Some dogs have a crush on the Wolf Man.
This one dog I know, Penny — she definitely does. If you ask her, she’ll tell you the Wolf Man is something to see.
Ever since she was a pup, Penny’s had his poster hung inside her kennel crate.
She’d finish out the day napping, then spend the night looking at that classic black and white marquee image of the Wolf Man howling at the cloud-covered moon, and she’d sigh, thinking:
He’s so dreamy.
Like a hairy James Dean. Howling at everything and nothing, all at once.
The other dogs never understood her preference.
Their taste was more for AirBud or the show-dog cast of Best in Show.
To them, these dogs exemplified excellence and ability.
Their fur held well, like nice and shiny, like good boys — pedigree picturesque.
To them, the Wolf Man wasn’t even a dog. He was a monster. A sad story.
But Penny saw something else. She saw another kind of life.
That’s why when Penny grew up, she moved to Los Angeles.
She became tired of the confines of her crate. She wanted action. And she found that she fit this new lifestyle just fine.
Some nights, you found Penny at West Hollywood drag shows, draped in color streamers and neon glitter, barking Britney Spears lyrics in choir with her fellow lovers-of-life. Other times, she was poolside somewhere in the hills, quiet, diligently listening as someone offered to collaborate on something — like a TV pilot or an improv performance — right as she’d float to the next conversation with another someone, where the same thing was said again, yet, this time, the proposal was maybe more legitimate or possible or prestigious.
This went on for about a year.
Before Penny ran out of money. And she had to bartend.
Now out of the social circuit, her dreams faded. Morale crumbled and caught a black eye.
The rail liquor looked more like fun to her than something to sell. She’d take anything to get away from the stale same-old, same-old of the working man.
That is until the Wolf Man walked in one night.
And let out a howl.
Then laid eyes on her.
And right then, Penny was back out of the crate.
Except for this time, she was carrying a souvenir. Some potent feelings from the past. That black and white buzz of something classic, just as it’s seen on TV.
The Wolf Man was here and now, and he was a dream seen long ago.
He walked up to the bar, let out a gruff, and said: “What’s down there in the well, you got?”
And before Penny could say, the Wolf Man reached in and brought back that brown Kentucky Sweet. Laid out a 20 for the bill. And he smiled his white, white fangs, still perfect after all the years.
That’s when it got fun again.
The Wolf Man loved her, and she loved the Wolf Man. The parties got better, too.
No one could party better than the Wolf Man.
Everybody wanted to celebrate with him. It didn’t matter that he never made another movie.
The guy was an icon. And Penny was a reminder.
The old boy still had it.
He could walk into a room and rip his signature hooooooooooowwwwwwwlllll.
And every single time, admiration would be waiting.
From celebrities and civilians, alike.
Because they only had to hear it once.
Just the one time, real quick, and move on with their ambitions and doldrums.
But not Penny.
She heard it every time.
Every single time, the same hat trick. The same schtick.
Night in, night out.
And like anything, what was once exciting grew stale and tired and threatened to fall apart.
Because the Wolf Man was a narcissist. All he wanted was the spotlight.
And he made sure to take it.
The writing was on the wall.
Except, Penny did see something. She saw an opportunity of another kind.
She could howl, too. She could play the game.
And so she did.
She started to howl with the Wolf Man.
Upon entrance to any party they attended.
They gave the people what they wanted.
And they became something to see.
In a year, they were no longer a couple, but a tabloid meme.
Penny was the Wolf Man’s creative director, and her own talent (with her own agent).
They’d been on Jimmy Fallon! Ripping big, beautiful howls. Telling Jimmy it’s great to be here. Making Jimmy laugh.
The Wolf Man couldn’t have been happier.
What a way to rebound one’s career. Back in action, at the top.
But Penny … Penny saw this as just the start of something more big, more beautiful.
She could build a howling empire.
And never go back to the crate.
So, she took her skills to TikTok, and learned to game algorithms. She figured out that 11-second howls performed better than 8-second ones. And A-B testing revealed a preference for deeper tones than harrowing ones. The depth of a howl implied confidence, you see. And the TikTok audience wanted self-esteem.
The Wolf Man didn’t understand any of this.
He just did what he did. He brought it up from his gut, through his lungs, and out into the world.
While Penny thought data could guide her self-expression.
She could point and shoot it exactly to the heights it could go. Content became her king.
More and more to feed the beast.
While the Wolf Man took a backseat. Down at the end of the bar, howling on the social circuit, for all the new faces in town.
Now, I don’t have to tell you how this story ends.
It’s pretty obvious.
Penny became a billionaire.
But more than that, she became a celebrity.
And more than that, she achieved a dream.
Sounds pretty nice, right?
Today, Penny is happy and fulfilled. The world at large is hers to explore.
She never went back to the crate.
But what about the rest of us?
Howling now saturates the culture. We hear it all the time!
From a phenomenon to an identifier, to a war cry.
It’s ours to live with.
Because of Penny.
Staring at her crush caught on a poster.
We’re a lot like the Wolf Man.
Howling at everything and nothing, all at once.
You can listen to this story on the Appalachian Sound and Color podcast. Hosted by Logan Schmitt and Will Wallace, this podcast covers art and artists throughout Appalachia. You can hear the show on Spotify.