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Howard Lives!

Rating: PG

The following is the testimony of Mr. E. F. Helfman, a farm implements dealer from Wahpeton, North Dakota. The events he describes took place on the evening of Sunday, April 23, 1995.

I was driving home on County Road 57 when I blew out my left front tire. This happened about two miles north of Garber's Amoco. I considered changing the tire myself, but I decided against it. The arthritis in my fingers had been acting up, plus I had four 50-pound bags of manure in the trunk, which I would have had to unload to get at the spare.

Just when I was ready to start the two-mile hike to the Amoco, I saw a pair of headlights coming down the road. The car slowed down and stopped, and out from the driver's side stepped this little, stooped-over guy with a big nose and jowly cheeks. He was wearing a bright yellow blazer with a badge over the lapel that said ABC Sports, plus I think he was carrying a microphone.

"What seems to be the trouble, my good man?" he asked. He spoke in this loud, booming voice, as if his microphone was connected to something. That voice could have skinned the hide off a coyote.

"Gotta flat," I told him, and I pointed to the left front end of the car.

"Never fear, good sir," he replied. "If you assist me, I am sure we will have you motoring again in no time."

"Say," I asked him, "aren't you Howard Cosell?"

"Indeed I am, my friend."

"Well, how about that?" I said. "Whatcha' doing out here in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota?"

"Helping good neighbors such as yourself!"

So Howard Cosell helped me change a flat tire. First the two of us unloaded the four bags of manure, then he lifted out the spare while I put together the jack. Throughout the whole thing he just kept on talking and talking. I didn't mind, actually. Some of it was kind of interesting.

"The man I know who knows the most about automobile maintenance is Gene Washington, the outstanding wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings," he said while we were loosening the lug nuts. "The Vikings' Gene Washington, of course, is not to be confused with the Gene Washington of the San Francisco Forty Niners, who coincidentally is also an outstanding wide receiver. I would say the San Francisco Gene Washington is more outstanding than the Minnesota one, but that is beside the point. It is the Minnesota Gene Washington who knows everything there is to know about cars-fuel pumps, spark plugs, carburetors, and so forth. I have been fortunate to hear him speak on this topic on many occasions, such as two months ago, over dinner at Murray's Steak House on 6th Avenue near the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis..."

Most of his talk was like that-full of athletes and celebrities and restaurants and opinions on just about everything. Eventually we finished changing the tire, and I shook hands with him and thanked him.

"My pleasure, my pleasure," he said. "And now, I must bid you farewell." He got back in his car-I think it was a four door sedan with "ABC Sports" printed on the side, although it was so dark I couldn't be sure-and he sped away.

I drove straight home, all excited over what happened. When I told my wife about it, she just stared at me with an open mouth-I assumed because I was telling her such an amazing story. But then I found out how amazing the story really was.

"Honey," my wife said. "Didn't 'cha hear? Howard Cosell died early this morning."

Mr. E. F. Helfman, an ordinary businessman from an ordinary American small town, a man who led a perfectly ordinary life until that day in 1995. His story seems impossible. Is he staging an elaborate hoax? Is he deranged, or a seeker of attention or fortune? Or is he a cruel, if imaginative prankster? The answers may not be what you think. For Mr. E. F. Helfman of Wahpeton, North Dakota, is not the only person to report an unusual Howard Cosell sighting, and to do so well after Cosell's alleged death. Consider the following story told by Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Insquipe of Culpeper, Virginia:

Leonard: My wife Mary and I were having our first big dinner party-

Mary: We're newlyweds.

Leonard: That's right, we were married last November. Anyway, we had over our neighbors, Al and Sue Jensen, and my brother and his wife, and Mary's sister Shirley and the guy she'd been dating, plus Shirley's son Frankie, so I guess that's what, seven people?

Mary: Nine, counting us.

Leonard: OK, nine. So the party was going really badly. I mean, I thought I'd try the new butane grill we got as a wedding present, but I couldn't get the temperature regulator just right. First it was too cold, then too hot. I wound up charring half the hamburgers. And Katie, that's my brother's wife, she said she likes them that way, so to prove it she ate one, only to throw it up in the bathroom ten minutes after. Plus Frankie got to teasing the dog, and the dog almost bit him, so Frankie started screaming, and his mother-that's Mary's sister Shirley-got mad at us for not having our dog under control, if you can believe that!

Mary: It was just a disaster.

Leonard: Oh absolutely.

Mary: Until Howard Cosell showed up!

Leonard: It was amazing. He waltzed in through the back door as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and everybody just stared at him. My first instinct was to kick him out, but he was carrying this giant Igloo cooler chest.

Mary: Do you know what was in the chest? Steaks! And potato salad!

Leonard: And beer! Howard Cosell brought us steaks and beer!

Mary: He just came into the house and said, "Hello folks, looks like I came just in time." And he reached into the cooler and handed everybody a bottle-

Leonard: -Miller Genuine Draft. Pretty good stuff.

Mary: Plus he gave a Coke and a pack of baseball cards to Frankie. Then he went onto the porch and put the steaks on the grill and fiddled with the knob and got the right temperature. You know honey, I don't think you were doing it right.

Leonard: I'd never barbecued before, never mind on one of those fancy grills.

Mary: Well Howard did it like a pro. He even looked the part. He wore this "Kiss the Cook" apron over his yellow sports jacket and he had one of those giant white hats, like the kind the guy wears on the label of the barbecue sauce.

Leonard: Anyway, so Kevin-that's my brother-Kevin said, "Hey, you're Howard Cosell. Didn't you die a while back?" And Howard said, "Obviously not!" which we all laughed over. Then Al Jensen said, "Fair enough, but whatcha' doing in this part of the world? Aren't you one of them New York big shots or something?" Well, it turned out Howard's just plain folks. Turns out he was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which isn't too far from here.

Mary: He told us lots of stories, like the time Don Meredith put ice water down his underwear while he was announcing the half-time highlights. That was where, Miami?

Leonard: Nah, that was Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Miami was where Charlene Tilton stole his toupee during "Battle of the Network Stars."

Mary: Oh yes, I remember.

Leonard: You know, we could go on like this all day. But Mary and I can tell you right now, Howard Cosell is alive. And we got seven other people who'll say the same thing.

Mary: He saved our first dinner party. I just wish he hadn't left so early.

Leonard: Said he had to meet with Roone Arledge and Frank DeFord for cocktails somewhere. But he's welcome back in Culpeper any time.

The Insquipe dinner party took place on the afternoon of May 14, 1996, more than a full year after doctors pronounced Howard Cosell deceased at a New York City hospital. Impossible? The work of a seasoned impostor? Mass hysteria among Leonard and Mary Insquipe and their relatives and neighbors? Maybe, but perhaps not so likely in light of the following incidents:

On the afternoon of November 30th, 1998, Mr. Kingsley Oradel, a retired pharmacist now living in a senior citizen community in Tempe, Arizona, claims he played ten games of shuffleboard with a man in a bright yellow sports jacket and jet black hair, possibly a toupee. The man introduced himself as a "Mr. C," had a small microphone attached to his lapel, and made numerous references to professional football, basketball, and the Ali-Frazier fight of 1971. When the shuffleboard match was over-won by the mysterious Mr. C, eight games to two-Mr. C. left abruptly, saying he had to catch a plane for Boston, Massachusetts, to attend that evening's Celtics-Lakers game.

On March 2nd, 1999, a small platoon of soldiers were lost in the back country of the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base near Twentynine Palms, California. Tired and low on water, these men claimed they were saved by a chance meeting with a jocular, slightly-hunched over man in a yellow sports jacket, whom they found at a campsite roasting five small rabbits over an open fire. The man shared his meal with the grateful soldiers. Later he produced cigars, a bottle of scotch, and engaged the men in a few hands of poker. He provided the playing card himself, describing them as "an official NFL deck, presented to me by Pete Roselle." Close inspection revealed the heads of Pete Roselle, George "Papa" Halas, Lamar Hunt, and other NFL luminaries in place of the aces, king, and jacks. The soldiers smoked the cigars and played several rounds of five card stud with the strange man, to whom they lost a total of 45 dollars and 18 cents.

And on August 6th, 2000, at a Husky's truck stop off Interstate 64 in Stewartsville, Indiana, two truckers were vehemently debating the merits of the 1970s-era Pittsburgh Steelers versus those of several modern day teams. Just when the truckers seemed ready to come to blows, a short, stocky man wearing a yellow blazer suddenly entered the establishment. With a raspy, yet booming voice-"As if God himself was speaking through him," said a waitress-the man announced that the 1974 Steelers were the greatest football team ever assembled, with the finest defensive line and the nimblest defensive backs and an underrated quarterback at the helm. He then passed out autographed photographs of the Monday Night Football announcing team to all the restaurant staff and patrons. When the mysterious visitor left the restaurant, he received a standing ovation from all assembled.

We have one other Cosell sighting to report, this one not quite so friendly and harmless as the others. The story comes from 37 year-old Albert "Buddy" Banoush, a part-time loading dock worker and amateur dirt bike racer from Nacogdoches, Texas. Readers are advised that the following paragraphs may not be suitable for young audiences.

It all started when my buddy Floyd tells me that the new waitress over at the Waffle Hut has this thing going for me. So I ask out Louella, which I know is her name cuz it's stenciled on her uniform, and she says "Why would I do that?" and so I tell her what Floyd said she told him about me. Well, she says she's barely taken notice of me, let alone had conversations with anybody named Floyd. But we get to talking and Louella agrees to go out with me anyway. I dunno if she was lying about Floyd or if Floyd was lying about her or what, but it didn't matter at the time cuz Louella and me kind of hit it off real quick.

So Friday I borrow my brother's Dodge pick-up and take Louella to the old Cloud 9 Drive-In near Lufkin. The Cloud 9 don't open til Memorial Day, but that suits the two of us fine because all we want is some privacy......Anyway, we're kissing and making out and everything when I hear this loud, whiny voice from the side of the car, like the drive-in's sound system had just kicked in.

"And now Buddy is going for second base-yes, I do believe he has the bra off!" this voice says. "Louella is putting up no resistance, she has wriggled completely free of her blouse and upper undergarments, all the while probing Buddy's mouth with her long, muscular tongue. As for Buddy, I'm looking for signs of tumescence-yes, I believe I now see a significant bulging! Oh, passion is aboil tonight!"

I realize there's this light coming in from the passenger's side. It takes me a second to get in the right position, but finally I see this guy peering in through the window, beaming a flashlight at us. He's wearing a stupid yellow jacket and he's got this wide-eyed grin on his face. I wanted to kill him.

"Look, friend," I said after I stormed out of the car. "I dunno who you are and how you know our names, but you've got about 10 seconds to haul your toupeed head out of here."

"Why, I'm Howard Cosell," said this idiot, still smiling. "And may I say, your companion is a very, very lovely young woman."

"Thank you," said Louella. Louella's got the window open and is leaning over it with her arms crossed in front of her. She's got this kinda dreamy expression on her face.

"You may not say that, Mr. Whoever-you-are. Now I am gonna ask you one more time-"

"All I was doing, good sir, is recreating my role in the movie Bananas, as written and directed by the great film producer, and a personal friend of mine, Mr. Woody Allen. He has used me in other works, such as Broadway Danny Rose and Sleeper, but Bananas is by far my favorite because in it I call the play-by-play on an act of sexual intercourse. I was telling Woody just the other day that if he-"

"OK pal, you asked for it-"

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Mr. Albert 'Buddy' Banoush," he says.

Well, that's when things get kind of weird. I throw my best right punch at this guy, but it's like it goes through air or something. Then I feel this really awful jab across my jaw, then another one over my right eye, then a couple more on both sides of my face, and then I am down on the ground. The little guy beat the crap out of me, just like that!

I'm not sure what happened next; I think I blacked out for a few minutes. I remember coming 'round with my face in the gravel. My lip and my right eye were bleeding pretty bad, and my whole head hurt like hell. Then I look up and see Louella and Howard walking off together towards the bushes.

"How did you learn to fight like that?" I hear Louella ask.

"From the side of the greatest of all time, my dear," says Howard. "His given name was Cassius Clay, but I like to call him Mr. Muhammad Ali."

Then I pass out again, and this time I don't wake up 'til the next morning. I found no sign of Howard Cosell or anybody else, and all I had left of Louella were her bra and top and a pair of shoes. I ain't seen Howard or Louella since, and if I ever catch up with either of them I'm going to tell 'em directly what I think of them, you can be sure of that. I kinda wanna wail the tar out of Floyd, too, for getting me fixed into this mess. Floyd promised to buy me a six-pack to make up for it, but he hasn't come through on that yet. Floyd's never been great at keepin' his promises. Since the incident at the Cloud 9 Drive-in, no one-repeat, no one-has reported seeing, speaking to, or having any contact at all with Louella J. LeJeune, a 26 year-old waitress, strawberry blond hair, 5 foot 3 inches tall, medium build, no known family or home town, last known address an apartment behind the Waffle Hut of Nacogdoches. If you have seen this woman, or have any information that may lead to knowledge of her whereabouts, please contact the FBI or your local police immediately.

So what do we make of these mysterious sightings of Howard Cosell? The evidence is overwhelming: Howard Cosell did not die on Sunday morning, April 23, 1995. Or at least, he did not die in the conventional sense of the word. Three explanations fit the evidence at hand:

Howard Cosell is not dead, nor had he been suffering from a serious illness, as had been widely reported in the mainstream press. For reasons unknown, Cosell faked long illness and his own death, and is now traveling about America, engaging a predominantly enraptured general public.

Howard Cosell did die in 1995, but was miraculously and mysteriously revived, leaving him to enjoy a second life. While such a deed is not beyond the scope of human imagination, it does suggest an alien presence, an advanced species with medical knowledge far beyond that of our own. This raises a third, equally astonishing possibility:

Howard Cosell has always been an alien. Although likely in jest, numerous observers raised this possibility throughout Cosell's long and successful career.

For now, the mystery of Howard Cosell remains. If you should see or meet up with this man-if man he be-do not panic. All indications are that Cosell is friendly, at least when not provoked. Let Cosell do and say what he pleases, then alert authorities as soon as possible. We will keep you apprised as new developments unfold.

Thank you and good night.

Writer, editor of children's science textbooks. Completed debut novel 'Fergus Falls'.