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Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2013

Hi. My name is John Kenney. Do you recognize it? No?

Okay, try this.

Do you recognize the name E. L. James?

That's right, the author of "Fifty Shades of Grey."

That's me.

I'm not a woman. Does that surprise you? It surprises me sometimes.

People say to me, "Hey E. L. Why 50 shades? Are there 50 shades of grey? Is looking at 50 shades of grey like looking at those Benjamin Moore paint swatches, where after a few minutes, you feel like your head might explode because you stop seeing the difference between different shades of grey like Fieldstone grey, Cos Cob Stonewall grey, Puritan Grey, and Shaker Grey?"

To which I say, "Yes."

I've never blogged before.

But then you're probably now aware of that from reading the previous paragraph.

And now I look like a jackass because I'm not E. L. James, nor am I a woman. I'm sorry I lied to you.

My real name is George Saunders.

That's a lie, too.

Powell's was kind enough to ask me to blog this week because my first novel, Truth in Advertising, comes out Tuesday (and also, I think, because a couple of other authors canceled). You want to talk about a book with a lot of sex? Hot, steamy sex, though I've never fully understood the steam part? Sexy stuff like the word "underpants"? Is DeLillo writing stuff with the word "underpants"? The answer is no.

Truth be told, no one actually has sex in my book. Though this is in no way a reflection of my own life as the father of two small children, one of whom spits up every 23 seconds, the other of whom has not stopped talking since she was born four years ago. Does this at all affect the energy level of me and my wife or our desire for hot, steamless sex? Absolutely not. Indeed, my wife regularly seduces me at day's end, both of us in need of a shower, hair smelling like the inside of a ski hat, she in her baggiest T-shirt, the one with the spit-up stains, a come-hither look on her face that can only be described as, "If you touch me right now I will hurt you like a Navy SEAL on night patrol in Abbottabad."

The reason I like blogging is that I finally get to say, to a large, attentive audience, the kinds of things I want to say, that any intelligent writer wants to say. For example, dogs don't eat ice cream.

Technically I didn't say that. My four-year-old daughter said that. Her name is Lulu, and we were at the Key Food in Brooklyn Heights yesterday buying English muffins. We hadn't been talking about either dogs or ice cream. We weren't in the ice cream aisle. But she was thinking. And she is extremely comfortable with her thinking. Comfortable enough to conclude, with great surety of voice, that dogs, in her experience, do not eat ice cream.

We arrived home and her mother made chicken sandwiches on English muffins, and the four of us sat in the living room and ate our lunch. Hewitt, eight months, tried to eat a toy. We were quiet for a time when Lulu said, "I know who Martin Luther King Junior is."

It hadn't dawned on me that the next day was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was just a long weekend.

My wife said, "Tell Dad about him, Lu."

"Well. He growed up to be a nice man and he died in a box but that's okay. He said nice things and some people weren't nice to him and that's not okay."

"How do you know this?" I asked.

"Well. We read a book at school but it was an old book and it was ripped."

"He was a very great man, Martin Luther King," I said.

"Junior," she said, elongating it, mildly annoyed that I hadn't said his full name."

"Junior, yes," I said.

Lulu said, "People have different faces and mine is white and Gigi's [her friend] is brown but we're the same. Inside."

I looked at my wife, then back to Lulu. Freeze this moment, please, I thought. Stop the film right now and just allow me to take it in.Freeze this moment, please, I thought. Stop the film right now and just allow me to take it in. The chicken sandwiches and the potato chips, the iced tea; the early afternoon sun through the windows, the weather cold and windy outside; Hewitt's slobbering on a toy, his absurd toothless smile; Lu's little mouth working the sandwich, taking chips from my plate, deep in her own world, unaware of how often I watch her, stare at her as she does something; my wife's beautiful face, her gorgeous hair falling over it.

My eyes welled and my throat constricted. She does this to me daily.

"That's right, Lu," I said. "We're all the same inside."

"Yeah," she said.

She thought for a moment and then she said, "Dad. Yogurt's not crunchy."

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

÷ ÷ ÷

John Kenney has worked as a copywriter in New York City for 17 years. He has also been a contributor to the New Yorker since 1999. Some of his work appears in a collection of the New Yorker’s humor writing, Disquiet, Please! He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Truth in Advertising
    Used Hardcover $8.95
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades...
    Used Trade Paper $7.95

John Kenney is the author of Truth in Advertising

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