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Monday, April 06, 2009


Today, I am starting up an old feature called ASK MJ, in which people ask me things and I answer them. These questions have been coming in on the Ning, on Twitter, and on Facebook. I think I will be doing many ASK MJ blogs, so please continue to send in your questions!

Many of today’s questions are about LOVE, but we will start with one about PANTS.

Falletron asks: I'm infinitely tired of (myself and others) always wearing jeans, Maureen. What other members of the trousers/pants family would you recommend?

First of all, I want to tell you all about another exchange I had with Falletron. Falletron watched my Pediophobia video, in which I escorted Libba Bray around an American Doll Place store to help her get over her fear of dolls. In the bathrooms, they have metal devices where you can clamp your doll in while you use the facilities. Falletron wrote to me saying that he thought I was lying, and that the metal devices on the walls were actually for toilet paper.

Now, most of you will already have spotted Falletron’s error. I never lie. I explained to him that American Girl Place is not just a store, but a Temple of Doom-like center where you are encouraged to bring your doll in to visit. There is a doll hospital, and a doll beauty parlor, and a big restaurant where you can go to tea with you doll. So it only makes sense that there is a big claw on the wall to grasp your doll while you are in the bathroom.

Falletron continued to doubt me. I asked him to contact American Girl and ASK them for verification. And so, he did. Humbled, he sent me their reply:

Dear American Girl Friend,

Thank you for your inquiry! We are happy to assist with any type of question. In this case, your friend is correct. We realize this isn't something you would normally see in a restroom facility, but as our young customers will often bring their dolls to visit our stores with them, we want to be sure they have a safe place to put their "best friends" when they need to use the restroom.

American Girl® Retail Service Support

In thinking about your options, Falletron-who-doubts, I remembered something I once read while researching my nonfiction writing thesis. See, I was a nonfiction student, and I was writing this book on people who maintain identities in another time period (obviously imaginary). People who, for instance, might be bankers by day, and Sir Percyville Guildford in 1674 by night.

In doing my research, I actually found the woman who invented the Renaissance Faire. It really was one person, and the faires started off much different than they are found today. It took some doing to locate her, but I finally got her on the phone and we talked for a few hours and she said, “Look, why don’t you just come to my house for a few days and I’ll tell you all about it.”

And I did. I got on a plane to California (being a poor student, I found a cheap, last-minute ticket), and I spent a week in the California hills learning the entire history of the Renaissance Faire. The woman had a complete archive and mini-library built into a small outbuilding, and I spent many hours in there reading about the Renaissance Faires of the 60s and 70s. Which is how I found the following quote, which pretty much is the be-all, end-all on pants, and perhaps human behavior:

“Fair veteran Jim Kelly remembers hitchhiking to [the city where the faire was] in 1969, when he was 21, with no money. He was in midst of a silent period, during which he communicated only via interpretive dance. ‘I was wearing billowy paisley pants and not much else,’ says Kelly.”

My point, of course, is that Falletron (who I know to be a 21 year old Scottish male person) will now forever be on the American Girl Place mailing lists and they will want to know how he is doing with his dolly.

And really, I think you should just wear a kilt. You’re Scottish. You can get away with it.

Addie asks: Is it a bad idea to date your older brother's friend?

Please see Suite Scarlett (and Scarlett Fever) for details on this one.

Evan asks: Would you go out on a date to the Waffle House with me? WOULD YOU? I'm watching you. *stare*


Brian asks: Being a dude... I'd like to know, from a woman's perspective, if I clean the house without being asked... is that romantic?

Well, I guess anything that reduces the chances of you being covered in your own filth is probably romantic.

Gabby asks: What's your favorite way to say i love you? It can be a gesture or just words.

Ever hear that old song, “I love you a bushel and a peck?” It’s from Guys and Dolls. It goes:

I love you a bushel and peck
A bushel and peck and a hug around the neck
A hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap
A barrel and a heap and I'm talking in my sleep
About you, about you

Cause I love you a bushel and a peck
You bet your pretty neck, I do
Doodle, oodle, oodle, doodle, oodle, oodle, doodle, oodle, oodle oo

This song is based on an old tradition from where I come from (Philadelphia), which is why I know what it means and no one else does (unless they are from Philadelphia).

In Philadelphia, when you love someone, you leave a bushel of live crabs and a chicken by their door while they are sleeping. The crabs will usually stay in the bushel, but the chicken will often try to get away, so you usually have to tape it to the sidewalk or something. When the Love Object wakes up and sees all the live crabs and the taped-down chicken . . . well, first, you have to figure out who put them there, because it’s hard to sign live crabs or a chicken. A lot of people just stand around all night waiting for the Love Object to wake up, because it can take so long to put these things together that no one gets anywhere. In those cases, they usually hold the chicken, and eventually it becomes quiet and complacent. The chicken, I mean.

Anyway, once you’ve identified the person who gave you the bushel of crabs and the chicken, you have to decide whether or not you like them. If you don’t, you simply leave them on the sidewalk without comment and pretend you don’t see them. (Which is where we get the phrase, “crab-blind and chicken-stupid.”)

But if you DO like them, a formal ritual ensues. First, there is the hug around the neck. Then, you take out the barrel (you have to have a barrel on hand, which all Philadelphians do) and set it out on your lawn along with a pile of any objects of your choosing (the “heap”). When this occurs, all of your neighbors will know you have entered a love contract. They will start putting things in your barrel—usually small household goods like staplers and cushions. In return they will take one object from your heap. Within a day or so, the heap should be gone and you will be left with a barrel full of unwanted items. (They pretty much always get regifted into other people’s barrels.)

People are normally so wound up by this process that they lose sleep, and what little sleep they DO get is fraught with strange dreams that cause you to mumble. Because if any objects are left behind in your heap and your barrel remains empty, your neck becomes the legal property of the State of Pennsylvania, and then you’re just in for a world of aggravation. Everyone knows that the state normally doesn’t act on this right, but at any time, if they really wanted to, they could make you wear a huge, funny collar. It happens every once in a while, usually in some far-off corner of the state where they have nothing better to do. The shame is terrible.

Anyway, once you get through this whole mess, you can finally start dating. But this is why everyone leaves Philadelphia. It’s just not worth it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Y'know, I'm not really sure I'm going to survive April if I read something this funny every day....


10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your ability to create fantasmagorical explanations of the ordinary leaves me flabbergasted. I always want to reply with something witty that will get me noticed [because I am most positive that we would get on beautifully] but the witty comments come AFTER I click submit. Guess we're settling for fangirl.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Columbia said...

*Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Sorry that I had to correct you, but if I didn't I would be slowly falling into insanity because it would bug me so much.

11:59 AM  
Blogger LaBelleRiviere said...

oh man, oh manohmanohman! you are too much and I love it.I'm linking this blog entry in my twitter.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the Ask MJ Blogs.

3:25 PM  
Blogger 10ley said...

This entry made me want to go to Philadelphia and never go anywhere near Philadelphia all at the same time.

3:29 PM  
Blogger ewoklove said...

i must now go prepare my live crab bushel and my chicken and camp on mj's doorstep.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Nadia Murti said...


Question for MJ:

How do I get a creepy guy who likes me off my back?

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Jessica said...

So while I was working this afternoon at my desk, I was listening to my iPod in shuffle mode, and "A Bushel and A Peck" came on. All I could think about was your interpretation of the song, and then I couldn't stop laughing.

1:12 AM  
Anonymous Suvi (the girl from Finland) said...

I've catched up on your blog the whole day and night, which is why I didn't manage to do more than just smile to the Philadelphia thing. Normally something like that makes me happydance. Now I am just too tired. :)

It feels good to be back as a blog reader again. I have no idea what kept me away for three months... Not tv, don't worry. If something, it must have been baking. I've baked buns and bread and cakes and muffins and cookies and meringue and brownies - and I'm not even going to the vocational school for baking and confectionary until after the Easter. :D I hope it is a nice place to study. At least I love baking.

Maureen, can you forgive me for abandoning you?

Now I must go get some sleep.

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my god. Ahahaaaaa. xD
You're brilliant.
I need to postpone my re-reading of Paper Towns and get more Maureen Johnson books.

2:09 AM  
Anonymous Kaye Kathmann said...

I have twitter but I am having some complete and utter difficulties with understanding what exactly I am trying to do. For instance, I went to post and update and it posted it several times. It could mean one of two things: A) I fail at computers or B) My computer is actually an evil robot that was designed to trick humans into thinking that twitter is harder than it is. So my question is, is my computer evil?

2:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have actually heard about some of that. I live in PA, all of my 17 years and 7 months. Should tell some of my friends. From Ukraine, Korea, and a guy who has lived in more states than i have been to. Can't wait to see their faces.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Diana Rodriguez Wallach said...

As a Philadelphian, I must disagree with you. First, it's not a chicken. It's a rooster. And it's the call of the rooster at sun-up that wakes the LOVE INTEREST silly.

And secondly, all necks are already the property of the City of Philadelphia. You sign over your neck rights in order to get a parking permit. :)

Love the blog.

2:53 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hahahaha...ahahahahaha. I am literally wiping tears of laughter off my face. You are awesome. (I mean ... what a very informative and true story! Thank you!)

:) Sarah

5:58 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

I think the heap could really catch one ^_^

6:00 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

MJ...did you know that Ohio state alumni refer to the state itself as THE Ohio?

I learned that in Sunday school, among other things, such as repentance and how the armies of Helaman beat the Lamanites (oh wait that was seminary...and in case youre wondering its because GOD was on their side), and I thought you might like to know, in case you decide to write something about Ohio, and you want to avoid angry alumni.

Mj, here is a question: if you were forced to work in a circus wiping elephant butts with a wet one (see Cinderella Story, the movie featuring Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray), how would you deal with it?

And another: Have you ever seen the Hannah Montana/Jonas Brothers concert? Because it's AWESOME.

7:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



8:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And now I have to ask...

Do people in Philadelphia actually do that? Or was it just something done in more historical times? Or are you just using your tremendously awesome imagination to flabbergast us with stories that aren't fully true?

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is possibly the best mating ritual ever. Seriously.

And dammit I need to read me some Suite Scarlett; when is it coming out in Australia? Is it ever coming out in Australia?


5:42 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Bloody brilliant. Well done.

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Vicki917 said...

Dear Maureen,

First of all, i think all of your books are full of WIN.

Second, I just read the "ask mj: love and pants" entry on your blog, and i would like to bow before you out of gratitude. I had NO IDEA about the 'bushel and peck' courting ritual that exists in philadelphia (This is probably due to the fact that i live in the social moorland known locally as a 'suburb') My ignorance of this tradition is most likely the cause of my romantic distress. Being informed of this vital step in the mating world of philly has helped me IMMENSELY!!

Cheers! -Vicki

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Vicki917 said...

ps - i just commented on this about a second ago, however i just realized that i was going to send that message to you on facebook (which is why i said that i had just read this blog) but then i remembered that theres this thing at the bottom of the page called the "comment section" meant for people like me who have "comments" so i copied and pasted my message to you from fb onto the blog comments. which is why it so akwardly states that i had just read the blog entry that i'm commenting on. just so you know, i'm not insane...just a tiny bit daft.

9:30 AM  

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