Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dr. Ted McCaulay / McCauley

Today’s For Better or For Worse marks the first appearance of Dr. Ted McCaulay / McCauley since this strip in 2005 and only his second appearance since 2003. I call him McCaulay / McCauley because the FBorFW website has him as McCauley with an “e” in the Who’s Who description of him; while the Friends and Influences section on the same website for John Patterson lists him as McCaulay with an “a”. Some years back aprilp_katje did ask someone up at the office in Corbeil about the correct spelling and she got a reply of McCaulay with an ”a”, as I recollect. That is also the way the last name appears in this strip, as in the list of doctors you can see in this strip. As I recollect, aprilp_katje did inform Stephanie, the FBorFW webmaster of the error a few years ago, and you can tell how high it is on her list of things to do.

I also remember Ted, because the entire story about how his mother died and how it devastated him, was carried solely in the monthly letters of John Patterson and never in the regular strip. It was a testimony to how unimportant Ted had grown to the strip that this was left out. Ted’s mom used to be a majour aspect of the reason why his relationship with Connie Poirier and other women failed.

As for today’s For Better or For Worse strip, Ted's opinion on retirement seems to match my own ideas about retirement, much more than John Patterson’s, i.e. when you retire, you should retire, and none of this perpetual part time one-a-week kind of work. In other words, no hybrid and no strips inserted in the middle of chronologically-ordered reprints. As for today’s For Better or For Worse strip punchline, it is obvious the joke is the misunderstood word. Ted must be thinking, “Does he mean patience or patients? Either word would work.” Unfortunately, this misunderstanding seems to be the whole joke. Those kinds of misunderstood word jokes only work, if the misinterpretation is something crude or unusual, like this strip, for example. That strip is not that funny, but it is still funnier than today’s strip.

Caring Today article

Lynn Johnston was profiled in the MAY/JUNE issue of Caring Today

She primarily is talking about the Grandpa Jim stroke storyline. I will comment on the parts I found interesting.

Talking about her mother-in-law’s stroke:

It was amazing to see. She simply looked at us with a strange expression and started to crumple. A friend sat her down. She looked at us-yet, she wasn't looking at us. We called the ambulance to take her to the hospital. Her stroke was sudden yet so gentle.

What is amazing to me is the detachment from the situation. She describes the moment as if she were writing it as a description in a book, but there is no emotional detail written for either her or the people around her at the time.

Because the grandfather in the strip is in his eighties and had smoked and had had a rich life, perhaps that's what happened to him.

I love this phrase “had a rich life”. While smoking is suppose to double your chances of having a stroke, I am not sure a rich life does.

My own neurologist is a stroke specialist, so when I brought forth this subject to him he said, "Anything you want to know, I'll help you."

Here I have a few problems, primarily because the initial strips right after Grandpa Jim’s first stroke showed Lynn had not researched it. Now, she says she had ready access to someone knowledgeable on the subject and apparently chose not to consult him until after those initial strips.

Talking about someone she knows who had a stroke and his wife.

He's in a wheelchair, and his wife has devoted her life to him and loves him dearly. She doesn't resent her "imprisonment," as it were, except from time to time when she rather hides this as something she is guilty about. I wanted to explore all of this.

Although this sentence doesn’t exactly make sense, I would still be interested in seeing this part explored, i.e. the character of Iris feeling resentment, then trying to hide those feelings out of guilt.

Talking about her mother and her cancer.

Her attitude was clinical and considerate, and everybody in the hospital loved her because she was not a complainer.

Talking about her father-in-law being bent over all the time.

The fact that he never complained endeared him to all of us and made us respect him so much. Yet, there were others we knew who maybe didn't suffer as much as he did, but their whole world was their suffering, and that's all they talked about. After a while you become immune to their conversation because you start to lose respect for them. You get bored with it. It's odd, but that's the truth. You don't want to take them out and you don't want to spend time with them because you can't do anything about their pain and all you can do is listen.

Very interesting, this admiration for not complaining. We have often commented that the Pattersons spend very little time with Grandpa Jim and even less time helping out Iris; but could this be Lynn Johnston’s method of saying, “Iris (and people like you), if you would stop complaining so much, you would get more help and attention.”?

Talking about her dad taking care of her mom.

But he also hid from us that he had lung cancer. He knew he was very ill; he couldn't breathe, he couldn't sleep lying down because his lungs would fill with water. He hid that from us, and himself perhaps, because he wanted to stay healthy and aware for her. He wanted to be constantly vigilant.

This is an interesting story. A quick internet search shows me that the standard method of treating lungs filling with water is to remove the water via a surgery. So it appears this did not happen because Lynn’s dad didn’t let anyone know he was having this problem; so they could not insist on his getting the surgery and take him out of action, so to speak. It also says that Lynn’s father did not trust anyone else to be constantly vigilant for his wife other than him. I would ask some follow-up questions about this, but the interviewer apparently does not, since his next question is:

CT: Do you think most people realize the effect caregiving has on the entirety of the family?

And now for my favourite question:

CT: How involved was your husband in caring for his dad?

LJ: When it came to looking after his dad, I took that responsibility.

That’s as close you get to a Rod Johnston slam in this article, and I note that Lynn does not correct the interviewer by saying “ex-husband.” Congratulations to Lynn Johnston for not mentioning the divorce and of course, Charles Schulz. This is her best interview in a long time.

I took it upon myself to spend the time with Tom. I loved him. He was a joy to be with. I admired him for his ability to endure the illness without complaint.

This is really the theme for this article, to be ill or to care for someone who is ill, without complaining about it and annoying other people. Shut up and be sick?

Talking about niece Stephanie and Shannon Lake

But if it hadn't been for Stephanie, the character [Shannon] would never have happened. I would never have had the permission to do it. Unless you know someone who can tell you his or her story, you really can't write about it.

This should be the theme for Lynn Johnston’s writing.

It's expensive to bring in a trained helper to do these things. But I think that expense is essential. You shouldn't think about it as an expense but as an essential. One person cannot do it all without losing some of their own quality of life, if not all of it.

I thought that in Ontario, the government paid for caregivers, so I wonder if she is talking about people to supplement those government-paid givers.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


It’s good to see John Patterson has not fallen sway to some on-line computer accounting system for his personal accounts in today's For Better or For Worse. It is also interesting to see the way he lists money needs:

a. Michael and Elizabeth don’t need money from us. Let translate that one for you: Elizabeth is paying for her own wedding. All Elly and John put into Michael’s wedding was to pay for that dress, and Elizabeth already has a dress.

b. They are paying for April’s education? I had gotten the impression April was paying for herself, considering how she has continued to work for Lilliput’s even though Elly sold the place. Of course, we have never actually seen that happen.

c. John and Elly need the part-time work to live quite nicely? Things are more expensive in Canada than I thought. Hello? John, you are a dentist who owned his own private practise from 1979 to 2007 and you sold it. Unless you cut Dr. Everett Callahan a tremendous bargain, you should not only not need the part-time work, but you should be fairly rolling in the dough. This part is a matter of perspective. I have known pretty wealthy people before, who tried to maintain they were barely making enough to live.

d. “Careful.”? John is worried about an oops baby at their age? What was all that honking and flapping for then? I suspect John really means that they are careful and don’t get caught selling their illegal contraband.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How to Retire

My parents have this same problem. My dad retired from work, and then immediately tried to start up a new business, and continues to do take consulting contracts. My step-dad retired and then decided to go into the ministry. My mom retired and decided to take a new full-time job. I just shake my head at them and say, “When I retire, I plan to stop working, get an RV, and travel around the country harassing my children and spending time with my grandchildren.” Of course I know the likelihood of this is remote, but I still have my dream.

Dr. John Patterson, whom we have been previously told in the monthly letters was working either 3 or 4 days a week has decided to retire. And by retiring, he means, he will work 1 day a week. Sorry, John, but that’s not retiring by my standards. That is working less. We are also told, for the very first time, that John considers Everett, his associate, as an authority to whom he has to declare his specific working hours. I presume from this, that Dr. Everett Callahan has purchased the business, even though it has never been mentioned in the strip, and Everett has not been mentioned since 2005.

As for the punchline, that is almost the standard phrase. The one I have always heard is “I work harder now I am retired, than I did while I was working.” For Better or For Worse is not exactly treading new ground here: but at least we can rejoice that whoever is writing the strip these days doesn’t seem to feel the need to end each strip with a painfully awful pun.

However, let me see if I can translate this retirement plan for you. In September, when the strip is predicted to end, Dr. John Patterson will go to work one day a week. This means, that if the strip does not end (i.e. the current writing and drawing team take over the strip in September), then John Patterson can have most of his time available for storylines, but still has his hand in the dental business often enough for the occasional dentistry strip.

New porch, new bathroom, and April’s space in the basement.

That’s a lot of stuff. When my dad retired, he did some home renovation for cost savings; because he was accustomed to doing it, and he did not have a retired medical doctor’s savings. I am not sure why Dr. John Patterson wouldn’t hire someone else to do this work. It’s not like he can’t afford it, and frankly, at the speed at which this strip progresses, April won’t have her space in the basement until after she graduates and goes to university. April was promised that space back on May 21, 2007; so we are close to a year since the Pattersons moved into the old Stibb’s place. It seems like yesterday. Time just flies when you spend half your time reading reprints.

The Retirement of John Patterson

The first mention of retirement for John and Elly occurred in this strip from July, 2003. The first monthly letter was this one:

John's Letter, June 2004

To renew, you pretty well have to hire an associate, and getting someone who compliments your style is very difficult I understand, and I'm just not sure I want to get into that. I have worked alone for so long that I don't know if I want the trials and tribulations of working with someone and training them, only perhaps to have them leave. However, at the age of 55 it is definitely time to think about it.

The associate comes in, but without a name.

John's Letter, September 2004

I talked about retirement in past newsletters, but decided to keep working for a while, and in the process decided to bring in a young dentist to try as an associate. We met for lunch a few times, he spent some time in the clinic, and verbally, we seemed to agree completely.

Initially the associate is going to be Eugene Lee, who has a family background which would make him seem more like a potential best friend to April than a dental associate, which may have been part of his problem.

John's Letter, October 2004

I mentioned previously that we had taken on an associate at the practice. His name is Eugene Lee. His great grandparents came from China. He is third generation Canadian. He was named for his grandfather and prefers to be called "Lee". Boy, when he describes the hardships and the blatant abuse that his grandparents went through first in China, then once they got here, it's hard to believe we are in the same country 100 years later. Lee certainly is not suffering like his grandparents did! Already, he has a BMW M3 two-seater convertible, and has a nice apartment, even though he is just starting out as a dentist. He's not married yet - he's all a-loan. Meaning he's got a lot to do before he pays off the Beamer!

John appears to like the associate in this next letter.

John's Letter, February 2005

My associate at the clinic is doing an excellent job, and he's been great about taking over when I'm unable to move! He's also taking all the emergency and on-call appointments. I feel that it might be time to start spending some time recovering and taking care of myself.

However, Eugene Lee does not work out. He is out and Everett Callahan is in. My guess is that Lynn Johnston couldn’t figure out a way to make the associate appear young without him saying “Man” and “Whoa” and still be Chinese-Canadian to boot. It’s easier to do Keanu with a guy who looks like Keanu.

John's Letter, March 2005

I have to say that work is much less stressful now that we've hired Everett Callahan as a full time associate. He is planning to purchase the practice down the road, and is young (28), energetic, and really enthusiastic. He reminds me of myself when I was just starting out, and of how different things were then. It seems that I don't do anything the way we were taught in dental school.

The staff and patients really like Everett, so I don't mind turning the practice over to someone who has a similar philosophy and appreciates what I have developed

The strips from April 18 – 25, 2005 introduce the new associate, Everett, whom April describes as the morsel. His last name is on the nameplate in the office as Dr. E. Ha{rest of the letters cut off}. We find that that he has a goatee and talks like Keanu Reeves. This strip sequence is the most dialogue he has ever in the strips.

Once again, John likes the associate.

John's Letter, April 2005

But enough whining. Work is great with our associate. He has the most amazingly positive attitude that I almost feel guilty for looking forward to winding down. It has been like a breath of fresh air for all of the staff, to be thinking about new techniques, and to be excited when consulting with the patients. You don't realize what routines and patterns you fall into until someone like Everett comes along doing things slightly differently, and with different word phrasings even to make you realize you say the same thing over and over all day.

But then John forgets the associate’s name and we have the first appearance of Elliot, whom we called Everett Elliot over in April's Real Blog. Or was it Elliot Everett?

John's Letter, August 2005

Elliot, our associate dentist is really working out well at the clinic! He is enthusiastic, loves to chat with the patients, obviously loves dentistry, and I am getting very relaxed about him. Your patients trust you as a dentist, and it's a big responsibility to pass that on. I'm beginning to see that technically he is even better than I am, and really cares for the patients. Some of the new patients who started with him are nervous about having me do some of their work if he's away, so the shift has begun. I look forward to retirement now, but still enjoy my days, so I am in no rush.

September 10, 2005 is Everett’s last appearance in the strip, as he utters another “Whoa” to remind us of his youth.

Elliot appears again in the monthly letter.

John's Letter, November 2005

Every day I develop more and more respect for Elliot, my associate dentist. He absolutely loves dentistry, and the patients. I listen to his conversations with them. He asks them questions about themselves, and takes an interest in their lives. I wish I could be as keen as he is. The staff assures me that I am, but he sure has been a great addition to the practice. He and I will have to have a conversation soon about him purchasing it, and having me work as the associate. I can't imagine retiring just yet, but it sure is nice to have the pressure taken off, so that we can share the patient load. We continue to have more patients (actually, we are now supposed to call them clients), and it would have been difficult for me to keep up without getting booked way ahead, if Elliot had not come along. We are actually thinking of expanding the practice now!

I think it was around this point that aprilp_katje informed Lynn's webmaster Stephanie that the name was wrong; because the next time he appears, he is back to Everett.

John's Letter, February 2006

At the clinic, with Everett as my associate, things are going very nicely.

In the March 20, 2006 strip, Everett’s name does not show up on the list of doctors in John’s building, nor is it listed outside John’s office door, causing me to speculate Lynn was up to something. I was wrong. In the meantime John starts working 4 days a week.

John's Letter, March 2006

I mentioned "retired guy". Now that I'm working four days a week, and Everett, my associate, is taking on more and more as he gains some experience, I notice he has very good judgment and a wonderful way with people, both clients and staff. It makes me feel just a little less indispensable, and I appreciate the direction he is taking the practice. Which makes me think about taking one more day a week off! Yes, I am starting to think about working only three days a week, slowly edging my way to retirement. I know in the past I have mused in the newsletters about the idea of completely retiring, but this tapering off idea is working out quite nicely. Kind of unplanned, totally disorganized, but a great idea for a guy who can't make up his mind.

John's Letter, April 2006

There are momentary feelings, when I know that I could be retired if I wanted to be, but I still really enjoy every day that I am at the clinic. Now that I think of it, and have admitted those feelings, I must find time to talk to Everett about setting a time for him to buy the practice and take it over. I hope it doesn't spook him, and make him re-think the idea! I have my doubts. I suspect he is quite keen to put his own stamp on the place and start making more changes. I just have to officially step aside, and become his underling.

The Elly reaction to John's retirement is listed here. Let's see if it shows up in the strip.

John's Letter, August 2006

As I find myself slowing down, or at least having interests other than the clinic, I am getting serious about selling my practice, and Everett and I have started intense negotiations for him to buy the place. Elly is ok with it, but her main concern is "who will fix our teeth?"

John finally has an agreement in place with Everett to turn the dental clinic over to him.

John's Letter, September 2006

I have really appreciated the changes Everett is making at the dental clinic. We have an agreement in place now, and I can see turning it over to him soon.

Unlike Eugene Lee, Everett’s only claim to fame is that he is young and looks and talks like Keanu. This letter attempts to fill in some of that history.

John's Letter, October 2006

Speaking of age -we had a difficult little three year old patient the other day at the clinic... mostly just behavioral problems, but poor Everett, who has no children, really was struggling to know just what to do.

Speaking of Everett, he has recently become engaged! I only met his fiancée once so far, but she's very pretty, with short dark hair. She is a surgical nurse who specializes in joint replacements! I did not know that nurses specialized, but apparently that's happening more and more, as they take extra training.

Then Elliot returns temporarily and he is ready to buy. John will be 3 days a week for the next 5 years, says Elliot. Will Everett counteroffer?

John's Letter, February 2007

Elliot, my associate at the practice, came to me and is ready to buy the practice! He has gone along with a lot of the systems that I have had in place, and has helped make some great changes over the last six months, but he has his confidence up, and really wants to make the place his! It was a bit of a shock (to my ego, actually) when he suggested buying it last July, but this has been the plan for a while, and it is time. Well, it's just a little sooner that I thought it would be, but what's new! Everything we plan seems to happen sooner than planned! I am very lucky to have someone interested in the practice, and someone who is actually making improvements. I have seen some older dentists who have not been able to sell their practices, and have had to simply close them down, or in other cases, have been upset by changes the new owner is making, but once your practice is sold, you have no say at all!

In my case, I have been asked to stay on a little longer, and ease into the transition, and have been forced to learn a bunch of new things in the process. This has been great for me. Now it is time to move on. Elliot still wants me to stay on as an associate for at least three days a week for another five years. He just wants to own the place.

John's Letter, March 2007

There's also some excitement at the clinic, as we get closer to the change of ownership date when Everett takes over.

This is time period when I think Lynn originally planned to have John sell the business. It would have lined up nicely with the previously-planned end of the whole strip for September, 2007.

John's Letter, May 2007

Everett is now the owner, and he is making all sorts of changes that I wouldn't have thought of. These changes make things much easier in many ways. I should've hired him to manage the place back when he was in high school!

John's Letter, June 2007

Everett is showing a good deal of organizational skill at the clinic. Without me there all the time, he's feeling more confident about making changes. Since the clinic is now his, he's enjoying the feeling of ownership and responsibility! I can just come in, do my work for the day and go home. Now it's his job to keep the staff happy and make sure all the dirty jobs get done.

However, Lynn realizes she is not going to end the strip in September, 2007; so Everett is back to being an associate.

John's Letter, July 2007

My associate Everett and I traveled to Ottawa last week for a convention and some training.

And here is where we left it, with an intended purchase in the fall. I guess April, 2008 is close enough to fall, if you take out all the reprints.

John's Letter, August 2007

Everett has all but taken over the clinic, now. I'm sort of working as his associate and he will be taking steps to buy the practice in the fall. I'll be able to work a few days a week and keep my hands in it. I do enjoy the social aspect and I like the satisfaction of doing the work itself. I'm just quite ready to slow down.

And that's where we leave it until possibly this week. It's been a 4 year process, and not touched in the strips for 3 years. If Everett shows up again, he will have to be reintroduced. Actually the whole topic of John retiring will have to be reintroduced.

Back from AZ State Chess Championships

I just got back from Flagstaff, Arizona and the Arizona State Chess Championships, in which both my son and daughter participated. They played 7 games over 2 days. My daughter won 3 games in K-6. My son won 2 games in K-9. Neither of them got a trophy; however, my daughter’s K-6 team won second place, and she was excited by that.

As for my mother-in-law, my wife informs me that she has reached the level of health where my wife is having a difficult time getting her slow down enough to rest. I view that as a good thing; but not so my wife. She will be headed back to Tucson tomorrow and I am sure my kids will be happy to have her back after dealing with their cranky father since Wednesday.

Coming back into For Better or For Worse, I was a little surprised to find Gerald kissing April with even less passion than he did when he kissed her for the first time back in 2003 and she was 11. But in these days of passionless marriages for this strip, that’s probably all one can expect.

Today’s For Better or For Worse strip is the first one that has given me a serious indication that Lynn Johnston is not writing the strip. Artwise, I can easily see that it is the work of Laura Piché, Lynn’s assistant: John’s car has its wheels firmly on the road and not hovering in the Lynn Johnston style of showing car movement, and in the final panel John’s body shows the geometric shape body contours I have begun to associate with Piché. However, in the second panel, we have John Patterson referencing the song lyrics to Feeling Good, a song performed by Muse and appears on their album Origin of Symmetry (2001).

The topic of this week looks like it is going to be Dr. John’s Patterson’s official retirement. Actually, it appears to be headed in the direction of Dr. John Patterson saying to Elly “I’ve sold my business and I am informing you after the fact and here are these flowers to make up for that.” The song lyrics referenced fit that storyline very well, but the music and the group is far too modern for Lynn Johnston and her publicly-expressed anti-pop music leanings. Not only this, but there is a silent penultimate panel leading into a final panel where there is no pun and the strip is a little funny. This is not the Lynn Johnston style of writing, and it has caused me to notice that other strips, which I have previously identified as Piché-art strips (like April 17, 18 with Elly interrupting April’s homework) also do not look like Johnston writing, i.e. the idea of John Patterson supporting Elly Patterson in her parenting of April instead of sabotaging her or doing nothing is not typical Lynn Johnston-written John Patterson behaviour.

Assuming my analysis is correct about the actual creators of these strips, the next question is: Who is the writer, if it is not Lynn? Is Lynn Johnston letting Laura Piché do this too? We may never know.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

If I were Gerald Delaney-Forsythe, I would wonder why it is that when my girlfriend April turned 16, she turned into this “Now I hate you, now I don’t” crazywoman. Either April is angry and insulting Gerald for no logical reason or hugging on him and talking about how they are going to be eventually together forever. It’s almost like she is alternatively possessed by an angry young woman, or by a regretful old woman.

In today's For Better or For Worse, April tracks down Gerald, and while she doesn’t exactly apologize to him for her behaviour this week, she tells him she wants to stay friends always. She wants to keep in touch. Lynn seems to have forgotten April and her friends are in Grade 11 and not Grade 12. I know that idea is ridiculous, and what Lynn really wants to happen is to setup all this future talk in preparation for ending the strip; however, the dialogue is not written that way. It’s written like the characters are going to say goodbye at the end of the school year, and Lynn is doggedly persistent in presenting it that way.

I had this same feeling when the Pattersons were discussing the home move to the George Stibbs’ house and the joke was, over and over, that the family forgot April existed for 2 more years in Milborough before she would go to university. Where April was going to live was never mentioned, even when the grand list of who was going to live where was presented in the strip, she was not on the list. Finally, the strip turned towards April’s future abode, but not until the very end. I was never sure if Lynn did that because it was her plan all along, or if so many people complained into the Coffee Talk that someone convinced her to address possible April concerns.

As for me and my brood, we are off to the Arizona State Chess Championships in Flagstaff, Arizona this weekend, so once again, the Howard Bunt Blog is going on hiatus for the weekend. For those of you interested in the situation with my mother-in-law, my wife reports she is home from the hospital and finally resting. The first night back from the hospital was not that restful, however.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Eva the Uninsulted

After criticizing Gerald’s career plans and making a joke about Duncan’s open door policy, Eva Abuya gets away unscathed from the punning eye of April Patterson. Eva likes to sing, but does not plan to be a professional singer, so she has escaped the anti-professional musician wrath April levied against Gerald and Becky. So, instead Eva plans to take general arts as a starting point. I remember back when I was first entering college back in 1980, this was pretty standard advice from a high school counselor (at least from mine). I consider it to be pretty bad advice.

Ironically, at my company, this Thursday is the “Take Your Kids to Work” day. I will be taking both my girl and my boy to see what glorious careers could be awaiting them. I have done this with my kids as soon as they were considered eligible to go. They enjoy it for the free company products they get (i.e. leftover customer giveaways); but I have been impressed in the past with the setups which have been in place to actually help kids decide (or at least be aware) of jobs which closely match their interests. I remember being surprised at how many careers there were with good-paying jobs for person who found art or the arts interesting, many of which were not inherently obvious and also pay pretty well. If I were to speak to Eva, I would suggest talking to a modern career counselor (and not a 60-year-old cartoonist) about which of those careers might interest her, in order to better focus her university choices.

However, if Eva just likes to sing, there is another way. My personal role model was the famous 20th century American Charles Ives. He is known for being a music composer and an insurance salesman. Charles Ives made his money selling insurance and this allowed him the leisure to compose music. In this same fashion, I sing in the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Chorus and in my own church choir, but I do not make a living as a professional singer. My living allows me the luxury of being able to participate in the chorus.

Duncan’s last comment is interesting. People often do end up doing something completely different from anything they planned. One of the main reasons for this is the need to have a job which makes money. Money may not buy happiness, but a good salary certainly keeps happiness close by. One of the primary ways people choose a career is by saying, “Where is the job growth going to be?” and picking a career based on that. When I went to university, the money majors were computers, accounting, pre-med, and business. Computers and pre-med were considered the 2 toughest choices. The president of the Business School at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, at the time, was known for a joke he made, where he thanked the Chemistry (required for pre-med) teacher for the first year students for sending him so many students.

I also enjoy the irony of Duncan’s final statement. So much about For Better or For Worse is about the characters doing something exactly the way they imagined, completely without variation. They have been so exact, it has been painfully predictable and imminently snarkable. Based on this week’s strips I could see Duncan Anderson as a travel agency owner who dabbles in organizing worldwide sporting events, helped out by his wife Eva, who sings the National Anthem at those sporting events, when she is not raising their children. April is going to be a veterinarian, living in Milborough, married to Gerald, with 2 children of her own, and 1 from Gerald’s first marriage. Eva and April have nothing to fear of the unknown with Lynn Johnston at the helm.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Introducing Duncan

My lovely wife has had to endure my sense of humour for a long time now. She's at the point where she rarely laughs at anything I say, just because it's coming from me. I remember some years ago, I had to make a speech at a community group banquet because I was its outgoing president. As is usually in those cases, I peppered my speech with a lot of jokes and I can say, without too much immodesty, that the speech went well. It was a very friendly crowd, so I got good laughs from almost all of my jokes. Plus I had timed the speech to not last more than 7 minutes to keep anyone from getting too bored. A good time was had by all, except by my wife in attendance, who was once again subjected to my sense of humour. After the speech was over I asked her how she liked it and she responded, "These people will laugh at anything you say."

It is with this thought in mind that I had to approach today's For Better or For Worse. The lines are:

I mean, doors open, right?
You get started in something an' you meet people an' doors open.
There's always an open door!

(Personal Digression: 3 times. We get it already. The doors. They open!)

Yeah!...You just hafta remember to let go of the knob.

So, the idea is that if Duncan does not let go of the knob, then door won't be opened. And this is funny because:

a. Duncan is known for not letting go of knobs? I think I missed that story. In the first 2 panels of today's For Better or For Worse, we learn more about Duncan than we have learned in the entire time since he has been in this strip. One of Lynn Johnston's worst developed characters.

b. The knob symbolizes Duncan's fear of the unknown, and he will not be able to get those opportunities, unless he faces his fear and allows the door to open? This might make sense, but it hardly something you would laugh at.

c. Duncan is known for masturbating (knob is well-known slang word for penis), and no one wants to open a door on a masturbator? This one is almost funny, but certainly far too crude to be Lynn Johnston's intent.

I can't make anything funny out of it. I can barely make any sense out of it. And yet, there is Eva laughing her head off. When I read this strip and look at Eva, I repeat what my wife would say to April, "These people will laugh at anything you say."

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Sister, the Veterinarian

My oldest sister loved animals when she was growing up. She had her own horse, which she rode in horse shows and my mother was very permissive in letting her keep a whole menagerie of animals at our house – bunnies, cats, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, fish, and parakeets. She decided she wanted to be a veterinarian, and she used to tell me regularly her favourite statistic that 90% of persons who know what they want to be before they go to a university will achieve their career goals. This was in stark contrast to me at the time, because I had no idea what I wanted to be.

However, my sister’s love of all things veterinarian came to a standstill when she learned that veterinarians have to do very well in math and science, 2 subjects at which my sister was very weak. So, instead she got a degree in business. After working in human resources for some years, my sister divorced her husband and married a man who made quite a bit more money than her ex-husband did. This allowed her to live the life of a stay-at-home mom. Or rather, I should say a stay-at-home mom who breeds cats. As it turned out, my sister actually prefers the activities of a cat-breeder to a veterinarian. She has kittens in her house almost all year long, and she doesn’t have to cut open any animals or stick her hand up to her elbow inside a cow. She has to deal with the occasion still-birth, or sick kitten, but those occasions are rare. I often think that this is the animal-related life she really wanted all those years ago, when she said she wanted to be vet.

My sister reminds me a lot of April Patterson in For Better or For Worse. She also likes riding horses, and she has had dogs and bunnies as pets. Moreover, April Patterson has seen the veterinary life including the animal surgeries and still wants to do it. Well, she thinks so. Not totally. Stuff could change. But we’ll see. It’s what she’s interested in. She is sort of leaning in that direction. OK. My sister was a lot more certain than April Patterson. April Patterson’s success will obviously depend on the idea that a Patterson can do whatever they want, without actually going the same steps everyone else does (see Mike’s book submission, Mike and Liz’s job-hunting, etc. for examples).

April says she has checked out what she needs to do to be a veterinarian; but this is Lynn Johnston really doing the writing, so we know she really hasn’t. A quick internet search showed me this information from the University of Winnipeg Pre-Veterinary School:

In addition to meeting The University of Winnipeg’s general admission requirements, you must have Chemistry 40S and either Pre-Calculus Mathematics 40S or Applied Mathematics 40S in order to take the required courses for admission to veterinary medicine. Physics 40S and Pre-Calculus Mathematics 40S may also be required, depending on the courses you select.

If I were April, I would take all 4 courses, just to be sure all my bases were covered. If I were Lynn Johnston, I would have a little chat with my former sister-in-law Beth Cruikshank, the veterinarian, and ask the question about what a kid in high school would really need to do to prepare for a pre-vet school application. If I were the guys on the field in today’s For Better or For Worse strip, I would tell April about the joys of crossing your legs or putting your knees together when you wear a short skirt, particularly in panel 3. It looks like she is wearing black panties to me.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Return From the Wedding

I have returned from my sister’s wedding in Minneapolis, her second marriage. I got to see the Mall of America and the state of Minnesota to which I had never visited before. While I was gone my wife’s mother went to the hospital for a subderal hemotoma; so my wife was pretty much a basket case by the time I got back. So, pardon me in advance if the Howard Bunt Blog is sporadic this week.

The For Better or For Worse storyline when I came back was unexpected. Particularly after seeing the preparation necessary for my sister’s wedding, even though it was her second wedding, it seemed unlikely Lynn Johnston would switch to an “April in school” storyline, when she has such limited time to get Liz’s wedding and preparation done by September. I think more and more that we may see the wedding run past the September deadline.

Even more surprising was the sudden change in April and Gerald’s relationship based on his comment he didn’t plan to go to university. When we last saw them together in January 1, they seemed fine but melancholy over their impending separation caused by graduation in 18 months. I can’t tell if April is angry with Gerald because he going to spend time with Becky (and we are once again reverting to her Becky hate), or because she looks down on anyone not planning to get a university education. However, more surprising than the choice for the argument is how rapidly and viciously April turns on Gerald. Saturday’s strip and today’s strip both end with April personally insulting Gerald. Where is this coming from? Does April hate any high school student who has good grades and decides against university? The more I see of grade 11 April, the less I like about her. She gives music, gives up her band, gives up her boyfriend, and now she gives up respecting people with career ambitions that do not include higher education.

Given that Elly did not finish her university education, the natural progression would be to have April spout off about Gerald because of his plans in front of her, only to be taken down by Elly, who could be personally offended April’s statement. The other possibility might be April mouthing off in front of Gordon or Tracy Mayes, who also did not get degrees. That would be an odd storyline, and I am not sure what the point would be. After all, this is the same April who championed Shannon Lake, whose aspirations are a lot simpler than going to university. Another possibility I can see might be Lynn Johnston addressing the large population of young people who think they can become a rock star thanks to Canadian Idol, instead of pursuing a more practical dream.

More likely we are seeing Lynn Johnston trying to pursue the basic storyline she has with April Patterson in school, i.e. “I hate anyone who wants music for a career.” April battles Gerald over his musical aspirations, just as she spent almost 2 years fighting with Becky McGuire over hers. Gerald seems to have become a Becky substitute, so Lynn Johnston can recycle the plot. It goes like this:

a. Becky / Gerald talk about how their music career is going and their plans for the future in music.
b. April insults their career and then them personally, calling them egotistical (Becky) and immature (Gerald).
c. April laments over the loss of her former friend.
d. Shannon Lake points out to April that she has it so much better than she does, using special needs kids as examples, in order to comfort her.

Honestly, I hope that we do not see Shannon Lake pop in this week for that purpose. That device has been overused.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Answers and more Questions

Answers to the questions from yesterday’s For Better or For Worse strip appear to be:

1. When April says, “I’ll be there in a minute”, how long does that really mean?
Answer: Long enough for John Patterson to walk into April’s bedroom and demand she apologize to Elly.

2. Was April doing schoolwork or goofing around?
Answer: It appears she was doing school work.

3. Was Elly mad because April was not coming to the table at the appropriate time or because she yelled at Elly or because April showed a lack of interest in sacred Patterson food?
Answer: Yelling. You can tell from Elly’s plate in Panel #3, there is no food left.

And now for a few new questions:

1. Who is this man and what did he do with the passive, “let Elly do all the disciplining or undermine Elly when she does discipline” John Patterson, who has for the last 7 years disciplined April by taking her out for a walk and talking to her?
2. Does Laura Piché know the rule for when to turn off the speed freak eyes? I see April with them in 5 straight panels.
3. How long will it be before April realizes her desk chair is attracting her parents to grab it and shove it around with her in it, and she replaces it?
4. Is April saying, “What?!!” because she hasn’t been hugged by Elly in almost a year, or because she feels something very strange in Elly’s right pocket?
5. How many readers seeing Panel #3 secretly hoped that April would not apologize, so we could see if Elly was going to work her bottom jaw up over nose, the way she has done with her upper lip?
6. Is Elly hugging April because she is sorry she has misjudged her daughter’s yelling as not having a studious cause, or because she is excited by the prospect that April plans to leave home when she goes to university?
7. In Panels 1 and 2, is Laura Piché intentionally drawing John with his pants hiked up like that, in order to make him seem more like an old geezer?
8. When April is in university, will she finally stop saying, “’an”?

On a personal note, I am going to Minneapolis for my sister’s wedding this weekend. Once again the Howard Bunt Blog is going on a weekend hiatus. Sorry.

I do not know what is in store for us on Saturday, but if Lynn Johnston wants to really get me, she will write a strip where Elly explains to April how important an education is and how she wished she had finished her degree and how proud she is of April for being such a good student. If Lynn Johnston wants to irk me, she will make Saturday’s strip about a completely different subject and conclude with Elly making an awful pun. If Lynn wants to delight me, she will make Saturday’s strip a story about April and Elly with their tools out trying to fix a defective John Patterson robot, to put him back to his passive John program.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

So Much For Tough

I remember when I hit my high school years and I started getting homework in the kinds of amounts which could not be accomplished before my parentally-prescribed hours of sleeping. I had one math teacher in particular, who was fond of assigning all the problems in the math book + extras. I suspect this was so that the next day, when we went over the problems in the homework assignment, it would take almost the entire class time and she would not have to spend as much time lecturing on the next math concept. When I had this teacher, my mom came to a certain realization that I was still up doing homework late at night not because I had been procrastinating, but because that was what was required to accomplish the task.

My situation started out similar to the situation played out in today's For Better or For Worse. My mom would say, "Time for bed." I would say, "I'm not done and this is due tomorrow." My mom would say, "If you managed your time better, you would have gotten this done earlier." I would say, "I've been working on this since I got home from school." Then my mom would look at the amount of work and say, "Whew! That's a lot of work. Stay up if you need to." And after that, she never complained about my staying up to do homework again.

Therein lies the difference between Elly Patterson and my mother and think there is a good reason for it, even within the characters as they have been drawn. Elly Patterson quit university with the excuse she was helping John with the money for him to finish dental school. However, the fact that her parents were very disappointed she would make this choice, plus the idea that John Patterson had planned for his education funding so poorly that he needed whatever funds Elly could muster, fly in the face of this idea. The way it always seems to me is that Elly quit because she wanted to.

There has been no indication that Elly is particularly bright when it comes to school work, aside from being able to get into the University of Toronto in the first place. My mom, on the other hand, was very good at school work. She was skipped a grade, back in the days when they used to do that sort of thing for kids who were working in advance of their level. Not only that, but when she married my dad and they were both in university, she took classes for her degree, worked 2 jobs AND had me. In all likelihood she would have finished her Masters, had Dad not been drafted and my parents were forced to move. She did eventually finish her degree at a different university during summers, after Dad was out of the Army. The point is that my mom was accustomed to the idea that you might have stay up at night to do school work. She was accustomed to the idea that someone might want to finish what they were working on.

Elly Patterson doesn't seem to have that concept. It is so foreign to her that the mere suggestion of the idea causes her to declare she is finished with motherhood. What mother, seeing this strip today, is going to say, "Oh, when my kids want to finish their schoolwork, and I want them to come to dinner right then; they should get up immediately and eat or else I will bring food to them and force them to eat."? That concept is foreign to me.

Now that I think about it, over the last several months, the Pattersons have been shown with an interest in food consumption that borders on obsessive. In light of this, perhaps what we are seeing is not Elly declaring an end to motherhood because her daughter raised her voice to her over schoolwork; but an end to motherhood because Elly realizes she has raised a daughter who values something else over eating food. For Elly Patterson, this would be as clear an indication that she could get that she has failed as a parent. A Patterson who doesn't drop everything at the mere mention of food is not a Patterson at all. Elly should quit motherhood with April, if she has failed to get that most basic principle of Patterson life instilled her daughter. The idea that this is what Lynn Johnston was trying to put across is silly, I hope.

On the other hand, what we could be seeing is the usual problem with the Elly / April relationship as it has been portrayed for the last few years. Lynn Johnston wants April to be a defiant teenaged daughter so Elly can struggle with this, except she cannot be too mean in her defiance or no one will like April. The result is a mother who appears to be overreacting for comic effect to a defiant daughter any other parent would be proud to have.

I have some friends like this at my church. They have two daughters who are models of good behaviour. They help out the other kids. They help out the Sunday School teachers. They are involved in everything, and they follow instructions to the letter. And yet, when I say something like that to their dad, he always mentions some occasion when one of his daughters misbehaved over some minor thing. Most often I get the feeling this is the way Elly is, a parent who doesn't appreciate what a wonderful daughter she has. When Elly blows her top like she does in today's strip, it doesn't make me laugh.

Is the First Step a step if never taken?

The question really at hand with today’s For Better or For Worse is not Connie Poirier’s mixed up understanding of her own history; but the advice she gives Elly Patterson to treat little Francie as if she were a grandchild by blood and not my marriage. What would that mean for Elly Patterson? Since her grandchildren have come to live in Milborough, we have seen exactly 0 moments where she played with her grandchildren. Prior to moving to Milborough, there were a few strips here and there, where Deanna and Mike would travel to Milborough to hand off their kids to Elly to play with them. Elly would even travel to Toronto to help with the grandkids if there was some emergency. Since moving to Milborough, nothing. Even John Patterson has had his moment, but not Elly. So, how would we even tell if Elly were treating little Francie differently from Robin and Meredith?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Get a Rock and then Get Stoned

Connie Poirier's comment comparing a rock on your finger to a date set in stone does not match my own story. For a fancy wedding, much about setting a date has to do with finding out when things are available. The reception hall, the church and minister's schedule, etc. are the means by which a date is determined; not the rock on your finger. My wife and her mom and her step-mom enjoyed the parts of that process where they finally worked out when the wedding date would be, by a process of elimination. In the meantime, my wife waved around her ring to anyone who cared to look at it; because when people just get engaged, the important part is not the wedding date, but the fact they got engaged.

Oddly enough, for Connie Poirier, her life does match her own description. I thought people just didn't propose and say, "Oh, by the way, think we should get married on June 6." However, if you look at Connie's story in the Who's Who section on the For Better or For Worse website, it does actually work that way. I will quote the important part:

On December 23, she took Greg out for dinner alone at the restaurant where they had first fallen in love. Over coffee and cheesecake, she gave him a beautifully gift-wrapped watch, engraved on the back with the words, My love - for now and all time. Then she asked him to marry her. If she had ever had doubts that Greg was the man for her, they vanished the moment his eyes lifted from the watch to meet hers and she saw the laughter in them. "Yes." He clasped her hand across the table, and gripped it hard. "Darn it, why have we waited this long? Yes. Let's do it."The warmth in his gaze brought a lump to Connie's throat. "Valentine's Day would - ""Nope. Too far away. This says now, " he tapped the back of the watch, "And that's the deal I accepted. On New Year's Eve, I want the woman I'm kissing to be my wife."They were married December 27, in a small private ceremony, and spent the night in a beautiful snow-crusted cabin at a resort near Thunder Bay. The next day they left the girls in the care of a neighbour, packed up Lawrence, and headed out on the long, wintry roads to Milborough to welcome in the New Year with old friends.

So, you see in Connie's day, the moment of proposal was also the same time when you worked out the logistics of the wedding day. You will note that Connie and Greg ended up getting married on a different day than they had planned during their engagement. This is because making these decisions right after you get engaged is not a terribly bright thing to do.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Connie and Elly’s Self-Congratulating Conversations

Tough? Elly thinks Connie and she are tough. I think Elly needs to have one of those chats like April has with her friends Eva Abuya and Luis Guzmán, whenever she gets on her high horse about how bad her life is, only to have them throw their refugee history or “being thrown out of their home by warfare” stories in her face.

I just finished a Boy Scout Camporee, which from Friday to Sunday involved supervising Boy Scouts tromping around the desert; and sweaty-hot dusty days followed by freezing, cold night (50 degree Fahrenheit desert temperature changes). I have blisters on my feet, and I know intimately the parts of my body where I missed with the sunscreen. I had to deal with my son’s hurt feelings when the kid with whom he had been assigned to share a tent moved him (re: threw his stuff) into another boy’s tent because he preferred to tent with another boy. I got to go on a long trek with the Boy Scout troop on a project picking up trash from illegal immigrant campsites which litter the Mormon Battalion National Historic Trail site chosen for the Camporee (a very educational experience). I was quite happy when the Camporee was over, but I would not trade the experience with my son.

I came home and read today’s For Better or For Worse strip with Connie and Elly yammering on to each other how tough they are, and it irritated me. There are Boy Scout moms who come on these Camporees and these women are tough. One of them in our troop was accepted into the Order of the Arrow Boy Scout honorary society as a tribute to how tough she is. She has a bad knee, but she was there during the freezing night, and tromping along with the troop through the rocks, crevices and mountainsides cleaning up and carrying out trash just as well as the Boy Scout dads were. Frankly, I cannot imagine the bickering and complaining Elly Patterson that I have seen presented in this comic strip doing half so well in that situation.

However, as for Lynn Johnston’s story-telling, I will grant that as far as a realistic presentation of the characters of Connie and Elly goes, congratulating themselves on how well they did their mother work seems perfectly in character for them. Openly self-congratulatory people I have met in real life, rarely ever deserved the congratulations they gave themselves, and this proves to be no exception with Connie and Elly. However, I was surprised to see Connie and Elly admit that they thought loving and forgiving were the toughest part of all. That is surprisingly honest of them to admit that they were not particularly loving or forgiving, and it is actually a little out-of-character for them to do so.

After years of observing Elly (less so Connie), I can see she is not a terrible mother, but neither is she particularly spectacular. My own mother and her mother before her, could mother circles around Elly Patterson’s or Connie Poirier’s mothering. My mom was a single mom with 3 kids and she worked 3 jobs, and loving and forgiving were not tough for her at all. Connie and Elly are wimps and pansies and lightweights compared to her.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

How to Wash a Kid When You Have no Shower Soap

I bought my first washer and dryer when I moved into my first house in 1988. I was delighted to see that Elly’s washer from 1979 looked a lot like mine, except the lid for mine goes up and back instead of up and to the left. Now I am trying to think if I have ever seen a clothes washer lid go up and to the left, I am so used to mine. Well, Elly’s does. Her dryer looks a lot like mine used to, before it went belly up 2 years ago. I still have the 1988 washer though. It is one of the last vestiges of my single life in my house and still works great.

Another interesting detail to me is the peeling wallpaper on the wall just above Elly’s head. In more recent years, the Patterson house has shown no signs of deterioration, but this one does. No offense to Laura Piché, background artist, but this strip has a much better background than most of hers, because it is hand drawn and the artist did not use a ruler to make everything perfect. When you do this, you lose the details which make backgrounds part of the story instead of a decoration. Looking at today’s For Better or For Worse strip in particular, I feel a sense of loss that Lynn Johnston decided not to do her own backgrounds any more and hired Piché; because those details are as much a part of the story as John Patterson making a joke about how to wash little Lizzie.

As for me, I will be going to a Boy Scout Camporee Friday night through Sunday afternoon, so the Howard Bunt Blog will be on hiatus until then. Saturday’s strip will probably be another reprint, so no big loss. However, Sunday will probably be new, since last Sunday’s was new and we know the one on April 20 is new. Maybe I will comment about Sunday when I get back. I hope you all have a good weekend.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Soap Thievery

What an odd strip For Better or For Worse is today. The situation is that there are 4 people in the house: John, Elly, Michael and Elizabeth. Elizabeth has to be bathed by hand by Elly. Michael, as he admits in the strip, is notorious for getting distracted in the bathtub by his toys and not using soap. Then you have John and Elly sharing the same bathroom.

I could see a missing soap if 2 bathrooms were being used. If one bathroom runs out of soap, then someone would go to the other bathroom and get some soap from there. The problem with this idea is that we have been shown that Elly and John share the same bathroom, so there should not be any reason why the soap is missing except by using it up. Usually when I go into the shower and there is no soap, this means that my wife used up the bar and I need to get a new bar of soap of out of the cabinet. No one has actually taken the soap. Why John can’t just get a new soap? There is no reason to be angry.

The answer to the question is Michael’s punch line. Unless John makes a big stink out of missing soap, Michael cannot respond with his catchphrase. It’s not a pun, but this is another strip which you can look at to the see the evolution of the humour into what will be the dreaded final panel pun.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

One of John’s Smarter Moments

1979 was the year Blake Edwards’ movie 10 came out and breathed life into the time-honoured tradition of rating women on a number scale. Prior to that point, I believe it was common to refer to a woman as a “brick house (from the Commodores song)” or not. In what is an unusually timely recognition of pop culture trends for For Better or For Worse, Elly asks John to rate her on the infamous 1 to 10 scale. John wisely refuses. Perhaps he senses that the attractive, but somewhat insane woman in his bed might be a 10 now, but in 28 more years, she would become the potato-nosed Elly we know today, and he didn’t want to be held to a number he gave out during the days when his wife was not so actively trying to look bad.

Or perhaps John knows the pitfalls of giving the answer. If he answers too high, she doesn’t believe him. If he answers too low, she gets angry with him. If he answers with the same number she is thinking about herself, she will question why she asked him the question in the first place. There is no way to come out ahead with this question, and John wisely dodges it. Back in 1979, the question was on the list of “trap” questions, which includes questions like “Does this dress make me look fat?” that any sensible man will avoid answering, if at all possible.

Elly Does Cathy

Sometimes Elly Patterson liked to do a Cathy Guisewhite-style joke from her comic strip Cathy. Today's For Better or For Worse reprint is one of those. Elly goes hysterical over the appearance of her first wrinkle, in a similar fashion as Cathy, except she doesn't shriek "Aack! I've got a wrinkle." She shrieks "Oh no! I've got a wrinkle." The distinction is subtle. John Patterson's reaction to this is very similar to that of Cathy's longtime boyfriend and eventual husband, Iriving, i.e. he doesn't understand why his wife is going crazy, but he tolerates her anyway.

John Patterson does slightly better than Irving because he responds to Elly's shrieking, while Irving usually just stared in horror. However, John does the patented Patterson "leave the scene with a pithy statement over your shoulder" usually reserved for when a Patterson is getting back at someone with whom they are angry. He leaves with a sort of a pun on the phrase, "reading between the lines" relating to the lines on Elly's face, which doesn't make much sense and is scarcely a comfort. This old strip from 1979, is remarkably similar to ones from the last couple of years, and that is not a compliment.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The One Where Elly Calls Herself a Robot

I don't think I have seen onomatopoeia of this style in For Better of For Worse before. Not only is it representing what Elly is doing, but it also represents what Elly has been or is about to do. The oddest part about it is that the strip doesn't need them for the joke to work. We could have seen 2 silent panels of Elly vacuuming and cooking and still have gotten the idea. Even if the onomatopoeia matched only what Elly was shown to be doing, the joke will still work. The only reason it appears to be there is so the reader will know that Elly does more work than the work shown. I sense an axe being ground somewhere in 1979.

I remember seeing one of those PBS specials some years ago, where they tried to cash in on the reality TV craze by doing series of putting modern people into the exact living situations their ancestors would have had. I believe the program was called The 1900 House. One of the things which struck me about the series was the sequence involving the washing and maintenance of clothes, an activity which took the mother several days to complete. The documentary pointed out that automatic clothes washers and dryers significantly changed a married woman's lifestyle compared to what it had been before.

As for the joke itself, Elly is essentially saying she is unimpressed by a robot that can do what she does. Judging from The 1900 House, this is probably not a sentiment shared by most housewives. Frankly, if there were such a robot, and it was affordable, we would buy one for our house. This sentiment will of course lead to a robotic uprising and the events of The Matrix movie; but it would be worth it for the convenience.

However, as far as character development for Elly Patterson goes, it does explain why the woman still does dishes by hand when she has a dishwasher, and why she spends the time shaving her sheets instead of buying new ones. She is set in her cleaning ways, and by golly, no robot is going to change them. Who needs a cleaning robot, when you have Elly?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Cutting Hair and Nail Trauma

I remember cutting my son’s fingernails and toenails. He hated having his toenails and fingernails cut with a passion, and fought against it with every ounce of his strength. The question then arises, why bother going through the process? Well, my son’s fingernails were like little razorblades. They were so thin and so sharp, they cut us when we were with him, and they cut him if he scratched at anything, especially his face. The alternative of duct-taping gloves to his hands didn’t seem very practical. In retrospect, his resistance to it was probably an aspect of the Sensory Integration part of his Asperger’s Syndrome; but neither I nor my wife knew that at the time. It wasn’t until he was 4 years old, before he had pediatrician that had a clue. The rest of them kept on handing us books on how to discipline children.

To avoid these kinds of struggles, my wife tried to cut his nails while he was sleeping. She had been given that advice by someone who had done it effectively; but my son would have none of it. The moment he sensed someone was at his toes or his fingers, he was instantly awake. Ultimately we ended up tag-teaming him. He was too strong for either one of us to cut his nails by ourselves, without worrying about injuring him. I would sit him in my lap and restrain his legs, body, and one arm with my legs, body, and arms; while my wife would try to control the other arm with the nails while she cut them. He fought this so hard, he was usually covered in sweat by the time we were done. As for me, I was amazed at how powerful a little baby could be.

I asked my wife when we stopped doing that and she can’t remember. She kept scrapbooks with pictures of certain majour events, but for some reason this was not one of them. My guess is that it was somewhere between his first and second year of life, because I don’t remember doing it after his sister came in being. Eventually he grew to be old enough to accept fingernail cutting and learned to cut his own fingernails; but he still hates it, even to this day.

As for haircutting, my boy came into life with a full head of red hair, but rubbed it all off and started growing blonde hair instead. His first hair cut was shortly after his first birthday. My wife took him to her haircutter and she gave him hair clips to play with and distract him (a technique which did not work with fingernail cutting). This we have scrapbook pictures of, including a before and after picture of him holding and chewing on hairclips, where he looks pretty happy in both pictures. He was still pretty squirmy with haircuts, but eventually he has grown to be old enough to tell the haircutter how he wants his hair to be cut, and lets us know when he needs a haircut.

In the interim period of time, my wife learned and was often told by the hair salon managers, which haircutters were really good with and enjoyed cutting kids’ hair. This little detail makes an enormous difference. My boy probably would have fought his early haircuts a lot harder had we not been aware of this fact. They went to the same kid-friendly haircutter at the same salon every time. Let me tell you the secret: When the kid is distracted, even for an instant, the scissors go to work and can get everything you would want done in a kid’s haircut in a matter of minutes. If the haircutter is really good, the kid will unaware his hair is even being cut.

As for my daughter, no problems. She let her mother cut her fingernails. She enjoyed getting her hair cut from the very time it happened, and seemed to relish the attention. The girl was meant to go to a spa.

The big difference between today’s For Better or For Worse, and what would make the strip work for me is the understanding that Deanna and Michael have moved to Milborough and are having a hard time finding that kid-friendly haircutter. Maybe they have been making the trip back to Toronto to get Robin’s hair cut, at the place he has been going to since he was 1 year old. Maybe gasoline prices have grown so expensive that they don’t want to make that trip to Toronto to do that and they are seeking alternatives. Without that information, what you get is a kid who is 3 years and 5 months old, who should have been getting haircuts for at least 2 years, and he is still not grown up enough to do it.

The alternative explanation is that Robin has, as has often been suggested from watching him over the last few years, development problems. Maybe he has sensory issues in excess of those of my son. Someone should be saying to Deanna that she shouldn’t be having these kinds of problems with Robin at his age. She should not need to have to cut his hair or toenails at night, and she needs to seek help for her son. Oh, the conversation I would have with Deanna Patterson, if I knew her.

Of course, the real alternative is that Lynn Johnston has written Robin into the role of having all the early childhood situations associated with him for plotting purposes, without any consideration of his real-time age from his birthdate. If she hears some story of something some mom did, and the story applies to a kid in the 0.5 – 3 year age range, then Robin gets that story. Meredith Patterson gets all the older sibling stories. Françoise Caine gets all the child of divorce and step-child stories. This is not new for Lynn Johnston. April stayed at “Aypo” age for years past when she should for no other obvious reason than, if Aypo grew up, then there would be no one to carry the young kid stories.

What is boils down to is that Lynn heard a story about some mom cutting their kid's hair while he was asleep and Robin gets that story.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Conspiring with Your Kids

Today's For Better or For Worse reprint is an odd one. Elly throws criticisms out to John and Michael and they both appear to deserve the criticisms; but they do also establish Elly in the odd role of being the only person in the house who issues criticism. She does not allow John the opportunity to correct Michael, or does so when it appears to her John is not going to; and so John retaliates by trying to bond with Michael over the idea that both of them have been criticized by Elly.

Using children against the other parent is a pretty common thing, and it is interesting to see that early For Better or For Worse tackled that in a humourous fashion. I honestly cannot say that I am above such things. I have learned that my wife is a lot less critical of and a lot more willing to do things, if our kids are involved. For many years now, I have included the kids in the selection of Valentine's Day presents, birthday or anniversary presents for her and that has made those events much more pleasant.

But the classic story was some years back during a Cub Scout horse-riding venture where there ending up being just enough horses left for both my kids to ride and one adult. My wife said to me, "I'm not doing it. You do it." So, I was getting ready to mount a horse, when my kids said to my wife, (and I should mention without any prompting from me), "But, Mommy. Daddy always gets to do the fun stuff. You should ride." And so she did. I would like to say that after doing it, she enjoyed the experience, but that would be a lie. My wife is not the outdoorsy type; but the kids got her to do something she did not want to do.

With John Patterson leaning over to whisper to Michael Patterson, we don't see the effect in that one strip, but thanks to this being a reprint, we know what the long term effect was. In later strips, whenever Elly went on a rampage, the kids frequently turned to dad and many times he undermined Elly. The example that comes to mind is when Elizabeth wants to ride a motorcycle to work over the summer and while Elly flat refuses, John asks what kind of bike. The most recent example was the purchase of the George Stibbs' house. At the very beginning, John has established himself as a co-conspirator with his kids against his wife. Moreover, in this strip, we can see why.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

The greatest amount of new material today from the land of For Better or For Worse was the addition of a biography for Margaret Hardacre, Michael Patterson’s second grade teacher, in the Who’s Who section of the For Better or For Worse website. This seems to be a part of a continuing series of biographies for obscure characters from the beginning years of the strip, I presume, in preparation for the impending chronological strip reprinting Lynn Johnston plans to do starting in September. Lynn Johnston has mentioned she plans to expand on some stories with new material as those reprints are going on, so perhaps these characters are part of those plans.

There were parts of the Margaret Hardacre biography I found very interesting for a variety of reasons. One of the things was the idea that Margaret wanted to be a nurse, but because her parents were only willing to put her in a teacher’s college, then she was forced to become a teacher. The setting for this was about 1950, and so Margaret’s story actually matches some things I know from my own family at the time. This was about the same time period that my father went to college at what would eventually be known as Wake Forest University. My grandfather (father’s father) was the first in my family to go to a college and he became a Baptist minister. His declaration to my father was that in order to get his financial support he also had to attend a Baptist school and he really wanted my dad to attend his alma mater, Wingate College. Dad preferred Wake Forest, which was also Baptist, but had a better academic reputation than Wingate. The deciding factor ended up being that my father got one of only 5 academic scholarships which were offered by Wake Forest and the money settled the matter. Those were the days when there were no student loans, or tons of available scholarships to students. There were just a few and they did not pay your whole way. If you didn’t get a scholarship, you were completely dependent on your parents to go to school after high school. If your parents did not want you to go, or they could not afford for you to go; then you didn't go. If you did get a scholarship, you could usually work a job while at school and that would cover the rest of your expenses your parents did not cover, and that’s what my dad did. So, when Margaret Hardacre mentions her dependence on her parents to choose her school, I could relate.

The second part of the story deals with Margaret uncovering that one of students has poor eyesight and she helps him get a pair of glasses. I did a few internet searches and I was unable to find the time when schools in Ontario would have started requiring vision screening of students, like they did in the States when I was growing up. Actually, the internet searches showed that this is a modern problem with Ontario schools, which I found a little surprising.

I can relate very well to the discovery of poor eyesight when growing up, as something very similar happened to me. When I was in 4th grade, I began to have trouble seeing, but I didn’t realize what the problem was. It’s not like these things happen overnight and you can suddenly not see. For me, it was more like, I slowly realized people could see things well that I couldn’t. I remember being at a baseball game played by the Asheville Tourists (the local team). I couldn’t see the scoreboard, and I irritated my father by constantly asking him the score. He thought I was playing some game, even though I assured him I was not. My father was also called in by my 4th grade teacher because I was making trouble at school. It seems I kept on complaining to my teacher that I couldn’t see the chalk board. My teacher presumed I was a trouble-maker (which in retrospect was an extraordinary conclusion, because my academic record up to that point was pretty good and teachers generally liked me). My father went to my desk, looked at the board, and declared that there was a glare on the chalk board from the light coming in the window and that I was not a trouble-maker and my complaints were valid. In fairness to my father, he had better than 20-20 vision until he was well into his 50s, so he had no expectation that any of his children would have vision problems. Also, my 4th grade teacher still ranks in my memory as one of the worst teachers I ever had.

In those days, the schools were required to do a rudimentary vision screening, which meant you took an eye chart, put it in on the wall, and asked the kids what direction the stems of the “E” were facing. I did not pass the test, and this was reported to my parents, who took me to the eye doctor and got for me a pair of the ugliest glasses frames on the face of the earth. They were also the cheapest, because glasses were not an anticipated item in the family budget. It is no lie when I say that 4 years later, when I got my second pair of glasses, almost everyone told me with great relish how ugly the first pair was, including my teachers. In fact, when my wife first saw pictures of me at that age, she made a comment about how ugly my glasses were.

In the case of Norman Baker, the boy whom Margaret Hardacre helped, almost nothing matched with my situation. Norman sits in the back of the class and squints through a hole in an eraser like it was a telescope. I sat as far forward as I could in the front of the class and just plain squinted. There are no lenses in an eraser that I can tell, to make it work like a telescope. I have an eraser with a hole in it, and tried the Norman Baker method without my glasses on to see if it helped. It did not. If anything, the eraser is a distraction because it covers most of the overall view, if you stick it up to your eye to see through a hole.

In the case of Norman Baker, his parents say that they are too busy to get him a pair of glasses, and they refuse to believe that his poor academic performance might be somehow related to his inability to see. They essentially force Margaret to take their child to the doctor. This makes no sense to me. A child constantly in trouble is the bane of a parents’ existence. I would think, even a bad parent, would jump at the chance to eliminate calls from the school about their kid. When my Asperger’s Syndrome boy was in regular public school, we got called almost every day. My wife began to dread when the phone rang in the afternoon, because it invariably meant she had to stop whatever she was doing and go down to the school to pick up my son. In my case, my father was embarrassed by the situation, and that it had to be pointed out to him by the school. The idea that he had not been taking care of his child was humiliating to him, and to this day, he does not like to talk about it.

In the case of Norman Baker, when he brings his glasses to the school for the first time, he announces to everyone he is going to pound people who call him or anyone else four-eyes or bother the teacher. I felt no such loyalties to my 4th grade teacher. In my case, most kids who saw I had glasses wanted to try them on and see how blind I was, which was very. I hate to break it to Norman, but being called four-eyes is not that much of an insult. I was called four-eyes a lot, and all it really meant to me was that someone noticed I was wearing glasses. Once you get older and you aren’t the only kid in the class with glasses, the insult goes away.

The upside of all this vision travail is that I have an expectation my kids are going to be like me. Every time my son or my daughter could not see or hear something, I wanted them to have their vision or their hearing checked. My son hit 4th grade, and as it turned out, he had to have glasses, just like I did. His are a lot nicer-looking than mine were at the same age.

Go, John! Go!

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, we get to see a moment where Elly would have to take a trip to get away from her kids. When I was growing up, my parents occasionally took trips like this, and would hand me and my sisters off to my grandparents for a few days. Not knowing the context of this strip with respect to the others, I don’t know where Elly is and if she is making a trip to visit her mom, or if she is just getting away from John and the kids, like John is saying. Nevertheless, I am struck by the idea. My mom in the 1960s and 70s would have never made a trip by herself to get away from her children. However, my wife has taken several trips like that. They are usually under the auspices of going to visit her antisocial brother in Los Angeles, or weekend training conventions for her home-based business of Homemade Gourmet.

I also find it interesting that Lynn Johnston is showing a strip where John Patterson is presented positively and shown to be somewhat competent. Personally, I think he is a crazy man to strap his daughter onto his back to mow his yard, when spreading out a blanket in the yard and putting her on it where he could see her, would be eminently more practical and a whole lot safer. I also note that little Michael is sitting on a counter right next to a hot stove where John is cooking eggs and getting egg all over everything. Little Lizzie also seems a little disturbed by John’s diaper-changing, probably because he doesn’t have a hand on Lizzie while he is doing it. So, we have mild incompetence and a hint of danger; but we don’t see John throwing up his hands and desperately calling Elly, as we did with Michael calling Deanna just recently. In fact, in this one strip, you see Dr. John Patterson doing things with Michael and Lizzie that Michael has never done with his own kids.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I Remember Danny and the Dinosaur

As a young lad, I remember Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff both when I was young and as a parent. As a parent, I discovered that a lot of times, when I opened up the old classic children’s books to read to my children, I was oftentimes temporarily overwhelmed by the images and words which I knew intimately as a child, but had not encountered for 30 years or more. There were a whole series of emotions which would flood back into my memory at the first reading, and I was surprised by how much was packed into those books, in terms of the way I thought about them in my youth. After a few readings, I would be back to being a jaded parent enjoying the books on their own merits from my adult perspective.

Danny and the Dinosaur has one particular section in it where Danny has a birthday party and the Dinosaur helps him entertain his guests. As an adult reading this story, I was taken by something that I had not recognized, but realized was the standard for birthday parties when I was growing up, i.e. Danny’s mom and dad have a huge number of kids over to their house for the birthday party and there are no other adults there aside from Danny’s parents. As I read this book, I remembered that it had been the same for my birthday parties, when I was growing up. My mom handled whole piles of kid all by herself.

My kids are 10 and 12 now, and they have yet to have a birthday party where at least one of the parents of the invitees did not stick around to help out. As the kids have gotten older, fewer parents hang around, but it still happens.

So, when I saw today’s For Better or For Worse hybrid, which appears to be Elly taking Michael, a walking Elizabeth, and 5 other kids of various ages to see the move, “Godzilla Meets the 3 Bionic Bears” I was immediately taken by a number of things:

a. Elly is handling these kids by herself, just like Danny’s parents, and my mom did.
b. The use of the word “bionic” was still considered to be funny in 1980, 2 years after The Bionic Woman and the Six Million Dollar Man were no longer on TV.
c. Lynn Johnston is lucky that the Godzilla people did not sue her.
d. Judging from the way “Godzilla” looks, Lynn Johnston is lucky Jim Henson’s people did not sue her.
e. I cannot ever remember a movie ticket counter lady handing out tickets off a hand-held roll of tickets. Maybe things were different in Lynn Lake, but in my little town in 1980, they had those ticket-feeding machines.

These things kept my interest long enough to keep from being depressed at the return of the hybrid reprint. I will admit, after 2 days of Connie Poirier spouting out pure (and somewhat offensive) nonsense, the hybrid reprint is somewhat of a relief. We had a long stretch of new strips in March, and I fear this means we are going to be in for a long stretch of reprints. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy, reprint month.