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Thursday, December 24, 2009


Last Christmas Eve, I tried to answer as many questions as I could in a massive BLOG MARATHON that lasted all night. This year, in the countdown to Christmas, I am going to try to do something LIKE that. Throughout the day, I will post ANSWERS to your questions on a rolling basis. But let’s get started!

Jo07 asks: what do you do when someone gets you a gift unexpectedly you've gotten them nothing?

When I was just a tiny mj, I was pretty good with my homework, generally. But I had a terrible memory for Kindergarten show and tell day. I would always find out about show and tell when we gathered in line to go into school and I would go into a SILENT INNER PANIC about the fact that I hadn’t brought anything. The first time I remember this happening, I yoinked a stick off one of the trees outside—a little bent one. When show and tell came around, I told everyone it was a snake stick. It was what baby snakes used to learn how to crawl. And another time, I found out when show and tell started so I just had to roll with it and show my ARM, like that was what I meant to bring all along. I showed it all around the room and told everyone what I did with it. Pretty slick, right?

This presence of mind is pretty remarkable because, as I was just remembering today, I was a pretty clueless kid. Weird stuff was always happening to me and it’s ONLY NOW that I realize how strange it was. Take, for instance, the bus driver I had when I was in first grade who was this seventy-year old playboy who used to stop the bus and take us into McDonald’s every single morning because he was hitting on the manager, a saucy wench of seventy herself. We were late pretty much every day because of this. I had no idea this was weird!

Or what about the creepy bus driver we had when I was in second grade (once they fired the other guy because he used to take us into McDonald’s every morning without permission and make us late for school), the one who used to have me come and stand BETWEEN THE SAFETY BAR AND HER SEAT to MASSAGE HER SHOULDERS as she drove. I did this! Why? Because some adult told me to. Did I like it? No. But she would always say, “Maureen, come rub my shoulders,” and I would sigh and put down my book and when we reached a red light I was squeeze my tiny body into that space and do her bidding. How did this unspeakably creepy behavior come to an end? That would be when THE BUS CRASHED. Yes, we LOST OUR BRAKES* as we were going down an incline and took out two other cars and there I was squeezed into what was more or less the most dangerous spot possible on the bus. I was still there when the police came on to the bus, and they were like, “What the hell are you doing there?” Let me tell you the one answer a police officer loves to hear from a child: “I was massaging the bus driver.”

Or, when I was in high school, and we had this 23 year-old bus driver who I used to talk to as we were driving around. And then he started asking me out. Every. Single. Day. He was all, “You could tell your parents you’re going somewhere else and I’ll meet you down the street and we’ll go to dinner.” At first, I tried to laugh it off. Then I tried to explain that I was busy, forever. That my parents locked me in the basement. That was allergic to being outside. Anything. This guy would just not stop. So I was telling my friend Betty Vox about it one day in her homeroom and her teacher overheard and she reported the guy. He was so furious at me that he screamed at me for five minutes and then HE RIPPED OUT MY SEAT.

Now, that may sound like a completely irrelevant bunch of anecdotes about my very bad luck with school bus drivers and not an answer to the question of all, but it is, in fact, my way of LEADING you to the answer. What I’m saying is . . . don’t massage the bus driver. Maybe just don’t massage, because 9 times out of 10, that is a creepy offer. Like, if your co-worker in accounting gives you a scented holiday candle, don’t just grab a post-it note and write “GOOD FOR ONE FREE MASSAGE BY ME!” on it and hand it over while making squishy-squishy motions with your hands. Likewise, if someone in your class gives you a gift certificate you weren’t expecting, don’t then ask them out every single day for the rest of the year and then if they complain physically tear their homeroom desk from its moorings and turn it on its side in the back of the room. Or if your friend’s grandmother gives you some homemade cookies, don’t forcibly take her to McDonald’s every single morning at seven thirty and then hit on the staff as she sits there, looking at her hashbrown in confusion. Some people will say these points are self-evident, but not all. Not all. And if I can reach just one person, this blog has done its job.

The stick and arm tricks work pretty well, though. Try those.***

OR! You can give them a FREE SUITE SCARLETT! Always have this link ready.

** This really happened. All of these really happened. In the case of the massaged bus driver . . . it just came up because my mom, who is a school nurse, was telling me about a bus crash at her school today. Luckily, it wasn’t serious and no one was hurt, but she had to deal with it. And I said, “Remember that time my bus crashed?” And she said yes, and how she was so mad because the school or district didn’t TELL her that the bus crashed—they said the bus stalled (which our buses did ALL OF THE TIME). So I got home and told her all about this crash, and she was furious that no one told her and she called the school and complained. And literally the only other time my mom called my grade school and complained was in eight grade when she found out that I knew absolutely nothing about the sea battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. She’s convinced this is pretty much the most important thing that has happened, ever. Well, I can tell you that I have graduated from college and grad school and I have fancy degrees and I still don’t know %^$# about the Monitor and the Merrimack. So I don’t know what that says about me, or naval history, but anyway, I said, “Yeah, and I was standing between the safety bar and the driver’s seat because she used to make her massage her shoulders . . .” And it was only AS I WAS SPEAKING that it occurred to me just how extraordinarily creepy it is.
*** On second thought, giving parts of your body as gifts might also be creepy. And “snake stick” doesn’t sound much better. Don’t do either of these things.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

MJ, my childhood was extremly creepy too.

The giving of the book is a good idea.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the Eff shall I get my dad for Christmas as he is awkward to buy for? The criteria is useful

9:36 AM  
Blogger Amitai said...

Do you get up early to go open your presents under the tree like the kid we know you are inside?

10:07 AM  
Blogger Madeline said...

Great advice, Maureen.

I would like to know your recommendations for what snack food I should leave out for Santa. My family has traditionally done Jell-O jigglers, thanks to that Bill Cosby commercial from about 15 years ago, and because we always assumed he gets a little tired of cookies. But I would bet you have some even better ideas.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Cassie said...

I can`t believe all those things happened to you! The only creepy bus driver I`ve ever had was this evil old man who saw kids running down the street to the bus, laughed evilly, and then drove off as fast as he could.

But your stories top that. :P

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Gillian said...

I used to know a bit about the Monitor and the Merrimack (except I called it the 'Merrimac' for reasons that are unknown to me). I've forgotten most of it. I used to think that this was because I'm Australian, but maybe it's because someone has taken my memory for American history. This leads to my question which is:

Have you lost any knowledge of important Australian historical events the way I've lost knowledge of important American historical events? Have you found a good way of getting that knowledge back?

4:22 PM  
Blogger rae said...

The show and tell fixes made me laugh so hard I cried. Thank you for sharing.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually have a few questions.
One: What do you do if you give someone else a gift and then they don't have one for you?

Two: There is this one gift that I really really want. Tickets to a concert in another province. I realize that this is probably not going to happen. Do I hope and risk ruining Christmas or do I give up all hope forever?

Three: How do you give a friend who is a guy a fairly expensive, well-thought-out gift without feeling really awkward and like you look like you're trying to seduce him, because that is really not what you're going for here?

9:35 PM  
Anonymous acciofun said...

Aside from the Love Blogs, definitely one of the most entertaining holiday blogs ever.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Nadia Murti said...

What's a good Christmas-y movie to show my little sister? She doesn't get "A Christmas Carol," she hates "My Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" and she hates the characters of "The Polar Express." Any suggestions?

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Bex said...

I'm Jewish. Is it wrong that I want a Christmas tree, Santa, gingerbread cookies, and all the other Christmas stuff more than ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD?

10:50 PM  
Anonymous kira902k said...

This was the most amazingly pointless blog I have ever read. I may have died laughing.
But mj, all you told us is what we SHOULDN'T do. What SHOULD we do if someone buys us a gift?

Or, more importantly, what do we do if we ordered a present for someone but it hasn't come in the mail yet and it's already Christmas eve? Help!


12:25 AM  
Anonymous SarahE said...

I know your advice always helps me. It's always drastically important and just so RIGHT. I am still trying to figure out exactly how these particular bits of advice will help me, but I know I will come to the answer eventually. I do have a question though: when one's parents are divorced, and Cheer-time is thus divided, how should one spread the CHEER and LOVE without one parent being upset and neglected?

1:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which is better: The Santa Clause, or Santa Claus: The Movie (aka Santa Claus)?

FYI - my favourite method of combatting the Unexpected Gift Crisis: just wrap up a load of shredded paper with a cryptic note that looks like it MIGHT be an IOU. In fact, it doesn't even have to look like an IOU. Just write something PROFOUND. Act offended if they don't give your creative masterpiece the respect it deserves.

3:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kira92 you make them a little drawing of the present and write under it "you will have this very very soon" (one of my friends just did that) or go 13LBE on them and write clues to what it is until it gets there! that's what i'd do! it's more fun! and makes the cheer last longer!

4:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, and apologies if this is too "alternative" a question for your blog, BUT--

What is the best way for a girl to come out to her super-Catholic-Republican mother?

8:09 AM  
Blogger YA Vampire Books said...

Hahaha sounds like you had LOTS of creepy bus drivers...ever thought of taking the bicycle instead? ;)

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow youve had some frekin horrible bus drivers!! the worst one i had was an old guy with two teeth who when we got above a whisper blew on this INSANLEY LOUD WHISTLE! oh and the time my bus driver ran over a kid but thank the lord i was sick that week

10:36 AM  
Blogger almost a trap said...

i LOVED suite scarlett. it was one of the first books that i've read about teenagers where i didn't immediately think that the author couldn't possibly remember being a kid. and it wasn't cliched and i didn't know where the plot was going all the time. and at the end, they got away with it, which was AWESOME. there was no awkward "you're in trouble" and "ah yes, but we learned...blah blah...family togetherness scene." aka it was brilliant.

side question: when you write, do you go into a story with the intention of saying something about adolescence or life or society or something else abstract? or do you just have this specific story to tell?

7:39 AM  
Blogger Madhuuu said...

i just finished suite scarlett in a matter of hours. loved it. will rereadi it as soon as possible.

i bought it without thinking, i was just drawn to it whilst perusing hundreds of YA books at Borders. yours stood out. mainly because i have always wanted to write a story myself of someone living in a hotel (based off of Disney channel shows actually, haha) but still an amazing connection. i am frugal. no thats an understatement...i am cheap. so me buying a book i know nothing about for $9 is something. oh it is something.

thank you for not wasting my money. at all.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My tiny school used to bum rides off of the public school buses (namely Blue Bus), but the town switched us to Pink Bus. It wasn't strange until we got on that bus the first day of the spring semester and the driver (who looked like a fairy god-mother in polyester) says "Hi there! Hey kids? Let's give a great big pink bus welcome to our new rrrrriders!" and all of the kids literally bounced up and down and went "Welcome to Pink Bus!" I feel like that is what a drug experience is like.

The junior high kids in the back used to empty pixie sticks into bags and sell them to "hard-core" fifth graders. Oh. Pseudo-delinquency. Small town life is great for the memories.

And thanks for the gift advice!

2:37 AM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

I have caught you, Maureen Johnson. You told that story before. The show-and-tell one. You told it on your second ever blog. (I only discovered this because I was rereading. I don't have a creepily accurate memory.) I have uncovered your deceitful repeating of stories!

3:52 AM  

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