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Sunday, June 17, 2007


You asked! How can I refuse you? I’ve always known you guys were sharp—sharper than me by a longshot. You know that if you only know what to fear, you can fear more effectively.

Maybe you’re asking yourself, “How is it that Maureen is such an expert in what to worry about?”

The answer can be found by reading the dedication of Girl At Sea. Or I can just tell you here. My mother was and is a nurse, an amazing nurse. But she’s also very, very, very cautious, and I was trained from a young age that everything is dangerous, if you only look at it from the right perspective. I have been prepared for Doom since I was just a tiny mj, and my training continues every time I go to Chez Johnson. When I was there a week ago, visiting while I was signing books in Pennsylvnia, my mother had just come back from a work-related conference on the Coming Pandemic. She quite seriously gave me instructions on what to do, on the procedures involved when we are all barricaded in our houses, when the roads and shops are closed down, when human contact will be cut off for weeks and months. All that over a cup of tea in the afternoon! I’ve been getting lessons like this all of my life.

This is why I am the person to tell you what to be Afraid Of In The Summertime.

This list is by no means comprehensive. I could write entire books on this subject. I just wanted to hit some of the major points. I may have to make one of these lists for every season and maybe for major holidays, if you find it helpful.

(Note: there are no jellyfish on this list. I’ve covered them in depth on this blog and in Girl At Sea.)

Before I begin, I just wanted to say that you can now find out where FREE MONKEY is on his World Tour by reading his LiveJournal page! I didn’t make this page—his hosts created it as a way for him to report back from the road. I see from it that he has been reading my blog, so I hope he reads this entry. I am worried for his safety out there!


It’s summer. You’re going to be outside a lot, right? Walking around on the beach, in the woods, down your street . . . that kind of thing. Which means you are a walking target for our Feathered Enemies.

Basically, the birds are out to get us, perhaps in retaliation for the cages, the poultry industry, and our alliance with the cats. Oh, you’re laughing, huh? You think birds are adorable and harmless? Think again.

Birds have been after us for a long time. They managed to take out one of history’s first and greatest playwrights, Aeschylus, inventor of tragedy. They sent an eagle to do that job. It flew low and dropped a turtle on his head. This very targeted, cultural attack has since become more of a widespread movement. Witness: seagulls swooping out of the sky and attacking English grannies’ heads, wood grouses throwing themselves at Norwegian police officers on bicycles, and organized gangs of grackles swooping down on entire city blocks.

And of course, now they’re developing their very own flu.

There are a handful of rebel alliance birds who are with us, like this one who attacked its owner’s murderer and then fingered the culprit to police (and was apparently not bothered by the fact that its owned had named it “Bird”). These birds are far and few between. The majority of them want nothing more than to pluck out our eyes and make nests in our rib cages.

After you.


I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you know all about sunblock and skin cancer. You have a really good lip balm and a zinc stick and a hat. Well, none of that is going to help when the sun explodes.

You heard me. That thing is about to blow up, and the sooner we get away from it, the better. We only have 4.5 billion years before it turns into a red giant, expands, and takes over the orbit of Mercury, Venus, and Earth. Apparently, the Earth is going to make a general run for it, but even under the best of circumstances, the seas will dry up and the atmosphere will burn away. No amount of air conditioning is going to help.

So instead of sitting on the beach, letting Our Big Orange Enemy burn you, you should be making a plan. I realize Pluto is no longer a planet, but its shiny, icy surface is going to look pretty appealing during the Big Barbeque. Spend your summer sharpening your ice skates and studying all the astrophysics you can. Time is ticking away.

Also after you.


So, you’re going swimming this summer, right? Well, you might as well just throw yourself into a live volcano. You’re just giving yourself to the fish.

No, I don’t mean sharks. Believe it or not, sharks are low on my list of summer concerns. I watch Jaws, and I laugh.

The fact is, sharks rarely attack humans. The Jaws phenomena is all part of a campaign designed to divert our attention from the fish who are really after us. Like the snakehead fish. The snakehead fish does something that no fish should be able to do: walk. Or slither, at any rate. If they have eaten everything in one lake, they can climb out and go to another. And these things are big, up to a meter long, with sharp teeth. Can you think of anything worse that a meter-long, toothy, walking fish? Because I can’t.

By this point in their rapid evolutionary progress, they have to have worked out other modes of transportation, possibly rental cars or skateboards. Ignore them if you want. Worry about the sharks if it makes you feel better. But when the skateboarding snakefish comes in the night and out pops the tiny tooth, don’t say I didn’t warn you. It is only a matter of time before they team up with the birds.

Boats won’t save you.


Ah, summer nights. Perfect for opening the windows and letting the night breeze in. Oh, and also FLYING DEATH.

When I was little, my mother liked to send me off to bed at night with this story: there was a little boy, just slightly older than me, who lived somewhere. (It wasn’t a very specific story.) He didn’t have screens in his windows. One night, a rabid bat flew in, bit him, and he died. I’m not entirely sure what the point was of telling me this. I think it was something about the importance of window screens. I was probably the only five year-old in town who was actively admonishing adults to get them and keep them in good condition.

It’s actually kind of tricky to get rabies in the United States, but tricky does not mean impossible. Bats still remain one of the most common vectors of the disease. It’s extremely tricky to get it in England and Ireland, because it was eradicated there in the early 20th century, and the English and Irish put a lot of effort into keeping it out. They can’t, however, stop you from being attacked and eaten by football hooligans. It doesn’t exist at all in Australia or New Zealand, but since everything else that lives there can kill you, this hardly seems to matter.

See the anger in its eyes.


If you think you’re safe because Lindsay’s in rehab and Paris is behind bars, you are hopelessly naïve. The Celebrity Army is still strong. Only people who are not normal would go to so much trouble to convince us how normal they are. “We’re just regular people,” they all say. No, they’re not. They want to adopt us, convert us, mow us down with their cars, flash us, make us read their horrible books, shout insane things at us, expose their bony bodies at us, feed us weird diet food, sell us stuff, and generally take way our time, money, souls, and attention scrap by precious scrap, until we are empty husks.

Only a few (Mos Def, Abba, Simon Pegg, the cast of Law and Order) want to protect you. The rest won’t stop until we have all been consumed. This is fact.

And what about Paris and La Lohan? When those two bust out later this summer, they’re going to be all “mommy needs a drink.” And then, no sidewalk will be safe. If I had a stun gun, I would be out there protecting you, but no one will let me have one. Think about that while you try to get to sleep tonight.

Maybe by this point you’ve wised up and decided to stay inside this summer with the curtains drawn. Good for you. But you still have plenty of things to worry about.


Shelves are the sleeper cells of deadly household items. They sit quietly for years, helping you, holding up your stuff, and then . . . they spring. Witness the case of 38 year-old Mariesa Weber, whose family had thought she had been kidnapped from their Florida home. They reported her missing, and for 11 days, they searched frantically for her. It turns out, she had fallen behind a bookcase while reaching around it, trying to adjust the plug of the TV set. No one noticed this until her sister saw a foot sticking out from the “bookcase trap” almost two weeks later.


I always say it will be jellyfish, but I think it’s Diet Coke that’s really going to get me in the end. I was attacked by a Diet Coke the other day, as I reported here. It fell on my foot and then exploded into my eye.

I should really take the warning. Though I try to eat healthy, I do have a fondness for Diet Coke. This is bad, because Diet Coke is seriously out to get you. It has no nutritive value whatsoever. The sweeter, aspartame, has been linked to almost one hundred health problems, including cancer and brain lesions and other weird things. Though this link is not proven, the government takes it seriously enough to warn Air Force pilots not to drink products containing aspartame before flying. Those sweetened with sucralose (Splenda) may not be much better.

If the aspartame doesn’t get you, the rest of the drink will. The phosphoric acid in sodas displaces calcium from the bones. Many soft drinks are contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen. Also, Coke (and Pepsi, and really add sodas) is so acidic that it can (as I explain in The Key to the Golden Firebird) dissolve buildup on the nodes of a car battery.

Basically, we would all be better off if we just drank wholesome things like water, fruit juice, or (in my case) tea. But, of course, I am drinking a Diet Coke as I type this, and therefore speeding my way towards Doom.

There you go. Just seven of the thousands of things to worry about. Feel free to add the to list.

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Anonymous Dawn said...

Thank you, Maureen! I had no idea that some of the dangers you listed were out there and lurking even in my own house. What would I do without reading your blog, Maureen? Who knows? I might be dead if I hadn't acquired the tools of safety that you've so graciously spelled out for us. I really hope Free Monkey reads this as well and remains safe!

2:18 AM  
Blogger Trish said...

I will be vigilant this summer, but it's a relief to know that Mos Def and Simon Pegg've got my back.

2:26 AM  
Blogger Little Willow said...

Go, little birdie!

The bookshelf story is very sad.

I don't drink soda or anything with caffeine. I only drink fruit juice and water, the latter being mostly flavored and purified, like Vitamin Water or Propel. Oh, and I like soy milk.

3:32 AM  
Anonymous Gabrielle said...

You're funny. Although you kinda freaked me out with the Diet Coke. Jeez.

4:54 AM  
Anonymous barefeet4 said...

You are completely right, soda kills. I even have the confirmation of the Surgeon General of Maine on that.

5:03 AM  
Blogger The Bibliophile said...

"Flying death." Love it! Sounds like something a friend of mine would say. She also calls squirrels "the spawn of the devil."

6:08 AM  
Blogger Becs said...

But she’s also very, very, very cautious, and I was trained from a young age that everything is dangerous, if you only look at it from the right perspective."

Wow. That pretty much describes my own mother right there. And she's not even a nurse.

Here's something to add to the list: rose flavored cake. It may seem innocent enough, but beware--if you eat even the tiniest sample slice, it will take up residence in your digestive system and NEVER LEAVE. And if you wind up not liking the taste and smell of roses, well, you're royally screwed. Because every time you burp, cough, or clear your throat, you will be assaulted with a merciless volley of essence of rose. *gasp choke wheeze*

6:14 AM  
Anonymous Cat said...

Squirrels are very evil. The squirrels on my school campus attack people. They wait until you trip over one of the many cracks in the very old sidewalk. Then, they attack. Never, ever, ever go outside with food. Picnics? Much to dangerous. You see, having food with you makes the squirrels more likely to attack. So, stay away from squirrels. They are evil.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Joanna said...

You should also fear human-eating weeds. Oh sure, they look just like the annoying but harmless dandelions that squat in the garden, until you casually reach down bare-handed to pull one out of your lavender plants and IT ATTACKS YOU WITH A THOUSAND TINY TEETH!!! (Or thorns. Whatever.)

And then your cat looks at you oddly when you start cussing at the dirt while violently shaking your hands.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Jez said...

I'm glad someone finally agrees with me that birds are out to get us. They're evil, I tell you!

And thanks for the heads-up on the shelves thing, I just got a new fancy bookcase. Though there's no way I could get hidden behind mine because we screwed it into the wall to keep it from tipping over. But still, always good to know.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous orangedragonfly said...

one summer i was attacked by a cup of lemonade. the cup was plastic and the lemonade was cold and yummy. but somehow it fell off the counter, fell straight down without tipping over, and landed on my toe. (then it spilled, of course.)

my toe was broken.

this is a true story. beware of cold, refreshing lemonade.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always knew Madonna was out to get me! Her plan: blind fans with excessive amounts of thigh on show then adopt all children in the nearby vicinity!:D
Thanx for the warning about the Sun though- I have already started researching how to build ice cabins and such:)


6:14 PM  
Anonymous kiersten said...

another thing to add to your list: doors. they seem innocent enough, keeping rabid animals and unwanted neighbors out, but they secong you go to shut them, WHAM! they break you r finger and you have to get pins in it. true story.

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Lianne said...

About the birds, I remember a visit to Puerto Rico that this reminded me of.

It was in an old fort and there were a whole lot of birds like at least a hundred I think. So like all the tourists are just talking and taking pictures. Then all of a sudden, every single bird flew at the same time. It was scary, it was confusing and wondered what was wrong. Apparently it was just to freak us out because they soon came back and they acted like nothing happened. So yeah, birds are dangerous/evil.

I agree with Kiersten on the doors. But don't forget soccer balls either. Some of them can knock the wind out of you.

Thank you for the list!

7:53 PM  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

that was freaking hilarious. thank you! As for the birds, I know a woman who was hit in the face by a low-flying pigeon in Saint Mark's Square and knocked off her feet. Ew. And that bat? Such a cute little agent of Doom!

8:16 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Lynn Barnes said...

My mother is also very cautious. Just the other day, we were having a very normal conversation on the phone, into which she quite suddenly and for no particular reason interjected "Watch out for stalkers. It would be awful if somebody kidnapped and killed you."

Ummmm... thanks, Mom. Will do.

As for other additions to the list, the summer before last, I was working on an island full of monkeys in Puerto Rico, and we made a list of all the ways we could potentially die that summer... small portion of the list is contained here:


12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so sorry, but shouldn't bono be on the list of celebrities trying to protect you? i hate to be that way, but it is, like, my JOB. you understand.

oh - and girl at sea was BRILLIANT!

your fan,


2:33 AM  
Anonymous Jas said...

Yes! I always knew Simon Pegg was there to protect us (just look at Hot Fuzz... how can he not?)
As for your comments on birds... yes. They are truly the embodiment of ancient evil incarnate (yes, I know that that was redundant). They've got just enough crazy left over from being nearly wiped out as dinosaurs that I'm sure they'll all go completely Hitchcock on us all one day. When I go running, there's this one magpie that always clips me on the head as I go by its nest. It does the same thing to my brother, too.
And, pertaining to the sun, I have been actively persuing a degree in astronomy, and can regale you of all the dangers of space--and not just the black holes and obvious things like asteroids, but stuff that you've never even heard of (such as the universe suddenly reversing expansion and collapsing in on itself) that would make most people go "Eeek!" and hide behind their couches.
Speaking of which, you oughtta watch out for those couches. If you're caught unawares while sitting on the corner of one, you can do some serious damage.
Finally, you should also watch out for walls. Mine attacked me the other day, and my knee is now several lovely shades of blue and green.
Thanks for all the tips, Maureen!

2:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh you think that you will never get flooded but just you wait.
One day an nice little rain storm will come and BOOM!!!!!!
You'll have to take a boat to get to your house.
Oh, and snakes.
There's one in the river outside my house that's out to get me.

3:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really should buy your mother a copy of Life As We Knew It. It sounds like she and Susan Beth Pfeffer could be soul sisters, planning how to survive when the world is ending.

4:15 AM  
Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Bugs are definitely on my list of Things to Fear in Summer. Especially mosquitoes and ticks with their "we may be small but we carry deadly diseases" attitude.

I also have an unnatural fear of skunks. But that's not really a summer fear. I'd run from them in winter too.

5:30 AM  
Blogger Katy said...

I find it important to let you know that today, June 18th, is International Panic Day. No kidding.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous ashley said...

everything else on the list I was expecting...but shelves?!!? I'm surrounded by shelves! granted, most of them are up against walls and not in any sort of position that I could fall behind them...but now I'll be all paranoid about it.
and I plan on drawing the curtains and never leaving my house.
Unless of course, Mos Def is there to escort me around.

7:33 PM  
Anonymous Daphne Unfeasible said...

Not that I really need to add to the fine sense of panic you're building here, mj, but Rexroth and I have long knownn about the quiet but deadly war being waged among the feathered creatures of the world. Ninja Sparrows and Mafia Pigeons -- we're on to you! Don't even get me started on the Cardinals.

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

I just wanted to leave another comment thanking both you, Maureen, and Daphne Unfeasible for the "Ask An Agent" podcast. It was really informational and though in some ways it truly intimidated me...I still really do hope to get published someday.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Elena said...

Interesting to note: Maureen Johnson's blog acceptable to fancy financial company I'm temping for. Free Monkey's...NOT! Apparently, Free Monkey is pervie, involves some sort of insider trading possibilities, or is otherwise highly inappropriate. Free Monkey, what are you doing? Maureen, what aren't you doing?

10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really have to say, you're slowly rising to become my favorite author, though J.K. Rowling and Scott Westerfeld are still tied for one.
I love the imagination. It's as if I'm looking at a mirror image of an older me...well a mental image of an older me. A written blog of an older me's mind. Whatever you want to call it.
I mean, I thought I was the only one who had all these terrifying ideas about the evil devices of the evil world and the evil explosion of the notsoevil sun and the evilness of diet coke, models, and druggie celebrities.

Though I can't be sure you yell out "Cheeseburger!" while waiting in line to buy clothes at Macy's.


3:58 AM  
Anonymous Tash said...

Thanks for the heads up about the birds, though I've had my suspicions about them ever since I heard that one attacked Fabio while he was on a roller coaster (true story; google it). Of course they claim it was a 'freak accident' but I know better.

11:41 PM  
Anonymous limeywesty said...

I know for a fact how evil some of those things are. Aside from the giant fish, I have been attacked by all of those items this summer. Lucky me I guess.
Oh, and the diet coke wasn't diet, and I wasn't drinking it, just opening it, but it hit me in the eye and slipped down my top all the same.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous WallyBotswana said...

Grouses and grackles and gulls, oh my!

By the way Ramshackle Bedside (from the grouse attacks Norwegian police officer link) has got to be the best newspaper name ever!

PS - You are my new favorite blogger!

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Chelsea said...

So I drink about 3 diet cokes a day, and more if I go out to eat.

I'm doomed.

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


someone agrees with me!

you rock.

12:24 AM  

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