Wednesday, February 28, 2007

House History

And now it is time to review For Better or For Worse's John’s monthly letters talking about the retirement home. Believe it or not, this whole sequence started back in June of 2005. It appears the first thought of what to do with April was to send her off on foreign exchange.

John's Letter, June 2005

On that note, I have done a little more expansion of the garden railway, but as I look for other interests rather than the clinic, I 'm starting to re-evaluate our house and yard, believe it or not. The train passion really is a lot of fun for me, and what I'd really like to have is a much larger yard... or perhaps a smaller house. They say that's the sign of a true railroader. He looks for a big yard, small house, or a small house with a large basement. One of the jokes is that when a railroader's wife threatens to divorce him, he starts to think about running his trains in the bedroom AND the kitchen as well!
There are only the three of us at home now, and April is getting to that age where she's gone all the time. She heads into grade nine next year, and has mentioned the idea of going on some of these student exchange trips. France was one of the countries she mentioned. So, amazingly, instead of worrying about the loss of my favourite little buddy, I mentally am thinking about a smaller house with a bigger yard! Just a thought of course!

In September, John finds a place. Triple lot. Couple working it. He introduces himself and offers to buy it.

John's Letter, September 2005

I have been keeping my eye out, and discovered a place not too far from us. It's one of the original homes that were built before this area was turned into a subdivision, and it has a triple lot with big trees, and it is in a perfect spot! Lots of room for trains, but a very nicely kept house. I actually kind of lost it when seeing the house. I normally am not a very pushy person, but the older couple were out in the front yard working on their garden, and I went over to them and introduced myself, and asked them to contact me if they ever consider selling. Of course they said they were not, but we agreed that in life you never know, and they said they would let me know if that possibility came up. They have no children living near here, so it's not slated to go to a family member. I saw it while I was out running, so after that conversation, I felt I was running on a cushion of air.

A long gap from September to next April, before the subject comes up again. In this mention, it is the old man, the house is described as wartime, and the lot size is 2.

John's Letter, April 2006

But, as I have mentioned before, there is one little wartime house that sits on two large lots that still survives, and is nicely looked after by an older man.

A few months later and it is back to folks (plural).

John's Letter, June 2006

We will have to downsize one day (which I have learned does not mean losing weight). I have been looking at a much smaller house with a MUCH bigger yard, I have to admit, but those folks are not interested in selling, and as Elly cleans madly, I realize I only deal with things when I HAVE to.

Next month, the lot size is back to 3. Single owner, but plural they and then single He describing the owner.

John's Letter, July 2006

I think a lot about that little house down the way with the big triple lot. I run by it quite often, and have spoken to the owner, but they are not ready to give it up. He did promise me if he did that I would be the first to know about it! I daydream about having more property.

The man gets a name and it is revealed his wife died last year (2005). If this is to be believed, than the wife died shortly after being introduced to John in September. Coincidence?

John's Letter, August 2006

I have had a chance to visit a bit with George Stibbs, the fellow who owns the little house on the large property on the corner of our road (before the bend). His wife passed away last year, and he is recovering well emotionally. His health is still good, and he maintains that whole property by himself. Now, with his wife gone, he seems to be really concentrating on keeping the flower gardens quite spectacular. Perhaps they could not agree before, and now that she is gone, he gets to do it HIS way. I still have dreams of owning the place, and doing something quite amazing with the back yard. It won't happen for a while, obviously, although George has promised me I will be the first to be contacted if he decides to sell. Perhaps I shouldn't dream alone. I do have a partner to consider.

Of course, George Stibbs, retired railroader, loves John’s idea for his yard. He promises to wait a year to sell it (i.e., time frame over which the letter-writing Lynnion is sure Lynn will finally get to this story) and the idea of the property being rental first appears.

John's Letter, October 2006

I still have an interest in that little house I mentioned before (the one with the big yard), and have even had coffee with the owner, George Stibbs a number of times now. Curiously, it turns out he is a retired railroader! Actually, he was a section man, and looked after various sections of track in Northern Ontario. He tells great stories of the days when they used handcars (you know, those people powered maintenance vehicles with the two sets of handles that go up and down.. Buster Keaton used them in some of his old movies) and velocipedes... vehicles that looked like bicycles with a third wheel on the opposite track, that were used by the track gangs. Apparently they were pretty useless in the winter, so they looked after the seven-mile sections of track by walking and pulling sleds with their maintenance equipment. He said life got easier after about 1944 when they got to use motorcars, or speeders, or jiggers as they are sometimes called. They could put winter wheels with ribs on them, and were much better, but still they had absolutely no heat in them, and not even any covers for the first 10 or 20 years. Boy, that was a life of hard labour and very little glamour, but if it was not for them, the trains would not have stayed on the tracks. I have really enjoyed hearing all his stories, and now there are a number of scenes that I want to model that are based on some of his descriptions.

I have told George some of my plans for the property if I was to get it (George loves the idea of putting in a large outdoor railway layout, and even has a bunch of suggestions), and he says he can wait another year before putting it up for sale. He says he is getting too creaky to look after the property, but still enjoys it for now.

That makes me think of George Stibbs again. He really is doing a great job of looking after that little house. Even if we're not ready for it, perhaps it would be a good investment even if we just bought it as rental property. Surely the value of the large lot will be increasing over the years even if the rent only covered the taxes. Hmmm, I'll have to discuss the details with Anthony. He is a pretty sharp fellah when it comes to investments. Gordon has done a lot of expansion, each time a very good financial move. I used to give Gordon all the credit, but lately have learned that a lot of the ideas have actually come from Anthony, and Gordon just executes them. Amazing how teams evolve and each part of the team has different skills that complement those of others in the team. This allows them to accomplish things that no one could have imagined or that they could have done on their own. Well, I can imagine this house and property and a great train layout, so maybe it is do-able after all!

Finally, last month’s letter. Rental property is again mentioned, but this time John goes so far as to ask George to get 3 appraisals, which is a pretty bold move considering Elly disapproved this purchase.

John's Letter, February 2007

April and I went for a walk a while ago, and went our usual way by George Stibbs' place. I have been talking to George about letting me know when he is ready to sell, and he now is. With his wife gone, he has enjoyed the gardening, but he was telling me the other day that the joy is now gone out of it. Maintaining the big yard is difficult, so he is ready to move to a smaller place closer to his sons.

I don't know what the price would be, but I think it would be reasonable, as it's a small house. You never know what the two extra lots are worth, though. I suggested to George that we could get three appraisals done just to see what the specialists would think it would actually sell for if it was put on the market. (He has no idea what it's worth, either). Then we'll know what we are dealing with. It seems crazy to be so determined to buy a house for which we really have no tangible plan, at the moment - still, I see it as an investment and I love the potential it has! We can rent it. Who knows. We're still just talking. It's been nice having George to talk to. Until that first day when I asked about his house, we'd just wave at each other. He was a friendly neighbour, that's all. Now I sit and have coffee with him and I realize I've been missing out on a potential friendship - just when he's planning to move! Shows that we really do live in our own small worlds, even when we're in an older neighbourhood like this one.

I have approached Elly about moving to George's house ourselves, but she didn't think I was serious. She prefers the house we are in, and since we have done so many renovations, it's custom made for us, so she doesn't see leaving. "It's perfect for having the grandchildren over", is what she said. Little did she realize how "perfect" it would be! I am sure she was thinking of one or two overnight stays. Ha!

John plays his trump. We can't get Mike out of the house and alleviate our home pressures, unless we get the Stibb's place. April played it as Mike buying the house, which would work only if John still got to do trains there. So the possibilities are:

1. John and Elly buy out George and rent it to Mike and Dee on the condition John can put his trains there.
2. Mike and Dee buy out George and move in themselves.
3. John and Elly buy out George, but sell their house to Mike and Dee.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

On the Road to the Retirement House

April and John walk the dogs and John makes puns about the dog’s behaviour, in an effort to rekindle the “my dog’s do the same thing” aspect of For Better or For Worse. Sniffing was pretty normal dog behaviour, but getting showered by snow from a squirrel was a “never occurred” kind of situation for me. Everyone seems to be of the opinion that they are going to walk down to George Stibb’s place. If it is a typical John / April situation, April is going to be the one who makes the all-knowing and all-wise suggestion of moving in to George Stibbs’ place and selling the old house to Mike and Deanna, while John stands there amazed by April’s sudden burst of intelligence.

Lynn has set this whole thing up by making April the one who has suffered the most by Mike and Deanna moving in. In other words, if April had not been thrown out of her room, she would have no motivation for moving along with John and Elly. John wants to move so he can set up 3 full lots of outdoor model trains, which is a pretty clear indication that he does not have a homeowner’s association in his neighbourhood. Elly doesn’t want to move, because the old house is large enough for entertaining, but she may be placated by the idea that the house would still be available for doing those things, particularly if she lives close enough to meddle.

April, on the other hand, would be forced to move in her last 2 years of senior secondary into a house where her band will no longer have the space to rehearse, and where she may actually be embarrassed to bring friends, because of the model train eyesores which will fill metre after metre of the outside yard of her home. Lynn’s answer to the question is “Make April so miserable she will want to move.” In order for this to work, of course, you have to ignore the fact it doesn’t take an insurance company 3 months to get a family into new accommodations after a fire. You also have to ignore the fact April’s misery is inflicted upon her by her parents and her brother’s inability to move his family some other place. If you ignore these facts, you can make the story work. And what is For Better or For Worse these days, but a series of ignored facts in favour of completing a story.

In the meantime, I have been reading up on appeals for criminal cases in Ontario, and as near as I can tell from what I have read, Howard Bunt has a strong case. qnjones wanted to do a prison break story with lemurs, and I have only hinted around how that would work, in case she wanted to drop in more details. In the meantime, I have contrived to have him turn himself in from his prison break to Constable Paul Wright, so we can have a little follow-up on what’s going on there. I am not sure what would happen in real life, if there was such a place in Canada as Milborough, where they don’t follow the proper trial procedure and Howard made a break from there as if he were seeking asylum from a country with a hateful dictatorship. I remember there being some towns in the hills of Utah, where people supposedly escaped from, and I am pretty sure the authorities who rescued them did not respect the authority of those from whom they escaped. I am going to work on the same principal in this case with the unusual Milborough justice system.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Howard Bunt Trial – A Summary

Thanks to my anonymous legal expert, I believe this would be a summary of the right and wrongs of the Howard Bunt Trial in For Better of For Worse. I am curious about which ones of the “wrong” list would be used for an appeal, if my anonymous legal poster would be so kind as to help me out.

What Lynn got right:

1. The sentence of "two years less a day" = maximum length of a correctional centre sentence, since if you're sentenced to two years or more, you're sent to a penitentiary.
2. If there's a chance that Liz and/or Anthony may be recalled as witnesses, they can't discuss their testimony. They may be recalled if there is defence evidence that wasn't addressed in their original testimony.
3. The inclusion of a Victim support counselor in the trial sequence.
4. A judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice is to be called "Your Hono(u)r".
5. There can be long delays between arrests and trials.
6. Liz presses charges for sexual assault.

What Lynn got wrong:

1. Howard would not have been sentenced on the same day that he was convicted: while it's theoretically possible, it simply wouldn't happen in this type of case. Howard should have been remanded -- probably out of custody -- for a period of approximately 90 days for a presentence report to be prepared to assist the judge in sentencing.
2. The judge has no power to order psychiatric treatment for Howard while he is in custody.
3. It's impossible for Howard to get psychiatric treatment while in custody because he's been given a correctional centre sentence and there aren't any psychiatric, educational, addiction treatment or other services available to inmates in correctional centres.
4. The judge has no power to recommend no parole -- he's usurping the function of the parole board.
5. Even if Howard was in custody, he would have been permitted to wear his own clothing during the trial.
6. The judge would have warned the spectators to make no verbal or non-verbal reaction to his verdict/sentence before he gave his verdict/sentence. Anyone who disregarded this warning, would, if he/she were lucky, be ejected from the courtroom. If he/she were unlucky, he/she might be cited for contempt of court.
7. Trial is “remanded” from early January to late February.
8. Liz couldn't be questioned on her sexual history in the circumstances of this case. See section 276 of the Criminal Code.
9. Victim support counsellors are a liaison between the Crown/police and the victim, keeping them advised as to the status of the case, advising them as to their role in the case, and referring them to appropriate support services if needed. They might sit with them in the special waiting room and might accompany them to the courtroom, but they certainly wouldn't be advising them not to speak to other witnesses -- that's the job of the Crown.
10. No appearance of a Crown attorney in the entire trial sequence.
11. The judge conducting the examination-in-chief himself.
12. The judge is unsashed while presiding over a trial.
13. The defence counsel is not gowned.
14. The coat of arms and Canadian and Ontario flags which ought to be behind the judge's dias.
15. There should be a portrait of the Queen on the side wall.
16. Witnesses only stand when they take their oath or affirmation when they first enter the witness box (aka "the box"). They are seated the rest of the time, except when the judge enters or exits the courtroom (when everyone in the courtroom must stand.)
17. The witnesses wouldn't be hanging around for days and days waiting to be called: they would be on standby, which means that they would have to leave contact information and be able to turn up on relatively short notice.
18. “Deposition” is not a term used in Canada. Oral statement.
19. There should be 2 police officers at the table during the oral statement.
20. The officers taking the oral statement should be plainclothes detectives at the station and not a uniformed officer.
21. There is no reason for the chair to be bolted down when giving an oral statement.
22. The oral statement is used to refresh the witness’ memory and was not shown to be used after having been taken.
23. The witness never meets Crown attorney until witness is in the box and Crown attorney starts examination-in-chief of witness. The Crown attorney would never meet with two witnesses at the same time for any reason, as it would look like collusion.
24. The idea the police would have the budget or inclination to place Howard under surveillance for a year.
25. Based on the evidence presented (1) a relative who won’t testify and (2) Liz’s assault where the main evidence is touched covered body parts, and ambiguous words or gestures accompanying the contact showing the accused's intent; the sentence is a little heavy.
26. Based on the implied evidence of 3 charges on similar facts where it was worse for the other girls than it was for Liz, the sentence is a little light.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

We don't need no stinking BADGERS!!!

While I was in middle of rejoicing that Howard can take Michael’s job at Portrait then abruptly Lynn senses I am on the verge of a snarkfest of For Better or For Worse with Howard, and slaps me down with this abrupt jump to the Howard Bunt trial verdict. It’s her loss really. The whole court scene was full of dramatic possibilities and she decided to ignore them all to focus on Liz and Anthony.

We had 2 days of Liz testimony and no days of any other testimony, just a lot of sitting around in the hall. Elly and John show up to support her at the courtroom, and their main point is that Paul Wright is not there and Anthony is, to show something has gone wrong with Liz and Paul Wright, an idea which never worked, and should have been rejected.

What Lynn Johnston should have done:
1. Liz is new back to town after 2 years of Mtigwaki and 4 years of school. The trial was the perfect opportunity for Liz to reconnect with other old friends, like Shawna-Marie or Candace and Rudy. Or even friends who support the Pattersons in general like Dennis North, the Mayes, the Enjos, the Poiriers, the Nichols, etc.
2. The trial in combination with Grandpa Jim’s stroke provided the perfect opportunity for the whole Patterson family to rally together and to get the readership rooting for the Pattersons again. When Mike’s book deal comes through, a properly-prepared readership would root for Mike’s success as a good thing finally happening to the poor beleaguered Pattersons. Even with the whole family in the same house, we have not had one strip with everyone there having dinner. Not one in 3 months.
3. Lawrence Poirier and Nicholas Browne should have been there as either support or testimony. They are so involved in the situation, it is astounding Lynn left them out.
4. We could see enough testimony so that we could get something to work with on hating Howard Bunt that would justify outrage at the 2-year sentence. Show us how sleezy his lawyer is, or how overprotective his parents are, or at least one other witness to show how scummy the guy is, or show him obviously faking remorse. Snidely Whiplash, tying Penelope Pitstop to the train tracks with the oncoming train, comes off as more wicked than Howard.
5. Scenes with Anthony and Liz actually bonding instead of all those creepy thought balloons.

I struggled with the trial situation today, because I am pretty sure that we have seen the last of Howard Bunt. He’s been in 2 strips total over the entire trial sequence, and Liz saying her “remorse” line probably amounts to her telling him off.

A few references for those that don’t know them

In the 1989 "Weird Al" Yankovic film UHF, the host of Raul's Wild Kingdom receives a shipment of badgers in error and says: "Badgers? Badgers?!? We don't need no stinking BADGERS!!!"

The original quotation comes from the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart. In one of the scenes in the movie, a Mexican bandit leader (Gold Hat, played by Alfonso Bedoya) is trying to convince Fred C. Dobbs (played by Bogart) and company that they are the Federales. He says: "Badges!? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!!" The line was taken from the book by the same name.

When I introduced the badgers to Thorvald McGuire’s scheme for breaking out Howard from prison, I had it in my mind to use that line. However, qnjones changed the animal to lemurs, for a reason I do not know, and so I was faced with how to deal with lemurs instead of badgers. Much to my surprise, the key pun word for the strip was remorse, which bears a resemblance to lemurs, if you pronounce the “l” like an “r”. I briefly considered pulling in a stereotypical Japanese character mispronouncing the “l”, but opted just to have Anthony mishearing it and insisting he was right. It’s far better to leave the offensive racial stereotyping to Lynn Johnston.

The Three Stooges' film Disorder in the Court has no badgers or instant pudding or skiing in it. It does however, have a scene involving parrots and a firehose.” I tried to find a prison break Three Stooges film, but I was unable to find one. I thought the idea that Thorvald McGuire would base his escape plan on the Three Stooges would be amusing, and when it failed it would also provide a means to get Howard into jail, where I could put him into the prison work program as an editor for Portrait Magazine. I thought the idea that Portrait Magazine would seek an incarcerated criminal to take Mike Patterson’s job was funny, and it would also provide a means by which I could keep Howard in prison but still active. If Invisible Morrie continues to be an active participant, there could be some interplay there if for example, both Howard and Morrie become senior editors.

On the other hand, I would love for qnjones to write up whatever crazy ideas she has for Thorvald to get Howard out of prison, particularly if Thorvald is not successful, at least not at first. In general, I am not too concerned about Howard in prison. There are 7 months left on the strip and it is my belief that the bulk of the remaining strips are going to focus on Liz and Michael, and that doesn’t leave a lot for Howard to do, even if he came out of prison and operated under an assumed name and some sort of disguise. The group-plotted stories which were Howard’s forté are not longer really done on April’s Real Blog and so Howard has been more providing the gay, cross-dressing perspective on things than anything like a story.

As for the outcome of the trial, no surprises. The Liz letters picked 2 years for Howard back in October, 2005, and the strip rarely varies from that kind of detail. There is so little known about the details of the trial, it is very difficult to say it was fair or not. It doesn’t really matter, since the main purpose was to make Liz feel as though she owed Anthony her life, or at least her virginity.

The most surprising part about the whole situation was the overall negative theme that Lynn Johnston took on the legal process. She complained the trial took too long to start, too long to finish, robbed innocent people of their time without respect to their careers, and now has actually complained that justice was not served. Then over and above that Constable Paul Wright, who is a First Nations member of the Ontario Provincial Police is shown to be a cheater. When he first appeared, I had viewed his job and his ethnicity as being like a double-whammy of FOOBie goodness in favour of Paul. Maybe Lynn Johnston is like so many in the First Nations, who believe their people should serve only in the First Nations Police Force. Maybe I should have understood this meant Paul in the OPP is bad. Clearly Lynn like the police and lawyers and the court system, quite a bit less than she likes firefighters. Now that I think about it, the other appearances of the police in For Better or For Worse were occasions where one of the Pattersons gets a speeding ticket, or in the Lilliputs’ robbery, the appearance of Brad Luggsworth (former villain). Could it be that Lynn thinks the police are bad?

You can’t really take this sort of stuff for granted with Lynn. After the Gym Jam storyline, I came to realize that Lynn Johnston expected us to equate Jeremy Jones with evil, even though he appeared to be distinctly not evil in his last appearance in the strip. We were supposed to say, “Look! Becky’s new roadie / sound guy is Jeremy. This is a clear sign Becky is taking the wrong path. He will betray her.” I didn’t make the association until the Gym Jam story occurred. Having made that association with Jeremy Jones (school bully), it makes me wonder if associating Brad Luggsworth (school bully) with the police, is supposed to give me a similar opinion. For example, if Officer Luggsworth had done his job properly, Kortney Krelbutz would have been discovered as a criminal during his initial investigation, instead of forcing Elly, April and Moira through the trauma of having to uncover her misdeeds. The more I analyze this strip, the more I realize Lynn Johnston and I do not think alike.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Finally Mike Leaves His Job

I have had an idea in my head for over a year now about how Howard would take over Mike Patterson’s position at Portrait Magazine, once Mike finally got around to leaving, and snark his work life. Little did I suspect Howard would still have his trial unfinished when Mike quit. Little did I suspect it would take 1½ years from the time Deanna told him to quit for him actually to quit. It becomes clearer to me now that the way Lynn Johnston works is she sets things up years in advance, then expects us to remember them, when she drops the hammer years later. What you have is:

The setup
1. Mike and Deanna get baby #2.
2. Mike and Deanna move into the larger upstairs apartment.
3. Mike and Deanna spend the night over at Elly’s and talk about how it would be nice to have a place like this.
How to get them there
1. Introducing the Kelpfroths
2. The Kelpfroths smoke
3. Deanna shows her mother the fire escape
The development
1. The Kelpfroths are evil
2. Lovey can’t get rid of them
3. The Kelpfroths are too stubborn to respond to Lovey or Mike’s clever article
The payoff
1. The fire
2. The Kelpfroths are burnt. Sweet revenge.
3. Mike and Deanna move in with mom and dad
The last minute realizations
1. Mom and dad have no place to go. Need to find a place close by.
2. Mike can’t afford a house. He gets an advance.
3. Mike has a great job and has no reason to quit. He sacrifices himself nobly.
The stuff they haven’t realized yet
1. Where is April going to go? Need to establish the place close by has room for April. On the other hand, it seems cruel for April to have to continue to stay in the rec room, or to leave the house where she grew up.
2. Where is Elizabeth going to go? She can’t move in with Anthony until after they are married which is the end of the strip, but Mike and Dee have to have the house before then.
3. Daycare for Robin and Junior Kindergarten for Meredith. Meredith was at Junior Kindergarten when this all happened. Now it’s almost March and there has been no mention of putting her in a Milborough School. Having Connie Poirier take care of them ad infinitum seems ridiculous.

Of course, we know Mike hasn’t actually left Portrait yet, because he has to get his spirit name from his fellow Portrait employees. Unlike the Elizabeth situation, where Lynn Johnston had actually spent a little time developing the characters of at least some of the characters in Mtigwaki, Mike has been at the job since September, 2003, and the number of strips devoted to his fellow workers (Weed doesn’t count) I can count on my fingers. I was actually impressed that the artist bothered to draw a fairly accurate editor-in-chief Barry, the previously-unnamed publisher Gluttson, and assistant Francine; when the modern drawing of Anne Nichols was off, and Melville Kelpfroth underwent severe physical changes each time he was portrayed.

This lack of development may be the reason for the Josef Weeder party. Unlike the situation when Jesse Mukwa gave Liz her spirit name, there would be no resonance for Francine to say nice things about Michael. She has not been mentioned in any of Mike’s monthly letters and there is no other person to stand up for Mike. It seems possible then, that Michael’s farewell from Portrait is being coupled with his book contract party, so Mike can get his compliment from Francine, and there still be enough people to say congratulations on the book contract to make a week-long party sequence work.

The side effect on this will have on April’s Real Blog is that in the next 7 months, there is going to be very little April. She has no dangling plotlines. They could send her back to Winnipeg over the summer to re-emphasize she plans to be a vet, but why bother? Lynn’s objectives are:

1. Mike’s farewell party
2. Elly and John buy the retirement house; sell the Sharon Park Drive house.
3. Mike and Deanna get the Sharon Park Drive house.
4. John officially retires and sells his business to Everett Callahan.
5. Elizabeth deals with Warren Blackwood.
6. Anthony Caine proposes and wedding preparation ensues.
7. Elizabeth, Anthony and François stick it to Thérèse.
8. A parade of old For Better or For Worse characters at the party and the wedding and John’s retirement party.

That is more than enough for 7 months, but there is almost no April in there. qnjones and I don’t mind writing overnight posts for Elizabeth and Michael respectively, but there may come a time when aprilp_katje says “Enough is enough. I want to write my own Blog.” After all, there are only 7 months left.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mike and Money

In For Better or For Worse, it has never been clear what Mike makes as far as his salary goes. We know from today’s strip, he doesn’t have a pile of savings, and we know from yesterday’s strip, his salary is one of the higher salaried positions. The real issue though is the freelance work, which will be Mike’s main salary without Portrait Magazine. Let’s take a look at it:

Back in June, 2005, Mike talks about his weekly column and it is in 7 papers.

Mike's Letter, June 2005

My own writing has improved tremendously since I started my column, "Edgewise" (meaning I get to put a word in edgewise). It's in seven papers now (weekly) and as long as I don't use too much local content it could expand

In the meantime, in a letters only story, Deanna gets to work full-time instead of part-time thanks to someone else’s misfortune (a common theme with the Pattersons).

Deanna's Letter, July 2005

It worked out well, because I'd expected to work part-time while looking for a full-time job elsewhere, but our head pharmacist had a health scare and as a result decided to retire early, so the rest of us moved up the food chain a bit and I got to go back with full-time hours.

In October 15, 2005, we have the one strip reference to how great freelance is paying:

In it Deanna says, “Your freelance is bringing in enough to pay for the rent, the groceries and daycare.” Rent, groceries and daycare. Remember those 3. They will come up later. At the same time, Deanna’s letter reflects the strip, except it doesn’t point out the daycare expense is necessary due to Deanna working full-time.

Dee's Letter, October 2005

Mike's working himself into the ground at the moment, and I plan to have a chat with him about it soon. There's no need for him to drive himself into the ground now that I have a full-time job. Daycare's expensive, yes, and so is our rent.

5 months later, Deanna has been moved to the manager position. In a period of 6 months she has gone from part-time pharmacist to the manager. Someone has decided to stack the deck in Deanna’s career.

Dee's Letter, December 2005

My job is keeping me so busy - now that I'm a manager, I have staff concerns on my shoulders. I like having more control (and the extra money is great) but I never realized when I was part time how much work my supervisors did!

May comes around and now Mike’s column has dropped from 7 papers to 3 papers and we are told groceries is what it covers, but not the whole freelance.

Mike's Letter, May 2006

I now work regularly for two publishing houses, editing manuscripts. I write a weekly column which is in three newspapers and actually covers the groceries! Deanna has told me many times that her wages are enough to allow me a leap of faith - into the world of self-employment and the canopy of courage is beginning to form. I will be able to do it. I just need a little more incentive and a little more time.

Our most recent entry shows Mike’s freelance now pays for gas and groceries, but not daycare. The weekly column which used to be able to cover groceries by itself, now coupled with all Mike’s freelance, covers just groceries and gas.

Mike's Letter, November 2006

She has asked me many times to leave my job at the magazine and rely on my freelance work until my book is published. She could easily support us on her salary, and what I make on the side would pay for gas and groceries. She tells me that saving for a house can wait.

If I am judging these letters correctly, Deanna is making more and more money, while Mike’s freelance work is making less and less. This actually makes Mike’s reluctance to rely on his freelance work make more sense. Similarly, the letters reference to Deanna getting money from inheritance and mother, will make Mike relying on his advance to take the place of his Portrait Magazine salary seem less idiotic.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Fall of Mike

It’s interesting to see how Mike has changed at Portrait over the years as shown by the letters, since the strip essentially goes from him being hired and his enthusiast early manager meetings to a short sequence where he tries to get Josef Weeder as the cover story, only to have it refocused to the model Sophia. Then after that, we have a long stretch of nothing until Buzzword Bingo. The letters show much more than that.

Here is the letter comment on the Sophia story.

Mike's Letter, Mid-May 2004

I'm not quite as agitated with work as I was at the beginning of the month. Portrait magazine has been nominated for an excellence in photojournalism award, which has lifted everyone's spirits and even though I wasn't happy about doing the article on "Sophia" it turned out well, the cover photo is exquisite - Weed is an artist!

Mike’s big change at Portrait is to interview the young in order to get a younger audience, but at the same time can’t avoid pushing forward Lynn’s perspective on the youth of today.

Mike's Letter, June 2004

We have been steadily changing Portrait magazine from a chronicle of the country's most accomplished and out standing individuals to one that appeals to a perhaps younger audience. Thus, we have been covering the exploits of certain youthful and outrageous performers who have been making the headlines on the music scene, in art and in film. Some are articulate but others are surprisingly dull, with little to say that is not written down for them by unseen handlers.

Now Weed is gone from Portrait, Mike begins to feel the draw towards doing freelance.

Mike's Letter, May 2005

Right now, I'm feeling a little trapped by one of my choices...the decision that I made to take a management position at Portrait Magazine. Sitting on the train each day, I ponder my existence as a worker. I feel like an ant, or like a cell flowing through the massive bloodstream that feeds the city.

Take note of what Mike does as editor. It will be a point of contrast later on.

Mike's Letter, September 2005

I'm a manager. I juggle deadlines, check copy, attend meetings, and help decide what goes on the cover and what goes inside. I interview freelancers, review page layouts and take people I have to talk to out for lunch. I'm a fixture at several of the local eateries and my buns are enlarged because of it. Business lunches happen at least four times a week. I see advertisers, photogs, sales reps, and now and then I get to do an interview which I'll write up with the giddiness of a kid who's scored the corner of the cake with the most icing.

The magazine moves away from doing portraits to including sexy advertisements. Mike disapproves, which is ironic considering his exposé started them down this path.

Mike's Letter, March 2006

We decided there were the "disgruntled" - us - people who want change, make an effort, get beaten down and enjoy grousing about it, and the "gruntled" - those who do their jobs, keep quiet and don't care.

The problem with the disgruntled is that most of us actually care. We'd like to put out a more sophisticated journal and provide portraits again! The most memorable portrait we've printed recently wasn't an interview, but an advertisement. Four pages, set in the front, middle and back of the mag, featured a sylphan lovely removing her garments - with the last page showing her holding a bottle of perfume in such a way that her obvious assets were obscured.

Here Mike thinks of himself as part of the creative team and not as the editor. We have another hint of immorality with the front desk girl, which implies she was not hired for her abilities for operating a front desk.

Mike's Letter, November 2006

Grub and grumbling keeps us going. It keeps us sharp - a force united against the owners of the magazine who ultimately steer its course, oblivious to the input of the creative team they've assembled. Yes, the power of negative thinking has made me what I am today and as I get on the train that heads for home I look out the window and I let it go. I forget all of it. The stories, the page assemblies, the cover shots, the new front desk girl whose cleavage (on both sides of her ample form) has been exposed to all.

Our most recent letter. Note that the people being parachuted in are handling the things which used to be Mike’s job.

Mike's Letter, February 2007

There have been so many changes made. We're being pushed to produce a slicker, sexier rag on a tighter budget. New people have been parachuted in to oversee advertising, sales and content. We're not a team, anymore - we're just teaming. Those of us who have stayed on, do our jobs as best we can, ignore the petty and time-wasting hassles and go home. It's less than satisfying and I look forward to the day I can comfortably sing out loud "Take this job and shove it!"

I snarked on this with a Mitch Frenum post. It was interesting to look back at the old strips to see how much of a player, Mitch’s assistant Francine is in getting Michael rehired. She states that “all the feature editors wrote to the publisher on” Mike’s behalf, but she also complained that she “literally did all the work” for Mitch Frenum. This, although Mike commented that not seeing Mitch at Portrait was unusual, because he was always in his office working. I also found it interesting that in Francine's office, there is a picture of Francine with only her in the picture, implying she is single.

The story about the feature editors was odd. If I were a feature editor, I might sign something which said Mike Patterson, our fired head writer, should be hired back. However, I doubt I would ask the publisher to hire Mike Patterson back to take the position of senior editor, which I want. Francine doesn’t say that’s what they did, only they wrote on his behalf. The idea of being hired as senior editor comes from Mike himself, who says he would only work for Portrait again if they offered him Mitch’s job. Francine, however, implies that is what they were thinking, by suggesting he asks for a raise when they do offer it. However, it is also possible that Francine passed that message on to the publisher who accepted the idea. We haven’t seen Francine since, and it will be interesting to see if she shows up again in the upcoming strips with Mike at work. I hope not. I had Mitch Frenum imply that she was fired by Mike for having a name that sounded like France, and my story works better if she does not reappear.

Oddly enough, with all his success in getting the job, the letters make it look like Michael’s career as a senior editor is a failure.

1. Portrait magazine hired a senior editor who managed to sell a few more copies of the magazine because he drifted from the magazine’s mission of doing sophisticated portraits by writing an exposé. Initially Portrait Magazine wins some photojournalism award from the Sophia article and pictures. This is amusing to me because, Mike's boss forced Mike to refocus the article about Sophia and not about Josef Weeder.

2. Mike steers them to focus on young celebrities. There are tons of magazines which do the same, and very few that focus on famous older people. We see Mike lose control over advertising approval, and this means that Portrait Magazine no longer trust his opinion on advertising, i.e. it has started losing money. Eventually, Portrait Magazine all but replaces Mike's position as senior editor with outside consultants, which is a sign of a magazine in deep trouble. The outside consultants’ advice is to put as much sex in the magazine as possible, in an effort to bolster the magazine’s sales.

3. Portrait Magazine is going down, but the question is: Did this happen because of Mike's poor decisions, or did this happen because the publisher disagreed with Mike's excellent decisions? The simple fact of the matter is Mike is hired to increase sales, and if he did that, then the Portrait Magazine publisher would be a fool to get in his way. I can only come to the conclusion that this downturn in Portrait’s fortunes initially comes from its foolish decision to hire Michael Patterson, a man completely inexperienced in sales, advertising, and editing; and then following his vision for the magazine. That is the way it appears from the letters.

In the strip, who knows? Mike is upset with not having his own parking space, paid for by the magazine? The possibilities are endless, and the only thing you can be assured of, is that Lynn Johnston, in her effort to try to make Michael Patterson look good, will end up accomplishing the exact opposite.

Tomorrow: Like Howard and Becky, my boy will be skiing (I will actually sitting around the ski area base camp as a point of contact for Boy Scout skiers) with the Boy Scouts and leaving very early in the morning and getting back very late. So, aprilp_katje, there will be no overnight Mike post from me. Sorry. It's my son's first attempt at skiing, and I fear broken limbs. He will be on the bunny slope and he will go to ski school for 2 hours before he starts, but my parental paranoia reigns supreme.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

Monday, February 12, 2007


There is a distinct possibility on For Better or For Worse, we are beginning to see the aftermath of Howard Bunt’s trial being used as a means to link Anthony and Elizabeth while they are working together against him. The monthly letters have hinted at them going together to the trial to hear the verdict. On the other hand, Mike’s party would provide an excellent and less reprehensible means for them to get together and could have been planned as an alternate to using a sexual assault trial as a starting point for romance. After, all, the monthly letters have proved, time and time again to be defenceless against the whims of the strip-writer, who apparently keeps development of the character’s importance a secret from the letters-writer.

Tomorrow’s strip: Now that the party is set, watch Mike ask people to the party and show them his book and repeat the same things over and over again. Author. $25K. Still poverty stricken. Still living with mom.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Renaissance Faire

In today’s For Better or For Worse, I could just see Lynn Johnston’s mind at work. “I want a cute, little strip that will be on the refrigerator of every person with aphasia.” “Aphasia” and “confuse ya” don’t even really rhyme. Over on the FOOBiverse’s Journal, I put together a series of alternate punchlines, all of which actual rhyme. On April’s Real Blog, all I had time to do this morning was to dash off a Michael Patterson post showing him to be touched my Grandpa Jim’s sentiment and to snark the idea that Michael would leave Grandpa Jim and Iris without a big send-off.

Then the rest of the day was the Renaissance Faire. My first encounter with this sort of thing was back in the late 1980s, when I was quite young and quite single. Renaissance Faires attract a whole breed of women who like speaking in fake British accents and wearing long dresses that show quite a bit of cleavage. I am sure you can see the appeal for a young single man. There is nothing quite so enticing about a woman as a bad, fake, British accent.

In Texas, it was called Scarborough Faire and ran out of Waxahachie, Texas and was invariably hot, sweaty, and miserable. Then in 1987, I lived in Colorado briefly and went to a Renaissance Faire there and I suddenly realized that the same performers who were in Texas, also performed in Colorado. Now I live in Arizona and guess what? The same performers in Arizona are the ones I saw in Texas, and they seem to have no problem admitting that they have made a living doing Renaissance Faires for over 20 years.

Past times when I went to the Renaissance Faire, my children wanted to spend most of their time riding the human-powered rides or participating in the games of chance. These things appealed to them, but they also cost lots of money, particularly the games of chance. This year, however, I printed off the list of free programs and asked them to choose which ones they wanted to see. Then we just went from show to show of the ones they both wanted to see, and participated in just a few rides and games of chance to satisfy them. Not being completely out of money until close to the end of the Faire is much more appealing to a father than to have that occur sometime around noon. I would say this was easily the most successful Faire I have been to with the kids, and part of that is the fact they are old enough to want to see some of the shows.

Tomorrow’s strip: Michael Patterson’s motivations for continuously nominating more and more relatives to whom he can give Valentine’s Day gifts is a mystery, particularly when the Sobinskis enter the picture. However, once I saw the phallic grabbing of the vase by the saleslady relative to Mike’s crotch, it all became clear to me.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Pump It!

In today’s For Better or For Worse, the basic point was that Grandpa Jim managed to communicate to Michael Patterson he was excited (or pumped) about Michael’s impending success. The essential flaw of the strip was that Grandpa Jim felt the need to go to the picture book and point to a car and a gas station to get this idea across, when he could have more easily pointed to himself for “me” and put two fingers in the air for “too”. Lynn Johnston wanted to show Grandpa Jim supported Michael and she wanted to show Grandpa Jim using the picture book and she wanted to make a wordplay joke. This is what happens when the author focuses on the devices of the story rather than the story itself. I see it all the time in Hollywood movies, where there are clear “Wouldn’t it be neat if…” times which are not followed by someone saying, “Yes, but it doesn’t serve the story because…” times. In order to accomplish what Lynn Johnston wanted to accomplish, she needed to have a more complex message being passed by Grandpa Jim than a simple affirmation of his support; but not so complex it could not be told by a picture in a book.

For example, Jim could point to a picture of an airplane and then a picture of a TV anchor, and Mike could get the message Jim is concerned about him having to travel and do interviews to support his best seller. Then Mike could make a pun saying, “Don’t worry, grandpa. My career as an author may be ‘taking off’ but I still live in Milborough.” That’s pretty weak, but it would serve Lynn’s desires better and still make sense. As it is, Grandpa Jim went through a lot of effort to communicate something, which would been done more easily with hand gestures.

The early morning posts in April’s Real Blog had Zapata and Zenobia (I presume aprilp_katje) discussing their upcoming lunchtime discussion with Jeremy Jones. I ended up playing off the term “pumped” with a sexual connotation and included susannamoodie’s Zandra Larson in the mix of it. One of my wife’s favourite songs right now is The Black-Eyed Peas “Pump It” which, if you can understand the verses (which is difficult considering the rappers have the usual problem rappers have of very poor enunciation), has the dual meaning of “pump up the volume of the song” and “their success in ‘pumping’ girls they meet in nightclubs’”. I decided to also key off the strip phrase “I’ve been talking way too fast” to show the girls are leaving Jeremy in the dust with a series of double-entendres involving pumps, gas stations, and filling gas tanks. I also had to drop in the April lines on drumming with Gerald from her February monthly letter and its clearly intended double meanings.

Then webmistress Stephanie Doleweerd updated the website descriptions of Constable Paul Wright and Susan Dokis and it allowed me to introduce another Paul letter and the Ojibway for the verb form of pump. Overall, it was a good day for ARB posting for me, anyway. Tomorrow, I am off with the kids to the Renaissance Faire, to fulfill our deep-seated desires to be white and nerdy.

Tomorrow's strip: Surprisingly Mike is gone and we are back to the Grandpa Jim / Iris interaction. I thought I would get to do one more Mike overnight post, but I guess not.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mike Begins the Ascent to the Throne

Today on For Better or For Worse we continued Mike's turn to visit with Grandpa Jim to let us all learn about aphasia. The only really new news for us readers was being informed that Michael's book is going to be a best seller, but that is not really new news for those of us who have been predicting the outcome of the strip. We know that not only will Michael's book be a best seller, but it will break sales records all across the world and be hailed as the Great Canadian novel. You may think I am joking but in:

Mike's Letter, October 2004: It said

I'll write the Great Canadian Novel someday.

So don't be surprised or alarmed when it happens. The main point of this whole sequence this week seems to be for Michael Patterson to begin the process of reacquainting himself with things he has been ignoring ever since he left Milborough. One of the primary things is his grandfather. He visited Grandpa Jim last during his birthday, but the personal interaction with Grandpa Jim was limited to April. One of Lynn Johnston's goals with Michael, if she wants the strip come September to focus on him and his family is for Michael to take his place as the new Elly. In other words, Elly visited and interacted with everyone in the storyline, even taking trips to Mtigwaki and the like, and if Mike is going to serve as a narrator for framing sequences of the hybrid strip, then the reader needs to see him interrelate with the other characters. This is the reason, I think, why Michael is here with Grandpa Jim and Iris by himself and not dragging his kids along, who would take the focus from Michael.

My guess is that this week will conclude with Michael departing after having had a nice visit. I am not sure what the next sequence will be. We have had a lot of Michael and Elizabeth lately, and usually Lynn goes to John and Elly or April next. If I were Lynn, I would be anxious to set up Elizabeth and Anthony so I could get going on wedding preparation or romance strips, but I get the impression that Lynn thinks of Elizabeth's romantic life more like one of those romances where the romance is over as soon as you find out who the heroine is going to finally choose. Consequently, I expect Elizabeth will wait until the last possible moment to commit to Anthony.

On the other hand, Lynn may want to continue the theme of Michael telling people about his success, so it would allow him to visit with Weed and Carleen and Lovie and find out the current status of the Kelpfroths. If Lynn takes it far enough, Mike will call up Brian Enjo, chat with Brad Luggsworth, visit Gordon and Tracey Mayes, and maybe even visit Rhetta Blum (to whom he had made the promise he would write a novel years ago after Farley died) and Agnes Dingle (whose life story is pretty much a duplication of Sheilaugh Shaugnessey's).

Ultimately, Mike will quit his job at Portrait Magazine, but I don't think that will happen just yet. Although, we have read in the letters how Mike has grown to hate his job, we have never seen even a hint of it in the strip. That theme must be introduced in at least one strip, before Mike quits. If it is done properly(and by properly, I mean awfully), not only will Portrait Magazine be magically transformed into a hateful workplace, but Mike will have the privilege of saying, "Take this job and shove it!" and the Portrait managers will grovel and beg Mike to stay, because he is so wonderful and how they can't live without him. I think it will be difficult for Lynn to resist that opportunity, so it may take just a bit before Mike quits Portrait.

Tomorrow's strip: Michael's success is shared by Grandpa Jim in his own special heart-tugging (pumping) way. I am personally glad to see it. When Elizabeth had her visit with Grandpa Jim, she resorted to telepathy to have her one-on-one with Grandpa Jim, which I thought was cheating.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


For today’s For Better or For Worse, almost all the commentary websites praised Jim for cursing at Mike and Mike was roasted and toasted for being so obnoxious to Grandpa Jim. Most of the commentators have assumed that because Michael is successful that Lynn Johnston approves his rudeness as it is portrayed in the strip. After seeing what Lynn Johnston did to Elizabeth, I am not sure I agree with that anymore. The usual designation of truth and admiration comes from Elly and possibly John (at least the John of the monthly letters).

The only place I see Elly and John compliment or be happy about something Mike has done is when he picks them up at the airport, or he rakes leaves. I don’t know that just because Mike is phenomenally successful, that means Lynn Johnston likes him best or is intentionally trying to portray everything he does in a positive light. I think Michael is playing the April role in the “Let’s learn about aphasia” sequence this is turning into. He gets to be stupid, while Lynn through Grandpa Jim and Iris guide him and us through understanding aphasia, that apparently Lynn has just recently taken the time to research.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pirates! Arrrrgh!

In today's For Better or For Worse, we had Grandpa Jim try to contact Frank, whom I presumed was Frank Thomas, his co-leader of the New Bentwood Rockers. For persons who are not avid readers of all things April's Real Blog, for reasons about which I am not sure, on 2 occasions, on-line homework assignments for courses Elly Patterson would take were created and an opportunity for the more adult (i.e. too old to be posting on April's Real Blog) people could write essays as a part of their course work which would snark For Better or For Worse. The first one was a great success, the second one less so. For this effort I decided to take on the role of Mae Thomas, whom I had remembered as the wife of Frank Thomas; but she was only mentioned in the letters of Grandpa Jim and never in the strip. I had a clear recollection of reading a monthly letter where Jim met Frank in the Legionnaires and although they did not serve in the same area, they had similar experiences and became fast friends. It was based on this I had written several posts in April's Real Blog about Mae being a Milborough native and instructing Iris on the ways of Milborough, particular on the issue of backup gays, which used to be a running joke in April's Real Blog a number of months ago.

If you go through all the on-line letters for Grandpa Jim, you may find that statement to be confusing, because in the on-line letters of Grandpa Jim, Mae was edited out. The only place she still exists is in the "Friends and Influences" section for Grandpa Jim with her name spelled May. I found this to be quite disconcerting, when I looked back through the letters to double-check something I was writing for a story involving Mae. It was after this point, I started keeping copies of the letters, just in case similar editing occurred again.

It seems like an odd thing to edit out. My theory as to what happened was someone somewhere at some point realized that Frank Thomas had been portrayed in the strip as African-American. Under the "Friends and Influences" section, Frank and May Thomas are represented by a picture of the building where they all live, instead of their picture. I would not want to paint Lynn Johnston as racist, but she has seemed to be going out of her way to avoid mixed race couples lately in her strip with the Duncan/Eva or Paul/Susan storylines. I wondered if the disappearance of Mae had something to do with that. I will probably never know. In any case, the monthly letters were putting out a lot of teenager hate at the time the first course was going on, so I made Mae Thomas into a woman who was hellbent on using mace against teenagers. The secondary characteristic was that Mae Thomas had a very active love life in contrast to the Pattersons.

The friend "Ben" who prompts the Blackbeard outburst does not appear in any monthly letter of Grandpa Jim's. Sorry, I can't tell you anything about him.

In today's strip, when Iris is kneeling in front of Jim, and my dirty mind starts going, I thought it would be a good idea to take the same situation and set it with Frank and Mae, only filthy.

Jeremy Jones has been continually visited by Zapata and Zenobia and they do versions of the strip dialogue, which I try to rework into something amusing. Today's amusement was cursing Jeremy to talk like a pirate, which worked well with today's pirate theme.

Howard Bunt commented on the book Grandpa Jim was using and then made a comment about the changes in April's monthly letter for February compared to prior months, i.e. this month she talks only about Gerald and doesn't mention Duncan and Eva. aprilp_katje did not bite on that one.

Michael Patterson did drop hints about how he was not going to visit Grandpa Jim until he was better, in the hopes that aprilp_katje would challenge on that point. She most certainly did bite on that one. So, I got to do my follow-up post about how Grandpa Jim should be completely recovered by September. This should be the case, in the event Grandpa Jim is called on to narrate one of his own strips.

Monday, February 05, 2007

For an optimist, the cookie is chocolately brown. For a pessimist, the cookie is uncoloured vanilla.

Iris and Jim are very difficult to snark, unless Lynn Johnston goes on some tangent and tries to act like she has researched aphasia and strokes, which so clearly she had not before launching into the “Jim Richards has a stroke” storyline. The idea truly mystifies me, because if Lynn had any sense as to who her audience is, then she should know that if she messed it up, she would be called on the carpet by her older audience.

Clearly after all the errors of the past, Lynn is going with the aphasia jokes she can’t mess up. In other words, stick to the jokes where Iris and Jim are having a hard time talking to each other, and leave the doctors and therapists out of it. The unfortunate side effect is that it makes it hard to find material from which to snark the strip.

Tomorrow’s strip: More of the same + a pirate joke.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Gerald and April on a Date - Imagine That

In today’s For Better or For Worse, we had the very first time April and Gerald were shown on a date, without anyone else there. Considering they have been a couple since 2003, this shows more than almost anything else that Lynn Johnston has not been paying a lot of attention to April as a teenager for awhile. Every time the website goes for a family portrait picture, April is invariably back to her little girl stage again. I think this is how Lynn prefers April. The basic plotlines for April are:

1. She’s going to become a veterinarian.
2. She has a band, which plays music for fun.
3. Her parents don’t trust her
4. Becky is evil
5. Shannon is her comforter
6. She had zits once.

Almost everything coming up in the last 8 months of the strip is going to be geared towards getting Mike into the Patterson homestead permanently, Elizabeth getting married and Grandpa Jim’s recovery. April has a part to play in all that…bridesmaid. April also has the unofficial role of cranky teenager through all the other proceedings, particularly if it can be used to drive the humour.

Today for me was very busy. 2 services at church, then a Bible study, then a Super Bowl party, and then a family gathering to celebrate my birthday, which is tomorrow. I was barely able to squeeze even one post in. It’s been over a year ago now, Jeremy Jones used to date a character former ARB poster adrianne did called Alexandra Love. adrianne infused her character with her own love of hockey and picked Alexandra’s favourite local team to be the Milton Icehawks. In order to keep up with Alexandra and the real-time nature of posting with her, I found out dozens of details about the Milton Icehawks, including where their by-the-minute scores were posted on-line, so I could literally follow a game through real-time posting. When today’s strip popped up, I immediately recognized what was being shown.

In the hot desert of Tucson, Arizona, ice hockey is almost nonexistent. The University of Arizona has the Arizona Icecats hockey team which competes in the NCAA hockey league. Phoenix, Arizona has the Coyotes NHL team, but that is a 2-hour drive away. That’s it. In stark contrast to this is the Ontario Provincial Jr. A Hockey League, where it appears around Toronto, every little town has their own hockey team and arena. So, it doesn’t seem too farfetched to believe Milborough would have one. The only thing farfetched is the idea April would think being a hockey fan was hard work. She should have been to a hockey game a long time before this. She should know what going to a hockey game is like.

On the other hand, in April’s Real Blog, we have often snarked the fact that April has virtually no school life aside from attending classes and her band. According to the strip, she has been working part-time at Lilliput’s Bookstore for her mom since 2004, and continued to do so after the store was sold to Moira Kinney. This effectively means April has no life aside from band practice, school and work. Poor April. She’s almost 16 years old, and today’s strip was possibly the first time she had ever been to a hockey game, or at least experienced the game as a hockey fan.

Tomorrow’s strip: Back to Grandpa Jim in recovery. The message this week is that Jim can feed himself. It would be nice to see April playing some music for him or to see his 2 helper ladies show up. I expect what we will have instead is just Iris and Jim and a series of almost offensive jokes at the expense of his physical condition.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Week From Heck

I had an all-day kids' chess tournament which kept me away from April's Real Blog today. Sorry, fellow ARBers.

This week on For Better or For Worse has been very trying. The fans got a real taste of Lynn Johnston telegraphing the plot and seemingly not caring whether the execution had any basis in the real world or not. It was possibly the first week where I was glad the Sunday colour strip had arrived to take the pressure off the relentlessness of the daily strip plotting. I fear it is going to be like this for the rest of the way out.

If you think about it, from February to September is 8 months with 4 weeks of strips, where each plotline being touched runs 2-3 weeks. 32 weeks of strips / 3 weeks of strips = 10 2/3 plots. Lynn Johnston has the following things to cover in that time:

1. Elly and John buy the teeny, tiny train house and swap stories with the current owner who is even older than they are.
2. Liz moves into an apartment.
3. Elly and John sell their current house to Mike and Deanna, thanks to his bonus and a ton of extra money Deanna is getting (mentioned in her February monthly letter).
4. Elly, John and April move into the teeny, tiny train house.
5. Another summer visit with the Western Pattersons for April.
6. Anthony and Elizabeth go to Howard's trial and hear the verdict and declare for each other.
7. Warren Blackwood appears and is rebuffed again by Liz, who declares she is too much of a home body to ever move anywhere.
8. Anthony proposes and Liz accepts.
9. Therese gets dissed in front of Liz and Frannie.
10. Liz and Anthony wedding preparation, which means reintroducing all the characters we have not seen since the beginning of time.
11. Liz and Anthony wedding.
12. Mira Sobinski told off for the last time.

There's 12 for you. I think we can expect scripting rushed for time for the next 8 months.

Friday, February 02, 2007

February Monthly Letters

My usual time to take the monthly letters and see what they do to my characters.

Jeremy Jones – zippo, as usual. He is a school character and I think we have heard the last from him. In fact, with Mike and Deanna entrenched at Sharon Park Drive and the things which need to happen to get him moved in permanently, Elly and John in the Stibbs house, and Elizabeth ditching Warren and married to Anthony by September; I would surprised if we even see April back at school again.

Howard Bunt – Only mention is in Elly’s letter where she says:
the trial (which is still ongoing)

Since the letters have continued to indicate the trial is still going on, I can tell this means Lynn plans to revisit the trial and its verdict to draw a conclusion to that storyline, if for no other reason than to put Elizabeth back with Anthony again. I think she has made a mistake pulling Warren Blackwood back into the storyline, in order to dump him again in the final year of the strip. It’s just wasted time. If there is any hope of salvaging the story of the Liz and Anthony romance, she really needs to have Elizabeth interacting with Anthony and little Frannie, and showing scenes where she is not a depressed nutcase. The way Lynn has been plotting these days, the only question with Howard is how much time is he going to get in prison, and will Liz have any final cutting remarks to make to him?

Constable Paul Wright got lots of comments this time.

Elly's Letter, February 2007

We'd been speaking to Liz about finding herself an apartment, but she's been having a really rough time since Paul broke up with her and so we haven't been pushing too much. I'm worried about her - the trial (which is still ongoing) put her through a lot, and now that this relationship is over she's at loose ends. She comes home, plows through her marking and class prep, and spends the rest of the evenings alone, for the most part. Many of her friends are living in the city now, or they've moved to Ottawa or other distant locales. She hasn't got that many old chums nearby, so her social circle is pretty limited. She is meeting new people at the school, however, and I hear her talking to them from time to time. Most of the teachers are a little older than she is, with families, so it's not easy to "hang out". Still, in time she'll find her space.

Elly’s speaks of Elizabeth spending her evenings alone after the breakup. There is no real effect on Paul, but Elly clearly considers Elizabeth to be alone without the nightly 2-hour Paul conversations or e-mailings.

John's Letter, February 2007

Liz is emotionally pretty low now that her relationship is over with Paul, and April who has been merciless in her rivalry with Liz has at least shown a little sympathy. The space war that she had declared now has a truce (for a short while, anyway). They're warring over space for clothes, access to the bathroom, and even the phone.

John indicates Elizabeth is depressed from her relationship ending with Paul and April has recognized the depression long enough to stop fighting with her sister.

I thought it was neat that Liz got to fly all that way up north in a helicopter! I would really have enjoyed that, but yes, she is seeing things through much different eyes than mine right now. She will be fine, and will move on, I am sure. I really didn't think her relationship with Mr. Wright would work out all that well anyway. If Paul, who has lived his whole life in the north, would have moved to the big city just for her it really would be almost impossible for him. So, things have worked out for the better. Don't tell Liz I said that, though! She would definitely not agree.

Here John moves back to the theme he has in fact had since Day 1 of his commenting about Paul. He is too much of a small town boy to live in the big city. Considering John Patterson’s background is farm boy moving to the big city, this seems like an unusual statement, and you would think he would have much more in common with Constable Paul Wright. Of course, the underlying message is that Paul is “Stick to your own kind”. It’s a very understated racial prejudice.

I suspect she fabricated the relationship a bit to fit what she wanted. When you have to face the truth, you can see that the relationship was mostly fantasy, with each person making up what they wanted, not noticing what the other person liked or did not like, and that these things did not fit into the picture.

If I understand this correctly, Paul Wright would be fabricating the idea that Elizabeth was in love with Northern life and wanted to spend the rest of her life there, when in fact it was, as John says, “Her northern adventure” which is more like a little 2-year lark with the natives, much like Deanna’s Honduras trip. Elizabeth on the other hand was fabricating the idea that Paul would follow her around like a puppy no matter what she did, such was his devotion to her. None of these ideas fit in well with the presence of Susan Dokis.

Paul didn’t just decide not to transfer to Toronto. Paul, who doesn’t live in Mtigwaki, and for whom Mtigwaki was a trip out of the way, when he was visiting Elizabeth; had to have some motivation for visiting Susan Dokis enough times to establish a romantic relationship with her. In April’s Real Blog, I played it as though Susan was slowly trying to win Paul over by subtly pointing out Elizabeth didn’t care for him and she did. Of course the next question is why would Susan go out of her way to attract a man, who didn’t live close to her and who was planning to move to live closer to his girlfriend? She could have always been in love with Paul since their pow-wow days, but the fact they hadn’t seen each other since those days, makes it unlikely. It could be that Susan is one of those women who takes a special delight in stealing men from other women. In my dating days, I met a few women like that. In my mind, the stronger likelihood is that Paul was already disenchanted with Elizabeth for the way she treated and was continuing to treat him, and all it required was 2 little nudges to get him with Susan:

1. Someone nudges Susan and tells her how Liz treated Paul, and tells her Paul is ripe for the picking.
2. Susan nudges Paul and tells him she is interested in him, and she is a lot more like what he is looking for in a long term companion.

Liz's Letter, February 2007

This morning, for example, the first song I heard in my car on the way to work was "Four Strong Winds" sung by Neil Young. It's about someone migrating to someplace new and leaving a love behind. I guess Paul just didn't want to live in the city. He couldn't transfer down, I didn't want to stay up North, and...that's all she wrote.

Elizabeth is in denial. She can’t say, “I guess Paul liked Susan better than me, because she didn’t jerk him around. It has to be the north vs. south thing. It’s not me. It’s where I want to live." If that were true, then he would have never applied for the transfer to Toronto.

I wish things had worked out differently. If he'd just explained it to me on the phone, or if he'd sent a letter...I appreciate that he wanted to explain in person that he was moving on, but it was still pretty cruel for me to have to find out the way I did. I have Warren to thank for that. As much as I resent him for dropping me on the airstrip and then taking off to let me find Paul in Susan's house, I guess I appreciate him being the only one with enough backbone to actually force Paul's hand, unlike everyone else in Mtig who just seemed to wait and see what happened. They were in an awkward position too, though, being forced to work with Susan (and of course, plenty of them are related to Paul). This whole thing is just such a mess.

Lots of things here. Elizabeth wanted to be told as soon as it happened. That seems like a reasonable request. The business with coming a day earlier makes no sense and this letter can’t explain it any better. Warren gets praise for doing something which Paul said would have happened the next day, if Liz had come by bus.

The implication of the letter is that if Liz had come by bus one day later, somehow the people in Mtigwaki and the Cranes and Paul and Susan would have been “forced” to continue to keep Paul’s ugly little secret and thanks to Warren taking her one day earlier, Paul’s secret was exposed. What Liz is really saying is that the people in Mtigwaki were under the sway of Constable Paul Wright and Susan Dokis, who wanted to preserve the illusion that Paul was still dating Elizabeth, and there would have to be something about the image of being known as Elizabeth’s boyfriend which Paul would want to keep up. It is completely preposterous. I agree with the last sentence. The whole thing was just such a mess. I would have been ashamed to have written something so poorly.

I guess I'm glad to be free of it, anyway. I don't know if I'll be eager to visit Mtig again even though my spirit name means that I'll return. I don't think I'd want to stay with Gary and Viv knowing that Paul and Susan were in the adjoining apartment together. It was bad enough the first time. Heck, they may not even be together for any length of time. They knew each other as kids; who knows if they'll make a functional adult couple. Things are so much more complicated when you're an adult. Who knows. Who cares. Obviously, I do.

This was interesting, because it is an indirect snark of the Elizabeth’s relationship with Anthony, which has not really existed since they were kids. She has some points though. Paul fell in love with Elizabeth way too fast, and the means by which they met did make Paul look like an overeager stalker. Given that, it is entirely possible that Paul may be similarly obsessed with Susan Dokis, and their relationship may not last; just like Elizabeth and Anthony would not work out, if anyone were to really consider it. It is also interesting that Elizabeth is anticipating things might not work out. All of Elizabeth’s men to date have continued to be obsessed with her, except for Eric Chamberlain, so it is reasonable to expect Paul will be the same, if you are Elizabeth.

However, the similarities between Eric and Paul make this unlikely. Elizabeth was nice to Warren, and relatively nice to Anthony. Actually, she was pretty mean to Anthony in high school, but he seems to like that kind of thing. What I remember about the Eric and Liz relationship was she was constantly hounding Eric about every little thing he did away from her. We know he ended up cheating, but what we don’t know is what came first---the hounding or the cheating. With Paul, we know exactly what came first. Elizabeth had treated Paul poorly well before Susan came into the picture. Frankly, her relationship with Paul should have been over back in December, 2005, when she flew off with Warren Blackwood and didn’t take the time to meet Paul’s parents, when she was right there where his parents lived. It would have been so easy. “Paul. I have a ride in White River and he is leaving at this time. We need to leave Mtigwaki earlier, so I can meet your parents before I have to go.” That’s all it would have taken. The fact that it didn't go that way, showed an extreme lack of respect and consideration for Paul Wright. I have played this several times in April's Real Blog. Paul's parents would have been very aware of Elizabeth's departure, considering it was by helicopter, and it would have been extremely difficult for her to overcome that slap in the face she gave not only Paul but his parents.

But that's not all. Imagine if Paul had not been cheating, what he would have to have endure with more speculation of Warren, when Elizabeth showed up very publicly with him, at Mtigwaki where Paul has relatives. Liz gets no slaps for this, but she gets slapped for making the assumption a Northern man could move south. The only real slap she got and deserved was the one Vivian Crane gave her for not including Paul in her plans to move South.

The slap Elizabeth most deserves is the one which was her real motivation for moving South, i.e. Anthony Caine’s divorce. It was plain and obvious in the strip when it happened, but nothing in the strip or the letters has touched on it since. That part is a real shame, because it would show a lot about Elizabeth’s character, if either source could explain why she would throw away everything to pursue Anthony.

Now I'm home, and of course everyone has advice for me, some of it helpful, most of it not. My dad and I have had a few good talks, though - he has a way of asking questions that require a lot of thought and soul-searching. He helps you find answers for yourself. He had some good thoughts about dating. He even told me about a few of the women he was seeing before he married Mom...I don't get to hear that kind of stuff from my parents often, but it made me realize that I don't have to settle. A good relationship doesn't leave you feeling lost or hurt or like a stranger to yourself. So, I'll keep looking.

The implication from this passage is that if Elizabeth had decided to stay with Paul, she would be “settling” for someone who was not worthy of her. Elizabeth thinks the country boy is not good enough for the city girl, or the Northern boy is not good enough for the Southern girl. Even if this is not racial, it smacks of regional prejudices. The other implication is that Paul made her feel lost, feel hurt, feel like a stranger to yourself. I think Paul can take credit for the feeling hurt part. “Lost” is the fault of Liz’s own decisions. And of course, “feeling like a stranger to yourself” is purely Lynn Johnston, who catapulted all the good things about Liz’s character out the window.