Howard's tales drew mean-spirited guffaws and snorts from his brethren, who showed absolutely zero respect for his illegal acts.
"Your stories are Disneyesque," they would utter in contempt. "You couldn't terrify a bunny! You make Rollins College alum and erstwhile PBS children's show host Mister Rogers look like Charles Manson. So let's move on. Boris, tell us again what you did to that one guy's eye."
And after Howard had made one of his several payments to society and was back on the streets, law-abiding citizens would fearlessly mock him at Target, church, and the Montessori pre-school playground: "Ooooo! There's Mr. Abductor!," well-adjusted citizens would say, "I'm sooo scared!"
But Howard understood the price of kindness and was unfazed by this ribbing. He knew who he was. He was "comfortable in his own skin" -- a phrase he had learned while reading Oprah magazines -- several of which featured Oprah herself on the cover -- in the Crowbar Hotel.
Several qualities set Howard apart from the garden variety abductors we see on the news and in Netflix series.
As an abductor, Howard wasn't choosy about age or sex. And as for sex, Howard never got the appeal, didn't see what all the fuss was about, what's the big deal, so what? Why do something like that unless, of course, you want children, and since he saw himself as a criminal, he felt morally obligated not to pass on his genetic make-up.
So his abductees could relax on the sexual front. Even as he was gently applying the duct tape over a victim's mouth, he would assure him or her, "Don't you worry about 'you know what.' I'm not into that scene."
Whether he abducted a runaway teen or a kindergarten kid or a deranged old coot on the lam from an assisted-living facility, he never hurt them.
"That's just how I was brought up," he told his incredulous victims.
Howard simply needed a little extra dough here and there to fuel and maintain his swanky 1965 Buick Riviera. Occasionally, when his massive tires began to lose their tread, he would break down and get a job like a normal person, usually as a janitor (he hated the term "custodian") at a day-care center, but would soon be fired for the many days he missed while abducting people.
Always considerate, he was well known for giving his captives healthy snacks while they waited for their parents or caretakers to miss them. Grilled-cheese sandwiches smeared with guacamole was one of his favorites, along with tofu cubes floating in a bowl of unsalted vegetable broth. He would encourage but not force them to eat a few olives because "they have the good kind of fat."
The only thing the least bit weird about Howard was that, in the room where he locked his victims, he had a large freezer full of dead squirrels he collected from tree-lined streets winding through suburban neighborhoods.
On the freezer was taped a piece of printer paper with "For Later Use" scrawled in huge purple letters. What was this "later use"? And why purple?
We have no idea. But we do know Howard tirelessly attempted to find an alternative calling, one that would earn him a bit more respectability and, in his words, "improve my self-esteem of myself."
For example, after passing an online course in Stanislavski's method acting, Howard tried to break into film by auditioning for a Movantick commercial in which his range would be severely tested by having to "become," first, a victim of opioid-induced constipation, then, that same person after finding relief from this stultifying malady.
Seeing himself as a modern-day Marlon Brando, Toshiro Mifune, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Andy Dick, Howard transformed his usual abducting self into someone else entirely, a man whose chronic pain has driven him to oxycodone and methadone. Becoming a "constipee," as it is called in medical circles, was rather easy, even if it caused some discomfort and made him unpleasant to be around, esp. because, like a good method actor, he stayed in character 24/7.
More difficult, however, was the task of taking on -- almost simultaneously -- the identity of someone whose natural evacuatory desires have been restored by the miracle of Movantik.
With help from an abducted theater student, however, he improved daily and went into the audition with great confidence.
Howard's dreams were dampened when the audition panel found his technique "too naturalistic" and "representational" for the target audience. They claimed he oversold both his "red-faced, teeth-grinding" indication of the "before" condition, and fretted over his decision to play the "after" character as experiencing a kind of spiritual ecstasy, maybe even an apotheosis.
"We're looking for something a little more oblique, a little wry -- tongue-in-cheek, if you will," he was told. "Also, you seemed to lose focus during the lengthy voice-over in which we catalog the drug's numerous deadly side effects."
Devastated by this rejection, Howard found himself strolling through his neighborhood, listlessly checking the air pressure of all the tires on all the cars, the intermittent hissing providing the wretched abductor a modicum of relief from his weltschmerz.
Was Howard fated to be typecast as an abductor the rest of his days? Could he not make a life of his own choosing, or choose a life of his own making?
And why, he wondered, did most of the vehicles in his neighborhood have tires that required roughly 34 to 36 psi? Like Susan Alexander Kane in Orson Welles's 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane, he realized that life was just one huge jigsaw puzzle.