(Strip Number 1352, Original Publication Date, 28 September 1988)
Panel 1: After telling Martha that her conversation with her girlfriends made him feel “out of it”, we don’t see the end to that conversation. Instead we jump to a different time period when we see that little Lizzie is the one that answers the phone for the Patterson family. That's a pretty grown-up thing for Lizzie to do.
She says to Michael, “Telephone for you, Michael.” To which Michael responds, “I’ll get it later.” Aside from being a setup for the punchline, what in the world does that mean? There is no getting later with a phone call. It’s not like the telephone is a sandwich that he can pick up later. The appropriate polite response is, “Would you ask them to give you their name and number so I can call them back later.” Other possibilities that are less polite, but more reasonable are, “Who’s calling?” or “Tell them I’m not here” or “If that’s Gordon again, tell him the answer is 21.”
Panel 2: Lizzie apparently had the same reaction I did for Michael’s stupid response and she repeats, “Michael, someone wants to talk to you!” Michael repeats his same stupid response as if saying, “I said I’ll get it later!” makes it any less stupid.
Panel 3: Lizzie leans around the corner and says, “It’s a girl.” Lizzie knows that Michael treats his male friends poorly and she is trying to tell him that Michael should not treat a girl as rudely as he does his male friends. All things considered, Lizzie is being remarkably patient with her rude brother. I think I would have been tempted to tell the girl on the other end, “He says he will get it later” just to get the reaction of “Get what later? What does that mean?”
Panel 4: Michael raises his patented Patterson lecture / great truth finger and says, “I’ll get it now.” And there’s the punchline. That's it. That is the joke. “later” has been changed to “now” by a girl. It would have worked better if it had been “Tell him I’ll call him back later” followed by, “I’ll talk to her now”; but I am going to guess that Lynn Johnston thought limiting it to a one word change made the strip hilarious.
Summary: This makes it look like girls rate over boys when it comes to Michael Patterson, but more important is how far Martha seems to be willing to go to make her relationship with Michael work. Not only did she approach him at school, but she is also approaching him at home. It sounds like she is going about it the right way, but unfortunately for her she’s dealing with Michael Patterson who has not learned to be polite and never will. He is, after all, a Patterson.