Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Zoot Suit Riots and Me

 

Around 1948, Red and I, both around ten-years-old and, true to our Irish DNA, red-headed and as pale as the underside of a trout, wandered into a dicey area of Compton. We were out a bit late and feeling a little adventurous when a couple of tough-looking pachucos (Chicano gang members) spotted us about a half-block away. “Hey, white boys! Watcha doin’ out so late?” (I made up that quote to add some life to this account, but they probably said something like that. That’s the way tough guys talk, isn’t it?)

Red and I had apparently wandered into their ‘hood, which was a violation of some kind of territorial imperative that all urban gangs seem to have.

Then they started running toward us. It looked to me as if these particular pachucos wanted to wail on a couple of little white kids. At any rate, we took off down the street as if we were being chased by the Devil himself.

I can’t remember how we got away. (This occurred about 70 years ago). All I remember is The Chase itself. The image of that running match has loomed large in my consciousness over the years.

Yesterday I had lunch with Red in Las Vegas. I asked him about that episode. He said he had no memory of a chase. Darn, I now think I made up The Chase out of thin air. And I believe I know how that might have happened.

You see, five years before the imaginary Chase took place, the LA newspapers were full of stories about a series of fights and brawls between zoot-suited pachucos and servicemen stationed in LA. (Zoot suits were often worn by pachucos who fancied themselves big shots and criminals. These zoot suits consisted, in their purest form, of a pork pie hat (see photo below), a long coat sometimes reaching to the knees, baggy trousers, and some bling, usually a long watch chain.)

The Zoot Suit Riots, as all the LA newspapers called them, started with a fight between a sailor and a Chicano. The sailor was beaten badly. Upon hearing of the beating, sailors and other servicemen stationed in LA, some carrying clubs and other crude weapons, started roaming the streets of LA looking for any zoot suiter who was unlucky enough to be on the street. After three or four days, the riots had spread to the south LA suburbs of Watts and Compton, my hometown.

The LA City Council finally became so worried that they banned the wearing of zoot suits altogether.

But by that time, we Compton kids had turned pachucos and zoot suiters (often one and the same) into the stuff of childhood nightmares, and I was evidently beginning to shape, in my unconscious mind, the outline of a story in which Red and I were chased down the street.

When Red and I get together in Vegas once a year, we usually compare stories of those long-ago days in Compton. Our memories often don’t jibe. (I’ve already written about our disparate memories of an encounter with a pedophile, who grabbed either Red’s or my crotch. To this day we’re not sure whose crotch got grabbed. I say it was Red’s; he says it was mine.

Each time I come away from meeting with Red (who is a retired professional gambler), I realize that my head is stuffed full of partial memories, edited memories, and false memories; and that I’ve shaped my persona over the years based on those memories. I wonder how I would think of myself if my memories were all based on the unvarnished truth.

Minus these dramatic (and dubious) episodes from my past, the inventions of my fevered imagination, I’m just a boring, ordinary guy. But my memories make me more interesting, in my mind at the least.

The example I’ve chosen, a false memory with a starting point about 70 years ago that grew through the years, may seem extreme, but my wife and I even have differing versions of the recent past.

According to memory theory these days, every time we recall a memory, we change it slightly. I’d like to ask Socrates how we can know ourselves if our memories, which make up the Self, are so volatile and unreliable.

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  1. Juliana Member

    Memories are notoriously unreliable, especially for people who have really good visualization skills. Anyone in law enforcement / lawyers will tell you that you need to get witness statements immediately, and even two people witnessing the same event can and most likely will give you different versions. Anything that is not immediate recall will be colored by the brain trying to make sense of what was seen or heard, and if there is something missing, the brain will fill in the blanks on its own.

    With well developed visualization skills it is easier to imagine something happening, when in fact it is just the brain making it more realistic because you can ‘see’ it in your mind, whether or not it is/was reality. Because you have ‘seen’ it, it is more likely you will remember the event as your brain has constructed it – not necessarily how it happened.

    Brain research is infinitely fascinating, but understanding how memories and dreams work may be something that is far beyond what we as mortal men will ever be able to comprehend. What puzzles God gives us to work on!

    • #1
    • February 14, 2020, at 6:51 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  2. JoelB Member

    I have known and loved people who did not lie, but would not let the truth get in the way of a good story.

    • #2
    • February 14, 2020, at 6:52 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  3. Juliana Member

     

    • #3
    • February 14, 2020, at 6:53 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  4. Housebroken Thatcher

    From “Liberty Valance” – print the legend.

    • #4
    • February 14, 2020, at 7:03 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  5. Titus Techera Contributor

    I’m your huckleberry. Socrates talks about a dream whose logos is always the same. That’s the ticket. It’s in the Phaedo.

    • #5
    • February 14, 2020, at 7:50 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester

    JoelB (View Comment):

    I have known and loved people who did not lie, but would not let the truth get in the way of a good story.

    Joel, I resemble that remark. 

    • #6
    • February 14, 2020, at 7:54 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  7. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    I’m your huckleberry. Socrates talks about a dream whose logos is always the same. That’s the ticket. It’s in the Phaedo.

    Wha the? Titus, I’m having a bit of trouble interpreting your response. Here’s how I’m doing so far:

    1. I’m your boyfriend. (I had no idea we were that close, Titus.) 

    2. Socrates talks about stuff.

    3. You’ve said what was exactly needed.

    4. The ticket is waiting in the Phaedo for pickup.

    • #7
    • February 14, 2020, at 8:02 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  8. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    From “Liberty Valance” – print the legend.

    Mr. Slow, great movie. I think I saw it, though I might merely have heard of its plot and that line. 

    • #8
    • February 14, 2020, at 8:05 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester

    Juliana (View Comment):

     

    Great look. The lead singer is dressed like a Zoot Suiter and the dancers are all doing the Jitterbug. 

    • #9
    • February 14, 2020, at 8:07 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  10. PHCheese Member

    I have chase memories of my youth as well. Once I was chased by a farmer for eating pears in his orchid. I was up the tree and couldn’t get away fast enough.He actually caught me. He asked me my name and I gave him the name of a school mate. The mate was Polish and the farmer asked me to spell the name. I couldn’t. He finally let me go but not before threatening to call the police. Most of the time I got away.

    • #10
    • February 14, 2020, at 8:50 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  11. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    I have chase memories of my youth as well. Once I was chased by a farmer for eating pears in his orchid. I was up the tree and couldn’t get away fast enough.He actually caught me. He asked me my name and I gave him the name of a school mate. The mate was Polish and the farmer asked me to spell the name. I couldn’t. He finally let me go but not before threatening to call the police. Most of the time I got away.

    Mr. Cheese, your chase sounds real. That was a clever, though underhanded, response you gave to the farmer. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Are you?

    • #11
    • February 14, 2020, at 9:13 AM PST
    • Like
  12. Arahant Member

    KentForrester: I’m just a boring, ordinary guy.

    That is a good thing. I like being a boring, ordinary guy.

    • #12
    • February 14, 2020, at 9:18 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  13. Nohaaj Coolidge

    JoelB (View Comment):

    I have known and loved people who did not lie, but would not let the truth get in the way of a good story.

    I resemble that remark

    • #13
    • February 14, 2020, at 9:29 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  14. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester

    Arahant (View Comment):

    KentForrester: I’m just a boring, ordinary guy.

    That is a good thing. I like being a boring, ordinary guy.

    Ah, I tricked you into it, Arahant. I was just kidding. I’m actually scintillating. I don’t believe you like being boring. You would like to be scintillating like me, but you can’t take the disappointment when you fall short.

    • #14
    • February 14, 2020, at 9:47 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. PHCheese Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    I have chase memories of my youth as well. Once I was chased by a farmer for eating pears in his orchid. I was up the tree and couldn’t get away fast enough.He actually caught me. He asked me my name and I gave him the name of a school mate. The mate was Polish and the farmer asked me to spell the name. I couldn’t. He finally let me go but not before threatening to call the police. Most of the time I got away.

    Mr. Cheese, your chase sounds real. That was a clever, though underhanded, response you gave to the farmer. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Are you?

    Yes I am ashamed but those pear were dang good.

    • #15
    • February 14, 2020, at 11:33 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. Housebroken Thatcher

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    I have chase memories of my youth as well. Once I was chased by a farmer for eating pears in his orchid. I was up the tree and couldn’t get away fast enough.He actually caught me. He asked me my name and I gave him the name of a school mate. The mate was Polish and the farmer asked me to spell the name. I couldn’t. He finally let me go but not before threatening to call the police. Most of the time I got away.

    Mr. Cheese, your chase sounds real. That was a clever, though underhanded, response you gave to the farmer. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Are you?

    Yes I am ashamed but those pear were dang good.

    Maybe you shouldn’t be. The farmer might still be enjoying recounting the tale.

    My grandfather used to have a pear tree and some neighborhood kids would throw a rock at his house to make sure he wasn’t home before stealing fruit: He would laugh about it afterwards, loved to share the tale, and for fun would sometimes make like he was hot and after them.

    • #16
    • February 14, 2020, at 11:40 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor

    My husband and I have an unspoken agreement that when we have different versions of the same story, after the second back-and-forth (yes it did, no it didn’t) we give up on agreeing. At least that’s what I’ve agreed to. Besides, my version is the correct one . . .

    • #17
    • February 14, 2020, at 12:09 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  18. Housebroken Thatcher

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    My husband and I have an unspoken agreement that when we have different versions of the same story, after the second back-and-forth (yes it did, no it didn’t) we give up on agreeing. At least that’s what I’ve agreed to. Besides, my version is the correct one . . .

    Long ago I learned the three things every husband needs to learn to say: I’m sorry, You’re right, and I’m wrong.

    • #18
    • February 14, 2020, at 12:52 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  19. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    I’m your huckleberry. Socrates talks about a dream whose logos is always the same. That’s the ticket. It’s in the Phaedo.

    ~shocked to find a Phaedophile among the Ricochetti~

    • #19
    • February 14, 2020, at 9:52 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  20. RufusRJones Member

    I am pro-anyone that has the confidence and whatever else it takes to wear Zoot suit. 

    I have seen the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies in person, for the record. 

    • #20
    • February 15, 2020, at 12:34 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  21. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    My husband and I have an unspoken agreement that when we have different versions of the same story, after the second back-and-forth (yes it did, no it didn’t) we give up on agreeing. At least that’s what I’ve agreed to. Besides, my version is the correct one . . .

    Listening to my aunts and uncles reminiscing when I was little was my own personal Rashomon. Sometimes the differences in their stories were due to different recollections and sometimes they were just twitting each other. One of my aunts recalled cleaning the chicken coop with her next youngest sister while their older sister — who was in high school at the time — “stayed in the house, talked on the phone, and put on makeup.”

    All evening long: “No, no, no! That’s not how it happened…”

    • #21
    • February 15, 2020, at 5:04 PM PST
    • 3 likes