I have a theory that the comic strip For Better Or For Worse is about a family where no matter how idiotically they behave, everything turns out for the best. I even think the characters have secret companions called Bad Idea Foobs that actually convince them to do the stupidest thing possible. I wrote that Liz is determined to sabotage all her normal relationships so that she can get back with the most dweebish jerk ever to disgrace the comics page. And that is a page with both Ralph Drabble and Dagwood Bumstead on it.
But nowhere is the Bad Idea Foobs principle more evident than in the perplexing life of closeted self-loathing Mike Patterson, a man so troubled with his sexuality that he can’t reveal himself to his deluded beard of a wife. Deanna is one of the original members of the supporting cast. She was the foil to all of Mike’s adolescent pig-tail pulling pranks, completely unaware of his true feelings for fellow Friend of Dorothy, Lawrence.
One of the much vaunted triumphs of the glory days of For Better Or For Worse was the sensitive handling of the Lawrence storyline where he finally came out of the closet to his parents. This would have been the ideal time for Michael to break the news to his folks as well. But the Bad Idea Foobs whispered into his ear that he should endure the love that dare not speak its name in silent suffering. Lawrence, tired of the games and lies, eventually moved on to become a successful gardener in a stable monogamous relationship.
In college, Mike met yet another soulmate, the aptly named stoner dude, Weed. Two guys living together and playing with naked dolls all the time can pass as stoned buddies for awhile, but again, Mike couldn’t commit. Rather than confess to his true feelings, he decided it was time to settle down.
This is where the Bad Idea Foobs really got busy. The two partners, artistic and otherwise, come across a car wreck. Rather than try to assist in any way, they decide to kick start their reporting careers by taking pictures. In a coincidence that only happens in bad telenovelas and the Foobiverse, the crash victim turned out to be Deanna Sobinski, now engaged to some never seen cannon fodder. After months of the patented Foob Central magic, Deanna dumps her decent career guy for the most conflicted gay adult since Col. Frank Fitts in American Beauty.
Unfortunately for closet cases in the Great White North, they can’t claim to have an imaginary girlfriend in Canada, they have to dupe a fake one. Since no Patterson can actually be in the wrong in a romantic relationship, no matter how big a sham, Rhetta has the grace to dump Mike for a real man. The plot is immediately placed in the recycling bin to be redeployed several more times in service of the Pattersons’ love lives.
Deanna, mistaks Mikes total lack of romantic ardor for chivalry and coaxes him into a secret marriage that is a sham on levels she can’t imagine. Wanting a normal happy family, Deanna tricks Mike into fathering children he knows will never love him. He uses passive aggressive tactics to avoid any intimate contact with Deanna. He rents an old apartment over grouchy neighbors so that any mattress dancing must be done quickly, furitively, and quietly. He constantly works late in hopes that she will be asleep when he gets home.
Mike avoids Deanna’s emotional needs every chance he gets, particularly if it he means he can spend more time with Weed. When Deanna has a nervous breakdown from her two kids, Mike and Weed fly to Japan to “out” a crooked fashion designer. Weed gives Mike an attic office/darkroom so they can meet in isolation. Mike exiles himself up there and like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, he just descend deeper and deeper into psychosis and delusion. He begins to fantasize that he is an abused farmer’s wife, writing endlessly detailed clinical descriptions of miscarriages and revenge fantasies. He plagiarizes every bad Nora Roberts story and hopes that somehow nobody will know what he really does in his sanctuary of denial.
When his house begins burning, he lets his wife lead the kids he only plays with on Sundays to safety while he runs back into a smoke-filled firetrap. His manuscript was backed up and a recent draft was stored off-site. What could be worth risking his life for? Obviously, a part of his life that he can’t let slip out is encoded on that hard drive. Is it late night gay chatroom logs? A trove of slash fiction? Pictures of Mewidith and Wobin in the bathtub that he trades with other collectors of innocent images? We will never know. Let it suffice to say that he values it more than his wife and her treasured memories.
And now his years of torment living a lie have been rewarded with a book contract. His manuscript has been pulled still steaming from the slush pile and awarded a huge advance. Conveniently, it is sufficient to cover a down payment on Casa Patterson that he has been longing for for years. It has memories. It has family connections. And mostly, it has plenty of closets.
Update (2/1/06): Mike’s charade at family life remains as thin as the characters in his CDN$25,000 paperback original. In his February letter he admits to his tactics:
She's put up with nights alone as I've worked on whatever "has to be done while I'm in the mood". In the mood meant something else when we were dating.
While they were dating, she was a good girl saving herself for marriage. Once they were married, he had to come up with a new ruse. Hence his escape to the closet-sized attic.
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Blatant Comment Whoring™: Let me hear your alternate theories.