dame & zootsuit
Mural, Figueroa Ave, Highland Park Calif.
Stephen D. Gutierrez
Zoot Suit II
Live in Los
Or, The Etymology of Transcendence

We were having an argument. My mother insisted that “homeboys” didn’t describe us properly—us regular guys who hung out in our neighborhood, not gangbangers or cholos, anything but. Just regular guys.

“Vatos,” my mother said. “When I was a kid, the guys called themselves vatos. Now it’s all cholo, I know, ugly,” she made a face. “But back then it was vatos, okay? And blacks used homeboy. They were the homeboys.” She sat at the kitchen table smugly, proud of her knowledge.

“Okay, Mom, I’ll remember that.” And I stepped out the kitchen door.

A bunch of homeboys awaited me. Down the street, they hung out on the corner, talking. It was a Saturday afternoon and nothing to do. Some of us had cars already, and one of them pointed to the sky in the parking lot. “Where you going tonight, Jimmy?” I asked, taking my place among the group. The wall. We sat on a short wall or stood around it, fingering our balls.

“Nowhere. Maybe to the boulevard, cruising.” Jimmy, the blockheaded guy we called Box, loved women and rides. He had three of each at any given time. “Maybe not.”

“Maybe to your mother’s,” somebody said. Laughter.

“Naw, I don’t think so,” I said. “She only likes vatos.” Puzzlement. “Punks like you don’t do it for her. Grown guys, men, guys with big dicks she likes.” Confusion.

Something new.

“She says homeboy is a corruption of the term vato, comes out of nowhere to replace it. Not even a corruption, man, but a negation. She says it’s a selling out, so it’ll never do. You’ll never do, boys, you’re lost.”

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” Dirty Mike said. He was always so dirty. With women, they reported on him, and you didn’t want to know. “But it sounds fucking stupid to me. I don’t give a fuck what your,” he grabbed his crotch hard, “mother thinks. It’s all the same, homeboys or vatos. Give me a break.”

“One break coming up, ése,” I said, and snapped a finger.

Snap! We were zootsuiters in baggy pants in the deserted parking lot in industrial Los Angeles on a smoggy Saturday. We looked down at our costumes and didn’t know what to do.

“This isn’t the break I expected,” I admitted, looking down at my own pinstriped suit. “It’s kind of ridiculous now, it doesn’t fit me.” I stretched out the material.

My pants were baggy, so baggy I couldn’t walk without laughing. Everybody watched me, and then started following me in a circle in the parking lot, banging silver drums, laughing.

We were into it, man, a regular Salvation Army of dispossessed pachucos hoping for our own souls to return. We didn’t know they were lost, but they were, and when the lowrider that was dropped low in the corner started taking off, bouncing up and down on its own and then revving up to go, we entered its winged doors eagerly, piling in the old Chevy, chromed up now, Jimmy getting behind the wheel, cruising us over the city, getting us out of there, out of there that day.

“This is crazy, ha?” we shouted to each other.

“Fuck yeah,” we said, “dudes, this is real.”

Out of the muffler behind us came words sputtering into the smog, disappearing in the gray.

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