What? Gangs at CA? Impossible! Perhaps not. The year was 1959. By entering ninth grade, the student was officially in high school and therefore entitled to all the honors and privileges befitting the status. Not me. I was in the eighth grade and could only look on with envy as the likes of Jiggs Caudron, Keith Shichida and John Gillespie, the holy trinity as it seemed, glided about self confidently and with a certain nonchalance to and from classes with their books casually tucked under their arms in the high school fashion, or resplendent in their uniforms ready to do or die on the basketball court at the Oji Gym. One morning, I was standing next to Mr. Bishop just below the main entrance trying to maintain as low a profile as possible, smiling idiotically, agreeing with everything that he either said or implied while waiting for the bell to ring to make my escape. Without warning, swaggering up the main concrete stairs towards the school building, were Jiggs Caudron, Chuck Asbill, Steve Ward and Jim Blackburn all wearing identical jackets of the type worn by American, army officers called the “Eisenhower jacket” and purchased from an army surplus store of which there were still one or two left. As they passed by with the collars turned up and jackets open in the front revealing the white tee shirts beneath, a collective gasp of admiration and anticipation rose from the on lookers. The back of the jackets were adorned with patches of white felt. Each patch was printed with a single letter in black. If you were smart enough to have made it through the seventh grade, you may have been able to make out the words: “Seven Elevens.” The letters were laid out in a pleasing, oval design that did not fail to get your attention and to stir your imagination. What the precise meaning of the words, “Seven Elevens” as it applied to those four wasn’t clear. But, if this wasn’t a gang then we would have learned nothing from our Saturdays at the movies where we rounded out our education with what was not offered as part of the school curriculum. The all seeing and all knowing Mr. Bishop, to my surprise, did not say or do anything. I took this to mean that Jiggs enjoyed a special status and Mr. Bishop had taken a wait and see approach. Much to his credit, Mr. Bishop was not impulsive but bode his time and chose just the right moment in which to strike. To the uninitiated, those who had not as yet attained high school status, we had no idea as to what would be coming next.
It should be mentioned here that each year we got a transfusion of new students from the States and elsewhere and we were all eager to learn from them what went on beyond our little world of Kobe. If the movies were to be believed there was a lot. Jim Blackburn was such an addition. He was handsome. In keeping with his name, his hair was black and slicked back with single a curl that was allowed to drop across his forehead. He had to keep brushing it back with his hand to keep it out of his green eyes which could fix you with a penetrating and menacing stare if you happened to cross his path. But this only added to his image. He looked like Elvis Presley. There was an element of danger that surrounded him. Evidence of this was a knife that he carried around with him, which he claimed to be a bayonet. I can attest to having been shown the knife, even being allowed to touch it, in a downtown coffee shop by the name of Sepia but which Jim referred to as The Sofia. If Jim said it was The Sofia there was nothing to be gained by correcting him, or proving him wrong. Be it Sepia or The Sophia, Jim’s word was to be the last one. Never having previously seen a bayonet, I could not confirm whether it was or wasn’t. One thing for sure, it was not very practical in the sense that knives, forks and even spoons were plentiful in the school cafeteria where it would be extremely unlikely that the appearance of a steak or any such serving that would require the benefit of such weapon would be served up anytime soon. Another curiosity in this affair is why John and Keith were not similarly inducted into this new, not so secret, society. Were they invited to join? Did they refuse? Were they too busy with their band and their athletics, not to mention a bit of homework now and then? Only they know and only they can answer. From the outside, it appeared that there could be schism in the Church, a split in the musketeers and a breakup of the band. All three possibilities were too horrific to contemplate.
In the Kobe of old, news traveled faster by word of mouth than by the internet of today. It wasn’t long before a certain contingent of Marist Brothers boys formed their own gang in response and as a challenge to the super-cool “Seven Elevens.” The organizers involved hurried to the shops under the railroad tracks where they purchased black, windbreaker type jackets and took them a few doors down to the obasan who sat impassively and Zen-like behind a makeshift wooden counter. She was a bit of an artist in her own right. She would draw an image on fabric with chalk and then run over the design with her sewing machine. She needed just one pass to complete the task. There was no going back and forth, no dilly dallying, and no unnecessary or embarrassing questions asked of the gang members. The price was Yen 100 which was cheaper than a tattoo and had the advantage of not committing you to a lifetime of “I love you Janie” on your still underdeveloped bicep long after the love of your life dumped you in favor of a visiting sailor or college student. You could take it or leave it. But if you did go through with it, the embroidery part that is, after having forked over the money, you also got the satisfaction of the obligatory nod of the head and the “arigato gozaimashita,” that followed. That’s Japan for you, everyone is so polite. The whole thing took her about two minutes, including the chalk drawing, the threading of the machine and the necessary extending of politeness at the end of the transaction. In blood-red letters on the black, denim yoke of the jacket, the fearful word, “Daggers” took form. There was no question of wearing these jackets to school. They were redundant with the fashionable, boys’ school blazers that were required at Marist. However, a quick change on the train somewhere between Takatori and Sannomiya settled that problem and was all that was required to keep all concerned from being summoned to the office of Brother Charles, where no possible good could have come of it. It should be noted here that having raised the ire of Brother Charles the transgressor has three paths open to him: 1. getting a “Blue Token.” Two blues and it would be sayonara. You would NOT be back. There would be no possibility of clemency. You were done, finito, kaput... The Japanese version of this was captured in the hit song, “burusu no katamichi kippu.” 2. Getting the cane in front of the class: Fair or not this was an effective deterrent to any who in an inspired, albeit delusional moment, may have contemplated a similar act of folly. 3. Make a substantial contribution to the school in cash, where, if taken together with confession and sincere contrition, indiscretions attributed to ignorance, youth, or the evil influence of others could be forgiven in the name of charity. An adequate sum would prove that you were truly remorseful. The ring leader of the Marist gang was none other than Abbas Montazi, who, you could say was a worthy challenger to the CA gang in general and to Jim Blackburn in particular. When once asked to contribute to one of the many fund raising drives, Abbas refused saying that the Vatican had plenty of money and there was no need to be concerned with the collecting of pennies when untold billions awaited distribution. This strategy was effective and, henceforth, no one would trouble him for a handout. The stage was set and it appeared that the showdown would not be too far off, except, of course, that Mr. Bishop had not as yet played his hand. It didn’t take long. The wearing of gang apparel and the display of gang logos in CA came to an abrupt and predictable end. No one was surprised. Without the Seven Elevens to confront them, the Daggers fizzled and flopped. The fearsome black jackets, artfully embroidered by the obasan, were relegated either to being moth-eaten or mothballed, the choice being left entirely up to the individual.
A few years later, those of us on the fringe, who did not measure up to being admitted to either the Daggers or the Seven Elevens but who still harbored a deep longing to belong, finally mustered up the courage to form our own gang. The group was made up of Nawawi Hassan, unanimously recognized as the leader, David Anderson, Don Swanson, and me. In order to keep our gang intact we had to avoid the scrutiny of the powers that were. We did need our uniforms though so we also ventured under the railroad tracks and found a seller of sweaters. The sweaters were black and of the V-neck type with a thin red band that peeked out beyond the edges of the V. Wearing this discreet attire on special days, we had a feeling not only of fraternity but of being part of something really big. We called ourselves “The Black Dogs.” The sweaters didn’t cause any undue notice and we were able to carry on for some time. The carrying on consisted of us going to Osaka after school, all dressed in our black sweaters and sitting in coffee shops in Namba or in Shinsaibashi. Our purpose was twofold: The first, was to look tough but since looking tough has its limitations when you are an awkward, sixteen year old, we moved on to our second goal which was to pick up girls in Osaka where we were unknown and where we were destined to remain so. We drank our coffee in what we called the “black dog” style. That is, we would drop a couple of cubes of sugar into a cup of black coffee and then stir it. While the hot coffee was swirling we would carefully pour the cream which was served cold in a thimble-sized metal cup, and which accompanied the coffee. Being lighter than the water the cream covered the surface in a cool, thin layer. When you sipped from the cup you had the sensation of the cold cream and the hot coffee. To say that we were pleased with ourselves would be an understatement. The girls who we targeted, anyone really who paid us the least bit of attention, were not necessarily from Osaka and both they and we, after having drunk our coffees had to be careful to get back home in time. As you can imagine these treks over to Osaka became a bit tiresome, especially since we were unsuccessful in both our objectives. It became known around CA, mainly due to our telling everyone, of course only after having first sworn them to absolute secrecy, that we had formed a gang and that we went by the intimidating name of “The Black Dogs.” After this revelation, some girls who were not overly impressed came up with a name of their own for us: “The Black Rats.” With a name like that, and no encouraging prospects for the future, The Black Dogs (Rats) were disbanded and thus came to an end gang life at CA.