Excerpt from 'Shoplifting from American Apparel'
SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL
By TAO LIN
Melville House PublishingISBN: 1933633786
A few weeks later Sam was walking to the library holding a large iced coffee. He had a reading in a few hours. He thought about the shirt he was wearing. He walked into American Apparel. He looked at things and sometimes touched things. He saw a person holding a book two inches from his face with his eyes over the top of the book. Sam thought the person was behaving strangely. A few minutes later Sam walked out of American Apparel holding an American Apparel shirt.
The person with the book made noises behind Sam on the sidewalk. "Do you work there?" said Sam. The person said he did. "Do you really work for American Apparel?" said Sam. The person displayed a police badge attached to his belt buckle beneath his oversized jersey. "Oh," said Sam.
They went inside. They went downstairs. Sam was photographed and put in handcuffs. "Don't steal from us," said a manager looking at a computer screen. "Steal from some shitty corporation. We have fair-trade labor. I mean fair labor."
"I spend my money on even better places," said Sam. "Organic vegan restaurants."
"I'm all for that," said the manager.
Someone wrote "arrested" on Sam's photo and put it on the wall with about thirty other photos. The person who caught Sam put his head next to Sam's head and another photo was taken. "What are you trying to do, Luigi?" someone said. "Get a bonus?"
Two people behind Sam whispered things to each other.
A few seconds later someone took the handcuffs off Sam.
About fifteen minutes later two policemen arrived and put different handcuffs on Sam and walked him outside into a police car.
At the police station Sam was put in a cell with a bald Caucasian, a skinny Hispanic, and a tall Asian. Sam sat on a concrete bench. The tall Asian said he bought things from Duane Reade and went to Kmart and on the way out a security person stopped him and looked in his tote bag and saw shampoo and toothpaste from Duane Reade and said he stole those things from Kmart and brought him into a room and told him to get into a cell. The tall Asian refused and the security person put him in a headlock and punched him and kicked him and emptied his tote bag and took his money.
The tall Asian made a motion of putting bills of cash into his chest pocket. Sam laughed then had a neutral facial expression. The tall Asian said Kmart was "running a racket." He said he didn't have money for a lawyer. He said he was an international student from Canada.
"Canada," said Sam.
A drunk man with blood inside his ears and on his face and shirt was put in the cell. Sam saw that the man looked like the Caucasian boxer in Rocky V that is trained by Rocky and then betrays Rocky. "I get punched in the face at Starbucks and I get thrown in jail?" screamed the drunk man. "You motherfuckers. I hope you motherfuckers are really enjoying your jobs. Fingerprinting people like me while fucking national security ... matters of national security and fucking terrorists ... this isn't fair. You motherfuckers." He sat on the bench. He stood and said "All right, I am the king of this cell. Everyone sit down. I am the king of this cell." He touched the skinny Hispanic.
"Hey man, don't touch me," said the skinny Hispanic. "I don't do nothing to you. I didn't do nothing to you, don't touch me." The drunk man looked at the skinny Hispanic. They shook hands. "Solidarity," thought Sam. "I'm covered in blood and I'm in jail," screamed the drunk man. "This isn't fair. I am going to ass-rape you so hard."
A policeman outside the cell said the drunk man would be ass-raped first and left the room.
"You don't want to fuck with a man who is smarter than Einstein," screamed the drunk man.
A policewoman told the drunk man to stop acting like an asshole.
"I get beat up in a bar and this is what I get," screamed the drunk man. "You motherpuggers, motherfuckers. I am so angry right now. I have so much respect for the armed forces. I respect you. You are the NYPD. That is awesome. With all due respect fuck you. You fuckers. Look at me. My shirt is covered in blood and I'm in jail." The drunk man walked into Sam sitting on the floor against a wall. The drunk man looked at Sam then screamed "Where is the other guy?" at a policeman outside the cell. "Is he here now? Just answer my question. Where is the other guy? Is he here?" The policeman said the other guy wasn't here. "Awesome," screamed the drunk man. "Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awe some. Awesome."
"What's your name?" said the tall Asian to the drunk man.
"Arthur," said the drunk man. "I took the intelligence test and I got a fucking 1520. 1580. I blew the lid off that test. Plus I'm big." The tall Asian asked the drunk man about being punched in Starbucks. "I got in a bar fight," said the drunk man. "I take some clients out and this is what I get." The tall Asian asked what happened to the other guy. "He ran away," said the drunk man.
It was quiet in the cell for a few minutes.
"I am going to kill everyone here," said the drunk man. "Is everyone okay with that? Is everyone in this cell okay with that? Let's get our word on that, okay? Raise your hand if you're okay with this." He touched the skinny Hispanic and the skinny Hispanic stood with an angry facial expression and said "Don't hit me. Don't hit me." The bald Caucasian stood in front of the drunk man with an angry facial expression. The police took the drunk man out of the cell. "You are never working in the union again," screamed the drunk man at the bald Caucasian.
"Union?" said the bald Caucasian laughing. "What the fuck are you talking about? I'm a drug dealer about to go away for a long time."
The police held the drunk man as he screamed obscenities.
"Where's your union now, bitch?" said the bald Caucasian.
The police put the drunk man in a different cell. "I get in a stupid bar fight and I'm covered in blood," he screamed out of view. "And I'm the one in jail. What about the other guy?"
"I thought you were in Starbucks," said a policeman.
"I was taking a shit in Starbucks, and I come out, and some guy hits me," said the drunk man. "I was in Starbucks," he screamed. "You don't believe me? I was in fucking McSorley's ... the oldest bar ... you motherfuckers. This isn't fair."
"Life isn't fair," said an African American policeman.
"You," screamed the drunk man loudly. "Life. You. You are bringing life into this? Don't do that you motherfucker. Don't fucking do that. You are bringing life into this. I can't believe you are doing this to me. I am so angry right now. I need to make some phone calls. I am running a failing business. I need to check my email." The drunk man called the African American policeman a nigger then said "You fat Irish boy who couldn't get a girlfriend so you became a cop, fuck you" to another policeman. The bald Caucasian shouted "You rich whiny-ass white boy" and something about the drunk man's expensive watch. "My watch," screamed the drunk man. "Don't talk about my fucking watch you motherfucker. I am going to have sex with your little sister so hard. My watch. I have a fucking twenty-thousand-dollar Rolex you motherfucker. I don't wear it out. It's more expensive than ... I am going to fucking sue all of you."
"That's what I'm talking about," said the bald Caucasian. "Rich white boy. That's what rich white boys do, they say they're going to sue you."
"Shut up," screamed the drunk man. "I'm trying to take a nap."
"When this first happened I was kind of angry," said the tall Asian. "Now I feel better. I don't know anyone this has happened to, you know, it's an experience."
A policeman took the bald Caucasian out to get his fingerprints on a machine outside the two cells. The skinny Hispanic stood and said he was in for possession of two ounces of marijuana. He said he had another bag of marijuana and pointed at his crotch and grinned. He touched his shoe and said there were pills inside. He said something about making $1,000 at Central Booking. The bald Caucasian came back and said the Fukanese ran Chinatown now. He said he sold fireworks since he was eleven. He said everyone used to eat well in Chinatown. Then the Fukanese took over and fucked everything up. He asked Sam what part of China he was from. Sam said he was from Taiwan.
"You know that little island off China?" said Sam.
"I know," said the bald Caucasian. "I am geographically sound."
A policeman said the drunk man had beaten up a homeless person in Tompkins Square Park, not gotten beat up at Starbucks. The drunk man was snoring in the other cell. The bald Caucasian and the skinny Hispanic talked about hurting the drunk man. They discussed the placement of surveillance cameras at Central Booking. "He's drunk, people are different when they're drunk," said the African American policeman in a shy voice. "He might sober up and be the nicest person you ever met."
The "fat Irish boy" policeman woke the drunk man to get his fingerprints. It took about ten minutes to get the drunk man's fingerprints. The drunk man and the policeman hugged. The tall Asian was released. The bald Caucasian went in a side room with a policeman. "They told me what I was getting," he said back in the cell. "I'm going away for a long time." He talked about killing the drunk man. A policeman gave Sam his belt and shoelaces. Sam signed a paper saying he would go to court. He walked to American Apparel. Luigi was on the sidewalk. Luigi grinned at Sam and went inside and got Sam's duffel bag.
"Thank you for shopping at American Apparel," said Luigi.
"You're welcome," said Sam. "Thank you for being nice to me. Good night."
At the library Sam emailed the organizer of the reading he was scheduled for that night, CC-ing the other reader. "I'm sorry I wasn't there today," said the email. "I was arrested earlier and got out around 9:30 in Manhattan somewhere. Was it okay without me? Very sorry about this."
The other reader replied asking if Sam wanted a free copy of his book.
Sam emailed the person his address and went outside. He bought an iced coffee and went back in the library.
"You seem strange," said Luis on Gmail chat a few hours later. "I'm pretty sure you have Asperger's. People with Asperger's and schizoid personality disorder usually make good friends."
"Schizoid," said Sam. "Luis. What are we."
"Fucked," said Luis. "Was that like a cheer. What are we! Fucked. Our shit can be studied by an anthropologist 1,000 years from now to know what we ate."
"Indian food," said Sam.
"They will say 'Sam had a vegan diet of good food and wine and Indian food. Luis ingested Waffle House.'"
"I want to change my novel to present tense," said Sam. "Is there some Microsoft Word thing to do that."
"I don't think so. I think you have to do it manually."
"Manually," said Sam.
"By hand," said Luis. "Get an interview on Suicide Girls, that should be your next step. Do you think in five years the national media will create a stupid term like 'blogniks' to describe us."
"Yes," said Sam. "Remember we had hope like 4 months ago."
"Can you cite that day," said Luis. "The day of hope."
"I remember one night particularly," said Sam. "Your book was at 30,000 sales rank. I was alone in the library. My fingers lay illuminated on the keyboard. Likewise my face was bathed in the soft blue light of Internet Explorer."
Sam stared at what he typed with a neutral facial expression.
"I just peed outside and hurt my foot," said Luis.
"You pee outside," said Sam. "Is it because of laziness. Or variety. I got arrested today, when I was stealing. I am okay. I just need to go to court on 9/11 and get community service."
"Just now," said Luis. "For what."
"Today around 4. A shirt. I was going to get a new shirt for my reading."
"Are you serious," said Luis. "9/11. Why didn't you tell me."
"I don't know. I wasn't thinking about it until you peed outside and I thought about variety." Sam emailed Luis around eight hundred words he had typed earlier about the holding cell. "The Asian guy got his ass beat for no reason and lost $100 and spent the day in jail," he said on Gmail chat.
"What did you do in there," said Luis.
"I sat there," said Sam.
"Were you scared. What did you do."
"We sat there," said Sam. "I felt the same sort of."
"What did your brain do," said Luis.
"I was trying not to laugh at the drunk guy. The Asian guy was like in Kafka. He didn't steal anything and got his ass beat and will probably be deported to Canada."
"Who beat his ass," said Luis.
"Kmart. I think they chose him because he looks like he doesn't care if he gets his ass beat for no reason. I think Kmart saw that in him."
"Kmart beat his ass," said Luis. "Are you worried. Have you told your parents."
"I'm not telling them," said Sam. "Unless they ask."
Sam talked about his parents having moved to Taiwan.
"Your parents have returned to their native land to die?" said Luis. "Are they like living there now, like that is their life?"
"Yes," said Sam. "I think."
"Are you okay, my friend," said Luis.
"I don't know," said Sam. "Are you."
"I haven't been arrested and my parents haven't left the country I'm residing in. I don't speak to my parents but I'm already over that. So it is different with you. You didn't tell me that. I feel like petting your head."
"My mom emails me," said Sam. "I am okay."
"Don't steal shit for a while," said Luis. "And try to make yourself happy in some way."
"Okay," said Sam. "I'll buy a new emo CD."
"Do you have a lawyer," said Luis. "Do you have connections. When I went to court I told them I was a Hersado and the charges were dropped magically. My grandfather owns a grocery store in Youngstown."
"I have no lawyer," said Sam. "I might get a job."
"You have good rankings on Amazon," said Luis. "Soon you will be making money to write and be weird, and not have to steal."
Sam said he was going to eat Chinese food.
"Go eat," said Luis. "It is a beautiful night."
Excerpted from SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL by TAO LIN Excerpted by permission.
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