Cover image for The cosmology of Bing
The cosmology of Bing
Cullin, Mitch, 1968-
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Publication Information:
Sag Harbor, N.Y. : Permanent Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
207 pages ; 23 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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At Eric's Rotisserie, Bing sat outside by himself, nursing white zinfandel beneath the large sunshade that jutted from the center of his table, while a blustery wind roamed across campus -- swirling dead leaves and bits of trash around the chairs and tables, flapping the awnings on the massive umbrellas. The weather kept the patio abandoned, and Bing preferred it that way -- no chatty couples nearby, no loudmouth students talking about sports, or, even worse, popular music. On this chilly afternoon, he didn't care that he was alone. He didn't care that he'd left his coat in his office. And, for a moment, he almost didn't mind that his head wasn't quite screwed on tightly today.In Cosmology of Bing Mitch Cullin offers a tale of intersecting lives during one school year in Houston: the college student and his artist roommate, the reclusive poet, the astronomer studying a supernova at a remote West Texas observatory, the young Japanese woman hopelessly in love with her gay friend -- and at the center of this group is Bing Owen, a college professor who drowns his heartbreak, paranoia, and secret desires with alcohol. It's a darkly humorous novel about longing, buried feelings and muted relationships, forgotten poetry and thrown pies -- in which the mysteries of love, the interconnectedness of individuals, and the inexplicable nature of attraction occupy the same microcosm as exploding stars, ghost lights, and specters from the past.

Author Notes

Mitch Cullin lives & works in Tucson, Arizona. He is the author of three previously-published novels: "Tidelands", "Branches", & "Whompyjawed".

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Middle-aged astronomy professor Bing Owens has had it hard. Assuming the singer's popularity would proliferate generations of namesakes, his mother named him after Bing Crosby. His wife, a brilliant teacher and promising poet, suffered a stroke at 32 that wiped out her intellect. And that after Bing had suppressed his homosexuality to marry her. No wonder he drinks too much, and embarrassed colleagues have had his teaching schedule reduced. And no wonder he is infatuated with Nick, a smart sophomore attending the only course he now teaches. As for Nick, he innocently enjoys Bing's friendliness but is more concerned with his roommate, art student Takashi, who is gay but "masculine as they c[o]me" and, like Nick, a West Texan. Other characters play important parts during the academic year, but aging, desperate Bing and the two young men, whose nonsexual relationship grows deeper, predominate. Cullin dexterously blends coming to terms at midlife, coming out, and coming to adult understanding and, entirely credibly, avoids unhappy endings in a novel as satisfying as it is limpidly written. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his latest outing, Cullin (Branches) imagines the anxiety- and paranoia-ridden inner life of alcoholic social pariah Dr. Bing Owen, an aging, sexually repressed astronomy professor at Moss University, a sanctimonious private island of academia in Houston, Tex. Also examined is the raw youth of sophomore Nick Sulpy, avid reader of Walt Whitman and scientific journals, and the object of Bing's clumsyÄand creepyÄaffections. Shunned by faculty peers because of his erratic behavior, Bing has been reduced to teaching an undergraduate lecture class. By night he hangs out in a piano bar, haunted by the distant memory of Marc, his sole male lover; by day he returns home to a loveless relationship with his wife, Susan, whose career as a poet was cut short by a cerebral aneurysm. Taking an immediate interest in Nick, Bing offers to give him special, private lessons in the seclusion of his home; unsuspecting at his mentor's obsession, Nick allows him to importune on his goodwill. A parallel subplot concerns Nick and his gay roommate, Takashi; the development of their friendship soon emerges as the most endearing and emotionally resonant aspect of the novel. Completing a sexually frustrated student m‚nage … trois is thoroughly annoying coed Himiko, who flirts relentlessly with both boys. The three belong to a secret organization on campus called the Pi Crusters, whose m.o. consists of assaulting imagined enemies (ranging from religious zealots to a Nobel laureate) with pies, and it's not hard to guess where all of this is going. Slipping deeper into illness, resentment and desperation, Bing is forced to confront his demons. Despite a rather gratuitous happy ending, fans of Michael Chabon's early work might enjoy this earnest but erratic satire on desire, human frailty and hope of redemption. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One BING 1. Damn notes, Bing thought. Should've kept them in a pocket.     And where had they left off? What was said? He couldn't recall having even lectured. The syllabuses were passed out, surely. Introductions were made, of course. But today--where to begin? He had no idea.     "Well, let me see. Perhaps I should ask you. I suspect some fledgling astronomers in the room have a few thoughts on how to proceed."     This was the Thursday class, supposedly the same students as from the Tuesday class, yet Bing found himself standing in front of quiet strangers--sixty-eight blank faces staring at him, slouched bodies occupying seats in the Thompson Planetarium, not a single person worth remembering. But the first weeks always seemed awkward, a required adjustment period while minds were being made up (some students would drop the course, latecomers would appear). And sometimes a month passed before a class formed its own distinct personality--morose, cheerful, maybe chatty--and from that collective one or two promising individuals usually emerged.    "Professor Owen, can I ask a question?"     A young woman's voice, very deep and loud. But she hadn't raised her hand. So Bing peered forward, looking for her, and said, "You just did. Ask another if you wish."     No one smiled or laughed. A tough crowd.     "Stand up please. I don't know where you are."     She cleared her throat and then stood, a solitary soul in the back row.     "There you are," he said.      Yes, there she was. Bleached hair as white as milk, cropped close to her scalp. Black tank top. Fingers fidgeting with the loops of her blue jeans.     "This might be off the subject, but I was wondering if you believed in alien life, as in extraterrestrial beings visiting us. Because I do. I mean, if you consider that we all come from the same source then it doesn't seem so impossible that equally intelligent beings or even smarter-than-us beings might actually be here from another galaxy. Because when I was fourteen my brother and me actually saw what was obviously an alien craft one night at my grandparents' house in Virginia. There's no other explanation, really. So I'm not surprised at all."     Sit down, he thought. Go away. Die.     Blank faces turned to see her. Then, as if on cue, the very same faces returned to Bing, who was rubbing his chin. Chewing absently on the cap of his pen, a boy sitting in the front row smirked and shook his head. Bing liked that kid.     "There was a question somewhere in there, I think."     "Yes." "Seems you want to know if I believe extraterrestrials visit the earth?" She nodded. "Something like that, yeah."     "But you already know they do. I'll just take your word for it."     He glanced at the boy in the front row, giving him a wink.     "Well, I guess I was wondering if you feel our government has been lying to us about--"     He knew her. He had known her for years and years. Sometimes she was male, sometimes black, sometimes Latino or Asian, more often than not she was female and white and young. And she had to be heard. He had never taught a class in which she didn't exist. And when her peers grew tired of her rambling--her inane questions and comments--she would still fail to sense the complete meaninglessness of her own words and thoughts. White-girl disease, he called it. How she talked talked talked, blathering with authority. He hated her with every inch of his flesh.     "Hitler's mother," Bing said, interrupting her.     That got their attention.     One hundred and thirty-six eyes gazed at him beneath the starless planetarium sky, indifference now tinged with curiosity. This was Origins of the Universe? No Big Bang. No expansion of space. Wasn't Professor Owen supposed to inflate a balloon--a balloon that represents galaxy clusters--explaining that the space between the clusters increases, but the size of the clusters doesn't?     "Hitler's mother had a saying. She'd go, `If you believe it, it is so.' Unfortunately, her son took that to heart. Anyway--and what I suppose I'm trying to say is--if you believe it, dear, it is so. Frankly, this whole extraterrestrial thing leaves me limp."     And that was that.     "Okay."     She shrugged, sinking into her seat.     But what he wanted to tell her was that the universe was rich with tangible mysteries. Honestly, no aliens need apply. And in our galaxy--where vast storms rotated counter-clockwise on Neptune, and ice volcanoes shot frigid geysers on Triton, and the sun's magnetic activity inexplicably waned and intensified again every eleven years--there was profound violence and beauty. That's what I should tell you, he thought, but I won't. I'm bored and restless and I don't want to be here any more than the rest of you do. So I'm sorry. My notes are in my office; that's where I'll be going. I thought we could manage without them. I guess not. Some days are better than others, I suppose.     What now?     He consulted his watch.     Over ten minutes late in arriving. Then about ten minutes of engaging zombie children, a brief discussion concerning aliens in Virginia and government cover-ups. Approximately fifty minutes remaining.     Class dismissed.     "Do your reading or readings. Do whatever the syllabus says to do. Be ready on Tuesday, all right? Have a great weekend. Do yourself a favor--have a super weekend!"     And Bing watched them all rise from their seats en masse, gathering books and backpacks. The pen-chewing boy shuffled by without as much as a nod. No one said a word, at least not to him; they filed out through the side doors, making a hasty escape--quiet as church mice, just the sounds of big jeans swooshing, sneakers clomping, the doors opening and shutting.     Then he was alone.     How long had it taken? Thirty seconds? Maybe fifteen? He hadn't noticed White Girl Disease leaving, but, thank God, she was nowhere to be seen.     You keep haunting me, he thought. You're a ghost. Good riddance.     And just then, how peaceful the planetarium felt; this was the only decent place in Houston for watching the stars. At night the city glowed, eclipsing the heavens. But in here--with the flip of a switch, the twisting of a few knobs--the city disappeared, the Milky Way shone clear and perfect; one could almost imagine sitting in the countryside after nightfall, an unclouded sky above, the constellations revealing themselves.     As a college student, Bing worked at a similar place, though it was smaller and in disrepair. He ran the Star Show for high school field trips, putting on elaborate displays while selections from Holst's The Planets played through a single loudspeaker. The ceiling leaked, the dome interior was streaked with water damage. But when the lights dimmed and the stars faded in, the ruin became invisible.     "This is where you find your spot in the galaxy," he would explain to his audience. "My role is to guide you along."     At eighteen, he wasn't much older than most of the field trippers. Still, he sensed that he was further along, that he'd digested vast amounts of knowledge in a short period of time. He ate textbooks.    "I'm probably a genius," he told his mother.     "You're a genius of something," she'd reply, "except I don't know what."     It was 1958, and he studied under Professor Graham Wilmot, a teacher whose lectures made Bing fall in love with the universe.     "That's why you're here," Wilmot told his students, "to find your place in the universe. My function is to help you."     And he did; it was Wilmot who offered Bing the job of running the Star Show, and it was Wilmot who wrote him a flattering recommendation when it came time to apply for graduate school. But the Star Show--listening to Holst, running the projector, speaking to a group of high schoolers as if he were a professor--that was the best. He couldn't thank Wilmot enough.     And some evenings, after swimming practice, he unlocked the planetarium, snuck inside, and performed a Star Show for his own enjoyment. And more than once, when the occasion presented itself, he brought someone along with him in the middle of the night, a man he'd met at a bar near campus. A stranger. Romantic, not sleazy, he reasoned. A discreet encounter, a mutual exchange. The chance of discovery was slim. Forget that he never knew the man's name, or that he felt miserable for days afterwards. How many ended up going with him? As a freshman, six. As a sophomore, nine. None as a junior--that's when he began dating his future wife. Never again, he promised himself. I'm a new man, I'm changed.     That was forty years ago. Copyright © 2001 Mitch Cullin. All rights reserved.