Coming June 9, 2016, Here & Now listeners and visitors will experience our stories and journalism online in a whole new way.
E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” has been burning up the best-seller lists this summer. Readers have been enraptured by the tale of college co-ed Anastasia Steele who’s swept off her feet by billionaire Christian Grey only to find that he is into bondage and dominant/submissive sex.
Romance book reviewer Andrew Shaffer has read James’ books and found them so appalling that he wrote a parody, “Fifty Shames of Earl Grey.”
In his book, Earl Grey is into fantasy role-playing rather than bondage and he takes the billionaire hero to new heights.
Shaffer told Here & Now‘s Robin Young that in the original “the most he does is fly a helicopter. So in mine I actually have him fly a… Tomcat from ‘Top Gun.’ ”
Since she’s too busy throwing up buckets of puke into the toilet, I’ve been volunteered to do her dirty work. (The interview, not cleaning up her vomit.) I am mere weeks away from graduating from college with a liberal arts bachelor’s degree. Instead of studying for my final exams, though, I’m about to ride my bike three and a half hours from Portland, Oregon, to downtown Seattle to meet with Earl Grey, the fabulously wealthy CEO of the Earl Grey Corporation. The interview can’t be rescheduled, Kathleen says, because Mr. Grey’s time is precious and oh-so-valuable. Like mine isn’t? As I said, my roommate is a total B. Kathleen is sprawled out on the living room couch watching 16 and Pregnant. This wouldn’t be so bad if she was my age and in school, but she’s old enough to be my mom.
If they ever do a show called Washed Up at 38, I’m sure she’ll be the first cast. She’s a staff writer for Boardroom Hotties, a gig she treats as her own Rich Asshole dating service. None of the corporate executives she’s profiled have proposed to her, but she has made sandwiches with quite a few of them.
“You have to start somewhere,” she always says. “Why not with peanut-butter-jelly time?”
I don’t know what’s wrong with a good All-American HJ, but then again my experience with the opposite sex is almost nonexistent. Kathleen looks up from her TV show and sees how annoyed I am with her. “I’m sorry, Anna. It took me months to get this interview. Please do this for me,” she begs me with her raspy Christian Bale–as–Batman voice. Somebody smoked too many cigarettes last night.
“Of course I’ll do it, Kathleen. You need to rest. Do you need any NyQuil?”
“Does it have alcohol in it?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Then pour a shot into a glass with some Red Bull,” she says. “And here—take my mini–disc recorder, and ask him these questions. I’ll do the transcribing.”
I can’t believe I’m doing this! I take the mini–disc recorder and notebook from her and hop on my bicycle.
It’s only after I’m peddling on the highway for a half hour that I remember her request for NyQuil and Red Bull. Oh, well. That B can get off her sick butt and mix her own drink.
The Earl Grey Corporation headquarters in downtown Seattle is a ginormous 175-story office building that juts into the cloudless sky like a steel erection. I walk through the glass doors and into the lobby, which is floor-to-ceiling glass and steel. This fascinates me to no end, because buildings back in Portland are made of grass and mud.
An attractive blonde behind the receptionist’s desk smiles at me as I walk in. I assume she’s the receptionist, because I can’t think of any other reason she would be sitting behind the receptionist’s desk. Unless maybe she’s filling in for the real receptionist, who could be on their lunch break. But then I remember: it’s almost two, and I doubt anyone takes their lunch breaks that late. So this must be the actual receptionist.
“I’m here to see Mr. Grey,” I say. “My name is Anna Steal. I’m filling in for Kathleen Kraven.”
“Just a moment, Miss Steal,” the receptionist says, checking her computer. I wish I had borrowed one of Kathleen’s suit jackets for the interview. Standing here in this big building in front of this professionally dressed woman, I feel naked in my Tommy hoodie and Victoria’s Secret sweatpants with pink written across the ass. The sweatpants aren’t pink, though—they’re gray. This always confuses me when I put them on, because shouldn’t they say gray—on the backside? Maybe Victoria’s secret is that she’s colorblind. The receptionist glances up from her computer.
“Please sign in, Miss Steal,” she says, pushing a clipboard with an attached pen across the desk to me. “You’ll want to take the elevator to the ninetieth floor.”
I stare at her blankly. We don’t have elevators in Portland.
“This will be my first elevator ride. How do they work, exactly?” She smiles. “The elevator car that you ride in is suspended in a shaft by a steel rope, which is looped around a grooved pulley called a ‘sheave.’ An electric motor rotates the sheave, raising and lowering the elevator car.”
“That’s fascinating,” I say. “Can I operate it myself?”
“Elevators are very simple to operate. Once you’re inside, you just have to press the button that says ‘ninety,’” she says as I sign in. There’s a hint of sarcasm in her voice, but I let it slide.
They’re probably not used to dealing with hicks from Portland around here.
The receptionist hands me a security badge that reads virgin. Is it that obvious?
“How did you know—”
“That you’re a first-time visitor here at the Earl Grey Corporation? Relax,” she says, winking. “I was just as nervous as you were the first time I met Earl Grey.”
I thank her and head toward the elevator. Two bald, muscular men dressed like secret service agents are standing guard, and one who looks exactly like Vin Diesel pushes the “up” arrow as I approach. Upon closer inspection, it is Vin Diesel. Woah. I step onto the elevator, push the button marked “90,” and the magical box hurtles up toward Mr. Grey’s office. It’s like an amusement park ride, only it’s free, you don’t have to stand in line for two hours, and no one’s thrown up all over the floor. Which makes me think of Kathleen again. The elevator finally slows to a halt. The doors open and I’m in another lobby made of glass and steel. Is the whole building made with the same materials? Where did they ever find so much glass and steel? I begin to do what I always do when I’m thinking: pick my nose. Before I can shove my pinkie in too far, another attractive blonde greets me and guides me to a pleather beanbag chair.
“Wait here, Miss Steal,” she says coolly.
I sink down into the beanbag chair and watch the blonde leave down a hallway. Does Earl Grey employ any male receptionists? What a creep. I dig through my backpack and pull out Kathleen’s notebook and glance over her questions. Who is this man I’m supposed to interview, this man whose last name is the same as the color of my sweatpants?
Is that a sign? That B Kathleen didn’t tell me anything about him, and I didn’t think to ask. My brain is always going blank. This guy could be a hundred years old or five.
Although they wouldn’t let a five-year-old run a company the size of the Earl Grey Corporation, would they? Then I remember: they totally would. I saw it in a movie when I was little. Richie Rich, starring that cute boy from Home Alone. God, if I have to interview an effing kid for the next hour, I’m going to jump out the window right now! I can’t contain my nervous energy. My leg starts twitching. I’d rather be alone, curled up in a ball in my bed, crying myself to sleep.
Anything but about to interview some five-year-old billionaire. Stop it, Anna, a voice says with a thick Jersey accent. It takes me a second to realize that it’s my inner guidette. I can tell it’s her, because when she talks inside my head there’s this weird echoey sound. There’s no friggin’ way he’s five years old. Or a hundred. If he’s being profiled in Boardroom Hotties, he’s probably like every other CEO they lust after: late twenties or thirties and handsome in that geeky sort of way. I breathe a sigh of relief, because I know my inner guidette is probably right. The blonde returns.
“Yes,” I say, in a deeper voice than usual, trying to mask my crisis of confidence.
“Mr. Grey will see you in a few minutes. Would you like a refreshment while you wait? Coffee, soda, tea . . .?”
“Gravy,” I say.
It’s supposed to be a joke, but the woman nods and heads back down the corridor. A minute later, she returns with a clear pint glass filled with thick, brown gravy. Before I can ask for water instead, the office door connected to the lobby swings open and a handsome African American gentleman exits. Jay-Z!
Turning and pointing a finger back through the door, the rapper says, “Nine holes, this week.” I assume he’s talking about golf, but my mind starts to drift to thoughts of other holes. Jay-Z winks at me as he passes on his way to the elevator.
My phone buzzes—it’s a text message from Beyoncé, warning me to keep my hands off her man.
“Mr. Grey will see you now,” the receptionist calls out to me from behind her desk. I pick up my backpack and notebook, and check my hoodie pocket for the mini–disc recorder. Still there. I leave the gravy and make my way slowly toward the open door. I should be back in Portland, studying for my finals so that I can graduate.
Yet here I am, doing Kathleen’s dirty work. I’m going to murder her, if Beyoncé doesn’t kill me first.
I push the door open and trip over the hem of my sagging sweatpants in one swift, clumsy motion. As I careen toward the floor, my body reflexively reverts to gymnast mode. I drop the backpack and notebook, throw my arms out straight, and roll into a cartwheel.
With the momentum picked up from tripping, I complete three full cartwheels before landing on my feet—on Mr. Grey’s desk! I am so embarrassed about my clumsiness that I close my eyes.
Wait. Someone is . . . clapping? I open my eyes and stare down at Mr. Grey and HOLY MOTHER EFFING SPARKLY VAMPIRES IS HE HOT.
From Fifty Shames of Earl Grey: A Parody by Fanny Merkin (a.k.a. Andrew Shaffer). Reprinted courtesy of Da Capo Press.