Copyright 2016 Francis DiMenno


A kid saves up his allowance money so he can buy his mean dad a present that will make him love him. He carefully saves up every penny, earning more money by running errands and collecting soda bottles. Christmas day arrives. Mean Dad gets a genuine imitation leather belt. Which he promptly uses to whup the boy, for having given him such a cheap present.

I must keep a travel diary. Soon Messiah will come. 

No! I am not worthy! When we stand before God we are all Judas Betrayer!

The Joy of the Lord is my strength.

When I picture what God looks like, I see a tall, Galactic feller. 

God sees all. Even the dark side. Especially the dark side.

Jesus is the number one fella in my life, and I am nothing but worthless number two.

From now on I must laugh. A lot.

The Lord tastes good.

Without God my life is a lonely whistle-stop on the way to nowheres.

Who will rid me of these turbulent thoughts?

Consider the ant. The audacity of that creature. We are that creature!

Use me, Lord.

Idolatry is the idleness of idiots!

Yesterday I prayed for the courage to live. Tomorrow I will pray for the courage to….

Lord, recharge my thoughts like a teeny tiny battery.

God is my rose. Lack of faith is my thorn.

A man is what he chooses and I chose to be a man.

I don’t feel cold when I pray to My Lord.

Whenever I want one of Daddy’s hugs I think of Our Father In Heaven.

My hands may be frozen and bleeding, but HIS Wrists were nailed upon a cross.

Lord, free me of memories from my profane past that keep me from thinking of You.

I’m coming up rich in my search for Jesus, and I didn’t even know I was digging for treasure!

Even a ten dollar chicken dinner feast without Jesus is like ashes in the mouth.

Only God is perfect. I can be less than perfect and still get God’s work done.

The Lord God is with me wherever I go. Even the bathroom!

Give the program thirty days to work! Christ Himself was resurrected after three.

How am I? I am how God wants me to be.

The geography of heaven is a strange land.

God loves us all, even the rough old bullies living next to a patched-up furnace.

The Lord restores antique people.

God’s work is manifest, even in a football game. Especially football!

Job one is that I get along well with the man I call Mr. Jesus.

God, like time, will work His Healing Wonder.

On earth, no. In heaven, maybe. In paradise!

Lord, point the way, and when You walk away, I will follow.

I have kissed the lips of hell and they are cold.

I distinctly heard the boiler laughing at me as I said my daily prayer.

Whenever you check off the items on your list of things to do, make sure The Captain is on board.

The voice of the universe is warning me that this is my final chance!

Trust that God the Comforter has a delightful Rest in store for all of us.

Hell is just one thing damned after another.


Ho ho ho! Look at those boarded up tenements in the center of town, within spitting distance
of the City Hall! Festive? Perhaps not to battle-hardened souls. But the men and women who lurk 
inside have far from lost the Christmas Spirit, for lo, they have lit the interior with the merry 
wavering light from a piping hot bowl of crack!

Note the tinsel decorations festooning with seasonal brio The aptly-named Dollar Store, as well as the adjacent 
Chinese buffet house where $6.95 will buy you “all you care to eat”. The adjacent whitewashed store-front 
Church of Christ Our Savior is, needless to say, gaily decorated by a faded but earnest plastic 
wreath in army soldier green, and the security gate of the discount clothing store hard by intermittently 
flares a decidedly jolly red.

Although the liquor store is once again being robbed, please take careful note of the fur-trimmed 
red Santa hat each holiday-minded armed thief has carefully used to shield his features 
from the security cameras. Even the screaming fist fight between the man who failed to signal a 
turn and the man who rolled through a stop sign has a certain festival charm, as though 
they are daring one another to be less than truly full of the blessings of the season.  

Sure, even though many are yet at work, there are several young freebooters who loiter around the drug stores 
and the vacant parking lots limned with broken glass and soiled diapers. It may well be they 
were gallantly chased away en masse by foot constabulary summoned by concerned managers of the 
local Wal-Mart. If you were one of a flock of migrating geese, you might be able to look down 
to see how they march in an eerily precise formation and eventually congregate next to the 
shopworn show window of the now-defunct Super Rexall, in a vacant lot next to a time-worn 
tenement bearing a faded Tom Tucker Ginger Ale sign. See! One of their number, a most enterprising man, 
now begs for coins beneath a sign that says “Cash While You Wait”–and more than a few grudging 
pennies gather in the worn mustard-yellow socks this eminento has elected to use in lieu of gloves. 

Nor are the fair sex absent! Observe the sweating, pleasantly plump young woman with her hair arranged in a 
greasy flip pushing a worn stroller down icy Washington Street. She has certainly retained some moiety 
of Christmas cheer for surely you have observed that her sweatshirt bears the disproportionately 
enormous yellow face of the famous Warner Brothers cartoon character known as Tweety Bird.

No hablamos español? Note, then, that awning with a poorly drawn picture of the world! Your relatives 
in the far-away Dominican Republic, should you have any, would be glad to know that, in league with 
the omnicompetent Santa, sole proprietorships have been established to ensure that brightly wrapped 
holiday gift packages from the Estados Unitos will soon be on their way!

Perhaps you have no more time to spare. Be sure then, to return in March–when the threadbare but 
well-intentioned Christmas decorations on the light poles downtown will doubtless still be in their 
wonted place of honor! 


[Chump Junction, April 23rd, 1971]

Jasper Grogan, 39, a self-described “gentleman farmer”, was fatally
injured last week when using a tractor chain and hook in an
ill-advised attempt to pull up a stump.

“The tom-fool city-slicker ought to have stayed in Gibsonia,” said his neighbor, Winslow Hulberd, 45, a long-time farmer from the neighboring town of Chokecherry. Hulbert was first on the scene.

“Everybody knows you that with a stump like that, you use a blasting cap, and you stand well clear if you decide to use a hook and chain.”

Apparently, according to Hulberd, the rusty chain snapped, whipped around and struck Grogan in the face, and “Nearly took his dern fool head off. What a mess!”

Grogan is survived by a wife and three children. Funeral services took
place on April 27th at the City Limits Funeral Home in Gibsonia.

[Chokecherry, May 1st, 1971]

Winslow Hulbert, 45, was critically injured in an apparent attempt to
blow up a stump on his property, Brillant Farms, in the village of

Police have said that judging from the extent of the explosion,
Hulberd miscalculated and used the equivalent of four sticks of
dynamite, “when one would have more than accomplished the job”  according to High Sheriff Kemp Rittenhouse, who was the first man on the scene.

“It’s not like Winslow,” said the High Sheriff. “To make a boner like
that. Somethin’ must have been eatin’ on his mind, to miscalculate
like he did.”

Neighbors, who wish not to be named, have mentioned that Winslow’s
wife had been planning to “run off to the big city” with a “city man”
who lived nearby, and that Winslow had lately been “despondent.”

Hulbert is currently listed in critical condition at Our Lady of Care
Hospital in the town of Revo.


At age 10 I saw, at the Kennywood amusement park outside of
Pittsburgh, a postcard of a chimp in a chef’s toque serving coffee to a disgruntled Hitler, who was seated at the counter of a greasy spoon diner.

Hitler was saying, “Where’s the coffee in this caffeine?”

This is so wrong, of course.

It is well known that Hitler abstained from all caffeinated beverages.


Plastic pink flamingoes that poor people put on their scraggly front lawns.
The news is that these items will no longer be manufactured.

Lawn darts.
The banning of lawn darts.

Nodding dogs on the back shelf of cars.
Replaced by nodding junkies in the back seats of cars.

Green plastic pickle whistles.
These were known as “pickle-os”. They hearkened back to a time when there actually was a piccolo player in a big band.

William Frawley.
Vivian Vance, who despised the drunken Frawley and referred to him offcamera as “that old man.”

Stumbo the friendly giant.
The vaguely European residents of “Tiny Town”, which is the actual name of a Denver suburb.

Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hats.
The Bob Dylan song of the same name.

Metracal, the meal in a can.
Carnation Instant Breakfast, which is still made but no longer
incessantly advertised.

“Goodnight Irene.”
A criminal about to be publicly executed would traditionally sing a
song of lament. The technical name for this song was a “Goodnight”.

Margarine sandwiches on Wonder Bread.
Before we knew that margarine was made with the dreaded trans-fats.

And the misguided ad campaign, “Should you offer a lady a Tiparillo?”

Bronzed baby shoes.
There is now a process whereby you can preserve them in plastic or something.

Penny Loafers.
Long since fallen to the lure of “Retro chic.”

The buck-and-wing.
Tap dancing is celebrated as an art form and is allegedly no longer
considered degrading.

My metal Batman and Robin lunch box that now would be worth a small fortune.
Well…actually, it would depend on the condition.

Supermarket cantaloupes so big that they looked like they were from another planet.
Though when you’re a kid, everything looks far bigger than it actually is.

Computers so enormous that they took up an entire large air-conditioned vault.
And people who are fond of pointing out that the same components now fit in a unit the size of a calculator. As if this makes us modern!

The movie soundtrack that would play this peculiar motif that went
“Rada rada ra, ra ra ra ra, rada rada ra, ra ra, ting” whenever an
Oriental person appeared.
I have a Casio SK-1 keyboard purchased in 1989 that has that motif.
Some cell phones also feature it as a ring tone.

Danny and the Juniors.
And the Beach Boys song, “Do You Remember,” that references them as nostalgia less than ten years after the fact.

Feeling uneasy around nuns.
As though they were about to tell you that your sins have found you out.

The Boogie Man.
Now considered a racial slur.

The man who would drive around our neighborhood in a truck with a three-horse merry-go-round mounted on his flat-bed. It cost a nickel to ride. The man was a drunk, or so they parents said. They never gave me a nickel. I saw an empty beer bottle in his truck, so maybe it was true.

The song, “Donkey dear, the sun is on the mountain.” We sang it in second grade.
We would make comical chewing motions during the lyric “Eat your
hay/And let’s be on the way.”

Pressing all the buttons on the elevator.
Still fun to do, though only when you’re angry.

Little girls being afraid that the bottom or top of the escalator
might suck them in.
I used to frighten my sister about bridges collapsing as we were
traveling over them. It’s over 30 years later, and she’s still

Not being allowed to have a turtle because “they spread disease.”
Toxoplasmosis, if I recall correctly. The scare began around 1965. It
was recently listed. But those turtles can grow to enormous size, so it’s probably still not a good idea.

An Easter chick dyed pink that took a crap on my best friend’s head.
The chicks seldom lived long enough to be a nuisance. There were
city dwellers alive in 1960 who actually remembered rural life!

People named Adolf.
Or ‘Adolph’. Still don’t know how the meat tenderizer people got away with it.

The card game “Spoons.”
Now it’s Texas Hold ’em. Twenty years from now, who knows?

The expression “Good Lord.”
Popular in EC comics of the 1950s. Usually accompanied by “Choke.”

Mean, brawny, abusive gym coaches.
I had one named Mr. Maddox. He even haunted me in my dreams. One day I woke up and thought I saw his head in the corner, staring at me. But it was only a basketball.

Raymond Burr and his ridiculously fat face.
Maybe that’s why he sat down so much on the set of Ironsides.

Sending in boxtops to get “free” prizes.
Usually made of cheap plastic.

A Chihuahua so small it could fit in a teacup.
Yo’ Mama so fat, she leads a hippopotamus on a leash and it look like a chihuahua!

Organ grinders with a monkey on a chain who would tip his little hat
when you dropped a coin in his tin cup.
I guess it never occurred to us to question whether this wasn’t just a little bit cruel.

How people (usually your parents) would say “Listen to me.”
Though I also saw the expression used in a commercial for an accident lawyer.

How people (usually older people) would say, “Goodbye and good riddance.”
With an accent grave on the “rid”.


The adventures of a feebleminded Canadian

dentist and his kin.

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 thirty-odd 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 chowhounds.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m a passionate admirer of comic strips and their long history. But Johnston’s strip is sentimental and pathetic, and verges 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 schtick 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
dumbasses 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.


When I hear people say that they read comic strips like FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE even though it sometimes makes them cringe.

I am reminded of the category of art that such a description
generally implies.


The Pattersons are a squishy-soft bunch of goo-goo Canadian mugwumps who we are supposed to admire simply because Lynn doesn’t have the narrative skill to create a world of nuanced relationships.

I’m sorry, but I can think of a dozen strips just off the top of my
head that were far better, in rendering or narrative or both, but
which are more or less forgotten or ignored today.

I would strongly urge those who once found, or who still find, FBOFW to be the ne plus ultra of the comic strip to dig a bit into the
history of the medium and discover the splendor of such narrative
strips as the following:

Thimble Theatre (by E. Segar)
L’il Abner
Polly and Her Pals
Toonerville Trolley
Dick Tracy (by Chester Gould)
Little Orphan Annie (by Harold Gray)
Count Screwloose of Toulouse (or anything by Milt Gross)
Smokey Stover
Krazy Kat

Even a couple of single-panel offerings like:
Our Boarding House
Out Our Way (by J.R. Williams)

Throughout the long history of the comic strip, even the once wildly popular but now-forgotten also-rans shine in comparison to the antics of the Patterson Klan:

Moon Mullins
Gasoline Alley
The Gumps
Captain Easy
Bringing Up Father
Little Nemo

The Smithsonian Collection of Comic Strips provides samples of nearly all of the above-mentioned. There are other anthology collections which can be had for a modest sum in the art section of used book stores.

Furthermore, a great many of the above-named are also collected in single books or even series; notably the following:

Thimble Theatre (by E. Segar)
L’il Abner
Toonerville Trolley
Dick Tracy (by Chester Gould)
Little Orphan Annie (by Harold Gray)
Krazy Kat
Out Our Way (by J.R. Williams)
Moon Mullins
Gasoline Alley
Bringing Up Father
Little Nemo

Fans of the adventure strip will find that the following strips are
widely available in collected form:
Terry and the Pirates
Flash Gordon
Buck Rogers
Prince Valiant
Smilin’ Jack

If you want to read some truly laughably bad comic strips, small town newspapers have some of the damndest examples known to man…strips that no real newspaper wants to pay for and no sensible subscribers want to read. Popeye. Mutt and Jeff. The Born Loser. Gil Thorp. Mark Trail. The list goes on and on….

I’d love to find a master list of syndicated strips, the rates
charged, and the number of papers who subscribe. According to my
understanding of the industry, figure regarding rates and numbers of subscribers are generally held pretty closely, except, of course, for the superstars….


I hear a crook stole a shoebox with a woman’s dead cat
inside, only, actually, the way I heard the story, it
was a bat, and the bat was Dracula, and he sucked the
blood out of the crook’s neck, but the crook was a
rummy, and so Dracula got drunk and became Drunkula
and then he met Jesus in a bar–also drunk, because
his blood is made of wine–and Drac said “Let’s step

outside” and the Messiah kicked his ass. And then I
heard that Jesus got upset and went to an AA meeting
and made the following speech: “My name is Jesus the
Nazarene and I am an alcoholic. It has been 3 months,
7 days, and 1,974 years since my last drink–a sponge
soaked in vinegar. I have apologized to the wedding
party at Cana, and admitted that I enabled them to
drink by turning water into wine. And finally, I would
like to say that after making a fearless moral
inventory of my past habits, I have decided to look to
a higher power–myself–to overcome my alcoholism.”


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