By Jervey TervalonMarch 12, 2022
When the salesman saw the three fat guys walk into the clothing store, he knew he was going to have a job to do. The first fat guy was sort of tall. The second fat guy was short and very round. The third fat guy was an old fat guy with long white hair who was very brown like he worked in the sun all the time. The fat old guy came toward the salesman.
“Say, you got a pair of pants for my boy?”
“Well, sir, we might. I’d have to take a look. What size does he wear?”
“I don’t know, got to measure him. Googie!”
Googie slowly walked to the salesmen who had his tape measure ready. The salesman tried to reach around to measure him but the measuring tape slipped and so he wrapped his arms around Googie to try it again.
“You shouldn’t suck in when I’m measuring you.”
“I’m not sucking in.”
Gumbo exhaled when the salesmen turned his back.
“He needs a fifty? Lord, six months ago he was a forty-four! I bet he’s too big to fit!”
“I don’t know sir; I’ll have to look in the stockroom.”
The salesmen said he’d be right back.
“You know, I gotta lose some weight,” Gumbo said to his friend.
“I don’t want to be fat like your ass.”
“Fuck you, Gumbo.”
The salesman came out of the stockroom empty-handed.
“None back there. Maybe at an army surplus store.”
Gumbo’s father threw his arms up and walked out. Gumbo and his friend followed him out of the store. They drove across town to Harry’s Big Fit Clothing Store.
Gumbo’s daddy stretched his legs out on the car seat and turned the radio to a news station.
Inside the store was cluttered. Most of the space was being used for long aisles of stacked clothes. Googie looked around the store and told Garvey, “They ain’t got my size,” and walked out. Googie’s father was snoozing when Googie woke him up and pushed him aside so he could get into the car.
“They didn’t have my size, Pops.”
It took a minute for Mr. Villabino to respond to Googie. “We gotta go to that place on Normandie. They got clothes to fit big fat people.”
They took off again and Gumbo’s friend Garvy fell asleep. Gumbo watched his daddy guide his 1970 white Cadillac through traffic with the daring and lack of skill that drinking homemade peach brandy gave him.
“You want me to drive, Pop?”
“No, son. This is downtown traffic.”
Mr. Villabino wheeled through the congested streets and pulled to a stop in front of a rundown building. Before Mr. Villabino could finish his parking job, he turned and said to Garvy in a grumbling, loud voice.
“Does your daddy know Charles Bayou? He works here. Ain’t seen him in a while. He does the altering.”
Garvy said he didn’t know if his father knew Charles Bayou and tried not to burst into laughter as he always did when he asked Garvy anything. The three of them headed into the store with Mr. Viilabino taking the lead. The store was as disorganized and junky as all the other stores they had visited, but this one looked lucky.
“This one got them, Garv!”
“They probably do,” Garvy said and pointed toward a pair of huge jeans that that were tacked up on the wall. The jeans were big enough for Garvy and Googie to both fit in them at the same time.
Gumbo and Garvy wandered about the store, looking for Mr. Villabino. They found him in the storeroom, talking with Charles Bayou.
“He’s big, my boy is big. Don’t know how to keep him from the table.”
Charles Bayou, shaking his head, listened to Mr. Villabino. He was brown as Mr. Villabino with slick, greased hair. But his hair was oily black, unlike Mr. Villabino’s oily white hair. The older fellas from New Orleans liked to conk their hair.
“Which one of those big boys is yours?”
Mr. Villabino pointed to Garvy. “This one ain’t mine. He Lita and Louis Michael’s boy.”
He pointed to Gumbo. “That’s my boy. Think you can fit him yeah?”
“Well, when pants sizes get big, the cut gets funny. He can try on a bunch and see if we can fit him.”
Mr. Bayou searched around the storeroom and handed Googie a stack of pants and directed him to the dressing room and he began trying on jeans. Then he called for Garvy to come into the dressing room.
“Garvy, do these fit?”
Garvy nodded and said, “You oughta squat. If they don’t pop, they fit.”
Gumbo squatted; the jeans ripped. He stood up, took them off and tossed them into the corner. He ripped four more jeans before he found a pair that fit.
“I’m gonna get this one,” Gumbo said and walked out of the dressing room. He worked up a good sweat from trying on all those pants. His father was still talking to Mr. Bayou and was slow in giving him attention but when he saw his son in jeans and not dress pants for church, he was not happy.
“You ain’t wearing jeans to church.”
“I’m wearing these to school,” Googie said.
“I’m buying you pants for church.”
“Nothing else fits.”
“Don’t tell me boy, the only thing you can fit in is work jeans, don’t tell me that, no!”
“Well, I ain’t telling you that but it’s true.”
Mr. Villabino sighed and sat down on his haunches in the middle of the aisle and looked up, with his big white-haired head at Googie.
“Boy, I ain’t gonna let you eat. You’re too fat to go to church.”
Mr. Villabino stood up and said to Mr. Bayou, “Ring these up for my boy. I don’t know what to do with him but he ain’t eating tonight.”
Garvy and Gumbo walked out of the store ahead of the grumbling Mr. Villabino.
“So, Garv, what’s for dinner tonight?”
“Nothing but red beans.”
Googie laughed. “Hope nobody better light a match, I’m gonna be farting.”
“I know you are,” Garvy said.
Jervey Tervalon was born in New Orleans and raised in Los Angeles, and got his MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine. He is the author of six books, including Understanding This, for which he won the Quality Paper Book Club’s New Voices Award. Currently he is the Executive Director of “Literature for Life,” an educational advocacy organization, and Creative Director of The Pasadena LitFest. His latest novel is Monster’s Chef.
Artwork by Peter Nye
Jervey Tervalon was born in New Orleans and raised in Los Angeles, and got his MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine. He is the author of six books including Understanding This, for which he won the Quality Paper Book Club’s New Voices Award. Currently he is the Executive Director of “Literature for Life,” an educational advocacy organization, and Creative Director of The Pasadena LitFest. His latest novel is Monster’s Chef.
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