Last October Tao Lin, my ex-husband, put up a post on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to sublet his studio apartment in Murray Hill while he visited family in Taiwan. I responded and PayPal-ed him the significantly discounted friend rate. I would be staying around four weeks. I had visited Tao’s apartment maybe four times prior and had seen photos on Instagram—darkly lit areas, occult-looking décor, some Buddhist imagery, Adderall taped to the ceiling as a form of rehab, and curiously frequent “smoothie disasters.” I was excited to live alone in Manhattan. I was also excited to hopefully gain insight into the private life of a person I’ve admired both up close and at a distance for years—the kind of insight that can only come from sleeping in their bed and looking at their things every day for around four weeks when they’re not there. That sounds kind of creepy. Here is my review of Tao Lin’s apartment.
The Hanging Thing
When I moved in, the giant structure formerly hanging above Tao’s bed was gone. I’d previously seen it in person twice, at sort-of parties, at which I felt surprised by how little attention it was getting. People seemed to treat it like any other passive obstruction. I don’t have memories of asking what it was or why it was there. I’m guessing its materials (Christmas lights, tinsel, black and white cobwebby stuff) were bought or stolen by Tao and his friend* Katie DeMoss from NutHouse, which is across the street and calls itself New York’s "Only 24 Hour Hardware Store.” Sometimes in conversational lulls at a party this December my eyes would wander around the room and land on the hanging thing. The ease at which I could allow such an overwhelmingly insane-looking thing to blend into my idea of “normal party surroundings,” combined with knowing it was among the only other not-talking things in the room seemed funny. I’m not sure I’m glad it was gone when I arrived.
- Only one out of four light switches work.
- Two out of three bulbs in his main lamp are white. One is red.
- There is one light in the bathroom. It is red but glows pink and affects the color of your pee.
Above-Average Reliance on Tape
There’s a variety of tape throughout the apartment, on shelves and in drawers—different brands of packing tape, Scotch tape, double-sided tape. The apartment’s main lamp, around five feet tall and draped with presumably left-over tinsel from the Hanging Thing, falls down when it’s not generously taped to the wall, in addition to being half-leaned against the bed.
When I asked Tao if there was anything else I should know about the apartment before he left, he gestured to the refrigerator and said, “You need to use tape, it won’t stay closed.” His face was the face of a person who tapes a door shut after every time he opens it. I’m being a little dramatic. Adapting to something’s brokenness rather than fixing it reminds me of a quality of Tao’s that, before I knew him well, seemed frustratingly absentminded professor-like, but now seems indicative of the kind of unbiased intelligence operating behind the structure of the universe. Rocks don’t protest erosion, it just happens. Then something new happens. It feels appropriate to me that Tao would live with a broken refrigerator door.
Speculations on the Kiddie Pool in the Kitchen
- It was bought as a reminder of summer or Jacuzzis, to alleviate depression.
- Tao saw it in a dumpster and thought throwing it away would be wasteful, but also didn’t know what he’d do with it.
- Katie and Tao planned to incorporate it in the Hanging Thing.
- It was used to make DMT (I don’t know how DMT is made).
- It’s used for meditation.
- It’s used for punishment.
On sleepless 36-hour Adderall binges, a routine Tao has said he sometimes assumed while working on Taipei, the hum of distant traffic and occasional honking can sound unbearable. Midmorning sunlight can feel like a brain-melting laser. Large, black pieces of poster board are crudely taped flat against the apartment’s only two windows. A few neon orange earplugs are scattered in areas it’s hard to imagine them being intentionally placed. My favorite world-blocking invention in Tao’s room is the fuzzy pink, small pet bed with something that looks like “9-13/7/12 wear on head to sleep” scrawled in permanent marker across its top, seemingly for the benefit of his future biographer.
Scary Bathroom-Alter Thing
This is somewhat hidden, above eye-level, on top of the bathroom’s mirror above the sink: a snake-like metal pipe hanging limply out of a dark hole in the wall under a shelf containing a menorah missing two candles and a package of Pond’s disposable facial towels. Behind the Pond’s, a bluntly cut wooden rectangle with two needle-like protrusions is loosely screwed into the wall. Everything is lit from below by the bathroom’s red light, which clips onto the mirror. I don’t know. There is probably a simple explanation for this. It’s funny to imagine Tao not thinking there is anything ominous or at least irregular about this.
Tao’s stack of Taipei drafts and notes is enormous, probably ten inches tall, and many of their pages contain graphs and color-coded labyrinthine handwritten edits. In one draft I found “STAPLE GUN BLANKETS ON WALLS” sandwiched between two longer unrelated passages. Another draft features mysterious animal-like damage. I don’t think this is giving anything away about the novel, but it seems important to mention Tao’s attention to eggplant:
In return for mailing a few Muumuu House packages, Tao gave me the rest of his Adderall, located in a clear plastic tray inside an iPhone box atop a shoebox lid in his bottom-left desk drawer, among a variety of other drugs:
- Alorazepam 1mg, one or two pills in gold foil wrapping.
- Xanax 1mg, one pill in a push-out tray that holds ten.
- Percocet 5mg, two pills.
- Trazodone 100mg, around seven pills.
- Suboxone, around 2mg remaining from an orange 8mg sublingual film.
- Adderall 30mg, two or three pills.
- Several unmarked bitten pieces of what I think is Xanax, probably 2mg total.
- Several unmarked, bitten pieces of what I know is Adderall.
Half a small brown vial of powder Tao thought was crystal meth when he bought last winter, but that when he, Katie, and I ate, produced effects similar to ketamine. Tao seemed immobilized on his bed and periodically said things like, “This isn’t what I expected.” I sometimes stood experimentally but found it hard to rise more than a foot off the floor. Katie seemed talkative but confused and drew two blue iguanas on the kitchen wall, which she showed me upon request, dragging me across the floor on a comforter to accommodate my trouble with standing.
*When I asked Katie in an email whether to call her Tao’s “friend” or “girlfriend,” or what, she said to ask Tao, who then emailed me: “Katie told me she told you to ask me about what to refer to her as, I told her that if you asked me I would tell you to ask her, in an effort to outsource the answer away from me.”
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