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Going Grey with Hints of Neon

Finding common ground amongst a range of women (and some men) addicted to reading Shades of Grey.

Two minutes into my search for new running shoes, I couldn’t resist calling my sister. “Neon. It’s the new black.”

She answered exactly as I’d expected, in classic Betsy style. “I’m not wearing neon.” Pause. “Okay, I’ll wear neon.”

“I’m resisting. Size 11 shoes should not be fluorescent,” I said.

“How much says you’ll own a pair in two weeks?” Betsy challenged.

There was no way I was taking her up on that bet, because I knew that as soon as I saw her wearing ridiculous neon sneakers, I’d have to have a pair.

Then I went on a gal pal trip to the Caribbean and realized neon wasn’t limited to athletic shoes. Lined up on the pool deck were a group of six young women, all in their early twenties, and all wearing neon bikinis.

Apparently, my friends and I hadn’t gotten the neon-bikini memo when we were packing for our trip. We got the Land’s End perfect-fit-for-all-body-types memo, and thus hit the beach in armored swimwear suitable for both our aging bodies and a visit to the Vatican.

On the surface, it seemed the neon-clad young women and the black-girdled middle-aged gals had nothing in common.

But we did.

We were all reading the same books. We were all deeply ensconced somewhere in E L James’ Shades of Grey trilogy.

Don’t even pretend to be coy about the books. Those e-readers don’t fool anyone. I spotted no fewer than five women on our flight reading the series, all clicking and tapping the pages as fast as they could. Even the young woman in the airport who sold me my gum was in the midst of book one.

For the single troglodyte alive who hasn’t heard of this series, let me tie you to a post, bind your hands together, and explain what’s going on. And, for the record, you want me to explain it that way. You’re ready—oh so ready—for me to explain it to you. And I will explain it to you. In clear, straight, strong prose. And I’ll take my time, savoring every nod and glistening glimmer of your appreciation of the plot. And we’ll understand it, together, at the same moment, in a shattering explosion of connected communication.

And then I’ll buy you a new computer and a new smart phone and a new car and new clothes. And you’ll love me for all of it.

By cocktail hour, the neon bikinis and the girdled gals were conversing about Shades of Grey. Here is a summation of the dominant theme running among the older set: Well, intellectually, the premise is disturbing, but maybe we could look at some of this and treat it like the Cayenne pepper in our cupboards, something we could add in small amounts to liven up whatever’s left-over and sitting in the fridge.

Here, now, is a summation of the submissive theme running among the twenty-year-olds: Yoo-hoo. Any Christian Greys out there? Come-out, come-out wherever you are. And bring your cable cords, cuffs, and credit card.

Let’s be clear. The novel’s leading man is twenty-seven, extremely handsome, completely fit, has great hair, billions of dollars, a fleet of cars, helicopters and planes, and smells good all the time. He happens to have a Red Room of Pain, but honestly, what guy comes without baggage?

It was fascinating to be a middle-aged woman, hailing from the Midwestern suburbs, toting the condescendingly labeled “Mommy Porn” as if it were contraband, only to discover that professional, single women half my age were just as captivated by the erotica du jour. Throughout the trip, snippets of conversations kept popping up. “I can see where that might be okay,” followed by, “page 84 yes, page 366, no.” It was like code, and everybody was in on it.

Even the guys. That’s right fellows, don’t pretend you’re not part of this literary license to thrill. On vacation, I watched as the bikinis talked to a group of bronzed, six-packed, board-shorted young men who were no where to be found when my friends and I hit the beach but who materialized like a fleet of sailors on shore leave as soon as the neons arranged their beach towels. These guys knew all about Fifty Shades, and lots of the banter centered around piqued interest and shocked nodding.

My friends and I provided the shocked nodding, but some of that had to do with the fact that we were within listening distance of those bare-chested young men. It got distracting.

Back home, while running errands, I found myself chatting in-line at Alberto’s with a woman my mother’s age who is reading the book. As we talked, the owner of the store joined in. “My wife plowed through those books. At first she resisted, and then she was hooked.”

It’s like those neon shoes I mentioned to Betsy. Resist all you want, but in the end, you gotta own ‘em. So it is with Shades of Grey. Say you won’t read it. Deny that you’re interested. Claim it’s beneath you.

But come Father’s Day, don’t be surprised when every guy on the list gets a tie… and he’s okay with it.

Bonnie May 05, 2012 at 12:11 PM
You sure entertain Sally. Well written and in a good package. Bonnie.
Jill Goldstein May 05, 2012 at 01:14 PM
I have no problem with mom porn. But why does everything have to be a trilogy/series today? Way too much commitment.
Steven Schwartz May 05, 2012 at 04:41 PM
The funniest thing i've read in a long time! Sorry to realize that i'm a left-over in the fridge...
Sally Higginson May 05, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Today's NYTimes reported that the Brevard County Public Library (in east-central Florida) has "pulled copies of the books from its shelves after officials decided they were not suitable for public circulation." According to our own Highland Park Public Library librarians, as of today there are 65 people on the wait-list for book 1, 24 people on the wait-list for book 2, and 26 people on the wait-list for book 3. And, for the record, our HP library owns 16 copies of the first volume, 5 of the second, and 3 of the third. Censorship be damned. Shame on Brevard County.
Betsy Brint May 05, 2012 at 09:35 PM
I have a lot to say on this topic - but right now my tongue is tied!

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