I’m walking through the hallowed halls of the New York Times office in New York City. I’m doing a summer internship for the “Grey Lady”–how could life get any better? The editor for whom I’ve been taking coffee orders and running errands calls me into his office. This is it. He’s going to ask me to take a staff position. He smiles at me and says… “Excuse me miss, where is Fifty Shades of Grey?”
“There’s a whole display of them at the front of the store,” I say and muster a smile. Then I shut my eyes and hope to be transported back into the daydream I wish was reality, far away from behind the customer service desk of my local bookstore.
This past summer, while some of my friends interned for interesting magazines or websites around the country, I was stuck selling erotica to middle-aged housewives and creepy teenagers. I’ve worked at this store for about four years. I’ve survived every Twilight series best-seller and Bill O’Reilly “non-fiction” book. So I can say with some authority Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James is not only a phenomenon, but an epidemic.
Look, I understand women gotta get their kicks where they can. But when almost every woman to whom I hand a copy of this book says, “You know it’s more than S&M,” a line has been crossed. When my best friend’s mother, who reads religious fiction, tells me this book is about a “true love story,” a line has been crossed. This summer, I was stuck in a prison with women who look and act like my mother telling me to read a book with sex positions I’ve never heard of and can’t even visualize.
I have many stories of my encounters with “Fifty Shaders” (like every time someone asks for the “E.L. James ‘tree-ology’”), but there’s one that I believe represents the whole movement. Two women came up to the customer service desk looking at the display of Fifty Shades of Grey box sets. I asked them if they needed any help, and they gave the “I’m just looking” excuse. A moment later, their husbands and sons (the latter each around ten years old) came up behind them. The husbands laughed at the display of books and the women did also. Their children were a few paces behind roughhousing near the escalator.
“Okay, boys, let’s go upstairs,” one woman said. The boys began to follow when suddenly the display of books caught one of the boys’ eye.
“Hey, Mom!” he yelled to his mother moving up the escalator. “Don’t you have this book at home?” The woman’s face turned bright red and her husband began to laugh.
“My mom is reading it too,” the other boy said. “Right, Mom?” Both women were fighting the urge to scream out, and I could tell by their red faces that they were fuming. They told their sons to stop talking and get up the escalator.
Like the obedient sons they were, the boys listened to their mothers and got on the escalator. However, having seen the embarrassment on their mothers’ faces, they couldn’t help but scream, “My mom reads Fifty Shades of Grey!” as they made their way upstairs.
Do I wish I had spent my summer in the glamorous world of journalism? Yes. But there’s nothing like a summer spent with old ladies and kinky sex to get a girl inspired to write.