As a writer, I have to admit that E. L. James’ success with Fifty Shades of Grey intrigued me. Intrigued me enough to read the sample on Amazon to see if she could tell a story. The quick verdict is that she’s a dreadful writer, so I’m assuming it’s the sex that sells the book. Thankfully, the sample is sex-free, as I’m uninterested in BDSM and her take on intimacy.
Among other issues, there’s one in particular that’s profoundly depressing about Fifty Shades. It’s the idea that the modern American Girl is a complete idiot and unable to make wise choices when it comes to love and the opposite sex. Let’s face it. The main characteress, Anastasia Steele, is a moron.
Troubled by this portrayal of America, I wrote a parody of the Amazon sample, carefully preserving the plot points, the mental discourse of Steele (Swannk in my version) lame tense choice, a great deal of the dialogue, the word “enigmatic,” and many other Jamesian excesses. I took a few liberties, of course, adding such things as monkeys (always an improvement to a story, regardless of genre), as well as a wrap-up that paints a picture of the American Girl who is more sensible than that simpering twit Steele.
So, let me wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day (celebrated in honor of a brutally martyred Christian saint–how does that evolve to chocolate?) and, without further ado, here’s my version…
FIFTY SHADES OF GOOP
I pout at myself in the mirror. Being a humble person, I reproach my hair for looking so perfect. I also mentally reproach my roommate, Lisa Lysergick, for being sick and forcing me to step in so selflessly to help her in her hour of need. My final exams in Women’s Justice Studies are next week. I should be studying, yet here I am, examining my flawless self in the mirror. Having a fault or two is good for the soul, but I guess my fault is that I have none. I roll my eyes like a metaphorical pair of lovely, blue dice and heave a sigh. I stare at the gorgeous girl in the mirror, at her perfect skin and her blonde hair as lustrous and as yellow as a field of buttercup flowers drenched with melted butter. But then I give up trying to find a flaw. It’s hopeless.
Lisa is my roomie, and she has a hangnail. Hangnails can be pretty intense, particularly when you have lovely fingernails like Lisa has. They’re her best quality. She can’t go outside until they’re healed. That means she can’t go do the interview she set up with some super-duper business tycoon billionaire for our college newspaper. That means I have to go instead. If I was a character in a story, instead of a real person, I would consider this a convenient plot device.
I volunteered to go in her place because I’m an extremely generous and kind person. Plus, this will help satisfy my random acts of kindness requirements for my Neighborhood Activism class. Also, Lisa says I can drive her Prius to the interview. I don’t know about you, but I feel cleaner and better when I drive a Prius. At least, I think that’s how I’m supposed to feel.
I do have final exams to study for, but I’m so intelligent that I’ll probably ace all the tests anyway. No, today I have to drive 166 miles to Seattle where I shall meet Mr. Edward Guptra, the mysterious president of Guptra International Industries Incorporated. I don’t know anything about the man, but Lisa informs me that he is a philanthropists, a genius, and as elusive as an Australian wombat addicted to espresso. Apparently, experts say he has the most enigmatic smile in the world. I guess Lisa was very lucky to get an interview with him.
When I emerge from my bedroom, ready to go, Lisa is sprawled on the couch with a bowl of Cheetos and watching Real Housewives of Topeka.
“Hey, girlfriend,” I say.
When Lisa sees me, she begins to weep and reaches for a box of chocolate fudge to console herself.
“Mary Sue,” she wails, “I’m so sorry to put you through this! You’re such a dear friend. Can you get me another ice-cold orange soda from the fridge while you’re up? Be sure to bring my Prius back with a full tank of gas. Seeing that needle on full makes me feel more smug, because I know a full tank will last so long, due to how the Prius switches between its battery and that horrible fossil fuel in order to achieve amazing mileage. I’d give you some of this tasty fudge, but it might mess up your lipstick. You need to look your best for the interview.”
“How’s your hangnail doing?” I ask. I am a sympathetic person and I am always keenly aware of other people’s pain.
“Oh, right! It hurts so bad,” she moans, clutching her hand to her breast. “Hangnails are the worst! Dr. Hennepin brought a Sudanese refugee to class yesterday to talk about her experiences being bombed and shot at and starved and genocided and all that other stuff, and I asked her if she had ever had a hangnail. She hadn’t! I was so shocked. I told her they really hurt. And it does! Oww!”
“Oh, my,” I say, not wanting to see her in such agony. “You just take it easy, Lisa. Get some rest. Before you know it, you’ll be back on your feet. Would you like some Demerol or Oxycodone or Vicodin or Percocet or Methadone for the pain?”
“Just more Cheetos, please. Here are my questions for the interview.” She hands me a piece of paper. “Take good notes.”
“Jeez, you know, I know nothing about this mysterious billionaire with the enigmatic smile,” I say.
“Don’t worry, Mary Sue. You have my questions,” says Lisa. “Now, go. It’s one hundred and sixty-six miles. The commercial break is almost over–I mean, I want you to get there on time.”
“Get some rest,” I say fondly. “I made you several pans of lobster ravioli with my own home-made pasta for later.”
“I’ll eat it all right now,” says Lisa. “All of it. I won’t even use a fork, as that would result in more dirty dishes for you. Thanks, Mary Sue. You’re just like one of those inflatable buoy things that sailors throw down into the water for drowning people.”
I pick up my purse and smile wryly at her as I head out the door, even though I’m not exactly sure what wryly means. But that’s okay, because I’m pretty sure that the majority of the English-speaking world can’t articulate what wryly means either. I bet that most of them think it’s some kind of bread that gets eaten with corned beef and sauerkraut.
The weather is perfect as I drive down the road in Lisa’s Prius. I’m heading south from Vancouver toward Seattle. I’m not sure what the highway is called that I’m on, because details like that aren’t important. The Prius is a lot of fun to drive and I think about all the trees and cute squirrels and innocent chipmunks with large, expressive eyes I’m saving as I press my shapely foot to the pedal. A squirrel runs out into the road in front of me and I hit it square on with the bumper, just like my dad always says. It makes a soft splatting sound.
According to Lisa’s directions, I’m driving to the headquarters of Mr. Edward Guptra’s international mega-conglomerate business company, Guptra International Industries Incorporated. After some more time driving down various roads and then through Seattle (which is a large city somewhere in the state of Washington), I arrive at my destination. The place is more than huge. It’s the definition of enormous (which means really big). It’s forty stories tall, with windows that made from bulletproof crystal, girded with solid gold pillars and walls. The sides of the building are crawling with trained monkey window-washers.
I’ve arrived right on time. I touch up my perfect lipstick in the mirror of the Prius, frown wistfully at my perfectly groomed hair and then, with a playful smile playing across my lips, I clamber out of the car and stride toward the front door.
The lobby is so enormous that the entire Chinese army could stand inside at attention if, for some reasons (such as invading the United States) they happened to be in Seattle. I walk across the floor for some time and finally reach the polished granite desk in front of the elevators. An impossible gorgeous young lady smiles at me from behind the desk. She looks very clean and her dental hygiene is perfect.
“I’m here to see Mr. Guptra. I’m Mary Sue Swannk, here on behalf of Lisa Lysergick.”
“Let me check the appointments, Miss Swannk,” she says.
I stand elegantly before her, serenely beautiful and stylish in my stylish and beautiful clothing. I’m glad I didn’t borrow one of Lisa’s shapeless blazers. They’re so stretched out of shape that they could double as tents for elephants. They also smell like elephants due to Lisa’s perfume, Eau du Elephante. She is an Environmental Studies major.
“You’re expected, Miss Swannk,” says the attendant. “Please sign here. Take the elevator on the far right, the one encrusted with diamonds.”
“Thank you,” I murmur.
I walk over to the elevator. There are two brawny looking men standing on either side of the elevator. They are dressed in impeccable dark suits and sunglasses. I assume they are security men, but they also look like they could be cabana boys in some elderly lady’s dream. If they were cabana boys in that dream, their names would probably be Ernesto and Rudolfo. There is also a monkey, but he isn’t in the dream (at least, not in the elderly lady’s dream; he might be included in some other weirder person’s dream, but my idle speculation does not extend that far). The monkey is merely polishing the diamond-encrusted front of the elevator.
One of the security men pushes the button that opens the elevator doors. The monkey jabbers something angry sounding in monkey language and steps back. I enter the elevator. The doors slide shut and the compartment zooms silently up toward the fortieth floor. The elevator stops and the doors chime open. I step out into another huge lobby. Another impossibly gorgeous lady smiles at me from behind a desk.
“Miss Swannk, please take a seat,” she says, pointing to a leather chair.
I sit down. The cushions are soft and the leather is both luscious and sumptuous.
“Oh, my,” I say. “This leather feels both luscious and sumptuous.”
“Yes,” says the young lady, “but it is actually an incredibly expensive faux-leather, handmade by happy vacationers in special holiday vacation camps in China. It is even better than the real thing. May I offer you some cooling refreshment, such as organic soy milk, reverse-osmosis purified Fijian monsoon water, or fermented Tibetan yak’s milk?”
I decline, as I stopped on the drive to enjoy a venti mocha latte with a triple-pump ristretto shot, skinny, half-foam top, infused with free trade Kenyan chai berries. I’m feeling alert.
One entire wall of the lobby is pure crystal, a gigantic window that offers a panoramic view of the city of Seattle. It is a beautiful sight, only slightly marred by the presence of several window-washing monkeys clinging to the exterior and busily plying their squeegees. I enjoy the enjoyable sight for a moment and then turn my attention to Lisa’s list of questions. While I know nothing about Mr. Edward Guptra, other than the fact that he’s a billionaire, is mysteriously elusive, and possesses the most enigmatic smile in the world, I am not concerned. Despite the uncertainty of my situation, I am not galled, neither am I nervous. Furthermore, I do not fidget.
I idly wonder how old Mr. Edward Guptra is. People who are ninety-seven years old can certainly smile in an enigmatic fashion. Perhaps he is ninety-seven years old? That is fine with me. In fact, I hope he is very old. I still need to engage in seven hours of social interaction with members of the senior citizen population in order to fulfill a credit requirement for my Meaningful Interactions with Disadvantaged and Near-Terminal People Groups class.
The young lady approaches my faux-leather chair.
“Mr. Guptra will see you now. Please follow me.”
She walks across the lobby to a tall set of double-doors. I follow her. As we approach, the doors swing open and a young Amish man with a long beard walks through. He is fashionably dressed in Amish fashion in overalls and a nice black hat. He calls over his should as he exits, “Barn-raising next Thursday, Goopy?”
The Amish man turns and sees me. He shies away, jumping like a startled deer that is about to be hit by a horse and buggy. Doubtlessly, he is struck dumb by my innocent beauty, for he tips his hat, frowns somewhere behind his beard, and says nothing.
The young lady ushers me through the doors and then closes them behind me.
I walk through and find myself standing in a huge office room. It is tastefully decorated with expensive building materials such as mahogany, gold, crystal, rubies as large as coconuts, and exotic artifacts, such as an Egyptian pyramid. At that moment, I discover that I have a small pebble or perhaps an uncooked piece of macaroni inside my left shoe. I bend down to remedy the problem.
Immediately, two hands seize my own hands and pull me upright. The hands are gentle, well-manicured and soft, so I assume that the owner of the hands regularly moisturizes with a moisturizer of excellent quality.
“Miss Swannk, I’m so sorry that you tripped as you entered my office, thus allowing me, a complete stranger, to come into intimate physical proximity with you. My name is Edward Guptra. You are not injured to due to tripping, are you? Shall I examine your limbs more closely in order to ascertain the extent of your injuries?”
“I am fine, thank you,” I say. “I think I merely had a piece of uncooked hard macaroni inside my left shoe. I was bending down to check.”
Mr. Edward Guptra is definitely not ninety-three. He is you and enigmatic–very enigmatic. He’s tall and lean and evenly tanned. He’s perfectly and impeccably dressed in clothes. His ears are a deep, rich blue hue, so warm and melting in appearance that they look like they’ve been dipped in a vat of very hot, semi-sweet Swiss chocolate, that is somehow blue in color, and then surgically reinserted into his eye sockets. His hair is copper in color, but not the color of copper that has been resting at the bottom of the ocean for several centuries, such as a copper kettle from a sunken pirate ship that has turned green due to the depredations of salt water, slowly encrusting over with slime and waving tendrils of sea plants. Rather, it is the bright copper color you find if you strip the rubber coating from an electric cable at your local electrical power station as you prepare to steal the copper inside and sell it to a shady recycling company in order to support your methamphetamine habit.
We shake hands and, as our fingers touch, our fingers touch. I feel a strange, exhilarating quiver run through my body. It’s almost like someone is stroking the back of my bare legs. Someone with very hairy fingers.
“My apologies about the monkey,” murmurs Edward Guptra.
“The monkey?” I say.
“Yes, the monkey.”
I look down and realize that a monkey is stroking the back of my leg. The creature has a thoughtful, meditative look on his face.
“He is mistaking your leg for the tender, edible branch of a young banyan tree,” says my host. “When a monkey gets that thoughtful, meditative look on his face it means he is about to take a nibble.”
“Jeez,” I say. “Oh my.”
Edward Guptra makes an enigmatic shooing motion while uttering a stream of clicks with his mouth. The monkey does not look convinced. Edward then does a series of complicated dance steps with his feet. This seems to impress the monkey and it scampers away.
“That showed him who was the leader of the pack,” says Edward Guptra. “Monkeys often like to test authority, so you must show him who is number one. Impressing them with dance steps or reciting all the periodic elements tend to work well. Monkeys make very good workers. They do not belong to any unions and they do not demand much pay other than a tree to sleep in and plenty of bananas.”
“Miss Lysergick is very ill,” I say, “so she has sent me in her place. I hope you don’t mind, Mr. Guptra.”
“Who exactly are you, Miss Swannk?” His voice seems enigmatic, but it’s difficult to tell due to the enigmatic smile on his face. “And how did you get roped into doing this interview?”
“My name is Mary Sue Swannk. I’m twenty years old and I’m studying Women’s Studies with Miss Lysergick at university.”
“Fascinating,” he says. “Truly fascinating. Shall we sit down on this soft, white couch?”
He ushers me over to a white leather couch situated in front of a huge crystal window. On the wall beside the window hang a large number of small paintings. All the paintings are of trout. The paintings are exquisite and heartbreakingly beautiful.
“A local painter,” says Guptra. “His name is Slunk. He only paints trout. His skill with paintbrushes of various sizes is legendary.”
“Delicious,” I murmur enchantingly.
“No, the trout.”
“Ah, yes,” he says, nodding enigmatically. “Shall we begin the interview, Miss Swannk? We might as well start. While my schedule today is flexible, I certainly don’t want to tie you up for too long.”
He gestures at the couch. I gracefully sit down and take out my notebook. He sits down beside me. When I look up, he’s tapping his fingers on his lips while smiling enigmatically.
“Take all the time you want to prepare, Miss Swannk,” he says.
“Actually, I’m ready to begin, Mr. Guptra,” I say.
“Please, call me Goopy. All my friends do. All my close friends.” He inches a little closer to me on the couch.
“Very well, Goopy.” I look down at Lisa’s page of questions and read the first one. “What does it feel like to be a billionaire?”
Edward Guptra laughs. It is a low, pleasant, full-throated laugh. I laugh with him. We spend some time laughing and then we subside into chuckling.
“Actually, I’m not a billionaire,” he says.
“No, I’m not. To be honest, I’m a zillionaire. I have zillions of dollars. I have to tell you, Mary Sue–may I call you Mary Sue?–it feels incredible to have zillions of dollars. People will tell you, people with a lot less money than I have, that being rich does not make you happy. People will tell you that if someone is rich they are in bondage to their wealth. They only say that because they are jealous. I will tell you, Mary Sue, having zillions of dollars is a lot of fun. Why, just yesterday I bought a country in Africa and passed a law requiring all the citizens–men, women and children–to only wear tight lederhosen Even the babies must wear lederhosen.”
“Oh my,” I say. “Why did you do that?”
He laughs. I laugh with him. I’ve heard that it is best to humor crazy people, and I’m becoming suspicious that this guy is crazier than a bedbug.
“Because I can,” he says.
I look down at my paper again and read the next question. “What sort of name is Guptra?”
“Ah, that is an excellent question,” he says, inching a little closer on the soft couch. “Guptra is an Eastern name, a name of silken veils and incense and mysterious gods with elephants heads and many arms. I changed my name to Guptra when I decided to become an Indian swami. I am a real, genuine, one hundred percent swami, and I am legally able to conduct official swami ceremonies, wear an orange colored robe and have people scatter flower petals in front of me as I walk down paths. Before, my name was Svenson. My parents were Swedish, from Minneapolis, but I had them forcibly converted to Hinduism. Now, my whole family is one hundred percent Indian.”
“Wait,” I say, feeling somewhat confused, even though I am incredibly intelligent. “You’re saying you’re Indian, but your parents are Swedish? Jeez, how is that possible?”
“I am a zillionaire,” he says, smiling enigmatically and inching closer on the couch. “Money can buy you anything.”
“I see,” I say, wondering if now is the time to take out my mace and give him a spritz. “Let me proceed to my next question. You are very young to be a zillionaire. To what do you owe your incredible success?”
He nods in a mysterious fashion at my question. “Most people do not realize it, but business is all about making money, Mary Sue, and I know how to make money. There is an old swami saying. I will tell it to you. If you climb up to meet the monkey with bananas, do not squeeze the bananas. That is my business philosophy and it has never led me wrong. I have more than forty million employees around the world. The entire population of Finland works for me. I have cornered the nylon sock market, the world supply of soy sauce, and, as of last month, I now own every sauerkraut factory in Germany. I legally own thirty-seven of the senators in the United States Senate. If you pull down their pants, you will find a tattoo of my company’s name and our toll-free 1-800 number on their left buttock. I bought Mount Rushmore last year and my international team of sculptors and monkeys will soon carve the presidents’ faces into my enigmatic and handsome likeness.”
“At the end of the day,” he continues, inching closer, “it is down to instinct, my brain, and many well-trained monkeys. Also, a large supply of delicious bananas is vital.”
I stifle a yawn behind one hand and try to look interested in the crazy stuff he’s saying.
“You are weary, perhaps, Mary Sue?” he says, inching closer on the couch. “You had a long, tiring drive to reach my office. I think you should lie down on this couch. You may interview me horizontally. I will instruct you in certain swami ways. If you have knots anywhere in your muscles, I will rub them like this. The rubbing motion will untie the knots. Like so.”
He reaches for my shoulders and manages to briefly knead them before I can squirm away. I am running out of couch.
“Uh, no thanks,” I say, glancing down at the next question. ‘Moving on. Can you discuss the philanthropic goals of the Guptra Foundation? What do you aim to achieve with your charitable giving?”
“The Guptra Foundation is the real heart of my global empire,” says Goopy, looking somewhat enigmatic. “The Foundation is dedicated to promoting peace, solving world hunger by reducing the population so that fewer people are hungry, and the advancement of personal sanitation minimization everywhere.”
“What does personal sanitation minimization mean?”
“It means using only one square of toilet paper a day.” says Goopy. “This minimization saves trees. We are having excellent results in certain countries where we pay citizens to reduce toilet paper use. Inexplicably, newspaper subscriptions are sky-rocketing in those same countries, but we will deal with that later.”
“What about the monkeys?” I murmur.
“Ah, yes, the monkeys. They are proving are resistant. They lack discipline, but I am excellent at teaching discipline.” He inches a little closer to me.
I decide to move onto the next question before I back myself right off the couch. “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”
“Ah, what an inspiring question,” he murmurs. He stretches his arms above his head, mimicking a tree’s branches, and then lets one arm fall down along the back of the couch behind my shoulders. I scoot away from him, but he scoots closer. “I think I would be a banyan tree with tender, lissome branches that you, if you were a monkey, but not as hairy as these monkeys that work for me, would delight to nibble on.”
“That’s freakishly weird,” I say. “And not in a good way. It’s weird in a very unsettling and somewhat nauseating way.”
“I find your honesty extremely magnetic,” he murmurs, scooting a little closer. “Dishonesty binds up the soul with shackles of iron that only the keys of honesty can open. May I be your little swami?”
“I’m not really into swamis,” I say. “The color orange, you know, and all those robes. They look like window drapes.”
“Not even zillionaire swamis with enigmatic smiles?” he says.
“I guess I’ve gotten more than enough for the interview,” I say, standing up.
“Oh, but Mary Sue,” he says, “I have not yet show you my private collection of South Sea Island totem poles. You will find them thrilling. They are very vigorous.”
“That’s a tempting offer, Goopy,” I say, “but, no. You better keep ‘em private.”
He escorts me to the door of his office. I turn and offer him my hand, but instead he sweeps me into an embrace before I have time to dodge. The guy has more hands than an octopus. I knee him in the groin and then karate chop his neck several times for good measures. He groans enigmatically on the floor. It’s a pity there’s no rope hand. Otherwise, I would tie the creepy pervert up and leave him for the monkeys.
On the ride down the in the elevator I have a few second thoughts, but they’re more about whether or not I should’ve kicked him in the ribs while he was down. The elevator door dings open and I head across the lobby to the front door. It’ll be good to get out of this place. I don’t know about you, but I’m not into metrosexual guys with enigmatic smiles, not matter how good-looking and rich they are.
I hop into the Prius, gun the motor in order to use up as much gasoline as possible, and lay rubber as the car roars out of the parking lot. I roll down the window and the wind blow through my hair.
About twenty miles down the road, I pass an Amish guy driving a horse and buggy. It’s the guy who came out of Goopy’s office when I entered. He glares at my Prius when I pull alongside.
“Priuses are piles of sanctimonious junk!” he yells.
“Shove it, Amish boy!” I yell back. Spending half an hour with that creepy idiot Goopy has put me in a bad mood. True, I’m an extremely kind and wonderful person, but that stuff will only get you so far these days.
“Hey, you’re that girl from Goopy’s place,” he says.
“Yeah, so what?”
He starts laughing like a loon. “Did he get all enigmatic on you?”
“I decked him,” I say.
He laughs even harder. “Lemme buy you a beer.”
“Sure,” I say.
“I don’t need to point out that I’m a real man,” he says.
“You don’t so shut up,” I say. “Just lead me to that beer.”
“Did you know you’ve got a dead squirrel stuck in your grille?”
“Yeah, I know,” I say. “I’m saving it for dinner.”
He laughs some more, and off we drive at a very slow speed.