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Monday, March 19, 2007


Friends, when I last left you, I was writing from the London Office, where I was recovering from flu and talking about television and my FREE MONKEY.

Getting home was an experience I must share. After all, because of 13 Little Blue Envelopes (and, you will find, Girl At Sea), a lot of people think of me as “that person who writes about traveling.”

Before I left England, I carefully packed my free monkey into my suitcase. Oscar (having just read my blog about getting the Free Monkey) said, “Do you know what? There was a rush on the Free Monkeys. People started buying three or four at a time, and they ran out. People are trying to get them.”

I smiled at my monkey.

To be honest, I didn’t think I was going anywhere. I’d heard about the massive snowstorms that were descending on the East Coast, partially from the news, and partially from my mother, who called me about six times to tell me. But Virgin Atlantic seemed unaware of the storm. I checked. There was no delay. I went to Heathrow Airport expecting to be laughed at and sent home.

“Isn’t there a delay?” I asked, as I checked in my bag. “Because of the snowstorm?”

“What snowstorm?” they asked.

That would be the snowstorm that canceled all the American Airlines flights and caused all their passengers to be put on Virgin Atlantic, including flight 25, which was my flight.

By the time we got on the plane, they were admitting that there was a storm.

"There's a bit of bad weather in New York," the pilot said in his lovely Irish accent. "We're going to feel it about two-thirds of the way across the Atlantic. And we may have to circle a bit when we get there, but don't worry. We've put on extra fuel. Happy Saint Patrick's Day to all of our Irish passengers."

That sounded fun. Turbulence AND holding patterns! I was glad they hadn't delayed us.

About 30 minutes into the flight, the pilot came on and said, “Are there any medically qualified persons on board? Specifically, we would like a midwife.”

So, presumably, there was going to be a BABY born on our flight. And if there was going to be a BABY born on our flight, you would think we would have to land. Short of going back, the only place I could think of that we could land was Iceland, where (I had just recently been told) you often can’t land anyway because of the wintry fog.

I started to mentally plan my crazy night out in Reykjavik. First, I would find Bjork . . .

That was as far as I got. We didn’t hear anything more about the midwife, so I don’t know if there was a Virgin Atlantic flight 25 baby or not. If there was, they were awfully quiet about it. I’ve been on flights before where they have been medical problems (like the time the woman actually collapsed on me when I was trying to work on Girl At Sea), and it’s been chaos. People running up the aisles. People with no medical knowledge at all standing around, giving advice.

About halfway through the flight, I looked up to see our captain wandering the aisles. I fought the urge to get up and scream, “THE STEWARDESS IS FLYING THE PLANE!” Or even something weirder, like, “BJORK IS FLYING THE PLANE!”

I laughed to myself, albeit a little nervously.

I didn’t know who was in charge.

When they announced that it was about time for us to land, and if we wanted to get up we had to do it now, I left my seat to change out of the yoga pants I had put on earlier in the flight and back into my jeans. A friendly, if somewhat drunk, Irishman was waiting with me.

“What do you think?” he asked me.

It was a little too general of a question, but I got the idea that he was asking me something about our general chances.

“There’s a storm,” I said. “We might be diverted.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “The pilot is Irish! He’ll land this #&$^#*&^$#*& plane no matter what.”

I laughed, a kind of loud “Ha ha!” that I often employ around drunk people when I myself am sober. The bathroom was free, and I stepped up for my turn.

“Can I give you a hand in there?” my new friend asked me.

“I’m fine,” I said. “I’ve been going to the bathroom by myself for over five years now.”

I locked the door carefully as he puzzled this over.

He was right, though. Our pilot landed that plane, very suddenly in fact. I could see from the flight tracker that we were dropping altitude fast and bumping like crazy as we went through the clouds. He came on the loudspeaker and said, “Flight crew, take your seats IMMEDIATELY.”

And then we were down on a solid white sheet of snow, the only plane in sight, surrounded by plows.

“Well, we’ve landed,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have nowhere to go. There is no gate for us. And I can’t really tell you when we will have a gate.”

That didn’t sound good. I made a few calls, then put my head back for a little nap. No sooner had I closed my eyes, though, then we were parked in a gate. We marched off the plane, just an hour and a half after our scheduled landing, which seemed fair to me.

“Wow,” I said to myself. “That worked out well!”

It continued to work out well as I breezed through passport control, where my inspector was so bored that he didn’t speak and literally threw my passport back at me.

“I love New York,” I said happily. “It feels good to be home.”

I walked the few feet to the luggage claim and took a spot. Our bags didn’t seem to be coming. The loudspeaker crackled to life.

“Virgin Atlantic flight 25,” the announcer said. “There is a problem getting your baggage. Right now, we have NO TIME ESTIMATE on when it will be coming.”

It was 11:15. I sat down on the edge of the conveyer belt. I looked around me to see how the other passengers were taking this news. To my surprise, I noticed that—standing maybe ten feet from me—was Sigourney Weaver. It was definitely her. I heard her speak, and I’ve seen Copycat about twenty-five times (don’t ask). Obviously, she had been on the flight.

I laughed to myself again as I thought of a dozen jokes about how it wasn’t a good sign to be on a long-haul flight with Sigourney Weaver.

The jokes write themselves, really.

By 12:30, I decided to stop sitting on the edge of the belt and to fulfill a minor lifelong dream of stretching out on the belt itself. The airport sent down a representative—a very flustered-looking man, who was immediately descended upon by my planemates. (But not, I should add, Sigourney Weaver.)

“I’m sorry,” he groveled. “I have no explanation for this. I’ve called them and they tell me the bags are on the belt. Why they aren’t coming down, I have no idea.”

This is a surprisingly accurate representation of how I spent Friday night.

Around 1:30 in the morning, as I was fully reclined on the conveyer belt, I called Daphne Unfeasible. I call Daphne whenever I have any decision to make that I’m on the fence about.

“Daphne,” I said. “Do I really care about my bag? Is there anything in there that I really need, except my FREE MONKEY? I think if we leave they’re either going to send our bags back to England or blow them up.”

“Your free monkey is in there?” she asked. “You have to stay.”

I knew she was right. I shut my phone and looked over at Sigourney Weaver. She was waiting. So would I. Those free monkeys were rare.

We all started making friends. I lent a Swiss girl my phone, and she offered me delicious Swiss chocolate. Another girl offered me a magazine after she heard my free monkey call to Daphne.

“You can’t give up,” she said, passing it over. “Here.”

I nodded and thanked her. I opened it and immediately noticed something in there that caught my eye—it was an ad for fitted sheet covers for airplane seats in loud “designer” patterns.

If ANYONE sits next to me on a plane and starts putting fitted sheets over their seat, I thought to myself, I might punch them in the face. Honestly. I’m not a violent person, but I think that might bring something out of me that is otherwise contained. You know how the Hulk pops out? I think it might be like that.


I shut the magazine and went back to my previous occupation, which was watching Sigourney Weaver out of the corner of my eye.

By 2, we were all getting a little tired of this. An angry hoard of us (me not included, I couldn’t be bothered to get off the belt for a while) surrounded the airport representative, who looked pretty close to suicide. In fact, when I did go over to hear what he was saying, he actually threatened as much.

“If I was responsible for this mess,” he said, “I would put a GUN to my HEAD. You deserve so much better.”

This seemed a bit much to me.

At 2:15, the belt started moving and about eight bags came out. (Including Sigourney’s. Either that or she just gave up.) We cheered. And then, nothing. We watched the belt go around. We started writing notes on pieces of paper and putting them on the belt for other people to read and respond to.

My bag came tumbling down at 3 AM.

“At last,” I said, pulling it along. “It’s over.”

But it wasn’t over. Because all two or three hundred of us stepped outside into a major winter storm, with icy rain. The sidewalks and road were covered in so much snow and slush that it was almost impossible to pull our bags along. Along the curbs, there were one foot deep and three or four feet wide slush lakes. I needed to cross these to get to the massive cab line I gave up trying to be clever about it and just waded through, dragging my bag and allowing my boots and jeans to get soaked. There was no other way. We all did it.

My bathroom friend stood behind me in line. He was a lot more awake and sober. We all were. It was freezing, with a strong wind. It was almost impossible to get into the cabs when they came. I got mine after maybe twenty minutes, and had to actually throw my suitcase over the gulch and into the back seat. Then we slipped and slid along the parkway at top speed, narrowly missing other cars. My cab driver did a strange thing—he stopped to get gas. And then we promptly stalled in the gas station.

I was beyond caring.

I stumbled in my door sometime after four, took a look at my now officially dead rubber plant, and dropped my things. I opened my suitcase, and took out my free monkey.

“You are home,” I said.

So that’s how I got here. I am now safely back with my writing friends. E. Lockhart is next to me, and Scott Westerfeld is across from me. John Green is snowbound in Detroit with pink eye.

Just to address one other point from my last post (and thank you for your many comments). Daphne got right in there and had to shout out her love for Face from the A-Team.

Like I said, I love all members of the team (not including, as previously stated, Frankie “Dishpan” Santana, who is not a true team member). But Murdock is clearly and obviously superior to Face. And I can tell you why in painstaking detail. Daphne knows this. She is consciously is playing with fire, because she is well aware that I could unleash my massive backload of A-Team knowledge AT ANY SECOND. It’s like a tsunami of information.

But I will resist.

However, she brings up an excellent point in mentioning her other love, Bo Duke. I never liked Bo Duke. I gave Luke a weak allegiance. But I do have something to tell you about Bo Duke that is very much related to this topic.

Since I became a fully-grown mj, my parents have done a lot of traveling. One year, they went on a cruise of northern Europe. When they returned, I went home to have dinner with them at our local favorite, the Olive Garden. (When you’re there, you’re family. The Olive Garden is the best of the local options around Chez Johnson. Take from that what you will.)

“Your father made a friend on the trip,” she said. "Tell her."

My dad looked up.

"I did," he said. "He was a great guy, named John. We played cards almost every night."

"That's nice," I said. To tell the truth, the story had already paralyzed me with boredom. It didn't seem like a good start.

"Funny thing, though," my dad went on. "People kept asking to have their pictures taken with him. This went on for a few days, so I finally asked him why. He said that he used to be on TV a long time ago. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He was on a . . . what was it. Something Dukes . . .”

“Not the Dukes of Hazzard,” I said, setting down my ice tea spoon carefully.

“That’s it,” he said. “He was one of the main guys.”

“You’re not talking about John Schneider, are you?” I asked.

“Right! That was his name.”

I leveled a look at my father. He is not, to be completely fair, Mr. Hollywood.

“You spent two weeks hanging out with BO DUKE?” I said.

“I guess so. He’s nice. We would go to the casino together. Good card player.”


“I just told you I did.”

To some of you, this won’t mean much. Let me explain. In the early 1980s, Bo Duke was THE major heartthrob of network television. Whether you liked him or not, you couldn’t avoid him. The thought of him hanging out with my dad—a man who still thinks the invisible dog leash is still a very funny thing and who reads Parking Today magazine—was not something my brain could handle. I felt it struggling to put these two ideas together, and the feeling was sort of like what it looks like when you make those fake volcanoes and mix baking soda and vinegar which DON’T MIX WELL and explode into foam.

Anyway, it just goes to show that you never know who you are going to meet. Until next time . . . when I promise to address even more of your comments.

That’s John Schneider. The blonde does not represent my father. Their relationship was strictly platonic and seemed to involve a lot of blackjack and manly walks on the Ledo deck talking about blackjack.

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Anonymous Sarah said...

Mmm....isn't Bjork that singer who wore the swan dress to the Oscars a few years ago?

I love reading your blog entries. They are quite hilarious. Actually I've been spending the last few days reading all of them, so it's your fault that I haven't been writing. Yeah, you must be thinking, "ANOTHER aspiring writer? Man, when will they stop coming?"

By the way, I read your FAQs today in your bio section, and I believe it was Chris Baty of Nanowrimo fame who said to use a random article of clothing as a writing object. He calls them Nano totems.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Justine Larbalestier said...

Is there anything more fun than flying nowaday? I hear root canal surgery's up there . . .

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Becky said...

Damn. I was hoping to be the first to post a comment, but I'm a bit late for that. I actually sat here, staking out my territory and snarling at my family if they came near the computer. Just because I wanted to be the first to post a comment. But then my sister strategically pointed out how sunny it was outside. I got excited, well, because I live in Chicago, and it is rarely sunny here.

So we hopped on our bikes and went to Starbucks, where I had a java chip frappuccino. Then I bounced back home, because caffeine makes me bouncy. I don't know how I managed to steer my bike. I very nearly got run over by a bus, although I doubt anyone really cares.

When I got home, I was extremely disappointed to see my darling mother, sitting in front of the computer. The bounce went out of me. I huffily went upstairs and watched Rent. (No, your alterego Maureen Johnson isn't my favorite character. I like Angel much more. He - she - is a hottie. ^_^) Then I read The Key to the Golden Firebird for a few minutes, until I was informed that the computer was free.

So now, I'm not the first to comment. Please realize, Maureen, that this isn't because I don't love your blog as much as I should. I love your blog more than I should. It is highly amusing.

Anyway, here's my comment: Good for you, for not giving up. Thank God you have your monkey.

2:59 AM  
Anonymous rzblna said...

I'm with you about never being into Bo, as I was not into the tow-headed angelic type. But have you seen him recently on Smallville as Superman's dad? Bo Duke grew up and got hot.

3:07 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Sorry, Becky, for "stealing your thunder" as the less weird and outdated kids in my grade would say. Is that even the right expression? I think I was born twenty years later than my dorkiness allows.

I hope you enjoyed your java chip frappuchino (I don't even know what that is, either).

I think I love Maureen's blog more than you do because I'm actually here, posting a comment on the same entry that I did earlier today. Or maybe that's just another sign of my dorkiness.

4:54 AM  
Blogger Becs said...

yay aspiring writers! :D

the thought of snow baffles me. it was nearly 80 here today. but i live in austin, texas, so, ya know. our winters are a random ten days here and there, usually in january and february. although this year we had enough snow to build a TEN INCH SNOWMAN!!!! :D

“I’m fine,” I said. “I’ve been going to the bathroom by myself for over five years now.”

best. line. ever.

5:17 AM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

The most important thing was that you got your Monkey back. I feel for John...being stuck in Detroit. Though, the B2.0 vid that came from being stuck...totally worth it! I wish I had writer friends that included E. Lockhart and Scott Westerfeld.

5:46 AM  
Blogger lifelongreader said...

Hilarious description of your epic voyage - very funny. I am glad that you can see the funny side of it now, but I bet at the time it was really frustrating.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Meamonkey said...

I love that you refer to yourself in such terms as 'a fully grown mj.' It always makes me chuckle. The bathroom line was also comic gold. I think it actually made me love you.

I had a semi-shitty day today, but this entry cheered me up to no end, if only because I realised after reading about your travel-nightmare that my day was sparkly and pink in comparison. So, thank you.

One question; while you were over here in England, did you see any of the PG Tips adverts on the tele featuring your lovely FREE MONKEY? If you did, I'm sure that only served to deepen the love and infatuation you feel for your ever-so-awesome monkey. If you didn't, oh man, you need to see them, because you're going to fall in love with the FREE MONKEY all over again. Really, he is a cutie.

Thanks for making me chuckle so much. You're frakkin' awesome!


7:52 PM  
Anonymous Becky said...

Okay, maybe you like Maureen's blog more, Sarah. But that doesn't change the fact that I was camping out in front of the computer, only to miss being the first to comment.

And, yes, my java chip frappuccino was great. For your information, it's kind of like a milkshake, but with coffee. And chocolate. And lots and lots of caffeine, which could come from either the coffee or the chocolate. Or the UBB (universal beverage base). I have no idea what's in that. Maybe cockroaches...

7:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

on this day, i was in punta cana, yet 6 days later, we still ended up in the airport (jfk) for 17 hours. nice. delta= bad. but many people got to stay at the resort in punta cana becus of that storm so it wasnt all bad.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Chelsea said...

We started writing notes on pieces of paper and putting them on the belt for other people to read and respond to.

I must do this at least once in my life. I think it's the best slumber party idea EVER. Only you can't just invite people you know. I wonder how much it costs to rent an airport for a night... *facepalm*

Thank you for sticking it out. I don't know how I would go on without Free Monkey stories.

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