July 26, 2010

NYU bookstore makes money off Tao Lin’s books while persecuting him personally


Fans of Tao Lin probably know that his 2009 novella Shoplifting from American Apparel, while fiction, was inspired by the fact that he was indeed arrested for shoplifting from an American Apparel store — and also for shoplifting from the New York University bookstore. The latter, in fact, banned him from ever entering again — enacting a kind of double jeopardy, as Lin served his time on that conviction. And meanwhile, they continue to sell his books.

Two years further on, and the NYU bookstore has changed locations, expanded, and also attached itself to a cafe — the Think Coffee. Interestingly, Shoplifting is on prominent display in the front of the store. Last week, after going to the Think Coffee “10-20 times … to buy iced coffee,” Tao found himself in hot water there once again, although he had paid for what he had, this time.

As he details in a report for Gawker:

11:20 a.m. I was sitting alone at a table “idly sipping'” Pellegrino while sometimes “napping” facedown on my arms, reading a novel manuscript, looking at my iPhone. I had a full iced coffee I was going to “chug” “soon.” After 70-90 minutes someone [touched me or said my name] and I removed my earphones. “Tao?” said a 55-year-old man. “Are you Tao?” ….

11:25 a.m. the 55-year-old man handcuffed my right wrist to something and I sat in a chair. I alternated between saying that I sort of forgot I was banned, that this was a new store, that their Think Coffee location was convenient. I focused on Think Coffee. I was honestly confused to what degree I “forgot” I was banned. Both the 55-year-old man and the Hispanic woman seemed familiar with my writing in a manner like they “agreed completely” with the “damning” review of Shoplifting from American Apparel on Bookslut….

11:50 a.m., after I hadn’t been spoken to for 2-4 minutes, the Hispanic woman said “are you still writing?” I was quiet then said “I’m always writing” in a depressed monotone, not looking in her direction, probably “accidentally” conveying something like “yes, I am stoically ‘enduring’ my life of ‘having no choice’ but to always be writing.”

Later the 55-year-old man said “what was your first book called?” while not looking at me, vaguely in the manner of a father-son “strained relationship” scene in a day-time drama.

I thought “first – um…” then, staring ahead, sort of unfocused my eyes and said “my first book is you are a little bit happier than i am” in an extreme monotone.

The 55-year-old man said “the one with ‘shoplifting’ in the title, what was that called?” while walking in a slow, goalless manner that seemed to be “leading him” out of the room.

I was quiet then said “Shoplifting from American Apparel” in a reluctant, vaguely embarrassed, somehow slightly accusatory manner. Immediately an NYU officer I hadn’t fully noticed said “oh, really” a bit loudly and walked quickly out of the room.

Lin was taken to jail. Once again, he found himself in the Tombs with a wild assortment of cell mates.

11:40 p.m. a 30-year-old African-American arrested for driving with a suspended license said his public attorney said the judge was offering him 7-days in jail or 3-years probation. The 30-year-old said “jail-time for a driving violation, I was like ‘no.'” People said things expressing injustice or disbelief. Someone said “who is this judge?”

After 2-4 minutes it was revealed that the 30-year-old had 16 license suspensions. People’s facial expressions seemed to change immediately. There was less “eye contact” in the cell. After a few seconds someone said “16 suspensions.” After 30-40 seconds someone asked what “probation” was exactly.

In the end, Lin received a sentence of one day of community service and a $125 fine. You’re safe to walk the streets again.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives