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Saturday, October 21, 2006


There are four things I have to say before I get on to today’s topic:

1. It’s still TEEN READ WEEK! So go to your library before it’s over! Which is TOMORROW! You can still vote for the Teens Top Ten here.

2. If you live in or around New Canaan, Connecticut, you get TWO chances to see me next week. On Tuesday, I’ll be at the New Canaan Library and Just Books. See the news page for more details.

3. If you do not live anywhere near there, you can meet me here on The Internet, as I am Wednesday's guest author blogger for the fabulous Harper Teen Fan Lit Writing Event. Have you seen this yet? If you haven’t, get there now. This is your chance to write part of a group story that’s being judged by cool authors and editors (including Meg Cabot), with a writer (like me) visiting every day. Also, prizes! Really, really good prizes.

4. Need more about me? There’s an interview with me at Bookburger. I’m excited about this because I love Bookburger. I get a burger named after me now (veggie, natch).

HarperTeen FanLit Event

Hallowspooky is fast approaching, and it is at this time of year that I start collecting mini-pumpkins and thinking back on the worst Halloween costume, ever.

See, when I was a kid, my dad’s company had this big Halloween party for the employees’ children each year. They had little contests and giveaways and lots of candy, and for this reason, I loved it.

One year, I was maybe six or seven, I think my parents forgot when it was. I distinctly remember a muffled, “Oh #$%^#$%, is that today?” coming from downstairs. This was uncommon. My mother is the most scrupulously well-scheduled person in the universe. My guess is that my dad didn’t tell her, because my dad is not the most scrupulously well-scheduled person in the universe. I think my mom had that so covered that he just let his end of the bargain slide.

After this exclamation, my mom was suddenly on the phone. This was pre-cordless phone time, so there was no doing this in private. My mom was standing by our kitchen phone, making some ill-disguised phone calls about costumes.

Now, my best friend at home (I had a home best friend and a school best friend when I was six or seven) was named Jenny. Her parents were hippies, and mine were definitely, definitely not. Jenny’s parents let her stay up as late as she wanted, stuffed macrobiotic food down her throat (when they could—Jenny preferred Burger King), and had things like switch roles day, when she would be the parent and they would be the kids.

At Casa Johnson, these things did not happen. We ate meat, my parents were in charge, and I went to bed at something like four in the afternoon. (Okay, it wasn’t that early. But it was really, really early.)

Despite the fact that they were polar opposites, our parents got along really well. So it was Jenny’s mom that my mom was on the phone with. And Jenny’s mom was obviously providing my mom with a solution.

“Maureen,” my mom said. “I’ll be right back. I have to go get something.”

Jenny lived next door, so my mom was gone for about a nanosecond. She returned with a massive brown bag. It was lumpy too, like it contained potatoes or something.

“Okay,” she said. “Guess what! The Halloween party is today! And Peggy (that would be Jenny’s mom) gave you a costume to wear!”

Peggy could sew really well. She didn’t work, like my mom did, so she had a lot of time to construct incredibly complex Halloween costumes for Jenny. I tended to get the store-bought, boxed variety, and I was 100% fine with that. Frankly, I thought homemade costumes were weird, and I was addicted to that plasticy smell of the box costume. That smell meant CANDY. (To this day, that plasticy smell makes me think I am about to receive a chocolate bar. Brand new flip-flops have that smell, so I tend to find myself wandering into the candy aisle in a stupor when they appear in stores in early summer.)

So I was skeptical of this lumpy thing in the brown bag. It was about fifteen times bigger than my normal, beloved boxed costume, with its compact plastic outfit.

“Peggy made this,” she went on. “It’s really nice. You’re going to be the best dressed person at the whole party!”

“What is it?” I asked skeptically.

My mother folded over the top of the brown bag and tried to look confident.

“Well, it’s . . . an animal!”

“What kind of animal?”

“Well, it’s a . . . well, here. Just look!”

Which is when she pulled it out. The bag dropped away, and it was revealed, like some kind of grotesque striptease.

It was a skunk.

“It’s a skunk,” I said, showing off my incredibly sharp observational skill.

“Isn’t it great?” she said. She could barely hold the fake smile on her face.

Now, skunks are actually pretty cute animals. And the skunk is the basis for the most romantic character in all of cartoons—Pepe Le Pew, the French lover skunk that is always chasing that poor girl cat that accidentally had a stripe painted down her back. But all little kids know about skunks is that THEY ARE THE SMELLIEST ANIMALS IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

That rare combination of romance and odor: the skunk.

“Skunks smell,” I said.

“This doesn’t smell.”

“But skunks do.”

“Look, Maureen,” she said, giving up the smile effort. “This is a great costume! Everyone is going to love it! And you have to get ready. So come on.”

I was dragged to the kitchen.

I was a pretty low-key kid. I think one of the reasons I liked the store-bought costumes is that they were kind of anonymous. They hid your face, for a start. And they were just like wearing clothes, except they were plastic and funny colored.

The skunk suit was well made. It was full-body, made of soft, plush black and white material. Coming off the back, it had a HUGE tail, which was supported by a wire frame, meaning it stuck up and out in a big curl.

I wanted to die. But there was nothing I could do—I was already being stuffed into the thing and having whiskers drawn on my face. Peggy had come over by this point, and was standing in our kitchen drinking coffee and saying, “Oh my God! She looks so CUTE!”

“I am a skunk,” I said internally.

The skunk is a fairly cute nocturnal animal with a keen sense of hearing. However, according to Wikipedia, it is most famous for its "anal scent gland." Also, there are no skunks in England. Did you know that?

I was dispatched with my father the moment he arrived home. I couldn’t sit down because my tail was too big, so I had to lie on my side in the back of the car, like I was being smuggled. I was an illegal skunk.

The party was at a big hall the company owned and probably used for meetings. There was a massive room with a linoleum floor and tables set up all around. There was a guy with a microphone who was the master of ceremonies When I walked into the room, he said.

“Well! Would you look at that! Looks like we have a SKUNK!”

Everyone turned.

“I want to go home,” I said.

“What?” my dad said. “We just got here. You love this party.”

“I’m a skunk,” I explained.

“Come on, Maureen. Give it a try.”

I was ushered in the direction of other kids with costumes, and my father went off to talk to some work buddies. I didn’t know any of these kids. We only came together for this party once a year, so it was an impersonal experience.

“P-U!” some boy said. “A skunk!”

It wasn’t mean. That is what you are supposed to say when you see a skunk. P-U is the accepted response.

“I don’t smell,” I explained.

“I know,” he said. “But you’re a skunk.”

“Yeah,” I said sadly. “I guess so.”

Mr. Microphone announced that it was time for contests (we had gotten there pretty late), and we were put into lines for spoon races.

“Make way for Mr. Skunk!” he said, putting me at the front of the line.

“I’m a girl,” I said.

I could understand the mistake. I was under a lot of costume. But still.

“Oh!” he said. “Sorry!”

He was sorry, but he made this mistake for the rest of the entire afternoon. I was Mr. Skunk. So not only was I the world’s most smelly animal, I was now a boy. I wasn’t sure what part was worse.

The strange part was, I was sort of treated like a celebrity. The other kids really seemed to like me, even if they thought I was a boy. My costume was SO massive, and SO plush. I definitely stood out. All the parents cooed over me and how cute I was. I probably did look cute, but in my mind, the word “cute” was a kind of insult. I didn’t want to be cute. I wanted to be Batgirl, like I was last year, in my plastic mask. I wasn’t cute then. I was just a normal kid in a plastic outfit.

After what seemed like 200 years, the trauma was over. And in the end, I scored an unbelievable amount of candy. I won the costume contest. I won the spoon race. And I think people just gave me extra. That night, my mom took me out to pick out my box costume for Halloween proper, and I began the process of recovery.

I’m fine now. Really. But I am A GIRL, Mr. Microphone, wherever you are.


Anonymous Liz said...

I love reading your blog! That story, I must say, is hilarious. Reminds me of my own wildlife creature costumes and the trauma they caused!

2:32 AM  
Anonymous Hannah said...

Oh Maureen! I'm sorry, but that's hysterical! I always made my own costumes, they always ended up being unintentially politically in-correct. Like when I found a kimono at the local Salvation Army, and paint huge black lines coming out the side of my eyes.

Maureen, your blog makes it easier to wait for your next book; you're just that funny.

4:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What they said. Seriously.

I fondly remember being a spider in 5th grade. Mom made my costume, and I had these huge black legs sticking out of my torso guided with wire. I couldn't fit through doors and I kept hitting people, and sitting at my desk at school was rather challenging, but I totally dug it.

1:37 AM  
Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Loved the skunk story, Maureen. Hilarious as always! Made me remember the time I was a robot for Halloween. Not a cool looking robot, more of a walking cardboard box. And this was the first year that I was allowed to go trick-or-treating with the older kids from down the street, instead of my parents. The older kids decided it would be a good idea to walk from house to house through the woods, rather than walking along the road. I couldn't see my feet to watch out for brambles and barely fit between the trees. This was NOT a pretty sight...

7:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God dammit! It's bad enough I have this CRIPPLING INSOMNIA, now I have to hear about your skunk costume too? You think you've got problems--my mother made me put her old, moth-eaten mink over my head and go as a muskrat. A MUSKRAT! And she'll probably do it again next week . . . (grumble grumble)

6:54 PM  
Blogger Doyce said...

So not only was I the world’s most smelly animal, I was now a boy. I wasn’t sure what part was worse.


You say it like they are two different things.

I am confused.

1:06 AM  
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3:48 PM  
Blogger Chelsea said...

I wonder how many times you have actually told this story. If it had happened to me, I think I would tell it over and over. It's amusing.

10:48 AM  
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