Zoot-Suit Murders

images-1.jpgIt’s war time and the City of the Angels is experiencing a great deal of influence and intrigue from religious, communist, fascist, and government operatives seeking to control the population or to overthrown the government or to find loose women to satisfy a sailor on shore leave or just to make a fashion statement in the Barrio.

The history of the Barrio, the pachuco, and the zoot-suiters  make for fascinating reading. Add to that some rioting, espionage, combat, and baseball (not to mention a love story) and Thomas Sanchez’s novel is a fast mover with just enough nostalgia for the Los Angeles of the forties to make it really interesting.

Zoot-Suit Murders reminded me of two similar stories: The Day of the Locust and the movie Chinatown (not to mention all those wonderful Philip Marlowe adventures).

Thomas Sanchez writes novels that eschew arcane literary values and instead provide a good, entertaining story with fine attention to the visual detail of his subject. Sanchez is also in the movie business, so it makes sense.

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Helter Skelter

I noticed in one of my morning news feeds that Charles Manson is up for parole. This is his twelfth hearing and at the age of 77 years it quite possibly will be Manson’s last.

I lived in Los Angeles at the time of the cult murder spree Manson directed which is often called the Sharon Tate murders. I suppose this is understandable since Sharon Tate was a beautiful Hollywood actress married to an important director and, as they say, with child at the time of her ritual slaughter. But it is good to remember that there were other victims and other scenes of slaughter that Manson and his followers committed.

This was a difficult time to live in Los Angeles. I went home for the summer when the Watts riots were tragically the news around the country, but I sat up watching the election results that night in another summer when Bobby Kennedy left the podium at the Ambassador Hotel. Interestingly I was on the way to St. Louis to work on a PhD, stopped off at relatives in Phoenix and watched the rioting in Chicago around the Democratic National Convention and was deep into Restoration drama while the music and crafts festival was going on in a field near Woodstock, New York. Now that I think back on it, the 1960s were truly an eventful time to be a young adult. I’m not sure that later generations have had such experiences and such opportunities.

Which brings me to the conclusion I reached while thinking about Charles Manson:  most people who see the news article I read probably just shook their heads and mumbled something like, “Why should I care?” or even “Who’s he?”

I still see the years starting after World War II as part of my experience and therefore quite contemporary. The ’50s were experience; the ’60s were enlightenment; the ’70s were drugs; the ’80s were greed; the ’90s were hustle; and after that it was all downhill. Are the events and experiences I had any more significant that those of a boy (or girl) born in 1980? Was the breakup of the Beatles any more difficult to imagine than the breakup of ‘N Sync? Was Vietnam a more frightening experience than Iraq? Was Nixon any better for the country than George W. Bush?

I suppose each generation has its own scale for ranking the events of their lives. I know that when I took the message from the school office out to the coach monitoring the volleyball competition, I considered the assassination of John F. Kennedy a major event in world history (even though I was not too enamored with the Kennedys) and later when I sat in my apartment in St. Louis and watched Neil Armstrong step down onto the moon, I figured I would never again have such an emotional response. Of course, seeing your first-born in the hospital and later watching her walk across the stage to receive her PhD … those were two very emotional moments. Now that I am getting older and having experienced George W. Bush, I can’t imagine how much worse it could get in this country but my brain is still alive and I see that the Republicans are trying like the devil to beat their own record for insensitivity and incompetence.

But I’ll have to leave that fight to the younger generations and go poach an egg for lunch.

A quick followup for anyone that was worried, Charles Manson had his parole rejected by the California State prison officials. Wow. That was a surprise.