By Ryan DeShon

(via Flickr)

This piece is part of our "Reading in Public" series, a collection of first-person essays about love, literature and missed connections. Submit your own story by emailing the editor at

Doing laundry is the bane of my existence, but I try to trick myself into enjoying the process, going to a nearby bar to read while I trust that no one is stealing my clothes.

One afternoon, I start the process and walk into my favorite bar, which is perfect: It's empty, just me and the bartender, and she has a book as well, so we have an unwritten agreement. I get a beer, and we go our separate ways. I sit in the middle of the bar and crack open House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, which I had been working on for months. (I am not exactly a book worm.)

Half way through the chapter, a gaggle of cute women come in and sit at the end of the bar. I gather from their chatter that one of them had just gotten off bartending the brunch crowd at a new restaurant down the street. They order their beers, and I continue to trudge through my book. I finish the chapter and finish my beer. I leave my book at the bar to reserve my seat, and I leave to change my load at the laundromat.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (via The Purgatory Press)

Back at the bar, my beer has been refilled and all but one of the women has left. (This bar is a magical place.) I don't want to be "that guy," so I make no effort to encroach on her enjoying her drink. I open my book again and continue reading. I don't notice at first, but she’s now sitting closer to me than when I left. I can sense her looking towards me. She breaks the silence:

"Is that House of Leaves?"

"That it is," I reply in way that I think makes me sounds like Don Draper. Is she hitting on me? Is she bored?

She asks which part I'm at, and I tell her, trying to sound as smooth as possible. She smiles, and I think she may actually be flirting with me when she says:

"I read that in high school."

I have no idea what to think. So she read it in high school — is she implying that I’m reading a book for teenagers? Was it such an easy book for her that its hilarious that I’m reading this as a grown man? (These are probably all just my insecurities, and it was probably a harmless comment.)

We talk about the book a little bit more and move onto other subjects. The bar starts to fill up, and a few more of her friends show up. We all exchange pleasantries. Then a few more of her friends show up; the cycle repeats.

At some point, we end up all sitting at a table against a wall. I am stuck there with 20 people I don't know. I have no idea what their names are. The original woman I was talking to is now eight people away from me, out of earshot, so I have to make small talk with her friends. I feel like I am at someone else's family reunion. The only common thread I have with any of these people is "Your friend read this book in high school" — and I have to point because I never got her name, which makes me seem even more like a psychopath.

This is not how I planned my night to turn out. I need an escape plan. I am pretty drunk, and my social anxiety is starting to boil over.

"Oops, looks like I need a refill," I yell a bit too much like Lucille Bluth, because everyone stops and turn towards me. I get up and head over to the bar. I keep an eye on the group, and once I realize no one is looking at me, I bail. In a haze of intoxication and anxiety, I head home, where I realize, fuck, I forgot my clothes.

Ryan DeShon is a designer, developer and Blackhawks fan who lives in New York. Formerly, he worked for Harpo Studios in Chicago. Along with Barbara Cleveland Bourland, he designed and built this site. Follow him on Instagram.

Have a first-person essay recalling your own bookish missed connection? Submit it to our "Reading in Public" series by emailing the editor at

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