What are you reading?”
“50 Shades of Grey.”
We were lying on the beach in Aruba, a girls’ vacation, when one of my gal pals first introduced me to the book that apparently everyone was talking about. I had never heard of it.
“Like a romance novel?”
My other friend, who was devouring The Hunger Games, looked up long enough to say, “kind of, but with more sex….like…no-joke sex…S&M, that kind of thing.”
“It’s a bestseller,” my other friend continued, “and I heard sales of e-readers are going through the roof because women want to read it, but they don’t necessarily want everyone to know they’re reading it.”
“Really? Is it any good?”
“It’s kind of hot.”
And that was that. She went back to her Kindle and I went back to staring at the ocean and people watching.
Mommy porn. What?
I’ve never been one to read something that everybody else is reading. I don’t have a reason for it, really, it just never seems to happen. I’ve also never read very many romance novels. I’m more of a humor or mystery kind of gal. If I ever have managed to get past the cheesy covers of some of those steamy reads, I get caught up in the language. It’s either too clinical (what is this, an examination?) or too metaphorical (he did what?…Wait, where? Am I picturing this correctly?)
It’s not that I’m a prude or anything, it’s just that there’s a part of me that can’t read anything without imagining writing about it. This is especially problematic when it comes to reading about sex. Instead of thinking about having it, I think about writing about it and it becomes a decidedly unsexy exercise. It’s like…explosive diarrhea. Generally speaking, I know exactly what it’s all about, I just don’t want to describe it to anyone or have anyone describe it to me.
Still, I had to admit, I found myself all kinds of intrigued by 50 Shades.
When it was time to end the vacation and go home, we boarded the plane to New York City and my friend who was reading The Hunger Games and I ended up sandwiched in our aisle seats between a family of four–me with the father and daughter, she with the mother and son. The father looked like a cross between Antonio Banderas and Dr. Oz and so in my mind I immediately started referring to him as Antonio BanderOz. His wife was the kind of woman my mother would describe as someone who could “eat corn through a picket fence.” In great contrast to her tan and somewhat handsome husband, she was profoundly plain and beige, almost pathologically so, but they were friendly and talkative and so were their children. All things considered, they were not the worst people to be stuck sitting next to on a flight.
“OOOH, that book is soooooo good,” the daugher, who was about 12, was pointing over her father’s head at my friend’s copy of Mockingjay. “Do you love it?” She asked.
My friend said that she did and the girl seemed pleased with the answer. She settled back in her seat as the flight crew made the final preparations for takeoff. I took out my own book and tried my best to put out the signal that I really just wanted to relax and not spend the whole flight chatting.
“New York, New Jersey or Connecticut?”
Dr. BanderOz didn’t catch the drift.
“Where you from?” He clarified.
“New York,” I said.
“Well, Albany, actually.”
“Albany?!” His bushy eyebrows raised in authentic surprise. ”Wow. Good for you,” he said. “It’s pretty rural up there.”
What? “Well…” It’s the capital of the state for God’s sake.
“We’re from Connecticut. Born and raised,” he went on, not missing a beat.
“That’s nice,” I said and tried again to settle back into my seat.
“So how are you getting back to Albany?”
What does that mean? I didn’t have time to ask before he interrupted himself.
“I mean, that’s, what, like a four, five hour drive?”
“It’s about three,” I said, “but I’m taking the train in the morning.”
He seemed genuinely shocked at the idea. “Ooooh,” he said, “the train! Now, what runs up there?”
Where does this guy think Albany is? “Um. Amtrak?”
“Does it? I don’t think it does. I spent some time up near Albany. Up in Elmira.”
I was trying to be polite, but BanderOz was beginning to try my patience. “That’s much further west, actually” I said. Try three hours west.
BanderOz and his daughter regarded me for a moment and I imagine it’s the same look Fresh Air kids give their country hosts–like they’re aliens only less interesting. Across the aisle, my friend continued to comfortably read her book in relative solitude, pausing only occasionally to help pass snacks or share brief pleasantries. I was dying of jealousy.
Eventually, tiring of his interrogation, BanderOz turned his attention to explaining the finer points of aviation to his daughter and then to an in-flight movie, leaving me to my bumpkin self. It was a sense of pure relief. I turned on some music, closed my eyes and began the grim process of preparing myself to return to the real world after nearly a week in paradise.
All was quiet when the pilot came on to tell us our flight would be arriving early.
“Looking good, folks. We’re getting in about a half-hour ahead of schedule and it is a balmy 47 degrees in New York City tonight.” A collective and comedic groan rose from the cabin and BanderOz couldn’t resist.
“Probably real cold up there in Albany.” He smiled.
I smiled back. “Probably.”
Then, in a moment that defied any conversational segue existing anywhere, at any time, at any point in history, he looked at me and said, “so have you ever heard of 50 Shades of Grey?”
Oh my God.
“It probably hasn’t made it up your way yet,” he went on. “It’s a book. Maybe three months or so it’ll make it up there where you are. My wife’s reading it.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “It’s one of those…romance things.”
Get me…out of here.
I glanced across the aisle. Plain Jane BanderOz was leafing through a magazine but now her secret was out. Mommy porn. Good Lord.
Maybe it was BanderOz’s suggestion that I wouldn’t have access to it from my remote location in outermost Upstate New York or maybe it was that enormous smile on his wife’s goofy face, but before we even pulled into the gate, I had made up my mind. I was buying that book.