St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
It was Monday, September 5th, 1961, and Jim’s first day of school as a sophomore.
He arrived early so that he could review the freshmen class with Augie and the Outlaws.
They were in the courtyard sitting on wooden benches watching the dazed and confused
plebes trying to find their way. It was payback time and they were eager to give the
freshmen plebes the hazing they had received, the freshman baptism by fire. But word
spread fast that Brother James had retied as president, and the new president of St.
Nick’s, Brother Justin, had canceled all freshman initiations.
Last year a plebe had had to move an ice cube, while naked, from point A to point B
while sitting on the ice cube. It melted before he got to point B. The plebe was told that he
had to try it again, and he started to cry. The moderator of the initiation told the plebe he
was blackballed. At the time the guys in 9C did not think much of the incident because the
plebe was a wimp and had dropped out at the end of the freshman year. The plebe's
parents wrote a letter to the archdiocese and complained about the cruel and barbaric
treatment their son had been subjected to during hazing.
Brother Justin’s cancelled freshman initiation. He had spent five successful years as
president at La Salle in Sacramento and his academic career was more important than
tradition. Initiation was the rite of passage for freshmen at St. Nick's. Those who tried and
failed were accepted. Those who quit or didn’t participate violated tradition. Each
freshman had to earn respect to be accepted. Anyone who was blackballed could later try
to earn the privilege to be accepted and wear the freshman pin of a Fighting Irish
Leprechaun. It was the insignia that was on all of the book covers, jackets and school
rings. Wearing the pin showed that you had paid your dues. There would be no more
earning the freshman pin.
The Student body thought that there should have been some dialogue between the
seniors and the faculty, or a moratorium. The freshman pin had been a tradition since 1927
when the school began. The next day the seniors spoke to the faculty and convinced them
that the entering freshman class should have the opportunity to be respected. They could
earn their pin by academics, sports, or demonstrating school spirit. On Friday Brother
Justin met with Brother Raymond, the faculty, and the seniors. Brother Raymond had
been vice president for twelve years and believed he deserved to be president. He had
had challenged his new boss when he explained the significance of the freshman pin.
Reluctantly, Brother Justin agreed to reinstate the freshman pin. He and Brother Raymond
had drawn a line in the sand, Brother Justin was fire and Brother Raymond was water.
The entering freshmen didn’t understand that this was all about respect and
tradition. Respect was the true value that a person carried for a lifetime. Respect came
when demonstrating character. Character was something that took some students four
years to acquire, while others were natural leaders and took charge. They demanded
respect. Others didn’t know that they had character and leadership until they found
themselves in a situation that required appropriate action. They were team players, who
could handle themselves under pressure, taking jug like a man, helping a friend with
homework or a test, not being selfish, and defending one another whenever the situation
occurred. These were the qualities of a good man. The highest compliment that could be
given was to be called a good man. If the freshman pin hadn’t been reinstated, there would
have been no harmony or school spirit between the freshman class and the rest of student
body. Only admitting girls to St. Nick's would be worse.
Brother Joseph was the homeroom brother. Jim’s class schedule was better and
most of his classes were close by. He didn’t have to run up and down the stairs or from
one end of the school to the other. He believed that as freshmen they had tolerated more
than was necessary. He appreciated being a sophomore. His first class was Geometry
with Brother Benet, breakfast with Bad Ass. Then there was Western Civilization with
Mr.Fagoni, Latin with Brother Michael, English with Brother Patrick, lunch, Religion with
Brother Joseph, and Literature and Speech with Brother David.
Brother Joseph had been the wine master at Mount La Salle until last year. He had
developed a condition from sampling and evaluating vats of distilled spirits for the Christian
Brothers label in the Napa Valley of Northern California. His tongue had become saturated
and could no longer discern a Johannesburg Riesling from gasoline. He had veins on his
nose larger than most had in their legs. His skin was purple and his eyes were red, hence
Brother Burgundy. Their religion teacher was an alcoholic. St. Nick’s was adjacent to the
Tenderloin district where there were more bars per capita than any other location in the
city. The fox was within walking distance to the chicken coop. Some mornings Brother
Joseph wandered into class, and missed sitting on the chair. The students helped him into
the chair and he took roll, read the announcements, and rambled on about subjects that
didn’t pertain to school, religion, or country.
It was lunchtime, and Jim sat on the sophomore side of the cafeteria for the first
time. Students sat at the same places each day and ate lunch with the same friends. It
was different, because forty friends were gone. Brincat always had lunch with Dominguez.
He sat alone. Others had lost buddies and sat in silence. Steinway always sat with
Romero. Steinway stood up and said, "Farewell to forty. Farewell to Romero." Two
hundred sophomores stood and said, “Farewell.”
The freshmen did not understand and looked bewildered. Brincat stood and said
farewell to Dominguez. Then others stood and said farewell to lost friends. Jim said
farewell to Zuppo. Zuppo didn’t care about school. Life was for living, loving, eating,
and sleeping. Zuppo dropped out of public school a year later. His father worked at the
Gallo Sausage company and Zuppo worked there for a while. The realization that next
year forty more would be gone sent a cold chill through all of the sophomores. A year from
now the juniors would say farewell to forty more. It was a numbers game the Brothers
played. The Brothers said it prepared the students for life. It was tough enough being
Scully had enjoyed being the class clown for a year. He was gone and so were
Mazuko and Bush. Scully had driven Mr. Christman to quit. It was forty against Larry
Christman and Larry lost. There was the time that Scully had a pencil in his ear and Mr.
Christman brought it to Scully’s attention.
"SCULLY! You have a pencil in your ear."
"I sorry Mr. Christman, I can’t hear you. I got a pencil in my ear."
"I know that, SCULLY. Take the pencil out of your ear."
"WHAT? Maybe if I take the pencil out of my ear."
"SCULLY. You win the prize."
Then there was the time that Mr. Christman threw chalk at Scully. That must have
been the last straw. Scully sat in the first row, towards the back, near the blackboard. Mr.
Christman threw erasers at guys who didn’t pay attention. Scully thought that it was
batting practice and hit the eraser with a ruler. The next time out of frustration Mr.
Christman threw chalk at Scully's head and missed. It hit the blackboard and
exploded into fragments that hit Scully in the face and eyes. He fell out of his chair and
began to roll back and forth on the floor, his hands covering his eyes, saying,
"I can’t see! I can’t see!"
"What’s wrong, Scully?"
"I can’t see, Mr. Christman. I can’t see!"
"Why, Scully, Why?" asked Mr. Christman filled with guilt and fear.
"I got my eyes closed," and Scully smiled at Mr. Christman. Larry wanted to
strangle Scully, but realized that a week with Bad Ass in jug was better. Larry never threw
chalk or erasers again. It must have scared the hell out of Larry knowing that he could
have blinded Scully.
The realization of forty lost friends made school a serious matter. The ones that
had been cut were individuals who didn’t follow the rules, or were too immature to realize
that high school was a serious matter. The system punished the individual with discipline,
intimidation, and the pure hell of the day to day grind of class, homework, and exams. The
only thing that kept most of the students going was the fear of expulsion, going to a public
school, the embarrassment of failure, and the gangs that would feast on a candyass from a
Catholic school. When the sophomores would become juniors, they would be upper
division students, and they would be treated like men with respect. For now they were
lower division plebes, who were told they had to earn respect and upper division status.
Even if you had good grades, a bad attitude would get you expelled. The word expelled
had a finality about it: banished, exiled, sent to oblivion. The fear of God, the fear of
damnation, and the fear of expulsion not only motivated the students, but intimidated them
to feel inferior, and ruined their self esteem. Any action by the Brothers triggered fear or
When Jim was a freshman Brother David had told a story about a good Catholic
boy and girl who fell from grace in that brief moment of sin. They had a few beers and
became sexually active. The girl gave herself out of love and the boy took her out of lust.
On the way home they were in a car accident. She died and he survived. He had to live
with the guilt of knowing that he had sent her to Hell for eternity. God had punished them.
The students were told that God knows and sees everything. It seemed that if the devil did
not tempt them, surely God was lurking and would strike them with a lightning bolt. The
nuns were frustrated women who told the girls that if they lost their virginity God would
punish them with deformed children. A boy's kiss would make them pregnant and God
would curse them. Imagine a Catholic boy and girl at a school dance or teen club function.
Imagine a conversation or dancing with a frigid girl who evaded your every move. When
you said, " You have nice hair. Would you like to dance?"
Her reply was, “What do you mean by that?” Catholic teenage girls were freeze
dried virgins. The lads referred to the ritual as dancing with tundra.
Fortunately there were great minds who had delved where angels dared not. They
informed the lads that there was paradise, a kingdom were girls enjoyed being held, kissed
on the first date, and make out. Girls who were fun to be with and enjoyed listening to guys
talk about guy stuff like sports and cars. Obviously, these were not typical Catholic Italian
or Irish girls who had been poisoned by the nuns. These were girls that were Protestant,
Baptist, or girls with no religious preference. Some of these girls drank beer. The great
masters had blazed a path for those poor lost souls revealing that there was a routine, a
sequence of events that if followed would surely guarantee "paradise found." The great
masters told of a place, a spot that was ecstasy that transcended all known pleasures. It
was at the "Y." It had a fragrance like rose buds and tasted like honey. The problem was
that too much of this delicacy weakened you, but in time your strength returned. Did the
Brothers and Nuns know of this place? Was this the forbidden fruit spoken of in the
Garden of Eden? One other valuable bit of knowledge passed on was that if a male tool
became dynamic, the reciprocal female anatomy would accommodate and tame the beast.
This now posed the theory that Catholic girls could not possess such a device. It violated
the laws of God. The lads truly appreciated the risk that Steinway and the others had
taken, knowing that God was watching. They were in jeopardy of Hell if they failed to go to
confession by Saturday afternoon. The knowledge that they passed on was priceless.
They had gone to the forbidden world and returned with a wealth of knowledge.
The sophomore ladies of St Vincent’s had invited the lads at St. Nick’s for a
welcome back to school dance. The theme was “Take good Care of My Baby.” It was
number one and sung by Bobby Vee. Jim wanted to go to the dance, but each time he
looked into the mirror he realized why girls weren’t interested in him. He wore braces
and had a problem with his complexion. When ever a dance was announced, Jim got a
big zit on his nose. Some of the guys called Jim, “Rudolph the zit nose rain deer.” Jim
was friends with Lucy, he was lifting weights and had improved in his athletic skills, but it
bothered him that he was still an ugly duckling.
For every question answered, there was another and more formidable question
presented. Each bit of knowledge gained seemed to have a higher price to pay. As the
lads went to search out life, they never came back in the same frame of mind. The new
discovery of girls who were fun to be with brought with it the need for money. Drinking
and smoking were acquired skills that took time to master. When traveling to another
neighborhood, Jim would encounter the residing gang that ruled their turf. He would
have to learn how to defend himself, dance, swear, and be one of the guys. He no
longer thought in terms of a kid who saved baseball cards, spending most of his time in
his room watching television because he had a bad complexion and wore braces. The
metamorphous was beginning. The caterpillar would become a butterfly. The boy was
shedding the last layer of skin. Soon the man would grow wings and fly. Jim’s body
grew in strength and his mind developed with knowledge.
Click here for next chapter...