Story last updated at 4:06 p.m. Thursday, October 24, 2002

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Howard the wonder mutt
Nick C. Varney
The last few weeks have been exceedingly strange, and things continue to get weirder. I don't know if it's because Halloween is peeking over the horizon, or if it's just that my karma has taken up scuba diving with the Tidy Bowl Man.

I have been receiving some really bizarre phone calls and notes that are either being spawned in mental wards or pubs for the truly demented. Just yesterday, I had a message complaining about my dog Howard on Igor, our red-eyed answering machine.

Such rants are not uncommon, but it was the subject matter that stunned me. It seemed the caller was convinced that I was strapping the warped mutt to a doggi-glider and launching it off cliffs in Southwest Alaska.

"Hey Varney! What's up with Howard sailin' around Togiak and Monokotak and scarin' the population up there? I knew it was your cur when they said it had a 14-foot wingspan. The only thing existing in nature with that sort of beam is your dog's butt. Why don't you keep that prehistoric beast at home and out of the air? One of these days it's gonna sail over a populated area and drool someone to death."

I had no idea what the obviously brew-enabled wiener was raving about until I remembered an offhand remark that I had made to Wild Willie.

We had been sitting on the beach watching Howard dig clams like a fuel-injected backhoe when a machine-powered parasail went zipping by. I mumbled something about hooking Howard into a remote-controlled contraption like that and landing him in Baghdad with a note strapped around his neck stating, "We have more of these."

It would kill two birds with one dog. Saddam would blow an aneurysm, and his army would immediately surrender once they saw a real weapon of mass destruction.

Sure enough, I made a few calls and found out that Willie had been spreading the rumor that I was giving Howard flight familiarization rides so I could volunteer him for permanent war dog duty in the Middle East. Not a bad idea, but the cur couldn't pass the physical based on his breath alone.

Anyway, I tried to get a hold of W.W. and shut him up by ringing his neck, but he managed to skip town just ahead of the grill of my truck.

Another recording had no discernable dialogue; just 30 seconds of the worst whining and sniveling that I've ever heard. I wish Tom Daschle would limit his taped political fund-raising pleas to his remaining supporters in South Dakota. That way, only a couple of hermits and a seriously bewildered beaver would be bored into catatonia.

Other communiquEs dealt with my new commentaries on KBBI AM 890.

"Yo dude, some clown's tryin' to do your stuff on the radio. No way that's you! I've known you for years and that guy don't sound like you at all. Unless, maybe you're recordin' with a sock in your mouth and failed 'readin'-out-loud' in pre-school."

Hey Willie, covering the phone's mouthpiece with your Fruit of the Looms doesn't disguise the voice, bro. Too many holes. Oh, by the way, I have Howard cabin-sitting for you. I left him a week's supply of chili and buckets of beer in your front room. I figure you have about six hours to get back before he turns your place into a landfill.

"Hey Big Brother, I just heard your public radio stuff. I'd be blunt and say don't give up your day job, but since you don't have one, I'll let it slide. Love Sis."

Well, that hurt! I'll never let her dog-sit again. I said I was sorry about their new pool and the EPA quarantine. You'd think she'd let it go.

"Hi Nick. As you know, I'm a teacher and have used your material in my curriculum for years. Now that you have added another dimension to your career by entering broadcasting, I am archiving those commentaries also. You are an outstanding example of what can go wrong in a person's life if they don't take their English and speech classes seriously."

Gee, thanks Mom.

Not everything went sideways during the previous fortnight. I was finally able to meet my new editor for a business lunch. He was a very friendly guy who listened patiently to my ideas concerning cool clip art inserts, moving the column out of the online obituary section, the possibility of basic poverty level remuneration and the prospect of increasing my contributions to the publication.

He must have enjoyed my presentation, because I've never seen a guy laugh so hard in my life.

One final note: Howard and I now have a new e-mail address. It's Drop us a line sometime.

Nick Varney can be found in this spot every three weeks or so -- perhaps more regularly in the near future.