May 21st, 2012

Rants from the Rat-Race: Fifty Shades of Shhhhhhhh

It became a weekly occurrence. The setting was forever changing… sometimes in the elevator, in the ladies room, outside in the smoker’s exile station. The cast altered… the female receptionist from the doctor’s office down the hall or the woman I’ve been smoking next to for the past three years who has generally respected my clear desire for silence during puff breaks. The question was always the same… “Have you read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey?’”

No, I hadn’t.

I wear my aversion to New York Times Mega-Sellers as a badge of honor. I didn’t need to read ‘The DaVinci Code’ to chat my way through cocktail parties and I never bothered to disguise my concern for the multitude of fully grown adults who recommended the ‘Twilight’ series to me. I’m a self-respecting, snobby-as-sh*t disdainer of popular fiction. It’s a lingering hipster affliction – the only viral infection contracted in college that still lingers, unresponsive to antibiotics of any kind.

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But as the weeks clicked by and strangers routinely kept cornering me, kept asking me, “Have you read this ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ book? I keep hearing people talk about it.” Yeah, me too. People like you. People who have never, ever spoken to me before. So what? What is this all about? What could this book possibly contain that seems to be a great equalizer for instinctively competitive professional women?

Sex, apparently. Raunchy, hand-cuffy, crazy sex. Strangers, completely nameless women, have been trying to strike up countless conversations with me over the past few weeks concerning one of the raciest books found outside the backrooms of Zone D’Erotica. That’s… shocking. And, according to my husband, kinda hot. I suppose he has a point. Isn’t it time, high time, that women have an outlet for all those burning little red devil desires we so often ignore and postpone in favor of focusing on workplace disputes and happy hour dramas? I decided this could very well be the next wave of sexual liberation for women – sneaking away during lunch hour or coffee breaks to steal a few breathless minutes with some hardcore illicit lit.

If this sounds like self-justification, that’s because it is. It’s the same reason that I did, eventually cave to peer pressure years ago and read one of the ‘Twilight’ books… purely for sociological research purposes, mind you. It wasn’t because I was the biggest poser, the most flaming hypocrite to ever keep a volume of the complete works of Joyce on her coffee table. No. That wasn’t it at all.

But now, only a couple of hours and yet many, many chapters into the latest “have you read…” sensation, I find myself facing a fresh dilemma. This week, when someone inevitably corners me with a repeat of the impromptu book club session, I’ll have only two choices. Lie, which I don’t do well, given the tendency of my cheeks and ears to flame in moments of blatant dishonesty. Or, tell the truth. In which case I’ll be stuck in an elevator, or in a ladies room or sharing a relaxing smoke next to someone who will give me a knowing nod or god forbid, maybe a wink. I don’t want to know my co-workers’ or even remote office building residents’ impressions of the Fifty Shades main character’s deflowering by a billionaire. I just… prefer to think of everyone I meet in a professional capacity as sexually dormant. Like teachers. Or siblings. Or parents.

Being in the know has become its own punishment. Every chick at Starbucks in the morning hunched over a Kindle, every secretary failing to register when someone walks in because her nose is inches from her computer screen, every woman in my office who vanishes during lunch and comes back with a dewy-eyed expression of haughty naughtiness… yeah, I know what you’ve been reading. And you know what I’ve been reading. But please, let’s just not talk about it.

— Kerri

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