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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

THE FAT GOTHS S. Craig Renfroe Jr.
WING & FLY: DFW, Feb. 21, 1962-Sept. 12, 2008 | Todd Dills

J.N. Otte

J.N. Otte lives and writes in Long Island City, NY.

Born in a small town to immigrant parents who didn't understand her, Bing grew up stilted and angry. When she did well at school there wasn't much to say at home, and when she did poorly, there was less. Her father owned a dry cleaner, and her mother was a hospice worker. Neither cared to know their spiteful, tiny daughter, and the result was a mutual disavowal. At night, Bing would stare out the window at the moon and dream of a larger city by a lake where she was a beautiful, happy person.

Early on, she fell in love with words, particularly sentences; sentences that painted her splintered, infantile self into an angry, purposeful whole. In the role of the innocent victim turned righteous warrior, she would describe someone: a male lover who didn't understand sensitivity and art; her childhood classmates who taunted her, crying "Bing-A-Ling's an ugly thing-a-ling"; or her parents, who in their cultural backwardness crushed the free spirit of their Western daughter. Then, at rare moments, the drifting malice that filled her sentences would, by chance, hit upon a string of contingent events, and a story would slouch towards Bethlehem to be born.

DecomP Magazine

Most of these were terrible, though, and no one would publish them. She did manage to write one that contained enough half-truths to pull the reader along, scene by scene, with something resembling a linear progression, highlighting her bizarre and often frightening fantasies of revenge -- a kind of justice, she believed, may yet be, if only the troubling, actual world would step aside.

This is one such story.

I met Bing in 1996. We were at conference in Chicago on Immigrant Fiction, attending a lecture on poetry by battered women. A mannish woman in a pantsuit was discussing how there's no difference between high art and low-art. Loosely paraphrasing William Carlos Williams, she said, "If I haven't read all those big books -- most of which are written by men -- but I write verse anyway, who's to tell me I'm not the next Gertrude Stein?" There was attenuated applause from the thirty academics in the audience, and then we were ushered to the auditorium for cookies. Leaving my isle, I kicked a chair and the back of it a small woman's cheek.

"Sorry, I didn't see you there!" I gasped.

"It's ok," she said, smiling, "I'm used to it."

"I'm Pat Dong," I said.

"I knew that from your nametag," Bing said, still beaming up at me, "I've read your book."

I opened the door for her and we walked out into the auditorium. I ate two plates of cookies while she told me all about her life in Chicago, how she had been beaten up by her boyfriend, but actually liked being beaten up, and how she didn't understand how all these women could attend a conference like this and keep a straight face.

"Well, your experience aside, being a battered partner isn't fun," I said. "You're not still with that guy are you?"

"Thanks mom, I've seen The Piano Teacher," she said. "And no, my ex is an idiot. I left him a long time ago. But I'm writing another story about him, and I think October is going to publish it."

She told me she loved Mary Gaitskill but didn't know why she had gotten married, and she hadn't read any Amy Tan and didn't care, too. She liked Elfriede Jelinek, but didn't speak any German. Had I read Karen Rigby?

I didn't know who that was.

During a lull in the conversation I caught her humming three notes over and over again, then saying that there weren't any non-living authors worth reading. She was out of college now, had a friend in Beijing she wanted to visit soon, but she didn't have any money so she probably wouldn't go. When she was downtown, she liked to walk around and look in people's windows because it made her feel better to see normal people doing normal things. Sometimes, when she got lonely, she wrote a classified ad on the Internet and made things up about herself, and a few times had met guys that way. One of them was her current boyfriend of two years, a really sweet physicist, who wanted to marry her.

"Anyway, what are you doing later?" she asked, rolling her eyes as though bored at rehashing the details of her life again.

We slept together that night, cuddling like two ill-matched puppies. I loved rolling my hands over her giant, shorn head and playing with her snail-like ears while she worshipped my feet. She played an album for me she had received from the magazine she worked for -- a corporate indie rock magazine -- and we talked about moving from Chicago to New York, or Berlin, or San Francisco. Where can someone finally be free to escape into a completely artistic life? she wondered aloud; and I began to dream along with her.

She had only written five stories, she confessed. All were written in the first person, and because they were all short and no one else had read them, she let me read them all.

The first was about a Chinese-American girl whose physicist boyfriend takes out her heart and puts it in his father's luggage. When his father goes away on trips the girl because lethargic and their relationship suffers. When his father returns, their relationship flourishes. The Chinese-American girl can't stand her manic emotions and asks for her heart back, but the boyfriend says that keeping her heart in his father's luggage has brought he and his father closer together, and that this is the most important thing to him; that without this heart traveling around with his father, the boy and girl couldn't even be together. The story ends with the heartless girl's fingers turning blue as the father travels to Singapore and his luggage is lost.

The second story concerns a Chinese-American girl who falls in love with one of her parents' dry-cleaning customers. He is a 25-year-old professor who lunches in the park and wears Armani suits. When the park pigeons gather around him during lunch, they often poop on him, and so he needs his jacket dry-cleaned often. After a while, the Chinese-American girl falls in love with the man, and believes he goes to the park only to have pigeons poop on him as an excuse to see the girl.

One scene has them both scraping pigeon poop off a suit jacket, their eyes catching fire for a brief, transcendental instant. The story ends when the Chinese-American girl gets cancer from the dry-cleaning and tumors grow all over her face.

The third story concerns a Chinese-American girl who is thinking about her own thoughts while eating ice cream. Most of her thoughts are about how she hates her body, and how much she likes ice cream. The story ends with a long racist diatribe against the Chinese. I asked Bing why she wrote the story, and she just shrugged and asked me if I had any comments.


"Nevermind!" she interrupted. "Just keep reading. I can wait! I can wait!"

The fourth story concerns a Chinese-American girl who is the lover of a large, carbuncular man who can't speak. Much of the story is focused around how this mute reminds her of her father and the poetic analysis of this connection seems to drag on and on. The girl is both attracted to and repulsed by the mute, but is finally unable to respect him despite his care for her because he is dull and she despises him. In the end, she manipulates him into giving her the lease for his tiny house. When he realizes that he has given his house to her, he is furious but unable to tell anyone as she laughs at him. Then he kills her with a frying pan and goes to prison for five years.

When I finished the story, I looked up to see Bing, wrapped in a bed sheet, smoking a cigarette on her fire escape; the album was just beginning to die off. In the air was the scent of rain and the noise of the El trailing outside. I saw her smiling with a look of inspiration.

"What are you thinking about?" I asked her.

"Why does everyone always ask me that?" she squealed, giggling. "God!"

She was tired of writing such fractional, half-formed work, she said. "The words don't even make sense after a while. And I'm such a perfectionist!" she exclaimed, exasperated. "I work all week and I've barely written anything! It's just a bunch of little paragraphs, like verses, and there's not really any characters, but mostly just me and my thoughts. I feel like I can't even think when I write like this."

Why didn't she add a plot, I suggested.

"I'm not really concerned with a story," she replies. "I just want to get out my ideas. That's all that's important to me, and if there's something else there when I'm done, that's fine. How will I even know what I'm thinking if I don't write it down?"

I couldn't think of anything to add so I picked up the last story and began reading.

"What did you think of the stories so far?" she said.

I put down the story and tried to think of what to say for a minute, staring at the white wall across the way and a little clock shaped like a cartoon duck.


"No, wait! Don't! Nevermind! Just read the last one!"

She gathered herself up and ran across the apartment into the bathroom, slamming the door. I began to read.

The story was about a Chinese American girl who meets a large Chinese American woman at an academic conference. The woman is tall -- not fat, but "with a lot of meat on her bones" and a little clumsy. After feeding the woman some cookies, they talk about art for a while and most of the story concerns descriptions of the thoughts of the Chinese American girl and how much she hates the woman for being tall, and beautiful, and a good writer. Toward the end of the story, it's not so subtly revealed that the larger woman is actually the Chinese American girl, and their love story is really about aesthetically abstracted masturbation.

Only two thirds through it, I already knew it was better than the other stories. Yet as I was finishing the story, Bing came out of the bathroom, took a frying pan off of the counter and swung at me, knocking out two of my teeth.

They flew, the story said, "like two perfect stones harvested from the mine of my mouth" and then the pan came down, bursting my head open, my thoughts "like electricity redirected into a thundercloud of blood."

Bing sat back from her typewriter; her inner thighs moist. Finally, she'd done it. She lit a cigarette and tore the pages out and looked at them. Everyone was going to want to read this.

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