Shoplifting From American Apparel
By Tao Lin
Photo by Patrick O'Dell
This is a true story about stealing from a corporation. American Apparel is a corporation. Therefore if they stop making a lot of profits they’ll stop existing, the fair-labor workplaces will be closed, another Circuit City or maybe Wendy’s will open, or else they’ll move their labor to Brazil or somewhere. I’m not critiquing anything right now, just stating facts. I’ll still be your friend if you drive a Hummer twice a day to Wendy’s to eat chicken nuggets. I’m just saying, don’t hate me for stealing from an independent clothing company, because then you’d be basing your hatred on something that isn’t real. The “organic vegan restaurants” I talk about in the third paragraph are Pure Food and Wine, Angelica Kitchen, and Sacred Chow. This story is labeled fiction because I left some things out, moved some things around, and I’m not sure if all the dialogue is exactly like it was in real life.
I had a reading that night in Brooklyn. I wanted a nicer shirt. American Apparel has nice shirts. I went to American Apparel. The security guard who normally stands in American Apparel wasn’t there. I held the shirt I wanted and walked around. I saw a strange man holding a book two inches from his face with his eyes over the top of the book. The man was looking at me. I thought he was just being strange. Many people are strange. I walked out of American Apparel holding the shirt.
The strange man made noises behind me. I looked at him. He asked to see my shirt. “Do you work there?” I said. He said he did. “Do you really work for American Apparel?” I said. He said he did and showed me a police badge attached to a thing on a belt buckle under his oversize jersey. “Oh,” I said. We went inside. We went downstairs. They took my picture and put me in handcuffs. “Don’t steal from us,” said the manager. “Steal from some shitty corporation. We have fair-trade labor. I mean fair labor. We are subsidized by the government. We have goals that are aesthetically pleasing to the general public who wouldn’t ever use the word ‘aesthetically,’ which is part of why I think we still exist, or something.”
“I spend my money on even better places,” I said. “Organic vegan restaurants.”
“I’m all for that,” he said.
They took my photo and wrote “Arrested” on it and put it on the wall. There were other photos and some people looked happy in them. A few said “Arrested.” The person who caught me bent at the waist to put his head by mine and someone took a photo of us. His name was Luigi. “What are you trying to do, Luigi?” someone said. “Get a bonus?”
They took my handcuffs off. A cop came and put me in new handcuffs and brought me to his car. He said he would try to make it so I could leave that day from the holding cell and then a month later go to court and probably be given community service. He said it would be up to his boss.
We got there and they put me in a cell with a bald Caucasian, a skinny Hispanic, and a tall Asian. I sat on a bench. The tall Asian said he bought things from Duane Reade and then went to Kmart and on the way out of Kmart someone stopped him and looked in his bag and saw shampoo and other things from Duane Reade and said he stole those things from Kmart and then brought him into a room and told him to get into a cell. The tall Asian said he would not go into the cell. They put the tall Asian man in a headlock and punched him and kicked him and emptied his tote bag and took money from him.
The tall Asian said he saw them take cash from him. He made a motion of putting cash into a chest pocket. I laughed and then made a facial expression that was an indecipherable combination of sympathy, boredom, antagonism, disbelief, and confusion. “They are running a racket there,” said the tall Asian. He said he didn’t have money to get a lawyer. He said he was an international student from Canada.
“Canada,” I said.
A drunk man with blood on his face, inside his ears, and on his shirt was brought in. He looked like the white guy in Rocky III that gets trained by Rocky and then betrays Rocky. “I get punched in the face at Starbucks and I get thrown in jail?” he screamed. “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 stood up drunk 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. The skinny Hispanic said, “Hey man, don’t touch me. I don’t do nothing to you. I didn’t do nothing to you, don’t touch me.” He shook hands with the drunk man. “Solidarity,” I thought.
The drunk man sat and continued to scream at the police. “I’m covered in blood and I’m in jail,” he screamed. “This isn’t fair. I am going to ass-rape you so hard.” A cop said the drunk man was going to be ass-raped first and then left the room. The drunk man screamed, “You don’t want to fuck with a man who is smarter than Einstein.” A different cop 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. My shirt is fucking covered in blood and I am in jail.” The drunk man stood and walked around. He walked into me a little. I was sitting on the ground. He looked at me. I did not look at him. He screamed at a cop who was standing a few inches from the cell bars, “Where is the other guy? Is he here now?” The cop said the other guy was not here. “Awesome,” screamed the drunk man. “Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.”
The cop left. The tall Asian said, “What’s your name?” to the drunk man. The drunk man said his name and then said, “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 getting punched in Starbucks. “I got in a bar fight,” said the drunk man. “I took some clients out and this is what I get.” The tall Asian asked what happened to the other guy. “He ran away.”
Everyone was calm for a while. Then the drunk man said, “I am going to kill everyone here. 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. 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. The bald Caucasian had an angry facial expression. The police took the drunk man out of the cell. From outside the cell he screamed at the skinny Hispanic and the bald Caucasian, who was short and fat. He screamed at bald Caucasian, “You are never working in the union again.” The bald Caucasian said, “Union? What the fuck are you talking about? I’m a drug dealer about to go away for a long time.”
The police were holding the drunk man. “Where’s your union now, bitch?” said the bald Caucasian. The police put the drunk man in another cell. “I get in a stupid bar fight and I’m covered in blood,” screamed the drunk man. “And I’m the one in jail. What about the other guy?”
“I thought you were in Starbucks?” said a cop.
“I was taking a shit in Starbucks and I came out and some guy hits me,” said the drunk man. “I was in Starbucks. You don’t believe me? I was in fucking McSorley’s, the oldest bar… you motherfuckers. This isn’t fair.”
A black cop said, “Life isn’t fair.”
“You,” screamed the drunk man. “Life. You are bringing life into this? Don’t do that, you motherfucker. Don’t fucking do that. You are bringing life into this. I am so angry right now. I need to make some calls. I am running a failing business. I need to check my email.” The drunk man called the black cop a nigger and then screamed at another cop, “You fat Irish boy who couldn’t get a girlfriend so you became a cop. Fuck you.”
The bald Caucasian screamed, “You rich whiny-ass white boy.” He screamed something about the drunk man’s watch, that it was really expensive. They were in different cells and couldn’t see each other. “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 $20,000 Rolex, you motherfucker. I am going to fucking sue all of you.”
“That is what I am talking about,” said the bald Caucasian. “Rich white boy. That is what rich white boys do, they say they’re going to sue you.”
“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.”
The drunk man had fallen asleep in the other cell. They took the bald Caucasian out to get his fingerprints. The skinny Hispanic said he was in for possession of 2 oz. of marijuana. He said he had another bag of marijuana and pointed at his crotch. He said, “They pat these places.” He touched his pockets. “But not here.” He pointed at his crotch. He grinned. He touched his shoe and said there were pills in there. He said something about making $1,000. He was going to sell the pills and the marijuana when they brought him to central booking. The bald Caucasian came back. His facial expression slowly changed into a combination of nostalgia, rhetoric, and calmness. He said the Fukanese run Chinatown now. He said he sold fireworks since he was 11. He said everyone used to eat well in Chinatown. He said the Fukanese fucked up Chinatown. He asked me what part of China I was from. I said I was from Taiwan. “You know that little island off China?” I said. “I know,” he said. “I am geographically sound.”
A cop told us the drunk man had beat up a homeless person, not gotten beat up at Starbucks. The bald Caucasian and the skinny Hispanic talked shit about the drunk man. “He’s drunk,” said the black cop. “People are different when they’re drunk. He might sober up and be the nicest person you ever met.” Later they woke the drunk man, and the cop he had called a fat Irish boy took his fingerprints. The drunk man talked with the Irish boy and they hugged and shook hands. The tall Asian was released. They took the bald Caucasian out of the cell. He came back. “They told me what I was getting,” he said. “I’m going away for a long time.” He and the skinny Hispanic talked about killing the drunk man. About five hours had passed. I signed a paper saying I would go to court. They let me go. I went back to American Apparel. Luigi was there. He grinned at me and went and got my bag. He gave me my bag. “Thank you for shopping at American Apparel,” he said.
I went to the library. I emailed the organizer of my reading and cc’d the person I would have read with. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there today,” said my email. “I was arrested earlier in the day and got out around 9:30 in Manhattan somewhere. Was it okay without me? Very sorry about this.” The person I would have read with replied to the email asking if I want a free copy of his book. I emailed him my address. A few weeks later I went to court. I got two days’ community service. The first day I carried bags of shit in Tompkins Square Park. The second day I walked in Tompkins Square Park in a leisurely manner with a grabbing stick. I grabbed many Colt 45s.