt different again. He spent too
much time alone, thinking, wondering why he was different. His stomach would twist in
knots. He didn’t feel comfortable with most of his classmate. He thought that they were
pursuing moments of pleasure and not achieving anything worthwhile that required effort.
The guys who chased girls, drank, and smoked were just getting by at school. The
realization of forty guys getting cut at the end of the freshman year was sobering. Forty
more would be cut at the end of the spring semester in June. Jim stayed within his world
and had a few good friends. Jim was more serious about things in life. Friendship was
sharing and trust. Jim’s best friend was Bob.
Bob's father was from Guatemala, a third generation coffee grower, living on a large
plantation. They had maids and each child had a horse for riding. His father had attended
the University of Miami for two years. When World War Two started, Bob's father went
back to Guatemala to help his parents manage the plantation.
After the war ended, Bob's father went back to Miami to continue his education. A
month later a lighting storm burned the coffee crop. Life as rich plantation owners quickly
ended. Bob's father had to quit school and returned to find that the plantation was going to
be sold at an auction. There was no time to restart what had taken years to cultivate. Bob's
grandfather was in poor health and the family needed money to pay recent expenses.
Bob’s father had two sisters. They quickly married men whose families were established
gentry. The night before Bob's father Edwardo was leaving for America to seek his fortune,
his sweetheart, Nina asked that Edwardo take her to America. Edwardo explained to Nina
that it would be a hard life, they would have to work for money and they would have to
learn a new language and culture. Nina was the daughter of a rich cattleman who had lived
a pampered life with maids. Nina left a note to her mother explaining that she and Edwardo
had eloped, and would start a new life in America.
When Edwardo and Nina arrived in America, they lived in the Spanish speaking part
of Miami. It was a ghetto for Central American refugees in late 1945. Most of the
merchants were from Cuba or Argentina. The food was different and Nina had never
cooked before. Edwardo and Nina lived in a two-room apartment on the third floor. They
found jobs through a friend at a mattress factory in Miami, Nina was a seamstress and
Edwardo worked in shipping. They saved their money and planned to move to California.
After the war in 1945 there were many jobs, better housing, and opportunity for
those willing to work in California. They settled in San Francisco. Finally they could
afford to get married, and started a family. Edwardo found a good job at the shipyards
as a welder. Bob’s parents went to school at night to improve their English and studied
for the citizenship test. A year later Bob was born. His sister Maria followed two years
later. Life was good.
Bob was a good student at Riordan High School for boys and Joan was an
excellent student at Star of the Sea High School for girls. They were confident about
their future. They went for long walks on Sunday after attending church. Students
bought bus passes from the Muni good for ten rides for fifty cents. A date was 20 cents
and a couple could discover Golden Gate Park, the Legion of Honor, or Fisherman's
Wharf. Joan's parents invited Bob's parents to Joan's birthday party. Joan's father was an
insurance agent for Allstate Insurance and Bob's father was a welder at the shipyards, but
they both enjoyed the San Francisco Forty-Niners and the Giants. They went to a couple
of games together and Joan went to be with Bob. She wanted to understand the games so
that she and Bob could share and enjoy everything they did together.
Three months had passed since Bob and Joan became acquainted at Jane
Harmon's party. One evening after dinner, Bob came by and asked if Jim was busy. He
always had time for Bob. Bob wanted to talk about the date he had with Joan and share
the moment with someone. He said that they gone to Golden Gate Park to the Hall of
Flowers and the Japanese Garden. Joan had asked for a coke. Bob watched Joan take a
big gulp and handed the bottle to him. Joan’s eyes had more intensity than before. Bob
took the bottle, but she held on briefly to get his attention. Bob took a big gulp and felt
Joan’s stare. They just looked at one another for a while. Nothing was said, but it was
implied that they had gone to the next level of the relationship. They had started holding
hands, but this sensation was unique. It was like a first kiss. Jim asked if they talked
about what they thought the intention demonstrated. Bob said, " Joan wanted to see if I
felt as she did. It was a sign that we’re becoming more than friends." Bob continued
his story. They were walking along the small pond in the Japanese garden. A gust
of wind unraveled Joan’s brown hair and had fallen over her right eye. Bob brushed it
away. She held this hand with both hands. They looked into each other's eyes and
he said, "Me too."
She replied, "Me too, you too."
Bob told Jim in that moment of discovery, he didn’t see anything around Joan,
only her. She said the same thing. Everything else disappeared and she felt that they
were the only two people in the world. Bob wanted to tell someone how happy he felt. Jim
was happy for Bob and Joan. Bob said he hoped that some day Jim would encounter the
special feeling of closeness and trust they shared. Jim teased Bob about being faithful.
"Soon Joan will put a ball and chain around your leg, “said Jim.
Bob laughed. Jim told Bob about the feeling he had with Lucy the first time their
eyes met. Bob looked surprised, then smiled, "You know what I am talking about."
"Yes, Bob, I do. I am very happy for you and Joan," said Jim
Bob and Jim became closer as friends. Jim suggested that Bob buy sweatshirts
of Mickey and Minnie Mouse for Joan and him. "Instead of a friendship ring, think of it as
friendship shirts," suggested Jim. It was a subtle way for Bob to show his commitment to
Joan. Jim called it the Courtship of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
It was Good Friday and Jim was in church observing the three hours that Jesus
Christ suffered on the cross for the sins of the world. It prepared good Catholics to
welcome the spiritual coming of Christ into their souls. Two ladies sat behind Jim, and
they were talking about some girl that had become pregnant and did not know who the
father was, because she had given herself to so many men. He thought this wasn’t the
proper place to be talking about such things. They enjoy talking about the girl. The girl
always was the damned one in society. It wasn’t fair. Two consenting people had joined in
the act. Jim was trying to concentrate on what the priest was saying about the suffering
that Jesus accepted for mankind’s sins. He had a problem with the logic. If Jesus is God
and if God knows all, why would he come as Jesus and die on the cross for sins that he
knew we would still commit in the future? We have free will, but God knows everything that
we have done and will do. Jim could accept the fact that Jesus came as man and died to
show his love for all, though all are weak and sinful. Jesus Christ must be very forgiving.
Jim thought that as Catholics they should help one another, be more forgiving, and
charitable to all less fortunate. They should be helping the pregnant girl, not enjoying her
The following week Bob and Jim were talking on the way home from the library. Bob
asked if Jim had heard about Gina. She was the pregnant girl that the ladies were talking
about. Gina was sexually active and was six months pregnant, but didn’t show it because
she was a slender Mexican girl. She had a problem with her complexion but was very easy
to get to know. Lonnie had known Gina for a month since the party. When Lonnie found
out that Gina was pregnant, he didn’t go to school for a week until their blood tests didn’t
match. Lonnie kept a low profile for a month at school and stayed home on the weekends
doing chores. Gina had entertained three gentlemen. One of them was Bill Hogan, who
had dropped out of school, and joined the Army. Hogan had completed basic training at
Fort Ord in Monterey, California, and had left for Vietnam. Lonnie had dodged a bullet, but
Bill Hogan was not so lucky. Hogan was killed after one week in Vietnam. One night on
patrol, while relieving himself, he was picked off by a sniper. They found him laying in his
defecation. Gina dropped out of school and moved to Bakersfield, California, to live with
her aunt. Two months later she was in an automobile accident when she was eight months
pregnant. She was sitting in the back seat not wearing a seat belt, and was thrown
forward, hitting the seat in front of her and inducing a miscarriage. The child would have
been a boy. Hogan was the father. Gina stayed in Bakersfield and was never heard of
again. Was it fate, bad luck, or divine intervention? The one thing that bothered Jim the
most about life was the total lack of control in governing his destiny. There were times
when he thought, what's the use? When all around him seemed to crumble and fall, he
would admire the Courtship of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. At least there was one good
thing in this crazy world that made sense. Jim saw Lucy occasionally at church or in the
neighborhood, and they smiled at one another. She was spending her time at her parents'
June 13 was the last day of the sophomore year. It would be the last day for forty
friends. Jim felt confident that he would survive the cut. He imagined the shame of getting
expelled and going to public school. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like telling his
father that he had failed. He could feel ice water flowing in his stomach again, and his guts
turned into knots. He went to the bathroom and sat bent over, waiting for the cramps to
end. It seemed that as Catholics, they were always suffering. If they were the chosen
ones, why did they suffer so much? How could a God of love create Bob and Joan, and
then allow the tragedy of Bill Hogan and Gina?
More next week...