I was upside down in a garbage can. It was raining. Howie Mandel was missing.
Digging deep into the darkness, fighting past the stench of socks and old milk, I could feel the neighbor’s stares as they watched, safe and warm behind their blinds. I pushed forward undeterred, driven by my concern for Howie and my anger at that…woman. She had no appreciation for a person’s belongings, how many times had I told my mother that pop culture collectibles had value artistically and monetarily. If she had cared, even a little, about me she wouldn’t have just thrown away Howie Mandel. To be clear I was not digging for some book or game or magazine graced with the visage of the legendary entertainer, I was searching for the man proper.
About two weeks earlier I had followed a Craigslist ad to a yard sale that promised “Genuine Hollywood Collectibles,” but which turned out to be a confused collection of movie posters; star biographies and “Making Of” books; old letters from a theater marquee; and some large, oddly shaped styrofoam boulders marked as having been props in the Ringo Starr movie Caveman.
I had seen it all before and was going to leave when, just inside the garage, something moved. I looked closer and there, sitting on an overturned mop bucket behind a Happy Gilmore standee, was comedian Howie Mandel. He had a small suitcase at his feet and, in his lap, a wrapped sandwich awaiting its final moments. Even better: He only had a Twenty Dollar tag on him. I had no idea where I would put him, but at that price, how could I say no? On my way to pay, I started to get nervous that this was a seller’s mistake and they might jack the price or decide not to sell. So in an attempt to take some of the attention away from Howie, I picked up a couple of posters and a painting of a horse on skis by Nipsey Russell.
At the card table/shoebox checkout, I made a flippant offer of Thirty Dollars for my treasures. They countered with Fifty. We met at Forty. If anyone ever asks you the price of happiness, it’s Forty Dollars.
Unfortunately I had ridden my bike so I had to balance Howie on the handlebars and he had to hold the posters, his suitcase, and the Nipsey Russell. I laughed and told Howie that this all reminded me of that one song. He just looked wistfully back at the house.
When we got home, Howie and I decided to have some crackers (he had dropped his sandwich on a tight turn). We were eating and discussing the use of shadow in Nipsey Russell’s art when my mother came home, her ever supportive self.
“Great, more crap. Where’s all this supposed to go?” she dismissively snapped, waving her hand in the general direction of Howie and the Russell.
I tried to explain to her that this was THE Howie Mandel but she would have none of it. It goes without saying that I was totally embarrassed. For her. To his credit, Howie patiently sat there eating his crackers. A true professional.
As she was going on, I took Howie to my room and found some space on a shelf under the TV for him. I slid the movie posters under my bed and leaned the Russell against the wall with the full intent of hanging it up. Unfortunately, I did not find a suitable place for it fast enough and mom kept tripping over it, so one morning, while I was out skipping school, she filled a garbage bag.
That afternoon, I came home to get Howie. I wanted to take him over to Cheryl’s house, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I came out of my room in a bit of a panic, but mother was just sitting smugly in her chair.
“Where did you put Howie?” I demanded.
She told me that my “stuff” was cluttering up the place and had to go.
“But he’s a CableACE Award nominee!” I protested. She didn’t even blink though, and proceeded to talk at me about her stupid haircut.
Then I remembered: The trash hadn’t been picked up yet. I ran outside, not even stopping to put on pants. Or a shirt. Or my toupee. That’s how I found myself digging furiously through our garbage. I checked every inch of the garbage can AND the recycling bin. No Howie. In a dramatic move I threw out my arms, looked toward the sky, and as the rain fell upon my face, I cried “Hoooowwwwwieeeee!” A neighbor opened their door just enough to tell me to shut up.
That night was sleepless. I worried that perhaps raccoons dragged Howie out of the trash and down into the sewer and were now having their raccoon way with him. In the morning I checked sewer grates, behind garages, and other known raccoon hideouts but, no luck. Actually, I guess there was some luck—Howie hadn’t been taken by raccoons.
Two days later, I’m riding my bike up and down the street and who do I see–Howie! He was playing a kick-the-ball game with this seven-year old girl who lives down on the corner. I jumped off my bike (a bad idea as it was still in motion) and hobbled over to them. I thanked her for taking care of Howie for me.
She stopped me cold though, and proceeded to explain that this was actually her Howie Mandel, that her parents had gotten him when Bobby’s World first aired. I told her I found it suspicious that I had never seen him out before. She said that she found it suspicious that I was riding around the neighborhood with no pants. Again. For some reason, Howie chose that moment to do his comical rubber glove on the head routine. The girl fell down laughing. Literally. I pushed her. Howie, in full St. Elsewhere mode, bent down to tend to her.
And that was that, I knew I had lost him. I hopped on my bike and peddled off, allowing myself just one glance back. Farewell, sweet Howie.
Noell Wolfgram Evans, the owner of a couple of Thurber Treat awards for humor writing, is a writer and playwright whose work has been produced on stages across the country. Consider this your invitation to follow him on Twitter.
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