There was an old Far Side cartoon where a bunch of vultures are sitting in a circle, obscuring whatever it is they’re feasting on. One of the vultures is wearing a cowboy hat. “Look at me,” says the vulture, “I’m a cowboy. Howdy howdy howdy!”
I read that as a kid and didn’t get it. The conceptual gap I was being asked to jump (it’s the cowboy who’s being eaten) was somehow too wide and too narrow at the same time. Too wide in that, like many of his cartoons, Larson was depending on a certain morbid shock which was not really shocking to me: of course vultures are going to eat a dead cowboy if they find him, so what? And too narrow in that I had no trouble leaping past it into a broad fictional world in which this vulture might just be weird enough to go around in a cowboy hat all the time. Maybe he thinks he’s being cool. Maybe all the other vultures are thinking, “There’s Cousin Lester, still with the hat on. Sure, Lester, we get it. You’re a cowboy.”
This was the best I could come up with: the vulture was a nerd. And yet, deep down I felt sure I was missing something. Maybe the key resided in those mysterious three words: Howdy, howdy, howdy. The repetition infused them with a kind of resonance, like a Tibetan mantra.
Years later I got the joke. I was disappointed. It still wasn’t funny, and now the mystery had been cleared up too. And the vulture, while still just as much of a nerd, had lost that faintly noble glow that surrounds a true eccentric. I prefer my version – Lester the vulture, who found his life a tad repetitive and unfulfilling, spots a cowboy hat blowing along the dry desert floor, and to the embarrassment of all his family and neighbors, swoops down to claim it as his own.
Welcome to my blog. Howdy, howdy, howdy.