In the early 1990s, when I was about 15 years old, I fell in love with a man who was in love with a sheep. It happened while I was lying on the floor of my bedroom in the green north London suburbs, lazily turning the pages of my favorite magazine, The Face. I skimmed through the fashion spreads, wishing I could have been born as pretty as Kate Moss, or with neon blue eyes like Helena Christensen. I turned a page and gasped; before me was a full-page, all color photograph of a naked man making passionate love to a barnyard animal.
He wore nerdy child molester glasses, an unbuttoned flannel shirt, and nothing else. His sinewy torso was covered in sailor tattoos. The slightly blurred, paparazzi-style shot showed him grasping the beast's hindquarters, yanking its woolly body toward his hungry crotch. Wild, frenzied ectsasy contorted not just his face but the sheep’s face too, bringing new meaning to the term "animal husbandry." The sheep had a white visage, like a German Moorschnucke, and was baring her splayed yellow teeth with unhinged, leering rapture. Could it possibly be that this wanton ewe was getting the best ramming of her life? And more importantly, who was this handsome ram?
In the corner, I spied a caption: "Self Portrait by Terry Richardson." I had no idea who Terry Richardson was, where he came from, or why he took photos of himself shagging sheep. But I stared at that photo for what felt like hours. It changed me. It twisted my impressionable mind. It made me feel dirty, it made me realize that rules were made to be broken, that you really could do whatever you want and call it "fashion."
Fast forward 17 years. I’m in Los Angeles, at Ben Stiller’s house. He’s hosting a book release party for the author Jerry Stahl. I sip champagne and look around at the scene. It’s a cold night, and Hollywood’s rich and beautiful encircle a heated architectural pool whose steamy blue glow looks tempting. I make polite small talk but the glamour of the evening only serves to highlight my internalized hopelessness. Things had hit rock bottom for me. I had just lost my job as a fashion editor. As a result, I’d moved out of my cute hillside house with the lemon trees in the garden. Now I’m in a crumbling Silverlake roomshare with a horny ex-Goth lesbian who threatens suicide at least twice daily. Our roommate is a cross-dressing 50-something Orthodox Jew who has just been released from jail for fraud and likes to have his nipples tweaked by aging trannies. My beloved poodle, thanks to a recent spinal injury, is now completely incontinent and I’m changing diapers full of dog shit each day.
Worst of all, my relationship was a joke. My boyfriend was a handsome but confused musician who had been attending Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings to remedy his obsession with the “Casual Encounters” section on Craigslist. I had to bail him out of jail after he got caught with magic mushrooms in his pocket while trying to board a plane to Reno. Then he got busted by undercover cops trying to sell cocaine at a Burger King in Echo Park. After two years together, he didn’t like to talk about “the future,” and was constantly dropping hints about “an open relationship.” Why was I clinging to this dead-end love I wondered, downing another glass of champagne.
Wretched and morose, I was about to leave the party when I spied America’s favorite sheep-shagger Terry Richardson, sitting by himself. I almost choked on my Veuve. There he was, perched unassumingly on the edge of a fireplace, checking his phone. I walked up to him and crouched down.
“Hey,” he looked up, surprised, and smiled.
“I’ve always wanted to ask you something. It’s about that sheep…”
A split second of confusion, and then amazed realization spread across his face. He couldn’t believe I remembered the photograph -- it had been published such a long time ago. I told him there was no way I could ever forget a photograph like that. That photo changed my life, I told him. I asked him what the sheep’s name was? How did he meet her? Did they stay in touch or was it just a one night stand?
“So, did you really, actually, do it with ewe-know-who?” I asked. He winked. He couldn’t possibly kiss and tell, he said. Then he gave me the biggest, warmest hug I’d had from a man in quite a while.
In the car, on the way home, I turned to my friend Steffie who was driving and announced: “If Terry Richardson asked, I’d let him do me. Anywhere he wanted. He can do me in my ear. In my nostril. Anywhere.”
At that very moment, her phone buzzed -- a text message.
“Terry wants the number of the British girl.”
The next day, I’m in my bedroom, flipping through magazines, and a text message flashes up on my phone. It’s Terry Richardson. He’s at his suite at the Chateau Marmont hotel. He’s lonely. I’m not sure what to do, so I call my friend for advice.
“Its Terry Richardson inviting me to his hotel. We all know what that means. If I do this, I might really regret it. I don’t want to cheat on my boyfriend.”
“It’s true that if you do do it, you might regret it,” she said, pondering. “But if you don’t do it, you’ll definitely regret it.”
I wrote Terry back and told him I was on my way.
“Bring your sheep costume,” he said.
“Baaaaa” I responded.
Half an hour later I was in front of the door of his hotel suite. I was wearing Christian Dior underwear beneath a silk flowery dress. My hair was pinned into retro 1940s updo. “Wow, look at you,” he said, opening the door and showing me in. He poured sparkling water, and I remembered that he is sober. We talked for a while. My heart was pounding. He told me about his father, who was also a photographer. We talked about the death of magazines. We talked about New York, and about Los Angeles, and his conflicted feelings about the place. He sat on an armchair and I sat on the other side of a glass coffee table, on a couch. We chit-chatted for a long time. It was polite, cautious, civilized.
After a while though, something compelled him to come closer. During a pause in the conversation he got up off the armchair, moved toward me and kneeled down on the carpet. He was a few feet away. He put his camera on the coffee table. Still on his knees, he took off his glasses, squinted a little and gazed up at me.
“Oh Caroline,” he sighed.
He looked so vulnerable on his knees like that, without his glasses.
“Oh, Terry,” I sighed. Shit, I really liked this guy. No matter what his reputation, no matter if I never saw him again, no matter that I was about to become yet another statistic in Terry Richardson’s lifelong shag-a-thon -- something told me there was nothing to fear.
I patted the couch. “Why don’t you come here and sit next to me, Terry?”
The curtains remained open as we did the things that sheep like to do. I coyly apologized for my bountiful rear (much shapelier than Kate Moss’s), but he seemed to like it very well. He pulled my hind quarters close to his crotch, lavishing praise upon my abundant rump, his face contorted in wild animal ecstasy. Naked, on all fours, with Terry Richardson gripping my haunches, I surveyed the magnificent views from the window, the twinkling lights and the palm trees in silhouette, and fell in love with Los Angeles all over again. I remembered my 15-year-old self and tried to imagine what she would have thought if she had known about this moment. She would have thought it was awesome.