Thought Catalog

“Audrey” from “Shoplifting from American Apparel”

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The following, in slightly different form, is from Coming & Crying, an anthology edited by Meaghan O’Connell and Melissa Gira Grant, published August 31, 2010.

She or her gay male friend commented on my blog—early 2008, I think—and I clicked one of their profiles, looked at their group-blog, saw pictures of her, thought she seemed pretty and nice and maybe “bored of life,” to some degree. She added me on Facebook 1-3 months later. I looked at her tagged photos and felt attracted to them. Some time later she uploaded a YouTube video of herself in an all-pink outfit dancing in her room to MTV or VH1. In the video she said “whoa” in a tone I liked. I commented that she should wear the all-pink outfit to my November reading in Florida that somewhere on the internet she’d confirmed she was attending.

The reading was at a vegan brunch buffet during a 3–4 day punk/folk music festival. I saw her in line for food and felt a little surprised she came and was “actually” wearing the all-pink outfit. I read the beginning of Shoplifting from American Apparel (the last 20-30% percent of which is the 3–4 day music festival in this “piece”) to 15-25 people and noticed her standing behind a sofa staring at me with a “calmly attentive, vaguely zombie-like facial expression” that I recognized as what I often see in mirrors. After I read she introduced herself. We did things with other people until around 6:00PM when she and I went to a free concert in a University of Florida building.

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I vaguely considered while leaving the forest that we would “have sex” in her car—8-12 minutes away—and briefly had an image, I think, of a situation where the “stick shift” somehow causes a debilitating amount of unmaneuverability…
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We sat against the back wall of the concert hall and I drew a hamster and I think “666” on her leg with an expensive-looking marker we’d found on a table outside. We “explored” the building by walking through hallways into empty rooms of different sizes. We walked to different places outside the building. During this time we mostly had neutral or serious facial expressions and seemed focused on relating amusing observations about our surroundings. There were sometimes 1-10 minutes of no talking. There were maybe 2-8 situations where it seemed like we could have kissed, or something, but we didn’t touch during this time. Sometimes it felt like we were in “Mario 64” due to our focus on maneuvering unfamiliar structures in a quiet, enjoyably boring, goalless manner that combined “deadpan” and “being 5-years-old.” At one point there was an opening in a structure and we talked about what to do and she walked maybe 100 feet away and I looked at her through the opening.

Around 8:30 p.m. we went into a dark, secluded, wooded area. She sat in a plastic chair—not sure why it was there—facing a very small lake and I began massaging her shoulders. I don’t remember feeling nervous. I stared at the lake thinking things like “the reflection of the moonlight on the surface of the lake” and maybe something about the line if there were a lake, the moonlight would dance across it in conniptions from a Lorrie Moore short story. At some point I heard noises and noticed that “Audrey” was making squirm-like movements—indicating, to me, that she liked what was happening, which encouraged me to do something. I didn’t do anything 40-80 seconds then kissed her while still behind the chair, my body bent toward her leaned-back head. While kissing I slowly moved to the front of the chair and she stood and we kissed 6-14 minutes. For some reason I keep imagining, as I type this, that she had a tongue ring. I think I’m being confused by her nipple rings (see below) and nose ring. Seems like now that I’ve foreshadowed nipple rings I can type anything and some people will continue reading. I don’t think I specifically referenced it at the time but while kissing I might have felt like we were in Garden State (the movie, not the Rick Moody novel), due to it being nighttime in a wooded area at a university neither of us attended, her being pretty, and both of us being sort of “deadpan,” among other reasons.

She asked if I wanted to go back to her car and I said I did. We kissed 2-6 more minutes and walked toward her car. I vaguely considered while leaving the forest that we would “have sex” in her car—8-12 minutes away—and briefly had an image, I think, of a situation where the “stick shift” somehow causes a debilitating amount of unmaneuverability, but when we got there, sitting in the passenger seat, I felt strongly that I “didn’t want to move” at all in terms of touching her, while intuiting that she also didn’t feel like touching me. We seemed very unmotivated in a non-sequitur manner that seemed less to indicate disinterest in each other than a sudden manifestation of mysteriousness, or “nothingness,” or something, which seemed depressing and very obscurely exciting. I felt a little surprised at the sudden change of tone. On the way to the car there was “Colbert Stadium” or something and I had said it should be called “Stephen Colbert Stadium,” which maybe affected us to feel unmotivated romantically/sexually. I’m not sure. After 15-30 seconds of this I suddenly felt that I really wanted to sit with her in a dark restaurant eating fries while sometimes hugging/kissing and maybe drinking one beer. I asked if she was hungry. She said she wasn’t. I asked if she wanted to eat. She said something like “not really” or “no.” I felt scared that she didn’t say “yes” or something like “I could eat.” Previously she had only expressed eager interest in doing more things. Now she seemed to be directly conveying a desire to “get away from me.” In retrospect I think she probably wanted to go somewhere private to do sexual things instead of a restaurant to eat things. I think my “low sex drive” in combination with nervousness/shyness causes my default mode to be “categorically wait for [other person] to do something” in almost every initial sexual situation.

I looked at her CDs and waved a toy gun out my window and stared at things as she drove through Gainesville. We seemed to have no destination. After 10-20 minutes she asked if I wanted to go to Chris’ house (I had said I was sleeping on a sofa on a school bus in Chris’ backyard) and I said I did. It was maybe 10:00PM. We parked and walked to the house through a gate into the backyard and sat side-by-side on a picnic bench inside a giant, tent-like thing—2 sides and the top were enclosed—for 10-20 minutes, saying things with 30-90 seconds of silence in between. At one point she touched my head and stopped and said “I can’t do the massage thing” in a voice like she was looking in the opposite direction. I think I was mostly staring within a 30-50 degree range in front of me at shadowy forms in the distance, dark things on the bench, or “nothing” during this time. My main feeling was maybe a literarily satisfying, vaguely troubling, detached curiousness about how I was somehow mostly focused, in each moment, on opinionlessly acknowledging that I seemed completely unmotivated to initiate physical contact, despite feeling very attracted to her and wanting on many levels for us to touch/kiss and not currently feeling nervous or shy. I sat there not doing anything. On some level I felt amused that I was consciously “not moving at all” while “ever aware” that I was in a situation where I could seemingly easily do something I had sort of fantasized about 4-7 months.

At some point she said she “guessed” she was leaving to her friend’s house to sleep. I said “okay” in a nonchalant tone while feeling depressed and a little nervous. She didn’t move to leave and I began to feel calm. It seemed like she might not leave until something happened. I stood and walked a little and asked, looking at the back of her head (she was still sitting), if she wanted to look at the inside of the bus. Here is the last paragraph of an earlier, unpublished draft of Shoplifting from American Apparel:

They went on the bus. “Someone might be sleeping, is that a person,” said Sam holding his cell phone’s light to a mattress. “It’s not a person, I think. Yeah, no one’s here.” He turned and stood facing Audrey. He could not see her face clearly. He hit his head against something coming down from the ceiling. He jumped a little and hit his head against the thing a few times. Audrey tried to hit the thing by jumping. She wasn’t tall enough. She stood close to Sam and Sam felt her looking at him. She put her hands on Sam’s waist then stood not touching him but looking at him.

After that we kissed. I removed her jacket as we kissed. There was a mattress at the back of the bus with another mattress above it like a bunk bed. Knowing people might come on the bus we seemed to move faster than normal, which seemed exciting, to some degree. We moved toward the mattress pretty quickly. She said “do you want to fuck me?” while we were still standing. I said “yes.” I think I had removed—or had my hands under—her shirt. We sort of kneeled on the mattress. She asked if I had a condom and I said I didn’t and she said “fuck” as I felt myself calmly focused on enjoying and feeling glad about the situation.

I don’t remember what chronologically happened after that. At one point I was kneeling, I think, due to the top mattress being maybe 5 feet above the bottom mattress, and my penis was in her mouth. At another point she was on her back and I “discovered” she had a silver ring in each of her nipples and—in a noticeably deliberate manner—enclosed one ring in my mouth while probably having an image of myself grinning a little. I think I had tried to remove her bra and was unsuccessful 5-10 seconds before she “did it herself.” At one point my penis was in her mouth as I was supine and I think I stopped her after 40-60 seconds and pulled her toward me and eventually put 2 fingers in her vagina with us both lying sort of on our sides. I felt aroused, to varying degrees, rereading/editing the first 2-6 drafts of this paragraph. She was maybe 5’3” and 105 pounds and felt soft and warm. Her face seemed stoic in a manner like she had a low-level, ever-present, not-confused awareness of the implications of death/limited-time on her actions and feelings. I don’t remember if I orgasmed. I have a vague memory of “considering” orgasming onto the mattress, thinking that no one would be strongly affected, due to different people sleeping there each night and no one showering, I think, during the 3–4 day music festival. I might have orgasmed onto her stomach and cleaned it with my boxer shorts, put the boxer shorts in my pocket, put the boxer shorts in a trash bin later. I might have not orgasmed. I’m pretty sure I didn’t orgasm in her mouth and that my penis never entered her vagina. We were on the mattress 3-20 minutes. I honestly don’t remember if I “went down” on her briefly or if I tried and she stopped me. I don’t know if she orgasmed. I remember focusing on doing things with my fingers in a manner I felt would be conducive to her orgasming.

After we finished we lay without touching except maybe the sides of our arms. She seemed averse, at this point, to us holding each other. One of us said something about being nervous someone might come on the bus and we put on clothes. I asked when she got her nipple rings. I think she said “last summer.” I think I said I liked them. She apologized in a concerned tone for smelling and said she didn’t usually smell. I had not thought she smelled at all but related to her apology, to some degree, because I’d felt dirty throughout the day—it had been 75-85 degrees and we’d been mostly outside—and appreciated and felt attracted to and a little surprised by her concern.

We left the bus and she said something indicating she was going to sleep. I said I would walk her to her car. For some reason my main thought, again, walking toward her car, was that I wanted to sit closely with her in a low-lit restaurant. I felt a little confused that she wanted to leave. About halfway to her car she said “I had fun” while smiling at me. I said I also had fun. I asked if she wanted to eat with me. She seemed to hesitate then said she did. I felt depressed she hesitated but glad she wanted to eat with me. After 5-10 seconds she said she shouldn’t, and wanted to sleep, or something, and we hugged at her car and she asked if I wanted a ride. I pointed at a sushi restaurant across the street. I said I was going there. She had a serious facial expression. We said “bye.” She went in her car. I walked toward the sushi restaurant fantasizing a little that she would drive back while weakly thinking of reasons why she left. In earlier drafts of this “piece” I listed 5 reasons in a giant paragraph that, after a few days of editing, seemed “extremely boring” and “a little bleak”—as a thing to think about repeatedly and strongly have in my memory—and that I felt glad to delete.

At the sushi restaurant I felt emotional and alert. I ordered and sat and wrote on the back of 4-7 take-out menus what happened that day, from seeing “Audrey” in line until the current moment—writing things while sometimes looking with “weakly-focused to not-focused” eyes at people walking past on the sidewalk outside the restaurant’s glass front. TC mark

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More From Thought Catalog

  • David

    This was good, I think

  • ok

    This was great. Laughed like 15-20 times.

  • http://www.AriasOscar.com Oscar Arias

    I like it.

  • http://popserial.tumblr.com stephen

    i liked this

  • http://kilakilakila.blogspot.com Brittany

    nipple rings make me a little nervous
    like what if i make a wrong move and rip it out with my teeth or something
    that's probably not a common occurrence

  • http://newhandsweepstakes.com/contributors/brian-mcelmurry/ Brian McElmurry

    When I read “SFAA” I wondered if Sam and 'Audrey' did sexually interact, and the novella's version suggested it. It's interesting reading a different version in the first person. And especially how you describe the sex, or what you remember of it. It definitely makes me think of when you wrote of certain types of authors, something like, 'generally doesn't have sex with people he meets on myspace or internet.' Or something like that. I loved she was dressed in all pink, based on your suggestion. It's quite a literary conquest.

    • tao

      sweet

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Ortiz/1279921705 Carlos Ortiz

    I enjoyed this piece, I experienced some emotional parallelism in regards to how you described this encounter, I liked it when Audrey apologized for smelling and empathized with your reaction minus the surprise.

  • Guest

    Bro. Are you vegan or aren't you? Nothing worse than a faux-vegan, man. Nothing worse.

    • http://heheheheheheheeheheheehehe.com/ Binky Tabby

      i'm not a vegan

  • Guest

    Nice Tao, Nice.

  • Jimmy Chen

    reading this gave me an erection, and i generally only get erections with visual stimulation. this bus experience beats the bus experience in 'into the wild' any day.

    • http://heheheheheheheeheheheehehe.com/ tao

      glad you got an erection

  • Mark

    This is the literal equivalent of watching Antiques Roadshow

    • shane leach

      i am in the library and lol'd. 20-30 people are staring at me. i totally agree but also like antiques roadshow a lot.

      • tao

        nice

  • tracy morgan

    maybe going to 'print this out' and put it in my copy of sfaa.

  • e.e Cummings

    This made me come.

  • ingridLola

    the sentence about people continuing to read due to the nipple ring foreshadowing is probably why i continued to read, maybe

  • Nealman

    I had an erection before the 'sexual' scene and felt justified when I got to the scene, as if I'd somehow been proactive.

  • http://twitter.com/uuumlauttt gogo tutu

    this sounded honest. especially because I may be feeling an enjoyment out of boredom for the last couple of days.

  • tracy morgan

    why hasn't anyone pretended to be tao in the comments yet

    step up your game, guys

  • Matt

    Pretty good. Laughed 5-7 times.

    • Matt

      Also, related to various descriptions maybe 1-3 times, thus creating a distant sense of affinity with the words, but not a strong enough sense of affinity that would be capable of motivating me to apply for the 'Tao Lin School of Poetry' as mentioned on HTML GIANT recently. Sorry, bro, and good luck with your poetry school.

  • http://steveroggenbuck.blogspot.com steve roggenbuck

    good job tao

    a girl next to me in the library is making weak laughing sounds

    and just said sorry to me

    and said 'its just making me smile'

    i think she is looking at facebook

    as i have said about your and ellen's books, i really enjoy reading multiple accounts of the same thing from your life with different details included and not included

    • tracy morgan

      this guy follows me on twitter and all he posts is shit about poetry

  • Jim

    Nice

  • Lee

    Oh, Audrey.

  • http://iwillalwaysbedrunk.com/ Jake Fournier

    This is pretty good. Makes me think something along the lines of “detachment is a pretty good substitute for actual experience.”

    • http://iwillalwaysbedrunk.com/ Jake Fournier

      This is *really* good, I mean.

  • Pewpdude

    I laughed .5 – 3.95 times.

  • Vitamin K

    i'm pretty sure this is how sfaa should of ended.

    being a fan of the work you do i must say that the ending was quite a bummer. so i printed these sheets out
    and added in this (via stick glue and fine cutting)

    so now my copy of sfaa ends like this.

    awesome work tao!

  • Josh Schneider

    'I remember focusing on doing things with my fingers in a manner I felt would be conducive to her orgasming.'

    Been there.

    The original ending is perfect. Reading this was extremely interesting because it felt like “bonus material” on a DVD. I wouldn't glue it into SFAA but its interesting to see your “process.”

    I wonder where the populations of people who “lol'd in libraries” and “got erections” intersects? How many people got boners in libraries?

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