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**PRINT: Our 30th broadsheet, GIVES BIRTH TO MONSTERS, by Chicago-based Spencer Dew, is a tale of one man's small heartbreak, the backdrop to a contemporary landscape of well-meaning but ultimately shallow political activism, fractured communicative lines, and more ultimately enduring drives toward total inebriation. In classic Dew fashion, he'll have you laughing all the way to brink of the void. Dew is the author of the short-story collection Songs of Insurgency (2008). This issue also features excerpts from our David Foster Wallace collaborative mini-tribute by THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills and Bellingham, Wash.-based Doug Milam, author of our 27th broadsheet

SUICIDE SUE Suzanne Nielsen
WING & FLY: DFW, Feb. 21, 1962-Sept. 12, 2008 | Todd Dills

Y.Z. Chin

Chin is a Chicago resident, formerly of Malaysia, and former managing editor of Rhino Magazine. Chin will read next week Friday, Jan. 9, as part of our Broadsheet 30 release party at Quimby's. See the events page for details.

For about a month when I was eight, I waited for a hippopotamus. Every school day, five days a week, I peered out the left backseat window as my dad drove me to primary school. The view was beautiful: small lakes with rounded curves for banks, both separated and connected by green turfs and pathways made up of puzzle-piece stones. But I was a child of eight; I had no use for scenery. I was more excited about the "Warning!" placards planted around the lake garden, cautioning everyone about the renegade hippo that had escaped from our famous zoo. It was reportedly hiding underwater and feeding on carp that the town council had released for public enjoyment, surfacing only when schoolchildren blinked.

Many mornings I kept watch, but I never did see a glimpse of the hippo. I nevertheless learned valuable lessons from that month in my life. I learned how to spell hippopotamus in English. I learned that hippos are for the most part vegetarians, contrary to what my imagination cooked up. I also learned that the natural beauty of our lake garden was unnatural, the lakes being leftover holes in the ground from tin-mining expeditions ordered by British colonists and carried out by imported Chinese coolies.

Those were the facts. The myth, the mystery, was what happened to the hippo. My dad told me that the hippo had surrendered itself after exhausting the lakes' very limited food resources, simply walking out of the water one day with a rumbling stomach. The other children at school didn't think so. Many wild versions of the truth flew around. I chose the boy who told the best story for my best friend. His name was Khairi. According to him, the orang besar, the big men of the town (our childish version of a government conspiracy), had released fierce piranhas into the lakes, since the best strategy of fighting poison in your body is to drink even more potent poison. Everybody knows that, he said.

We bonded mostly by creating and reinforcing each other's make-believe worlds, Khairi and I. When we were not making stuff up, we compensated by testing the boundaries of physics. The usual eight-year-old favorites -- we climbed trees, rolled up pants to catch tadpoles in the big dirty longkangs, tried to run down neighborhood chickens with our bicycles. Of course, our favorite place was the lake garden right by the zoo, where we tried to play sepak takraw and eat unidentified plants. Occasionally we came across used condoms in the secluded, bushier areas, and we giggled.

We did so many things together that it is impossible to know, to know, when we fell in love. It might have been a simple response to outside forces. That's what my psychology-loving mother tries to tell me now, every day. Some days I believe her. There was a lot to respond to, after all. The schoolyard gangs were categorizing first-years as either potential recruits or victims to skin. Teachers were frustrated with the on-and-off debate of whether punishing us with a rattan cane was barbaric or necessary. And the cruelty of adolescence, always on the prowl, fixed on Khairi and my unnaturally close friendship. Perhaps my mother is right, and it was nothing more than caving in to what the crowd, the manic crowd, wanted. Like a folk saying of our culture went: Kerana nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga.

We flailed and floundered in our roles, like a cast of the wrong race for a culture-specific movie, maybe, or a translated poem that tried to keep the original rhyme. Analogies -- what good are they for explaining the heretofore unknown? Adam and Hawwa must have had no use for analogies. Everything was new, and beautiful. Most days I prefer to believe that what a handful of thirteen-year-olds said about us, so many years ago, brought to the surface an inherently true thing that Khairi and I had not had the courage to face. We were afraid not only of the answers, but also of the questions. Our classmates did the asking for us, by calling us pondan, mak ngah. Other things.

From then on, we grew sullen toward each other in school, grunting grouchily at each other (what most of us then mistook for manliness) when we knew the others were watching. A half-hearted performance. Outside of school, in secret, we explored the parts of town where no one would find us.

It was clever, really. We knew the supposedly secluded areas of the lake garden wouldn't work, because of the used condoms we were used to seeing as kids. Likewise, the spooky memorial site for British soldiers, the waterfall (natural) and all other "secluded" spots were out, because the young and the taboo sought them out. Catching the red-handed became a simple strategy of going straight for the darkest corners of our little town.

Khairi and I were smarter. The first thing we realized was that nobody -- none of our relatives, friends, elders, teachers -- nobody ever got a room in the town motel. It was a simple truth. Why should they? Even if their house burned down, there were always relatives and friends to count on. The motel was only for the scant visitors to our famous lake garden-zoo combo, our museum with the rare working model of a late-1800s tin-mining contraption, and the nation's oldest prison, still in use. And now it was for us.

In this way, we left and returned as visitors to our town, without having set one step outside the boundaries of the daerah. The first time we checked in, we waited until everybody but the Bangladeshi bellhop was on an afternoon teh tarik break, trusting his foreignness to protect us.

In our room, on the walls, there were modified and enhanced pictures of various scenic spots in town, framed and hung. They looked alien to us, visitors to the familiar. The not-quite-right angle to what we had held as truths all our lives assaulted us, made us nauseous. Khairi got up from the bed and turned a picture of the lake garden over, so that it faced the wall. The water was a wrong shade of blue. We nodded at each other. We would know; we saw the lake every day.

After turning the picture over, Khairi stood by the wall instead of coming straight back to the bed. He stood for much longer than I would have liked.

Even now I can't describe what Khairi was like as a lover. Everything in me revolts; the nausea of a too-blue lake. Perhaps I am protecting him too. The less I say, the better off he will be, although I hear it is already too late. He has already disappeared from town; someone told me they shipped him off to the other side of the world.

After we exhausted all our pocket money on motel rent, we had to find new, economically feasible places to meet. The museum was a haven for a while, as long as we dodged the occasional two-by-two rows of primary schoolchildren led by their teachers. We loitered much by the British cannons. People tended to be more interested in the longest crocodile this side of the straits and various other dead tropical animals.

The museum doorperson soon got suspicious of us, however, so Khairi and I decided to go to the zoo next. It had a large roaming area, and really, the zoo's existence in relation to the town had long been reduced to complaints of traveling animal stink and escaped robber monkeys.

Our favorite pick was the most boring display of all, one that seemed abandoned but for a few turtle shells that surfaced occasionally. It was a circular rink of yellow, muddy water, surrounded by a cement fence about waist high. The second and last time we rendezvoused there, it was a nice day. We were eating ice cream.

"Did you hear about the two male penguins? The ones who sat on an egg and raised a baby penguin?" Khairi asked abruptly.

"Baby penguin!" I squealed. "Cute!"

"Why are you so immature?" Khairi frowned. "I'm trying to have a serious discussion here."

He took a long time telling me a story, so long that the ice cream on his cone started to melt. I watched the liquefying ice cream absent-mindedly, wondering if he was making things up like he made up the story about piranhas. I glanced in the yellow, muddy water, thinking about piranhas, and there, half out of the water, was a hippo, maybe the hippo, its mouth wide open, two huge brown tusks planted vertically on the bottom shelf, two missile-like white teeth extending forward and out at me, an upper lip dotted with holes and short spiky hair, and eyes, eyes that were swiveling, straining to see around the gaping pink mouth to focus on something, perhaps us.

I remember staring down the hippo's throat, thinking how pink, how pink. And then I glanced up to tell Khairi to look, but I saw drops of ice cream about to fall from his cone. I leaned forward, wrapped my hands around his hand holding the cone, and gave the rim a lick-around. He smiled at me; bent down and kissed away a spot of ice cream on the corner of my mouth.

My uncle saw us like that. I looked up to see him covering my little cousin's eyes with his palms. I could not bear to look at my blinded cousin, so I looked instead into the hippopotamus' wide-open mouth. How pink.

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