That One Store by Oscar Galvan

No one truly wonders what is around nightclubs while they’re drunk; however, it is usually the people that live around there that explore things other than the club. Naturally at some point in time we will all have to get a job to maintain ourselves. Since birth my family has always worked for themselves. In a certain way, I have never had to struggle to find a job and have worked for family since I can remember. I have had to jump around from working for my cousins, to my uncles and aunts, and ultimately working with my mom at our grocery store. My job is filling in any spot that is needed in the store I work in. I’ve had to work all the way from sticking my hand in the clogged plumbing and go deposit money in the bank. In all honesty, the job is not that great but the people and community involved have made it worth more than anything.

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My first real position was a butcher position and it consisted of going into the freezers and coolers, pulling a specific piece of meat, taking it either to the cutting table or place it on the electric saw. Either way it ended up on a nice folded grass green piece of paper inside of a stainless-steel tray, and then wrap it in saran wrap to be able to place it in the display case. From there I would move on to the next cut of meat until I finished doing my section of the display case, and wait on people from outside Aldine Mail road to come in and ask me to give them what they would end up cooking for dinner later. Sometimes the clients would come in not knowing what they wanted to cook for dinner so we would start naming dishes until we guessed one that they wanted.

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Working as a butcher is where I started to realize how odd the customers in that area are but also being unique to the community they live in. The early 6am customers consisted of hard working construction people, most of them went there to try and find someone to give them a job for the day. They usually stayed from 6am to 9am, and after that most of the people that came after were mothers and wives that came in to do their daily shopping. This is when the economic, financial, and legal borders become clear. I would see some of the customers go straight for unnecessary things such as candy, imported drinks, and chips; however, some of the others stayed in what I ended up calling the “bare minimum” section that consisted of all raw bagged food such as beans, rice, and potatoes. The funniest and oddest thing about the whole situation was that four out of ten times the two groups would end up paying with food stamps. Majority of the community would rely on food stamps. If they did not need food stamps it is because they usually were drug dealers or sometimes the drug dealers would have food stamps because they could not report the money they earned due to them not being able to launder their money.

One of the customers who used to be a drug dealer would tell me that his friends would launder their money by investing in a property and building a business on the property. It was slightly depressing seeing the drug dealers and other people mostly need to walk across the street into the poorly maintained apartments that was mainly occupied by hurricane Katrina victims.

I first heard they were badly maintained by the guy who does the maintenance himself. The man who does the maintenance is Cuban and always comes for two things: a pack of Marlboro light 100s, and to complain about his job. The main thing he hates about doing the maintenance is not the job itself, but the materials they give him to fix or maintain the apartments. Almost all the materials he is given is either the cheapest item or it’s a second-hand item that was salvaged from the trash. I never believed it was as bad as it sounded, until I had a girlfriend who lived in the apartments that the Cuban maintained.

I went to the apartments to originally meet her mother, which I did do, but I did not pay any attention to her after I walked into the apartment. The paint on the walls was as bad as an elephant hiding behind a leaf. It was obvious that the sheetrock had water damage and was merely just brushed over with one thin layer of paint. The bathroom sink and shower only had cold water running through its piping, and the toilet was leaking water from the tank itself and the base of the toilet due to cracks it had. The rooms were entirely too small and had bad air conditioning systems because most of the apartment was always hot. At first I thought it was just them who kept their apartment that bad, but it was not until later when I visited my girlfriend’s friends’ apartments where I saw it was just the whole complex that was bad. The only apartment I witnessed that had none of these issues was because the father of the girl was a remodeler.

I ended up learning most of the gossip from the customers when I switched from being behind the glass display case to the front either reorganizing the produce section or stocking the shelves. I would usually make small talk to the customers if they needed something from me or just wanted to talk. Some of the men and women would start to tell me what they were going to cook, and even give me the recipes of their dishes. During the small talks the people would either complain about their day at work or home, or they would talk about their personal lives with me, which made me feel uncomfortable with some of things they would tell me.

It was okay with me for the customers to come and talk with me but, it made me feel odd talking with one of the employees, who was also a butcher. His name was Bernabe and he would love to call me to the back and show off how clean or organized he had the butcher area. Normally, after he was done with that he would love to come and try to tell me how to do my job and show off his home that he sent to be built in Mexico for his family. As I would get more and more annoyed with the conversation I would usually ask him about his drinking problem to make him stop talking to me and get us both back to work.

Most of the other employees are interesting people. At times my mother and sister, who also work at the store, start suggesting that we should start charging an entrance fee as if we were a circus because of the things the employees say or do at times. I’ll start from the front of the store all the way to the back in naming the employees and something about them: Roberto is the cashier that loves to watch beauty contests and does his eyebrows when there are no customers, E is the manager of the kitchen section and is Honduran but can drink like a sailor, L is in charge of all the cooking for the day but loves to drink just as much as E on her days off, E2 is one of the regular kitchen ladies but is the most political out of all the workers, J is the manager of the whole meat and kitchen section, he’s a total ladies’ man but is married, I’ve already talked about B, and last but not least B2 is B’s roommate who also loves to drink. The two occasionally get drunk together and not show up to work, and make J stay the whole day. I love going to the back and talking to him knowing he’s frustrated because he could not go fishing that afternoon. Then he goes off on a long rant of how those two employees are so ungrateful and irresponsible.

Since J has been working there for years he has seen my sister and I grow up. So, anytime I would defend the butchers for not working he would bring up my dumb childhood mistakes, such as locking myself in the meat freezer or cutting the tip of my thumb off on my first day as a butcher. Either way the two butchers would get scolded by Jesus and my mom the next day or the day they decided to come back.

My mom and dad originally opened the store in 1996 with the help of my aunt M, who gave her the loan to start up the store. By 2001 personal issues between my mom and dad forced them to divorce, leaving my mom to be the sole owner of the business with two small children at the time. Since my sister and I were so young she decided to leave one of her sisters and her son to run the store. Yet again issues arose but this time they were related to money. My mom, seeing that she still had two young children she had to look after, decided it was best to turn a blind eye. My mom said it was easier to fix a store close to bankruptcy rather than have a pocket full of money but her children be out of control. After the years passed my sister was now in college and I was halfway through high school. My mom saw it was best to relive my aunt and her son from working with us for 10 years. This is when my mother asked us to work for her and we happily accepted. When my sister and I went in to help her, we saw that we were heavy in debt with some of our suppliers and had to talk with them explaining our situation. It has been three years since the three of us have taken over, and by what my mom tells her friends and family. She is glad we have helped her run the store because she knows she could not have done it without us.

Everyone has some type of job, either it being raising children or an actual salary job. My mom was right about the grocery store about almost being a circus. My job simply consists of doing and dealing with everything at my mom’s store. In the end, it is worth my time since it will make for great stories later in life.

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That One Store by Oscar Galvan

The Ambigram Looking Glass by Tiarra Cooper

My eyes were swollen and red with fury. My breath was hitching. The drive home was too short. I did not want to go inside. I knew that my no-nonsense mom would give me the same insensitive speech she always does. My subconscious had been scolding me the whole ride home. “You big cry baby. Stop blubbering and get over it already!” she demanded.  But I couldn’t.

Earlier that evening, my manager, Mishleen, noticed my stretch marks for the first time when my stupid shirt raised up while I was reaching up to grab some biscuits off the top shelf.

Her face scrunched up in disgust as she exclaimed, “You’re too young for those, especially because you don’t have any kids!” As if there was an appropriate age to have them.  Her uninvited comment quickly shot through my body like a virus. I was sick. My throat closed up as I tried to respond.

“I know,” was all I could force out of my mouth.

My words were faint with an audible trace of defeat. I fought back my tears for the remained of my shift. As soon as I got into my car, I let my tears pour out.

Weight control has always been an issue in my life. First underweight, then over, perfectly fit, and all over again. These dramatic changes to my body have produced unsightly marks in several areas of my body. Mish was neither the first nor the last to express ugly and unwelcome commentary on my shameful reminder of my everlasting yo-yoing weight.

They are hideous and almost impossible to remove. I have tried several different creams and oils. They were all a big waste of time and money. One $40 regimen slightly improved the appearance, but I had enough sense to know that $40 is way too much money for so little of a difference. I even researched laser stretch mark removal. The starting cost of this treatment is about $200, but that is for a small area of the body. The idea of this procedure working for me is unrealistic for two reasons. First, it would take years for me to save up the kind of money I would need to pay for the results that I want. Second, it does not do any good for mature stretch marks. The key is to treat them early on, or else they will remain permanent.

I started noticing them appearing in middle school. That is where I had my first encounter with the controversy over my imperfection. Gym was one of my favorite classes. I got to defeat my friends in basketball, listen to music, play “hair salon”, and best of all I got to catch up on all of the juicy gossip. Little did I know, I would not enjoy gym class any more after that day. The locker room was full of girls chatting as we procrastinated changing into our gym clothes. I merrily took out my change of clothes and began to undress. Most of the girls changed in front of each other shamelessly every day. Usually I changed in the privacy of the bathroom stalls. I had made an exception that day because Rhianna, the prettiest girl in gym and who I thought was my friend, was in the middle of telling us how she broke up with her dog of a boyfriend. I began to take off my uniform shirt just as the story was heating up.

“He denied everything and… Why do you have stretch marks!” she blurted, interrupting her story.

The group of girls that were in earshot, about twelve, quickly turned their attention to me and the revealed marks. Some tilted their heads with one eyebrow raised. Others took a quick glance then looked elsewhere as if they were the ones embarrassed. I scrambled to put on my gym shirt. My brain and mouth were both frozen. My eyes filled with tears at the sight of all those curious stares. I fled out of the locker room to the hallway and broke down.

The meanest teacher in school approached me with a soft voice and asked, “Are you okay? Let me take you to the nurse.”

The old witch seemed sincere and at the moment she was much kinder than those girls in the locker room. Without looking up, I stood up and followed her to the nurse’s office. I explained what happened. They took pity on me and decided I should go home for the day.

I saw the concern on my mom’s face when she picked me up. The concern was not over whether I was okay or not. It was because she was worried that I was one of those kids that cries over everything and couldn’t stand up for myself.

“Don’t let no silly kids get you worked up like this!” she yelled.

With my head facing the window, I rolled my eyes because I knew she wouldn’t understand. My mom is rough and tough. Nothing can hurt her. She expects her kids to be the same way. Her long speech that was supposed to be advice felt more like chastisement.

That night I studied myself hard in the bathroom mirror.

“Stupid, ugly stretch marks.” I grumbled.

Falling asleep came pretty easy since my eyes were already swollen and heavy.

The next morning I tried to forget about the experience I had with the mean girls in the locker room. I needed to hold my head up and carry on. Carrying on did not come so easily. Over the years I continued to receive curious looks and upsetting remarks from people accidentally spotting my embarrassing discoloration.

Every time my mom caught me crying over the issue, she gave me that long, hard speech. The speech that included, “it’s life”, “that kind of stuff is not important”, and my favorite, “stop all that crying.” I hated them more than anything. I’d rather weigh 500lbs. without stretch marks than be 125lbs with them. At least I could remove the weight, but I cannot remove stretch marks. They symbolized my lifelong struggle with weight control. My weight has been a sensitive topic for me for years. If a person wanted to save money on a ticket to Splashtown, all they had to do was come up to me and mention my stretch marks. I’d guarantee they’d have their very own water park right in front of them in a matter of seconds.

I couldn’t bear to see them in the mirror. I saw imperfection. I saw something that made me an outcast. There was nothing I could do to get rid of them so I wore clothes that hid them well. Out of sight, out of mind.

My insecurities slowly subsided as I got older. I carried on with a reasonable amount of self-esteem without any regard to the shameful marks. That all came to an abrupt end as I rapidly gained weight and more stretch marks during my pregnancy. The new ones were brighter and more noticeable. The old ones grew darker and deeper into my skin. Nevertheless, I exploded into tears each time I had to see them. My self-esteem drastically decreased. I did not have the emotional support that I craved. I was not called beautiful by my boyfriend, who jilted me several times and remained absent for most of my pregnancy.

But, the passion that I had for my unborn child pushed me to better myself instead of sulking in my misery. I continued to go to school and maintained a 4.0 average. I worked long and hard hours in a deli. The different smells constantly nauseated me to the point where I almost quit my job. Every night I went home with swollen feet, as pregnancy will do plus long hours on my feet. My back ached as the weight I was gaining affected my back. Just when life was hard enough, my car was stolen. I asked my boyfriend if he could help me out my taking me to school and work until I could get another vehicle. He coldheartedly rejected my request, which left me to ride the bus for a while. Although it couldn’t come soon enough, my mom, sister, and I put our finances together and purchased a SUV.

In the midst of all the drama, more stretch marks were appearing. Every night before my shower, I would undress and studied my body. My bathroom mirror showed a clear image of a girl with a perfectly round belly pouting, “Body please don’t make any more stretch marks!” I cried and I cried. I cried even more for my baby. I thought I must have been putting him through hell. I was putting my mind and body through so much pain physically and mentally. I feared for him. I prayed to God that he was healthy. I would never forgive myself if I miscarried or if I let my stress level affect his development.

I wanted to be loved. Even if it wasn’t the love that I deserved, I didn’t care. As long as I felt some type of affection, I endured my boyfriend’s debasement. I also continued to put strain on my feet and back to make as much money as I could to save up for my baby. I continued to stay up late doing homework, knowing how important getting my degree is. All the while, I also tolerated the strange and unexpected changes that pregnancy brought along. Of all of the adversities I faced during that time, I accepted and overcame all of them except those despicable stretch marks. I just could not get over them.

Summer came and the sun was performing his usual job of torture. I decided to stay cool and be a couch potato all day to escape the burning rays. Painful contractions interrupted a very amusing episode of SpongeBob. They were coming more frequently and more painful as time ticked. At the hospital, my nurse informed me that I was going into labor but would not dilate. If I did not dilate, I could not begin to push.

For more than 24 hours, I suffered painful contractions and wished I was still at home watching TV. My body refused to dilate, so my doctor gave me some drugs to make my body involuntarily dilate. Within hours, I was almost ready to push. The nurse inserted an instrument that was supposed to reach my baby’s scalp to monitor his heart rate. Then it was time. I began to push and after sixteen minutes and on my fourth push, my baby was out. It was June 3, 2014 when I gave birth to my beautiful healthy son. It was discovered that the instrument used to monitor his heart rate had actually cut his scalp open about an inch deep. Luckily, he was stitched up fine and did not suffer any major problems due to the minor injury.

His piercing gray eyes were wide open and gazing at me when the nurse presented him to me. As our eyes locked, he greeted me with the warmest and purest smile. Immediately, I felt both of our hearts glow as we exchanged non-verbal “I love you’s.” “He is healthy and happy. He is not upset with me and my stress did not affect his development.” I beamed with amazement. The next night I examined my post-partum body alone in the bathroom of my hospital room. I gently trailed the stretch marks around my body, smiling. I smiled at the realization that I had not given birth to a baby. I gave birth to a tiger! Despite his mother’s distressing ordeal carrying him and minor head injury during birth, he is strong. He must have tiger blood pumping through his veins and the heart of the biggest tiger beating in his chest. And these are not stretch marks. No- they are well-earned tiger stripes!

I held him tight and reminisced on our long journey. The pain of having my heart broken several times by my boyfriend did not break my spirit. Having my car stolen did not stop me from getting to work and school. The uncomfortable bus rides did not make me give up. My aching feet and back received no mercy from strain but I kept my perseverance. The bathroom mirror was showing me an unhappy girl with ugly stretch marks that needed to be hidden. It took my tiger to show me his strength for me to see mine. Now the mirror boastfully displays my prize. I wear my tiger stripes proudly and they will never again bring me shame.

The Ambigram Looking Glass by Tiarra Cooper

The Fourth Issue of the Cat 5 Review

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(Photo by Youssef Martinez)

The Cat 5 Review is a publication of literature and the arts composed by students at Lone Star College–North Harris.

Volume 3, Issue 1
Fall 2016

Gemini Wahhaj, Executive Editor

Gary Connors, Art Editor
Steve Rydarowski, Poetry Editor
Norma Drepaul, Editor
Mark Barnes, Editor
D.W. Puller, Editor

Poetry
“Winter” by Youssef Martinez

Essays
“The Fall of Rosebud, Texas” by Emerye Jackson
“Cuba” by Aryanna Martinez
“Our Power” by Evelin Arrendondo
“My Brother and I” by Charles D. Biggurs II
“Being Different” by Margaret Buhrer
“My Job” by Eric Dimas
“Escape to Shamrocks” by Alyssa Orozco

Reporting
“Taco Trucks of Houston: Taking a Bite out of Social Justice” by Youssef Martinez
“Not a Lost People: The Indigenous People of Mexico” by Evelin Arrendondo
“The Fishermen of Bonacca” by Doris Dugall

Opinion
“The Ndamukong’s Family Mungaka Language Practices” by Fritz Doh Ndamukong
“America’s Sweetheart” by Leticia Vasquez

The Fourth Issue of the Cat 5 Review

Winter by Youssef Martinez

Wearing heavy coats

Stops shivers from the cold, though

Winter howls within.

 

Silence in all the land

‘Til a leaf strikes the ground in Fall,

Winter listening, hears its call.

 

Lovely glowing moon’s light beams,

Upon our worn and rusted death-machines,

Cluttering the face of earth.

 

First gleam of dawn lunged,

Bravely at the night-sky, and won,

Vanquished darkness

for a while.

Winter by Youssef Martinez