SEPTEMBER 19, 2014
Copyright 2014 FRANCIS DIMENNO

Wendell, you know that back home in Indiana it’s all right if the town whore joins the church, but they don’t let her lead the choir the first night.–James Watson


I don’t suppose, looking back on it, I had an awful lot in common with
Red Mary, even if she was my Maw, which I was increasingly beginning
to doubt, simply because I didn’t see any family resemblance like old
people always talk about–funny how wrinkled old geezers like me can
see relationships that younger folk don’t much care about, preoccupied
as they are with drinking, fighting, and fucking.   
After all, it’s not like she could take me anywhere. I wasn’t welcome
at the Opera House–hell, SHE wasn’t exactly welcome either, not that
she would care to go. She might have gone to the Vaudeville Theater,
but not with me in tow–her kind were mostly let in through the back
and mostly restricted to the balcony, and my kind were generally to be
found near the orchestra pit, where the tickets went cheap. Of course,
there were cheap low-down theaters in Noxotwn which attracted a rough
crowd, but she would never have taken me to none of those.
She wouldn’t take me to the Zoo. She hated the smells of the animals,
and the sight of them in their cages probably hit too close to home to
suit her tender heart–and, I suppose, in some respects, she herself
felt in some way bound by a gilded cage of sorts. Whores are a lot
like women, I suppose, only more so.
Going to the Circus was out, for much the same reasons–she said that it
sickened her to see the elephants and bears chained to stakes and the
tigers and lions being whipped and, most of all, the sad monkeys on
unicycles. She was a tender-hearted harlot, for all that. 
The Carnival was also no go–the galleries of grotesques were not to her
taste, and she took no joy in any of the games of chance, knowing, as
only an insider could, just how truly rigged every last one of them
was. Plus, the circus and the carnival presented twin hazards to a boy
of thirteen–that he would be tempted to run off and join them, just
to have the chance to travel from town to town, and have to battle
muddy roads and torrential rains and unfriendly rubes.
Taking care of a thirteen year old boy who wasn’t even kin to her must
have been a big pain in the ass for Red Mary. I was at the age where I
was no longer cute. I was old enough so that the other whores couldn’t
pet and make much of me, because although my voice had yet to change I
was beginning to grow hair in some places where I hadn’t noticed it
growing before. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was growing to be
a man, and living in a whorehouse, I began to feel as though I were a
fox in a henhouse. Lady stuff embarrassed me. I could already see that
there would be a time when I would have to leave those most holy
But my point of view at that time was so limited that I could see no
life vista opening up for me, save the carnival or the circus–Red
Mary was right to be fearful–or maybe the life of a Hobo, even if the
well-meaning bindlestiffs were always telling me to stay in school so
I wouldn’t never end up like them.  For my part, there was no
storybook aspect about education. Let me put it this way:  I no longer
had much truck with Red Mary; I wasn’t exactly friendly with the cop
on the beat ner the Truant Officer; I was a sworn enemy of Smash
Conklin and didn’t have much in the way of adult friends, unless you
count Yellofs like Cool Slopp and Doc Ketmen, who were little better
than crooks themselves.
The whole neighborhood, in fact, was crawling with crooks and if any
of that crowd ever saw me playing hooky they never said a mumbling
word. I certainly found the street more entertaining than the school
I went to on the rare occasions when I felt like it. I was in the
sixth grade, which was quite a victory in itself, since I had hardly
ever gone to school in the past, but I felt abashed because most of
the Yobs were so much younger than me and not one of the little girls would
so much as look my way, probably on account of their mothers being
scandalized by the likes of Red Mary. Mary could hardly be expected to
hold me to any account if I decided to skip school. It’s not like she
could come down if summoned by the Principal, which she never was, of
course, because how would it look for a whore to come waltzing in
there with her furs and muffs and powder and paint?
It was a misery for me to be in school, where most of the teachers
ignored me anyway, and the streets were a dangerous place for me as
well, on account of the mischief I would run into. Nor was spending
time with Red Mary any bed of roses. She had gotten over the worst of
her mad fits, but, like queer folk everywhere, you could tell from
listening to her that there was something not quite right about her
head. It made me feel all squirmy inside when she would get to
drinking and express all kinds of crazy opinions about things she had
no real business having an opinion about in the first place, like the
state of the nation and the newly elected president and the
malefactors of great wealth and suchlike. I would up and tell her she
was talking crazy talk and to stopper her gob or I would start to grow
crazy, and her response always set my teeth on edge: 
“You are ruining my life.”
I didn’t know whether it was true or nor, but, for at least awhile,
it was a statement which was just enough to shut me up and let her
prattle on about the jacketeers who were trying to pull a shake-down
and how they all wear the liar’s cap and on and on–until it felt like
my head was just about to explode.1*SALUTATION



I have always cherished a special loathing for that comic strip by Lynne Johnston which chronicled the notoriously banal adventures of a feeble minded dentist and his wife. For Better or For Worse couldn’t be worse. How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. The astonished expressions on the faces of the characters. The shitty drawing. The open mouths. The banal story lines. The cornball morality. That these features are what many people liked about the strip cause me to despair for the future of the Republic.

When the strip first debuted, professional cartoonists used to refer
to it as “It Couldn’t Be Worse.”

Why would anybody find this strip even remotely interesting?

After twenty-some years I think I’ve finally figured it out.

Most everything else is so much worse.

But Ms. Johnston still seems to have trouble with basic anatomy.

I’ll say it again.


And those “clever” little last-panel zingers she favors are a
middlebrow’s notion of poignant and insightful.

Everything about the strip screams mediocrity.

Many many people who take cartooning seriously agree with me on this one.

Even cartoons deserve to be taken seriously as an art form.

Quite frankly, it is rather easy to tell whether a person can draw or
whether they cannot.

Even if Lynn were using the “bigfoot” style ala Garfield, she would
still be called upon to be consistent.

But her style is semi-realistic and it’s all the more important that
she consistent from panel to panel.

She’s not. She never has been. The strip is just plain awful a good
deal of the time and mediocre at best.

But Lynn also seems to feel she has an obligation to step up to the
plate and address serious social topics.


Sample dialogue:
“I… want… to say… STOP! Stop… ma-king… fun of us! We’re
dif’rent from… you… but,… SO WHAT? Don’t… give… us… a…
hard… time… Give us… a CHANCE! You… tease… me about…
the… way… I… talk! I… was… born… with a… cleft…
palate!… They… couldn’t… fix… it… until… I… was… four!
I… had… to… learn… how to… speak… all… over… again…
and… that… is… why… I… talk like… this. I can’t…
change… the… way… I… talk…. but… you… can… change…
the… way… you… LISTEN! Kids… with… special needs… are…
people… too! We… have a… lot… to… offer! Get… to know…
us!… Don’t… tease… us! PLEASE!… E-NOUGH… IS… E-NOUGH!”

I love how Shannon praises herself–“That took…guts…man!”

Also how she seems now to consider herself the Martin Luther King of
the cleft-palate chow hounds.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m a passionate admirer of comic strips and their
long history. But Johnston’s strip was sentimental and pathetic, and
verged on sheer demagoguery. Say what you will, but propaganda is not
art. It is a parasite on art. Just like advertising, which strongly
resembles it.

And the whole shtick about people’s acts being justified as long as
they make money at it (i.e., the ends justifies the means) is just the
kind of iron-headed prole-think that enabled to the rise of Huey Long
on the left and Joe McCarthy on the right.

The far left and the far right frequently find common cause over just
such a spectacularly wrongheaded philosophy.

Once again, you might say, “Well, it’s just a comic strip.”

True enough.

But all entertainment has an ideological subtext.

And yeah, most of the time the adventures of those banal Canadian
dumb asses are content-neutral, except when it comes to implying that
bourgeois values and the status quo ante are intrinsically best.

But when Johnston gets preachy and starts injecting public health
issues into her strip, she verges on propaganda of the clumsiest sort.


I am of two minds about Ms. Drescher. On the one hand, I find her insanely annoying. On the other hand, I see that as a cultural thing, in which her mannerisms, so different from my own, ignite a spark of resentful hatred OF HER AND ALL HER KIND! Exterminate! Show no mercy–BUT NO, WAIT, LET’S BE REASONABLE–NO! She must die! You can see that I am conflicted. But then there was this:

And her laugh–that feral laugh–like a self-satisfied hyena that has just chewed a hole through a dead baby wildebeest.
When I was a small child I lived in Pittsburgh on Mitre Way. Next to my house, at 4804 Liberty Avenue, was a hardware store. Circa 1962, they had a sign in the window reading LUCY LOVES LUCITE, with a picture of the nearly 50 year old Ms. Ball posing in front of cans of paint. The picture terrified me. The show I love Lucy also terrified me. I always thought that Ricky was going to beat her. Maybe my antipathy to Fran has its roots in that long-ago encounter with Ms. ball. I actually found the ad, here:

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